Category Archives: Pittsburgh

Picking a hotel with Hotwire and the help of the net

I’m about to do some travel, and I don’t really care precisely where I stay as long as it’s reasonable; here’s some notes on that process.

When you go to get a hotel on Hotwire, it doesn’t tell you exactly which property you’re going to stay at. That’s mostly OK except when the hotel inventory includes some stinker places you’d really rather never go to again. Here’s one part of how to figure out what they’re selling you.

Better Bidding is a forum for Priceline and Hotwire users to exchange information about which hotel they’re getting when they bit through those services. The Better Bidding Pittsburgh page lists star ratings, locations, and amenities of featured sites, plus for Priceline how much people paid.

To look at general hotel reviews, one source is Tripadvisor. The Tripadvisor Pittsburgh page gives lists of what things other travelers (or perhaps paid shills, who can tell) have said about places. You can’t trust any individual review any more than any random Amazon review, but in the aggregate they’re a good display of alternatives.

I have yet to find a travel site that does good pricing and availability for travel along a route, the question we run into every year where we want a room somewhere between the Bridge and West Branch that’s nice and pretty cheap. If you know where you’re going to stay, and it’s a big city, and you’re willing to dig a little, there are some deals.


Fourth of July 2005, Pittsburgh (Squirrel Hill), PA

Last year’s trip was at Thanksgiving.

Uneventful trip via the Ohio and Penna turnpikes to get here. Baby Jonathan needed to stop a few times, and we got to see the 1970s recession-era Penna turnpike rest stop just outside of Cranberry. I drove most of the way except for a 45 minute long stretch to take a conference call. T-Mobile wireless coverage on that stretch was problem-free.

We’re staying at Alice and Tim’s again, our vacation timing working out perfectly. Last time was Before Jonathan, so a few of the arrangements are a little different, but it’s all working out well.

As is our custom every meal is accounted for. Friday night dinner was at Alladdin’s for delicious middle eastern food. Saturday lunch was with Granny at Hunan Kitchen, which is a cut above our usual for Chinese. Saturday dinner a cookout, Sunday morning oatmeal, Sunday noon leftovers, Sunday dinner at Gullifty’s with more family.

While Deb swims at the JCC and Saul and Jonathan are with Nana and Granny, I’m taking care of some networking tasks at Starbucks. Wifi courtesy of Telerama via Pittsburgh Knit and Bead across the street, $5/day. Last time I was here there was an open wireless here, but that has disappeared, and there’s a “nocat” installation in its place which didn’t want to let me in. Wireless at Tim and Alice’s was very spotty and slow but at least a little doable.

I did manage to get out for a run one night, down the Murray Ave. hill running and back up Shady mostly walking. I’m either too uncertain of myself to try to run the whole thing or too much of a flatlander to challenge the hills. It was nice to be out running while most people were walking, you see a lot more when you’re moving through pedestrian traffic.

For Monday we travel again, then home. Another uneventful turnpike trip. Stopped at Beaner’s in Maumee, OH which now has wifi, that’s good to know.

Thanksgiving 2004, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh PA

Late night in Squirrel Hill. We’re staying at Alice and Tim’s house, just down the street from Annette’s old place – very generous of them to lend us their house. It’s in the same row of houses where we’ve stayed before, so we get to experience the wonderful effect of seeing what someone else has done with a space and layout that we’re pretty much used to.

It’s very quiet out on the street at 10:30pm – everything is closed except for the brand new big Rite Aid and for a bar or maybe two. No cafes are open. That meant for a brisk walk through the evening.

Wherever I go I hope for free anonymous wifi – I haven’t seen it here yet, the three networks visible from the house are closed.

Dinner was wonderful, a nice big meal to sit down to after a 6 hour drive through Michigan, the Ohio Turnpike, and Pennsylvania. Roadgeeks note that the Penna Tpke toll collectors have a labor action going (says AM 1640, the voice of management broadcasting from tollbooth micro-radio) so we sailed through Pennsylvania free of charge where it would usually cost us $1.50. I’m sure that EZ-Pass toll transponders have cost some jobs and will cost more before the years are out.

Some fotos will be on Flickr – if you’re not in my “friends and family” group let me know and I’ll add you in.

Found the open wifi – I have to sit in the front room, not the dining room, and from there I pick up two open nets.

At Starbucks the next day there are two pay networks, one from t-mobile, one from Telerama broadcasting from across the street at Pittsburgh Knit and Bead. Further investigation found a free network visible from one window, so I did finally get online.

Back home. Ohio Turnpike busy but not bad except for one jam-up near Toledo. We stopped at the Maumee Friendly’s on the way back.