Friday, July 23, 2010

What I did on the weekend -- Part 2: How do you say "Curse you, Mapquest!" in French?

So, we went to Québec for the weekend with friends. And we had a great time. The end.

That would be the Coles Notes version of the weekend, or the correct answer when someone at work asks, "So, what did you do on the weekend?" just to be polite. But you know me. When have I ever answered anything in less than full essay format with pictures and footnotes? Never, that's when. But in the interests of not boring you silly all at once, and stretching this story out for a couple of posts in hopes of reversing my terribly sporadic posting history of late, here is Part 2 of the story -- How do you say "Curse you, Mapquest" in French? (Part 1 can be found here.)

So, bright and early the morning after the B52s, Josie and I loaded up the kids, dropped the key at the neighbour's place so she could look after the cat, and hit the road exactly on time. This was huge. This is unheard of for me. (If you'll allow me to digress a bit, when it comes to traveling, especially estimated time to actually leave home, I work on Alison Time, which is Eastern Standard Time + anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours....ish.) And we were planning on meeting Jen and her family in Québec. We've managed a quick vacation with Jen for the past two years, and here's my batting average:

2008, Toronto. I plan to leave at 5 a.m., getting to TO by 9:30 or 10 a.m. I actually leave at 7:30 and then have to drive around the city of Belleville en route looking for an open pharmacy because Leah has inexplicably spiked a fever. We arrive at 11:30 a.m.

2009, Charlottesville, Virginia. I plan to leave at 5 a.m. and it's a 12 hour drive which should put us there around 5ish. I actually leave around 7 a.m. and it takes us longer than expected due to roadworks and a traffic jam due to a burning 18-wheeler, and we arrive around 8 or 9 at night.

So, you see, I don't have the most sterling reputation for punctuality. But having Josie there to wrangle the kidlets and help do the last-minute chores helped immeasurably. And we managed to get about 5 minutes away from home before Rachel realized that she'd left Daffodil, her stuffed bunny, at home. So we turned around, and retreived the bunny. Whew, still only 10 minutes behind schedule.

I had looked up a route to get us to Quebec City that bypassed Montréal and was about 5.5 hours long. And then I typed the route into Mapquest and printed out the driving directions. (Maps? We don't need no steenking maps!) We left at 9 a.m. Simple math tells us that we should arrive around 2:30 p.m. But oh how the gods laughed at us. I am fated never to be on time, at least when Jen is involved.

Most of the trip was uneventful. I did turn onto one wrong highway -- well it was the right highway, but in the wrong direction, but we needed to stop for gas and ketchup chips anyway, and use the bathroom, so it was more of a refueling stop than a mistake.

But as we neared the outskirts of Québec, the clouds gathered close and darkened. The wind sprang up, and it started to rain. Lightly at first, but with increasing intensity. Did I mention that we didn't have a map, only driving directions? Do you know how hard it is to navigate using driving directions in a strange city with lots and lots of one-way streets? And lots and lots of roadworks and traffic lights on the flash cycle? And stop signs every block along a main road that we seemed to be the only people stopping at, nearly getting rear-ended a couple of times?

The rain just got harder. And it was coming down (across?) pretty much horizontally. Thunder and lightning were crashing and flashing (respectively) and I was white-knuckled on the steering wheel while Josie was reading the directions and we were both trying to read the ridiculously small lettering on the street signs. We didn't need a map, we needed an ark.

It was only a matter of time until the inevitable happened. We missed a street sign and became lost. Using my Infallible Sense of Direction ™, I attempted to circle around and get back onto Rue St-Paul, and back onto our driving directions. Because unlike a map, which you can use to figure out where you actually are and where you need to go, driving directions just tell you where you should be, you poor stupid bastard. And circling around works much better in a place with fewer one-way streets, I'm just sayin'.

So, soon we were irretrievably lost. Well, we knew that we needed to be in the Old City, which is at the highest point in the area, and has the oldest buildings. Surely it wouldn't be too hard to drive around, heading upwards? In traffic? In a monsoon? Surely not? Um, nope, not too hard. Just slightly impossible.

Fortunately Josie is the ultimate travel companion. Nothing fazes her, and we were laughing our asses off and cracking wise about the whole situation. After my Infallible Sense of Direction ™ took us down the same dead end (sans issue) for the second time, we parked at a corner where we could see both street names and called the hotel. And were promptly put on hold for 15 minutes. Instead of muzak to listen to on hold, the hotel had promotional messages looping in French and English. And each time the French voice started up, I thought I was talking to a real person and would launch into my halting French to ask directions, only to find I was talking to a recording. Finally we got a real person on the line. I told him we were at the corner of St-Foy and Désy and that we needed to be at the hotel. Jo got on the line with him and he talked us in.

Except that Josie wrote all the directions down with him on the line, and had hung up before we actually reached the hotel, and we ended up circling a fountain in front of the Chateau Frontenac a couple of times before realizing that we were lost again. I pulled over in front of the SAQ (the Quebec version of the LCBO) and hopped out. I went in, and in my very best French, said to the man behind the counter, "Je m'excuse, Monsieur, pourriez-vous m'aider? Nous sommes perdu. Nous cherchons l'hotel Clarendon." He smiled and said, "You're almost there. You need to go one more block that way, turn left and you can't miss it." I thanked him and went out to the car.

"How did it go?" asked Josie. "We're fucked," I replied quietly, so the girls wouldn't hear, "He said we couldn't miss it, which always means I will never be able to find it in a million years." But five minutes later, we arrived, unloaded the luggage and more importantly, the cooler with the beer in it. The valet swooped down to whisk away our car, and we went in to try to sort out the rooms. Jen had been texting/emailing Jo's Blackberry for arrival updates and had found out and let us know that Josie was not booked in for that night, but for the following two.

I don't remember what time it was exactly, but it sure as hell wasn't 2:30.

Tomorrow: We have an ecstatic reunion with our friends and walk about 275 km, most of which is uphill.


  1. Um, actually, that was *moi* who was communicating with Josie and giving her critical updates.

    You know, it just occurred to me that neither of your girls got sick on the trip, which is a HUGE improvement from past journeys.

  2. Correction noted and text updated!

    Gravol is a wonderful, wonderful thing! Once the girls have taken some, they aren't pukey at all. I can't remember what it's called down in Americaland, but I remember buying some in C'ville with you for the return trip.

  3. My home town... You were at the Clarendon! They have such a great jazz bar!

    I took care of that. I'm totally directionally challenged.


    Simon has become the other man of my life.

  4. I heart my GPS too. I know I should embrace maps, but I can't. I hate them. They make me feel stupid. My GPS tells me exactly where to turn and when and I love her and I am so heartily sorry for all the times I've suspected that she's trying to leave me for dead on an unpaved road in cannibal territory.

  5. I go with my sister Jazz. We are presently in France at the moment and the GPS that is in the car has gotten us out of many a small French town with medieval sized twisting lanes. Good old Cleo (our GPS) we love her. Maps are good for the countryside but unless you have a detailed map for each and every town, you’re screwed especially when there is construction that blocks the way you want to go.

  6. Anonymous1:23 PM

    Ya, what's with "written instructions" when you have a GPS and maps???It's almost like you did this deliberately so you would have an entertaining blog post. Really, how interesting would it have been if you'd left on time, driven straight there without incident and arrived well within the anticipated time?