Thursday, May 22, 2014

2014 - Vermont/Quebec City (summary)

All the way back to our early 2014 trip!

Driving, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, except the final drive which was straight from Quebec City, Quebec to Toronto, Ontario is roughly 8 hours.  Since every city we pass has been on the itinerary already, we just drove straight back with a pit stop for lunch.

Ottawa, Winterlude was awesome.  All things considered, I enjoyed my stay during winter time and I would come back again for this.  Best of all, it was FREE!  The accommodations were okay, not too far from the city centre (could have been slightly closer).

Montreal, I have been here a few times, during winter on a weekday, it is not quite what I remember it.  All the streets are pretty empty with everyone being at work. The accommodations were small, breakfast was unique.

Vermont, the shopping was decent, although the working hours seem really odd.  The outlet mall in Manchester was only open until 6:00pm, everyday.  The food was AMAZING!  We had no bad meals while we were here and they were fairly priced (roughly $10 for lunch, $20 for dinner).  Sugar Bush was a good choice recommended by my uncle.  I would go again, although I may try one of the other big mountains that they have here next time.  Accommodations were roomy and the included breakfasts were pretty good.

Quebec City, I would return just for the slide.  That thing is amazing.  The Carnaval was a bit of a disappointment due to the fact that Winterlude in Ottawa is free.  The cost is not high ($15), but the included festivities were very similar to Winterlude.  The food was pretty good here.  Accommodations were nice although a bit far from the city centre.

Highlights, Sugar Bush, Vermont food and Winterlude.

Disappointments, Carnaval I expected to be better than Winterlude.  There is nothing wrong with it, but I expected more since Winterlude was free.

Would I do this again, yes.  I might skip some parts next time, but overall, it was a nicely planned out trip.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014 - Chicago (summary)

Thought I'd go back and put in some summaries to summarize the trip/areas.

Drive, this is a long and fairly boring drive from Toronto. Roughly 9 hours, I'm not sure we would do it again. Even with the initial stopover at the outlet malls, doesn't seem worth it. If I went again, I would probably opt to fly depending on the cost.

Food, the food was really good here. Props to Mike taking the time and effort in finding the places and thanks to Alex for actually getting us a reservation at Girl and the Goat. No complaints about any of the places we stopped at for snacks or meals.

Accommodations, the place was okay. The area could've been a bit better, but the price was pretty good for the city especially since it included parking (parking in this city is ridiculous.

Regrets, I wish we could've done the boat cruise. It looks like it would've been interesting given how unique the architecture in the city is.

Disappointments, deep dish could've been better, but that may be because we didn't go to the better pizza joints in town. Next time!

Highlights, definitely the food and architecture.

Costs, accommodations worked out to about $81 Canadian for 3 nights, car rental + gas was $89, plus food and other things.

Would I return, yes. The food and architecture is worth another visit.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

2014 - Finger Lakes (summary)

I should probably do this more often and since Chicago is still in my mind I will go back and write one for that. Maybe even Vermont.

Food, of all the places that we went, the places I would recommend are actually not the restaurants but the snack shops that we went to.  Purity Ice Cream and Paula's Donuts were really good. The other food places I have no real attachment to. Magee Diner and Just A Taste were good but I don't think I would make my way out to try them again. The other places I can skip (Kentucky Greg's, Saigon Kitchen, Lake Effect Diner, Louie Hanover).

Accommodations, the Holiday Inn is a nice change from our usual bnbs. The room was big, nicely decorated, it had a gym and pool that we didn't get a chance to use.  Good deal for roughly $100 USD a night especially since we got breakfast and which wasn't continental. My only issue would be that it is a little bit out of the way. Watkins Glen was 30 minutes away and Ithaca was about 45. Not a huge deal since I did look in those areas and the hotels didn't seem as nice or were double the price.

