Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Join Zipcar and get $25 in free driving!I wrote a post back in October talking about Zipcar’s referral program, and included a badge (reproduced here) that would give anyone signing up through it $25 in driving credit, plus $25 in driving credit to me. Amazingly, someone clicked, and I received an email today saying that I have $25 in driving credit from a web referral! To whomever clicked, thanks for that, and have fun with your Zipcar membership.

Join Zipcar and get $25 in free driving!Zipcar has a new referral program, where if I refer someone, we both get $25 in driving credit. Pretty good deal, eh? Click on the badge at the right to sign up for Zipcar using my referral code.

I’ve had pretty good experiences with Zipcar so far; I documented my first one here, and have rented with them a few more times since then. In Canada, I’ve never had the problem with the gas card that I had in the US on my first rental, it’s worked flawlessly. I have had a few times when the car wasn’t as clean as it could have been — the prior renter leaving crumbs on the seat or coffee rings on the console — although I have to admit that it’s still cleaner than my boyfriend’s car. 🙂 They also dropped their rates a couple of months ago, making it even closer in price (or cheaper, depending on the length of rental) to a regular rental car while remaining much more convenient.

…and all I got was this photo credit. 🙂

I’m having a lot of fun watching how my Flickr photos pop up in different places around the web.

I’m in Florida this week on business (in fact, I’m enjoying the free wifi in Fort Lauderdale airport right now), and because I booked late, the only decent flights for price and schedule were on US Airways. I stopped flying US Air several years ago when their service was crappy and their on-time record — at least when I was on the plane — was even worse. And every flight into the US seemed to stop in Pittsburgh. As an Air Canada regular, I didn’t even consider flying them again until they joined the Star Alliance (which allows me to accumulate Air Canada points for a US Air flight), and even then it’s taken me a few years to return to them because of my previous poor experiences.

The flight down here on Wednesday was a really pleasant surprise. Except for leaving from Toronto terminal 3, which seems so outdated compared to the newer terminal 1, everything went smoothly. We flew to Charlotte on a 737-400 — an adorable little airport with rocking chairs instead of benches in the main concourse — then I changed concourses to board an identical 737-400 on to Fort Lauderdale, only to find the same flight crew on board, a weird coincidence. Both flights landed early, which means that they’ve likely set their schedules overly long to account for any delays, but at least that way there’s many less missed expectations. [I think that this is common practice now; I was on a flight back to Toronto recently that arrived 30 minutes early, which meant that I had to wait around for my ride since he was counting on the flight being on time.]

Even the in-flight magazine was great, with several articles of interest: ferry trips on BC’s inside passage, luxury “camping”, designer purses made out of auto upholstery fabric. I took it with me to the hotel to finish, and grabbed a few references out of it for future travel plans.

One last really nice thing: when I booked the flight at the last minute (less than 24 hours before I flew), only centre seats were available on the online seat selection. However, the online purchase process ingested my Air Canada Aeroplan number, and sometime between then and a couple of hours later when I did the web check-in, it had detected that I’m an Aeroplan Prestige (silver level) member and put me into better aisle and window seats. Bonus.

Although I prefer Air Canada because they tend to have more direct flights to places I’m going, I’d definitely fly US Air again.

I took this video early Thursday morning, somewhere over the American midwest (I assume, based on the time) on an overnight flight from San Francisco to Toronto. The lightening show had been much better about 15 minutes before, but I didn’t think to get out my camera.

My last day in San Francisco before I moved down to the airport Hyatt for my next conference, and since I was staying right on the edge of Chinatown, I decided to treat myself to a little dim sum. City View, located on Commercial right around the corner from the Hilton, was highly recommended on a couple of internet sites over the more upscale Yank Sing. As a single diner, I was able to snag a table at City View right away and was served a pot of jasmine tea immediately although had to wait for a few minutes for the first of the carts to come my way. The room is large, bright and airy, with a long mural along one wall; filled with predominantly Asian families but a few white faces mixed in. Waiters pushed steam carts filled with dim sum, as well as some hand-carried platters for less temperature-sensitive items. Hard to believe, but I ate 5 plates of dim sum: pan-fried dumplings, shrimp in rice noodle rolls, mushroom and shoots in steamed dumplings, BBQ pork with steamed buns on the side (sort of like BBQ pork buns but with the pork, buns and sauce all served separately), and snow pea greens and shrimp in steamed dumplings that looked like a perfect representation of a certain part of the male anatomy. Ahem. All were delicious, although the pan-fried dumplings were a bit greasy, and I won’t be eating dinner tonight.

Afterwards, I walked down to the ferry terminal — making a perfect attendance record there for the past four days — for a chai latte by the water’s edge. The blue skies also had a perfect attendance record: although there was some fog when I awoke this morning, it cleared before I stepped outside and has been great ever since.

