Oh dear, this first page is me ranting about the many, MANY problems that went with planning the trip. Want to skip the blah-blah-blah and get to the meat of the matter? You can start here for the intro (with just a LITTLE griping) or use the following links to get to the actual travel.
2005 Travel reportIf you are brave, unflinching, and want to read the harrowing report of HOW this trip was scheduled (boycott Sears!), here it is. Boiled down, if you can believe that.
I hunted for a relatively inexpensive tour, discovered DeNure Tours and called only to be told that the week I wanted had been sold to another agency for private use. I could still sign on, so I called the number they gave me. Horrors! It was Sears! Because of the many, many instances of ****-poor customer service and downright LIES Sears has dished out to me over the years, I now boycott Sears.
But this was Sears Travel, and furthermore it existed only in Canada, not the US. Maybe that didn't make it the REAL Sears. Okay, the price was right. These were professional travel agents. I signed up.
Did I say professional? They managed to screw my bank account three days till Wednesday, and THEN turned around when I screamed bloody murder because they'd specifically gone against how I told them to handle the finances of the matter and DID IT AGAIN. No apologies, no confirmation that gee, maybe they did something wrong (though I documented and sent through all conversations having to do with my orders as to how finances should be done and Sears' emails about how they'd wait to bill the entire amount for a couple weeks that came two hours AFTER they billed the entire amount--!), not even a clear ATTEMPT to set things right. In fact, C. the Unspeakable (and her evil master, K.) sent me cheery emails telling me how nice it was that things had been cleared up when I was still battling with the tour company (since Sears wasn't handling it) and the confused and sometimes evil BehemothBank of America. (Thank you, Pathway Tours accountants, for working so hard to document things for BoA!)
Arrgh!!! Boycott anything to do with Sears! They kept me hanging right up to the final week before departure, refusing to tell me exact itinerary, citing the tour company, whose eventual literature made it clear that I should have received that info at least six weeks previously.
Sears Travel? Hopelessly bumbling and uncaring. Boycott, boycott, boycott!
A black cloud hung over the tour planning. I received a notice that because of the low number of people signed up, the tour was cancelled. However, the Unspeakable was determined that her friends and family, for whom she'd originally planned the tour, would get to go, so she merged our group with a similar tour from Pathways Tours. They guaranteed non-cancellation.
Okay, got that out of my system. Move along. I'd been wanting to get back to Montreal, but also to see Quebec City for more than thirty minutes. By golly, I had a landmark birthday coming up in 2005, and wanted to do SOMETHING to mark the event.
I craved more story background for my Three Worlds fantasy series, dammit, and I NEEDED to see how the land lay around Trois Rivieres to see if it would be appropriate to place my Three Worlds Headquarters there. I mean, the place is so aptly named, it's a shame to overlook it.
Not only that, but I wanted lots of exotic pictures from which to do paintings. I'd been reading a lot about sketching on location (en plein air) (my book Applesauce and Moonbeams is about a Lunar artist who paints en plein vacuum), and I wanted to try that. One attempt at home had turned out miserably, but I told myself I could only get better and packed some portable watercolor stuff. (For some reason the light case, flimsy plastic palette and brushes weighed about 90 pounds when packed, tough to lug around on Montreal's mountain terrain. Perhaps it was that Fodor guide and Rick Steves French phrase book and the bottles of water and, and, and...)
I wanted a new moosie. The last trip I'd bought a "moose crossing" sign and had nailed it to what at the time was my mailbox and later just an address post. Apparently people liked to stop, back up, rev their engines, and smash into it. (The cops pointed out where they'd spun their wheels as they aimed.) Eventually it was just a wad of yellowish metal and had to be sent to its final reward.
I also wanted to RELAX. Previous vacations had taught me the problems of too much packed into too little time. Plus (see below) work was absolute chaos for at least four weeks prior to vacation. Haalp!
I wanted to see Canada and learn about it. I wanted to bask in the glorious fall foliage that Canada advertises. I wanted to try out my French.
I wanted a decent crepe and eat food that hadn't sat for days in grease, Southern style.
So I began (very early of course) to plan, reserve and BUY!!!! I now have a mountain of Rick Steves bags and whatnots (most of which fold up into themselves) and a heavy Lands End raincoat that folds up into itself and lots of QVC travel gadgets that fold so small you can never find them again. I actually wore my new shoes so they'd be broken in by the time I got to Canada, avoiding blisters and the icky toenail disasters I'd experienced in 2003.
I made it VERY CLEAR at work that my vacation was coming up in six months and that if at all possible schedules should be tweaked to accommodate not having a person in my position for two weeks. I work at a virtual cloaca of the organization. My co-worker and substitute Barry, ditto. If anything ever happens to either of us, you know, the proverbial truck or we finally win the lottery and scream "Adios!" on our dash out of the building, then the company is going to be crying. Hee hee!
Thank goodness I planned so far ahead. I was making jokes about the fact that throughout August my packed suitcase was sitting in the living room. (A good idea because as time goes on you remember all kinds of things you should pack and can just toss them in.) But it turned out that if I'd left stuff until the final month, it just wouldn't have gotten done. Why?
Four weeks before Vacation, the idiots up in IT decide that they've been talking about switching our marketing Macs to a PC server long enough. Well, those talks had included extensive discussion (from our department) about how PCs and Macs don't like to converse and how we'd have to test, test, test to make sure we overcame any problems first.
So the big brains up in IT --under pressure, I'm sure, from TPTB -- decide not only to go ahead and do it without telling anyone else, but to do it without testing AND WITHOUT MAKING A BACKUP FIRST.
This (as we soon discovered) on top of not having done any backups for the entire Marketing Departments for seven or eight divisions of the corporation for SIX WEEKS BEFOREHAND.
Couldn't do any work for a week. We were in the middle of one of our two largest annual catalogs as well as our matching humongous two-week mailing schedule.
We finally got stoneage-type workarounds and I put in mucho overtime, including weekends. Hey -- I got half my vacation written off as comp time for the record, so I guess that wasn't all bad.
But I was frazzled. Some days I literally couldn't put a sentence together because the brain cells wouldn't connect. One day I was standing in line behind one of the company bigwigs and he starts teasing me about the vacation and suddenly I'm grabbing his collar and screaming, "I CAN'T WAIT TO GET OUT OF THIS PLACE!!!!" Good thing he got a big kick out of it, or I might have been out of this place permanently!
Then Jeopardy announced that they were coming to Raleigh for the big College Tournament. Jeopardy!!!
Before they even told the schedule I knew the filming would take place while I was away. Bingo! Actually, the final night of filming was the day I came home, and I knew even if I could get to the RBC Center in time that I would NOT be in the mood for it. Oh well.
Vacation arrived. I was actually looking forward to flying because it would be Away From Work.