Attractions, I thought overall this was a nice and fun trip. We started with Buffalo, wandered through two ships and a sub. Next day was hiking two national parks and finished with a day of shopping. Some people may have preferred some things over others but I thought having a different thing each day was nice.  Of all the parks that we visited, I probably enjoyed Watkins Glen the most. When you drive up to the east entrance it was like driving to the start of a canyon (having never seen an actual canyon, this is my reference point for now).  The gorge trail was awesome and I wouldn't mind visiting again to see the whole trail but it may begin to look the same after awhile.

Travel, we took my car for this trip since I didn't think it was far enough that I would need to take a break.  I drive a manual TSX, so it is more roomy/bigger trunk than the Civic we would've used if we used Allison's car.  No one in the car knows how to drive manual except myself.  This is roughly the distance I can do before having to quit for a break.  Toronto to Finger Lakes (specifically Watkins Glen) is roughly a 4 hour drive.  Fortunately I planned for most places to be roughly 2 hour stops so they weren't extremely long drives.

Lesson's learnt, TripAdvisor reviews cannot always be trusted.  All the places that I chose to eat at were highly rated on TripAdvisor and some were duds.  Some of the other places I got from other sites, which also had the same end result.  It isn't that they were horrible (besides Saigon Kitchen which was just overpriced and terrible service), but they really should not be 4 out of 5 star places.

Regrets, I wish that we could've seen the sculpture park.  Maybe next time, it looks like it would be pretty cool, unfortunately it rained on us which means we wouldn't have been able to get good photos since the grass was soggy.

Costs, accommodations were roughly $115 USD a person and we spent roughly $130 in gas (so, $32 a person).  Food was about $30-$40 a day roughly.

Would I return, it was fun.  I'd go again but to visit some different parks maybe and try the sculpture park again.

Monday, May 19, 2014

2014 - Finger Lakes (Day 3)

Our final day. After packing and grabbing breakfast at the hotel we went off to Waterloo Premium Outlets. Our GPS got us a bit lost but we found it in the end. Total damage after 2.5 hours was roughly $400. A decent stop. Got a pair of pants, sweater, polo, and a pair of Sauconys for $80. It looks big to me, but may be about the same size as Fashion Outlets Niagara

For lunch we stopped at Magee Diner. Good food at very low prices. The burger was only $4 and it comes with chips. Oddly the toppings cost money, $0.75 for tomato and lettuce. This place was pretty neat. It is home to A LOT of cow related products. Toys, kettles, wallpaper, etc. It looks like a place that truckers would go to for food since the price is good and the portions are enormous.

One final stop at Trader Joe's to see if they had the espresso pillows and they did! Mike and Harold, you have souvenirs!

Allison suggested the Peace bridge for return and it was the better choice. Estimated time was 30-60 minutes versus 60-90 at the Queenston bridge. The wait was about 50 minutes.

The border for Canada always seems so rough. When we headed to USA, the lady asked how we knew each. My answer was friends. To which she replied just friends? So I said girlfriend. And she said all of them? And I said is that too little or too many? Thank goodness she had a sense of humor.

Travel back was longer than expected mostly due to traffic. Took us almost two hours to get to Mississauga. We had dinner at Sam Woo by Sharon's place and then headed home.

Another trip done! Till next time.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

2014 - Finger Lakes (Day 2)

So unfortunately the weather is not cooperating with us so we may need to just hike the trails to see how it is and consider returning at a later time. There was a lot of rain recently and this has caused most of the gorge trails to be closed. The weather calls for isolated showers throughout the day.

With the hotel we actually got $10 breakfast vouchers and we were debating about whether it would be worth it. Well, as we walked outside to the car we saw a giant group of people doing a run on the road. Apparently there is some breast cancer run this weekend and it looked like it would take awhile before we could leave since the road is blocked so we ended up having breakfast at the hotel. It was okay. The vouchers did cover breakfast plus drink which was good. I assumed it would be continental so it was nice that it was ordering from a menu.