With a bit of a trip and some work to do before I met up with friends at the conference hotel tonight, I grabbed my bags and headed for BART to experience tremendously bad transit karma: the train for SFO pulled out just as I came down the steps, making for a 20-minute wait, then I just missed the Hyatt shuttle at the airport for another 20-minute wait. It did give me a chance to finish Ysabel, the fascinating Guy Gavriel Kay book that I was reading; I’ll have to search around for something else to read on the flight home.

That’s likely it for my San Francisco adventures, although I don’t get home for a few more days: the conference blogging will be over on my business blog.

My friend who had recommended Jeanty at Jack’s also recommended Perbacco, just a few blocks away from the hotel, and I walked over for a late dinner after my long day on the bridge.

It’s a lovely narrow place, with exposed brick on the wall behind the long bar, and booths opposite the bar along the other wall. Further back there are tables, but I was seated at a generous 4-person booth so could watch the action up front. It’s also possible eat at the bar, although most people seemed to just be having drinks and a light snack so it may be a limited menu there, or possibly just the late hour. The most unusual feature is a meat locker behind the bar: glass-fronted like a wine or beer fridge, but with salamis and other cured sausages and meats inside. A woman behind the bar was meticulously slicing the meats, presumably on order for the salumi plates.

Although I had cracked open the Rioja back at the hotel for a pre-dinner drink, I ordered a 1/4 l of the 2005 Barbera d’Alba from Piemonte, served in a slender, angular carafe. My appetizer was a salad of roasted red and gold beets — the red ones were a bit tough, but the gold ones were perfectly tender — with baby arugula and a sprinkling of Castelmagno cheese with a vinaigrette dressing. The Calabrese-style roll served on the side was delicious and fresh.

For a main course, I had the risotto, prepared with duck conserve (lighter and less salty than a confit), carmelized onions, sweet corn and baby spinach. The texture was not quite right, as if it had been made with the wrong type of rice, or rushed; considering that it arrived about 20 minutes after I initially ordered, I think that they cheat in the preparation somehow, as most restaurants must do with a time-consuming dish like risotto. The sweet corn was unexpectedly good, delicate kernels bursting with flavour. Overall, the risotta was a good mix of flavours, but could have been improved by a grinding of black pepper, and possibly a bit of a pungent cheese shaved over the top.

I refused dessert, but my waiter brought me a plate with four tiny sweets: two chocolate-hazelnut, like Nutella with a thicker consistency more like fudge, and two Italian nougat with pistachio. The chocolate bits were perfect with the last of the Barbera, and the nougat finished the dinner off nicely.

I was, of course, saving myself for the Recchiuti chocolates that I bought at the market the previous day, and enjoyed those back in my room with another glass of the Rioja. I was expecting firm chocolate throughout, but they were more like filled chocolates with centres of a truffle-like consistency. They were all good, although the cardomom was especially delicious.

Yesterday was another perfect day in San Francisco: clear and sunny with bright blue skies and a breeze to keep the temperature reasonable. I decided to take the ferry to Sausalito and, conditions permitting, walk back to the city over the Golden Gate bridge.

Saint Benoit yogurt potFirst stop, the ferry terminal Saturday market, a wide array of temporary stalls on both the street side and the water side of the terminal. Pat had passed along a review of St. Benoit yogurt, and theirs was the first booth that I visited. The yogurt’s a bit expensive — $4 for a small pot including the $1.25 deposit on the decorative pottery tub that it comes in — but the review promised something special. I tucked it in my bag and moved through the terminal to check the schedules, and found that a ferry was leaving for Sausalito in 20 minutes. Perfect. I bought a ticket, then doubled back to buy a chai at Peet’s; deterred by the long line, I picked up a rye raisin rabbit (whole wheat and rye roll with raisins) from Acme Bread and made for the ferry.

As with many cities on water, San Francisco public ferries are the cheapest way to get a quick harbour tour, especially if you want to go wherever they’re going. For $7.10, the ferry leaves from just north of the Oakland Bay bridge, with views of Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands, travels up the east side of the city, then heads out across the bay, skirting to the east of Alcatraz with a great view of the Golden Gate bridge, and on past Angel Island to reach Sausalito. About 30 minutes in total, and you’re on the lovely and very touristy Sausalito waterfront.

Years ago — at least 10 — I was on a 4-day wine cruise tour out of San Francisco, where we cruised on a river boat up the Sacramento river, then up the Napa river for a local tour and another overnight at Sacramento. When we returned to San Francisco, we took the ferry over to Sausalito and climbed up to the Alta Mira hotel, which had a dining room on the terrace with a fabulous view of San Francisco and an even more fabulous wine list. With that memory in mind, I crossed the street directly by the fountain at the ferry docks in Sausalito, and found those long-ago steps leading up the side of the hill. Channeling my inner mountain goat, I climbed up, looking back occasionally for the views over the water, and finally reached the Alta Mira. Alas, in 2004 it was converted to a bed-and-breakfast with no public dining facilities, and that wine list on the terrace is gone. The very accommodating desk clerk invited me to go out on the terrace and enjoy the view; that remains the same.

