Recap: Vacation in San Francisco

Sharon and I got back to Edmonton last night after spending ten days in San Francisco. I had never been there before but had always heard great things. As a bit of a “food town” we thought it would be a great place for us to go to get away from things for a while. Here are some of the highlights.

San Francisco
Based on a couple of recommendations, we looked at the Kimpton Hotel chain. We chose Hotel Triton, located right near the Chinatown gate. It was fantastic!

Heart of the City Farmers' Market
Pretty much the first thing we did after arriving was visit the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market. It reminded us of our own City Market.

Chinatown
Chinatown was an early highlight for me. I’d never seen a Chinatown like the one in San Francisco!

Fisherman's Wharf
Without a doubt the most touristy place we visited was Fisherman’s Wharf. Lots to see and do in the area. I enjoyed eating fresh crab there!

Crooked Street
Another popular tourist spot is the crookedest street in America. No not Wall Street, Lombard Street.

Alcatraz
Of course, no trip to San Francisco would be complete without a trip to the infamous rock! We actually watched The Rock before leaving for our trip.

Coit Tower
This photo was taken from Coit Tower (you can see the reflection). If you can believe it, we ran into a couple we knew from Edmonton at the top of the tower! Small world.

Ferry Building
We loved all of the fresh produce that was available (and Sharon was particularly sad that we didn’t have a kitchen available). Visiting the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market was pretty cool.

Domaine Chandon
The tasting fees quickly added up, but our decision to take a tour of wine country turned out to be a good one.

Mack, Sharon, Hubert Keller
One of the dinners we had made reservations for in advance was at Fleur de Lys. The highlight was getting to meet Chef Hubert Keller, one of our favorites from Top Chef Masters.

Golden Gate Bridge
We decided to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. It started off foggy but quickly cleared. Other than being very windy, it was a great walk!

Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival
All the festivals we visited seemed to be extremely well attended, and the Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival was no exception. The lines were insane!

Opera in the Park

Opera in the Park
One of my favorite events was Opera in the Park. This year was San Francisco Opera’s 37th annual event.

San Francisco
This is me sitting in a POPOS – a privately owned public open space. I’m holding a Super Burrito from the San Buena Taco Truck, one of my favorite things we ate.

San Francisco
We did ride the cable car once. This photo also shows the hills San Francisco is known for, and a fire escape too (they were a very common sight).

Chez Panisse
Potentially my favorite dish – a pizza from Chez Panisse. I’m a sucker for eggs.

Muir Woods
On our last morning, we visited Muir Woods. It was so quiet!

Domaine Chandon
Sharon and I at the Domaine Chandon winery.

That’s really just a taste of our trip. You can see the rest of our photos (846 in all) here.

I really enjoyed San Francisco and would definitely visit again!

Signs of home in London

It’s not exactly culture-shock visiting London for an Edmontonian such as myself, but you do notice differences. The elevators all talk, warnings to “mind the…” are everywhere (gap, elevator doors, etc), locals call the pound a quid, and the Coke bottles are oddly thin, among other things. I’ve also come across a few things that remind me of home.

One of the first things I picked up upon arriving in London was the pocket tube map. To my surprise, there was an Ikea advertisement on the back which included a list of locations:

London Tube Pocket Map

And here I thought Alberta was the only place with an IKEA Edmonton! Another thing I found, near Leicester Square, was a Canadian pub:

Maple Leaf Pub

The Maple Leaf is located at 41 Maiden Lane, and serves local and Canadian beer such as Sleeman’s. As I stood in the road taking the photo, a small group of people passed behind me and I heard a lady remark, “Why go to a Canadian pub when you can go to a British one?” I chuckled.

Finally, here’s another pub – this one is for Albertans!

The Northumberland Arms

The Northumberland Arms is located at 119 Tottenham Court Road. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, read this.

🙂

London Trip 2009: Halfway Done

I’ve been in London, UK since late Sunday evening. I had a good week in terms of work, and actually got to see and do some things around the city as well! The first time it rained was yesterday, which I figure is pretty good for London. Had to use the umbrella again this morning.

LondonBig Ben

On Tuesday evening, John (Questionmark’s founder & chairman) drove Jim and I around to see some of the sights (Jim was in for the week from North Carolina). It was actually a really interesting way to see the city, and I made some mental notes of things to revisit. The following evening Jim and I found a nearby pub for more beer, fish & chips.

A few of us went out for dinner on Thursday evening to Skylon, a restaurant located in the Royal Festival Hall. The food was excellent, though I suppose the service could have been a bit better. Afterward Jim, Chris and I ventured out to a couple of pubs, including Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, apparently the oldest pub in London!

HalibutLondon, UKMethane powered street lampOldest pub in LondonBoxingBoxing

Last night I joined Andrew and some other Questionmark colleagues at York Hall in Bethnal Green to watch boxing (Andrew’s brother was fighting). I had never been to a live boxing match before, so it was pretty neat to see. Oddly, there were dozens of girls “glammed up” – they stood out like a sore thumb. A local pub was up next, where I was introduced to Old Rosie (cider). It continued pouring as we rushed to catch the last train north!