Onto Watkins Glen! Roughly a 30 minute drive from Elmira. If water would split rock, this is what it would look like. It is a massive gorge with a decent sized gorge trail. We spent about 2.5 hours there. We walk a mile into the gorge trail and returned to the start on parts of the south rim and Indian trail. This place was really cool. The beginning was great and then about 70% in it was really nice to see the huge waterfall. Worth it!

For lunch we went to Saigon Kitchen in Ithaca. Highly reviewed for reasons I don't understand. It is expensive, smaller portions than back home, and they didn't even get our orders correct. House special pho was $9.50 which was about medium in size.

To hopefully satisfy our disappointing lunch we headed to Purity Ice Cream just up the street. They did not disappoint. The bulldog crunch was amazing. $3 after tax for a single scoop which was pretty big!

We head to Ithaca Falls for a short stop which was close by to see the local waterfall. It was very nice. It is just a short walk from the main road. There were a lot more people than I thought there would be. Worth a quick stop if you are nearby.

Next stop was Taughannock Falls. Thinking that this would be disappointing after Watkins Glen, it wasn't too bad. There is a nice waterfall at the end of the gorge trail. How it worked out is really nice. You are in a shaded tree-covered trail walking alongside a fairly wide stream and when the trees give way and you look ahead, you see a nice open area featuring the waterfall with a nice area for you to take pictures. If you do the rim trails start at the north rim. There are a few scenic lookouts whereas the south rim did not have much. The gorge took us about 45 minutes. The rim trails was about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

For dinner we went to Just A Taste for tapas. Even arriving at 8:00pm, we still had to wait 30 minutes for a table. Mind you, we didn't want to sit in the patio since it was dark and getting cold. So while we waited we wandered the area a bit. It was under construction but it looks like it would be a nice area to walk around once the construction finishes. The wings were really good, the rest was okay. Not overall expensive at $18 after tax and tip a person which gave us 4 veg/bread dishes and 4 meat/fish dishes.

Tomorrow we go shopping!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

2014 - Finger Lakes (Day 1)

Another long weekend, another trip! This time we are going to Finger Lakes, New York. Another trip with others, Sharon and Tracey.

We head out at around 7:00am with a 30 minute delay at the Queenston border, we made it to Lake Effect Diner for breakfast at around 9:30. They had some good potato pancakes and was featured on triple d. It has a real diner feel to it (old, restaurant looks like a converted trailer).

Next we head out to Trader Joe's for some requests. Unfortunately these espresso pillows are pretty rare. They would be getting 2 cases tonight and hopefully we will get some on the way back to Toronto.

We stopped at Paula's Donuts. They have some really good cakey donuts for only $1! $5.50 for six, and $10.00 for a dozen.

The naval shipyard is pretty cool. $10 gets you access to two ships, a submarine and a museum. I thought the first ship and the submarine was really cool. The museum was OK and I thought the second ship was too gutted. CAA discount got us $1 off the ticket price, $4 saved!

Kentucky Greg's was for lunch and it was okay. Not sure why it reviews so well. By now, we have realized that we have driven around in circles. I probably could have organized the destinations a bit better, but that would mean snacks before breakfast, oh well.

We tried to visit the Griffis Sculpture Park but since it was raining we had to call it a night. Hopefully the weather holds up for tomorrow since we will be hiking all day. Based on the few that we saw outside, I think this place would have been really neat for photo ops. Another time I suppose...

For dinner we went to Louies Hanover. The place is located in Horseheads which is a short drive from our hotel which will be in Elmira (Holiday Inn). It was okay, nothing fancy although it seemed really busy.

Finally, our hotel for the weekend. We are staying at Holiday Inn at Elmira for 2 nights (Saturday/Sunday) and the rooms are roughly $100 USD/night and included $10 breakfast vouchers for the month of May which is nice. Tomorrow we will find out if $10 is enough to cover our breakfast!

Tomorrow's itinerary is to try to go to 4 state parks and one waterfall! I wonder how we will do.