Panorama from the Alta Mira in Sausalito

I hiked back down to the water’s edge and walked along, the Golden Gate bridge in my mind although I had only a rough idea of how far it was. Amidst the usual array of tourist stores and ice cream shops, a man was creating balanced rock sculptures on the breakwall. Rock balancing at Sausalito waterfrontA few kayakers were enjoying the water. Cyclists on rented bicycles, obviously from the San Francisco side, where everywhere. And tourists, tourists, tourists. I started walking in the direction of the bridge. Five miles and about 400 feet of elevation increase later, I reached the north lookout point beside the bridge, wishing that I had worn more appropriate shoes. I stopped for a brief look around and to rehydrate at a water fountain (stupidly, I didn’t carry any water), then started across the bridge.

There is a walkway on either side of the bridge: bicycles on the west (ocean) side, and pedestrians on the east (city) side. Those of us on foot have the better view, I think. The bridge is 4,200 feet across, and it’s windy enough that I had to take off my hat. The sun and wind were pretty intense; between the walk up from Sausalito and the trip across the bridge, my shoulders and nose were sunburned in spite of the 30spf that I’d applied before leaving the hotel. I walked out on the bridge, pausing frequently to snap photos and peer over the edge at the boats passing below. With only a standard height handrail, I can see why this is such a popular spot for jumpers.

Golden Gate bridge towerLike a true engineer, a little ways out on the bridge I stopped to grasp one of the huge steel cables running up from the roadbed to the suspension cables. It vibrated in my hand, strummed by the constant wind blowing through the strait. I gawked upwards at the towers and the cables, having much more time to do so than when I’ve driven across the bridge in the past. Some drivers obviously had a problem with that as well; I witnessed one of what was likely a number of rear-end collisions on the bridge that day, due to either or both of the parties looking up instead of ahead.

I reached the city side of the bridge, and knew that I wasn’t walking any further for a while. I hopped on a local bus headed for Fort Mason, figuring that I’d walk from there to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a lovely walk along from Fort Mason, although a bit further than I’d anticipated with my already sore feet, but I did pass by a bit of sand beach that I didn’t even know existed, complete with kids paddling in the water to escape the heat.

Fisherman’s Wharf was a zoo of tourists, and I couldn’t get away from there fast enough. I knew that the cable cars would be crammed, so headed for the F car — historic electric streetcars that run along Embarcadero to Market, then up Market. I figured that I could hop off at the ferry terminal just before it made its turn onto Market, and walk the short distance to the Hilton from there. There was a car waiting, and I hopped on to find it over-crowded with people who mostly seemed to know each other. My fare was waved away, I have no idea why, and we departed a few minutes later for a crowded but laughing trip along Embarcadero. I hopped off at the ferry terminal, went in and finally got my masala chai latte from Peet’s, and finished my afternoon outside on a bench watching the ferry dock where I had departed more than five hours earlier.

I shot this video clip today just as I started walking over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Note the sailboat in the beginning part of the clip, unable to make any headway against the wind and current under the bridge in spite of being in full sail:

Still Friday night here in San Francisco, and I just came back from a small dinner at Jeanty at Jack’s, just a few blocks from my hotel and recommended by the friend who I had met earlier for drinks. I didn’t feel like a full meal, so I skipped the steak frites (actually, entrecĂ´te), the cassoulet and even the sole meunière in favour of the terrine de lapin and the tomato soup, accompanied by a glass of Caillou CĂ´tes du RhĂ´ne.

The terrine was fatty but in a good, buttery way. It was served with a small mound of a slaw-like salad of apple and celery root matchsticks with a slightly mustard-y dressing that tasted of something not quite right — flour used for thickening? The plate was dressed with a swirl of mustard, darker and less tangy than a Dijon so as to not overpower the mild terrine, and small, tart cornichons made a nice contrast with the rabbit. It was served with fresh baguette slices.

I grew up on Campbell’s tomato soup, and although it has a nice homey feel to it, I’d never consider ordering tomato soup in a restaurant, except that the friend who recommended the restaurant said that “the tomato bisque in a pastry puff is worth the trip alone”. Jeanty’s tomato soup is from a completely different planet than Campbell’s. A bisque, really; cream-laden and both comforting and exquisite in the mouth, both in texture and taste. And the pièce de rĂ©sistance: it’s served in a miniature soup tureen with a cap of puff pastry sealed all around and baked in place. I gently pushed through the domed cap, dipping the pieces of pastry in the creamy bisque. OMG.

The chocolates and Rioja will have to wait for tomorrow.