I hadn't been to Toronto in a few years. But over the summer, I had applied for and received my Nexus program credentials. I hope to visit Canada more, and being in Nexus greatly expedites the entrance process into Canada. It also gives you Global Entry back into the U.S. (so my expiration date was extended). It's definitely worth doing.
Currently, there is a lot of construction going on in downtown Toronto. They are building a new underground station, with plans to open a new rail link between downtown and the airport in Spring 2015. There used to be an Airport Express bus service, but as of October, that service no longer runs. Until the new rail link is up and running, the only public transit alternative is to take the Toronto public transit bus to the closest subway station (Kipling Station on Line#2). The total trip involves bus to subway train to subway train to get to downtown. It's inexpensive at C$3.
On both my trips to Toronto this year, I dined at Shoto, a momofuku/David Chang restaurant. It's located on University across from the Hilton Toronto and adjacent to the Shangri-la Toronto Hotel. It's in a multi-level building that houses several related restaurants. My write-ups for Shoto can be accessed here and here.
In Toronto, I stayed at the Toronto Hilton both times. On one visit, they gave me a very nice suite.
I hadn't been to Vancouver in several years. Since then, they extended the Skytrain to the airport, which makes it really easy to get to downtown. There is a surcharge from the airport area of C$5 to the fare. It makes it worthwhile to go ahead and buy a pass for the day (no added surcharge if you use the pass to board). You just have to find the 7-11 store at the airport that sells the pass, since you cannot buy one at the station.
I decided to try a hotel from a different chain, as there is just a Hampton Inn from the Hilton chain. The Shangri-la seemed a good choice, especially since it was where I wanted to try afternoon tea, as well as sample dinner at their signature restaurant. The rooms were very nice:
I spent 5 days in London over the Thanksgiving week. that made for a somewhat unusually long stay there for me. It was actually nice to have the time, as it gave me ample opportunity to visit many places I enjoy seeing, do some shopping, and dine at a variety of restaurants on my list.
Hilton opened a new property in London. It was formerly an Intercontinental Hotel. They turned it into the Conrad St. James Hotel, located right next to the St. James Underground station and an easy stroll from Westminster Abbey and Big Ben/Parliament. Because of the location, decided to just take the Underground from Heathrow Airport, instead of taking the train to Paddington station. I still had to change trains, but it was easy to do so (Piccadilly Line to Circle/District Line). Overall, it probably took the same amount of time.
The hotel was very nice, with modern appointments and large bathrooms. The Executive Lounge was nice as well, rarely crowded, except at very peak times.
The following evening, I went to a place called Restaurant Story in Bermondsey.
For the full write-up, click here.
And, of course, I had to visit one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs.
For the full write-up for this visit, click here.
For a more casual dining experience, my friends at Kitchen Table recommended a Japanese udon restaurant in Soho call Koya. It is one of the few places anywhere that still makes the noodles the traditional way (using footwork). I was warned that it was a very popular place, but I went early and was able to secure a nice seat at the counter facing the kitchen.
In early December, I set up a trip where I would fly back from DC to SFO and then pick up an afternoon flight to continue on to Honolulu. With a 5-hour layover, it seemed like a no-worries itinerary for making connections. However, my day of travel coincided with the worst storm of the season to hit the Bay Area, with the peak predicted to be right when my DC flight was to arrive. I was anticipating the worst, thinking about possible re-routings I could ask for. However, much to my surprise, my flight from Dulles Airport to SFO had no delays, and even landed early. Our only issue was finding a gate, since so many planes were delayed on the ground.
At this point, I would then normally be concerned about whether my outbound flight to Honolulu would be delayed due to a delay of the inbound arrival of the aircraft to be used for the trip. However, it turned out that the plane to be used had cancelled its flight to Honolulu the day before due to a mechanical issue. So, the plane was actually at the maintenance hangar at SFO and just needed to be brought to the gate (which it was after about a half-hour delay). Serendipity seemed to be working in my favor to allow for a relatively smooth travel day at a time when circumstances would normally dictate a very difficult one.
The main purpose of the trip was to enjoy a little warm weather and dine at Vintage Cave to check out the new chef.
The meal experience was very good. It was a bit more classical in construction and preparation than my prior visit. But there was still extensive use of local ingredients. For the full write-up, click here.