This morning I went to the Borough Market, which was recommended by Stella and Sharon before I left. It was really impressive – in both size and contents. Unlike our markets back in Edmonton, or even the Eastern Market in DC, the Borough Market had almost no craft traders(I probably could have counted them on one hand). Everything was food – fruits and vegetables, breads, lots of cheese, meats, fish, candies, and more. I bought a few things, including a traditional Cumberland sausage sandwich for breakfast. Yum!

Borough MarketTraditional Cumberland SausageLeicester SquarePiccadilly CircusApple StoreMarks & Spencer

I spent the rest of the morning/afternoon walking around, first near the London Bridge, and later near Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. The Apple Store near Oxford Circus was a nice place to stop for free wifi and a brief reprieve from the crowds (there are so many people everywhere, it’s awesome). After some more exploring I picked up some lunch from Marks & Spencer (at Sharon’s urging/request) and came back to the hotel for a bit.

Tonight I’m off to a party at Noel’s! Assuming I can find it, that is. You can see the rest of my photos here.

Washington Trip Recap

I sometimes look back at the posts I wrote while Sharon and I were on vacation in New York a couple years ago, and I wish they were a little more organized. I decided that I’d make an effort to organize my posts and photos from our most recent vacation, to Washington, DC.

Sharon & MackSharon & Mack

We arrived in DC on May 18th, and left May 23rd. Though I posted each day of our trip, I didn’t include any photos after the first day. Uploading was taking so long that I decided to just wait until I got home. I have since gone back and added some thumbnails to each of the daily posts:

We took nearly 900 photos on the trip, and uploaded 607 of them. Here are a few of my favorites:

Washington MonumentCapitol BuildingCanadian Embassy & Capitol as seen from NewseumMack @ Lincoln MemorialKennedy CenterJefferson Memorial

MetroWet PaintSharon with Iced CoffeeSo many boxesLincoln at NightCrazy escalator

As Sharon said on the flight home, we should have taken a pedometer with us! We did so much walking and it would have been interesting to know exactly how much. We made use of the Metro quite extensively too. Here is a map including all the major stops we made:

A few places in particular that we wanted to visit but didn’t: Arlington National Cemetary, the Washington National Cathedral, and the International Spy Museum. Some of my favorites from the trip: the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Newseum, Ben’s Chili Bowl, Founding Farmers, and the Capitol.

I had a great time in Washington, and I’d definitely go back. There is so much to see, and so much history. I’m sure we could easily have filled another six days!

When Sharon has posted her entries about the trip, I’ll update this post with links.

Vancouver Trip Recap

My original intention was to blog notes at the end of each day of our trip like I normally do, but that obviously didn’t happen. Instead, here are some notes for me to look back on. Day 1 notes are here, and the wedding notes are here.

Sunday:

  • Sunday was spent eating and sleeping! We slept in a bit then made our way to Starbucks for coffee, and we also tried one of their breakfast sandwiches. I’d rank it a distant third behind McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s.
  • After that we headed over to Granville Island for a few hours. Sunday was wet and gray, but that didn’t stop us. We walked around the market, visited a bunch of shops, and ate lunch at Bridges. Sharon once again had the margherita pizza, and found it different but not necessary worse than last time. I had the fish and chips, which was excellent.
  • For dinner we walked up Granville Street to Vij’s. Arriving about 15 minutes before it opened, we found ourselves roughly 20th in line. We were seated right away, and were immediately impressed with the service – they were incredibly efficient! Sharon and I both really enjoyed the meal, though we were absolutely stuffed.
  • Before heading back to Triumf House, we stopped at Blenz for some tea and wifi. Well, wifi for me – Sharon read the Georgia Straight.

Starbucks Breakfast SandwichGranville Island Public MarketHalibut Fish & ChipsMack at Granville IslandVij'sSharon reading

Monday:

  • Woke up early to check out of the hotel, and then set off for Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe. I’m a sucker for diners, and Sophie’s definitely did not disappoint. The food arrived quickly and was quite tasty, our coffee was refilled often, and the decor was incredible – the walls are covered with memorabilia! Very cool…probably my favorite food stop on the trip.
  • Because Sophie’s was so darn fast, we had a bit of time to kill after breakfast, so we walked around the neighborhood, checking out a bunch of neat little shops. Kind of reminded me of Whyte Avenue.
  • Our next stop was Gastown for a free walking tour. Sharon and I were, not surprisingly, the youngest on the tour. It was very interesting, but the tour definitely stayed in the tourist-friendly parts of Gastown. We saw some of the less friendly parts on our own though, as we made our way to and from the bus stop. It’s amazing how different things look just two blocks apart.
  • Our final stop before heading to the airport was WorkSpace, a shared work environment in Gastown. I’ve read lots about it, so it was great to check it out in person. I’ll be writing more about it soon.

Sophie'sPancetta & EggSharon outside Sophie'sGastownGastownWorkSpace

It was a fun trip, but like all vacations, ended too soon. Sharon and I agreed that we’d like to explore more of Gastown next time. I also need to schedule some appointments with people – there are so many friends and colleagues that I didn’t get to visit!

