Monday, April 6, 2009

Magic Carpet Ride

Lately, we here in the Yarnstruck household have been thinking yearningly of distant parts. World's-most-patient-husband and I like to travel and it's been a while since our last vacation. So we've been wondering about destinations. Or maybe I should say wandering about destinations. Because travel planning in the modern world is a whole new experience.

It used to be that to find a hotel in a faraway city, much depended on luck. You could rely on a travel agent (hoping you'd picked a good one), you could choose one of the very few hotels (among the city's very many) lucky enough to be listed in a guidebook, you could consult friends and family, if you were lucky enough to have any who knew the place well or -- hitting the jackpot -- lived there and could give you a place to stay. Or you could arrive at an airport or railway station and trust to your luck with the local tourist information office or the last-minute hotel discount touts. I've tried just about all of these options, with reasonable success. The one thing I never have done is to go the backpack-and-hostel route. I like my comforts.

Now, I can conjure up hotel websites, look at photos of the reception areas and bedrooms, check booking sites to see how many rooms are available at what rates, and look at a slew of chatty reviews by recent guests, greatly reducing the uncertainty about whether the hotel will live up to its carefully chosen description and pictures.

And then, what about the environs? Is it on a busy road, or is it leafy and cafe-lined? Well, to top it all off, I can take a magic carpet ride and see for myself. With the Streetview feature of Google Maps. My magic carpet. What an amazing tool it is. Oh, I've used it before when I'm driving to an unfamiliar address, and I've looked at the streetscape ahead of time so I can recognize the building when I get to it. That's amazing in itself, of course, but in a mundane, workaday-ish sort of way.

Flying my Streetview carpet to a hotel destination is a whole different kind of transport. I float along up and down the street to locate the address. I peer around, looking at the adjacent buildings, craning my disembodied eye up to the rooftops and back down again to the street. Eerily, I fly onward, hovering just above the road. I follow the nearby streets looking at the nearby neighborhoods and businesses, getting a feel for the area. It seems kind of quiet; oh, maybe it's early morning -- there's a street cleaner and the light is still pale and gray. And all this is endless miles from where I sit.

What an astonishing world it's become.

(Try it! Look up a hotel somewhere in London or Rome or New York. Or perhaps in Tacoma Washington, the Hotel Murano, remarkable for its art glass collection, that just recently played host to the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.)