My photos from the trip are here.

Vancouver Day 1

When we got back to the hotel tonight, both Sharon and I were just exhausted. I remarked that we didn’t walk much further that we might have on a normal weekend in Edmonton, and she said yes, but we usually do so with a purpose. Today we did a lot of wandering, which while enjoyable, probably made us feel a bit more tired than normal.

We started by getting coffee and then trying to get an Egg McMuffin at McDonald’s, only to find out that they stop serving breakfast at 10:30am. Is that the case for all of them? I thought it used to be 11am. I suppose it was probably best that we didn’t get the greasy food after all. We made our way downtown, stopping for lunch at a salad place before walking to Stanley Park.

Sharon & MackWe spent a little bit of time in Stanley Park, but mostly headed right for the Vancouver Aquarium. Sharon was a little surprised to find it smaller than she expected, but she had lots of fun watching the sea otters (her favorite). The Aquarium was mostly as I remember it, except that the Beluga shows are all canceled on account of the new baby girl.

Our next stop was the Bentall 5 Cactus Club Cafe on Burrard and Dunsmuir, and it turned out to the highlight of the day for both of us. Similar to an Earl’s or a Moxie’s with something a bit extra, I really enjoyed the restaurant and the food. And I was especially happy to find that the restaurant had free wifi! Sharon will be posting a complete review on her blog once we return.

We did some wandering, at the Pacific Centre Mall and on Robson, before heading over to Chinatown for the Chinese Night Market. It was kinda neat to see, but man was there ever a lot of junk! I’m not much of a trinkets guy I guess. On our way back downtown Sharon found a dollar store and couldn’t resist making a stop. Again, not my thing, but she bought me chopsticks! Heh.

Tomorrow is the wedding and reception, so it’ll be a long day in fancy clothes and shoes. Should be fun though, and I’m happy that I’ll be able to help Steven & Michelle celebrate!

My photos are still uploading – you can find them here.

I Love TripIt (And You Will Too!)

Late last year I came across TripIt, a free Web 2.0 travel organization service. TripIt helps you automatically build an itinerary, access it from multiple locations and devices, share it with others, and more. It also automatically includes maps and weather forecasts, among other information.

I’ve used TripIt four times now. The first was my trip to New York over Christmas. I managed to convince Sharon to join, and we built our entire itinerary using TripIt. I also used it for my trip to Yellowknife, for Northern Voice 2008, and for my recent weekend trip to Calgary. TripIt is dead simple to use, and once you get used to using it you sort of get addicted!

The way it works is you book your flights, hotels, car rentals, and restaurant reservations as you would normally. Then, forward your confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com. TripIt will automatically recognize the information, and insert it into your new itinerary. The only time this hasn’t worked for me was when we made our reservation at Bar Americain in New York (which supports OpenTable). I have to think that was a temporary glitch, because it has been flawless ever since (including our OpenTable reservation at Blink in Calgary). Megan booked the flights to Vancouver for Northern Voice, so I didn’t have a confirmation email to forward. I entered the information manually, and TripIt even made that easier – it knew the departure and arrival times and other information based only on the airline and flight number. Pretty cool.

tripit

That’s why I love TripIt – it’s just so deliciously simple! Forward the confirmation email and you’re done.

Sure you can add extra information and custom items to the itinerary, but TripIt does the heavy lifting and that’s what is most important. You can print your itinerary of course, and the formatting that TripIt provides is really clean and simple. If you forget to do that however, no worries – TripIt can send you your itinerary via email! You can send the command “get trip” to plans@tripit.com, and it’ll respond with your information. Or you can send something more specific, such as “get flight”. It’s really quite neat! You can learn more about the TripIt To Me feature here.

Some other handy features that TripIt includes:

  • The ability to share your trips with others. They can be either viewers or collaborators, meaning they can add items to the itinerary.
  • A travel guide for your destination. TripIt will load information from Wikipedia, Flickr, Eventful, and more.
  • See Who’s Close is a new feature that shows you when your connections (friends) are going to be near you at any given time.
  • iCal support, meaning you can load your itinerary up in Outlook, Google Calendar, and more.

As much as I love TripIt, it’s not perfect. Here are the top three features I’d like to see them add:

  1. Twitter and SMS support! Most other apps that I use on a regular basis (such as Remember The Milk) have this. Email is great, but Twitter and text messaging are better.
  2. Facebook widget. What I’d really like is for TripIt to do what dopplr does – show upcoming trips, and post an item to my news feed when traveling. If TripIt had this feature, I probably wouldn’t use dopplr anymore.
  3. Library of locations. When we went to NY, we added items like “Greenwich Village” and “Statue of Liberty” ourselves. It would have been really awesome if TripIt could have recognized those locations and automatically included relevant information (such as directions from/to our previous/next locations, pricing information, etc). This feature would make TripIt absolutely incredible!

If you’re just planning a quick road trip to see family or friends, TripIt may not be that useful for you. For all other kinds of trips however, I think you’ll find TripIt to be absolutely indispensable. I can honestly say I won’t travel without it anymore!