The French Know How To Vacation

The French know how to vacation the right way. While on our way to Château de Fontainebleau in France last summer, our driver, a frantic French man, pointed to the traffic on the nearby Highway. He emphasized how he was smart to avoid all the Parisians leaving for holiday. Holiday? He explained that, in France, people leave the city in either July or August for vacation. And they’re gone for the entire month. Yes, month.

As an American, this was a novel idea to me. I had never heard of such a thing and had a difficult time imagining what a month long vacation was like. Americans get a lousy two weeks off. Most people view those two weeks as something to brag about. In reality, those two weeks are rushed and hectic. Two weeks of rushed vacation time, trying to hit every landmark before the clock stops ticking. Two weeks of running away from the inevitable return to the mundane 9-to-5. American vacation is work outside of work. Two weeks is not enough.

The Parisian’s know how to vacation right. They take things slow. They slowly roll out of bed at 9am (maybe 10am, there’s no rush) and sip on a hot cup of café au lait. They enjoy a novel. They make love. But, more importantly, they relax. Relaxation during vacation is something that we can all learn how to do better. To do so, all we need to do is look at the experts in the field. The French.

In France, expect beaucoup de vacation.

Toronto/New York Trip Day 1 + 2

This is the first of a couple day-by-day updates that I’ll be doing during my trip to Toronto and New York. I thought it would be cool to keep you guys up to date on what I’m up to and what tees I’m wearing! If you want to check out the tee that I wore, just click on the orange links.

Arrival/Day 1 T-Shirt of Choice: Slide To Unlock by Milk and Eggs Co.

Michelle and I began our trip by leaving sunny Honolulu, Hawaii for the first part of our two-destination trip to Toronto, Canada. The total time to get from Honolulu to Toronto was 15 hours, which included a 4 hour stop in Detroit, Michigan. By the time we reached Toronto, we were pooped out from spending nearly a day in the air and at multiple airports.

We reached Toronto’s Pearson International Airport at around 2pm and then caught the subway to our hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott Toronto Downtown. It took us about 45 minutes to get from the airport to the Marriott. We didn’t have much down time once we reached the hotel. We unpacked and then got ready for our first experience of Toronto – Jersey Boys, which was playing at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Jersey Boys - Toronto Centre of the Arts

Jersey Boys Toronto

No photos were allowed in the theater, but here’s an excellent shot from Broadway World.

Jersey Boys - Toronto Centre of the Arts

Jersey Boys is the story of pop sensation Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Not sure who The Four Seasons are? Think of the songs Sherry, Walk Like A Man, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You. We made it just in time to eat dinner at Milestones Bar and Grill and catch this limited engagement in Toronto. It costs at least 33% more to see it on Broadway – so we were able to save some bucks! The show was awesome and by the end the cast had a standing ovation.

The show finished at around 10 pm so we decided to check out Yonge-Dundas Square, also known as the Little Times Square of Toronto. This public open space is very much like a miniature Times Square, with its eye-catching billboards, shops and people traffic.

By the time we reached our hotel, we were both completely exhausted. Sleep was definitely needed to rejuvenate ourselves for tomorrow’s big adventure.

Day 2 T-Shirt of Choice: Bodega by Regan Smith Clarke

Today was all about Niagara Falls, but I am getting ahead of myself. First up was breakfast at Mystic Muffin. This Middle Eastern Sandwhich Shop and Bakery is known for their Falafels and Apple Cake. It was a bit too early for me to get Falafels, but I knew that I had to have a taste of the famous Mystic Muffin Apple Cake (take a look at their Yelp page, nearly every reviewer mentions the Apple Cake with high regard). Michelle decided on the Banana Bread. We thought the baked goods were yummy, but were not as blown away as the other Yelp reviewers.

Mystic Muffin

After Mystic Muffin, we made our way to Yonge-Dundas Square to get a taste of it during the daytime. After a few pictures in front of the fountains that emerge from the surface of the southwest corner of the square. After a second visit to the Square, we headed towards CN Tower.

At 553.3 metres (1,815 ft) tall, CN Tower is the world’s 3rd tallest free-standing structure. This signature icon of Toronto’s skyline is known for the view from its observation deck and its glass floor. According to Wikipedia, the glass floor has an area of 24 square metres (258 sq ft) and can withstand a pressure of 4,100 kilopascals (595 psi). I didn’t hesitate to get on the glass, but once I was on it, I became very nervous. I think I might have even experienced a slight bout of acrophobia (fear of heights). I found myself freezing in place and I could feel my palms get very sweaty. Michelle had no problem on the glass floors. I observed one kid have a nervous breakdown after crawling his way off of the floor. Unfortunately, it was bait cloudy, so we decided not to pay extra to go up to the Sky Pod portion of the tower. They say that on a clear day, you can see Niagara Falls and even New York.

CN Tower - Glass Floors

CN Tower

I couldn’t get a good photo of CN Tower because it was rather cloudy, but here’s a nice one by Flickr user SanGatiche.

After the Tower, we made a quick stop at Nathan Phillips Square and Toronto City Hall and then we both jetted back to the hotel – we had a 12:35 pm tour bus to Niagara Falls to catch! This comprehensive 12 hour tour including stops at Pillitteri Estate Winery for some wine tasting. I didn’t know this, but the Niagara area is also well known for their wineries. I had a taste of their award winning ice wine and I have to say that it was probably the sweetest wine that I’ve ever tasted. It was very good. A glass of the ice wine normally goes for 30-40 bucks, so we were lucky to taste a glass for just $2 – so worth it!

Following Pillitteri Winery, we drove through Niagara on the Lake, a quaint little town known for giving many black Americans their first taste of freedom. The town is also known for its Victorian style homes, gardens, art galleries, and antique shops. We also stopped by the Niagara Floral Clock, very large outdoor clock that features an extraordinary floral showpiece.

Niagara Falls was the main destination of the day, and we had finally made it to the falls. From a distance, Niagara Falls is very impressive. Up close, it is unbelievable and awe-inspiring. We took the Maid of the Mist bout tour and was able to get very close to both the American side of the falls and the Canadian side of the falls. The Canadian side of the falls trumps the American side in both size and sheer power. The boat to the Canadian side of the falls was like entering a rain storm, the mist was that powerful. It’s a good thing that they provided us with ponchos! Niagara Falls is definitely a must visit if you are even in the Toronto area. It will blow your mind!

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

After the boat tour of the falls, we had a group dinner at the Fallsview Restaurant at the top of the Sheraton. After the buffet dinner, we explored Fallsview. The mix of bright lights, restaurants, hotels and casinos make this side of the Niagara look like a miniature version of Las Vegas.

Since it was a Friday, we decided to wait for the fireworks show at 10 pm. To burn the time, we checked out the Niagara Whirlpool. Where the Niagara River makes a 90 degree turn, a level 6 rapids whirlpool is formed. Pretty insane.

And finally, the fireworks show made for an excellent end to our Niagara Falls experience. The trip back took about 1.5 hours and by the time we reached our hotel it was already 12 am! And with that, our short visit to Toronto came to an end. Our flight to New York leaves early tomorrow morning and I am excited for the Big Apple adventures ahead, but I am also sleep deprived. Maybe I’ll be able to get some sleep on the plane, I hope.

Philadelphia/San Francisco Day 8 + 9

Day 8 T-Shirt of Choice: Hello by Buddy Carr and New York based graphic designer Antonio Caruson

Our last full day in San Francisco was unintentionally the day that we did the most of our shopping. We decided to check out a few parts of the City by the Bay that we hadn’t seen before. This meant a trip to Japantown, South of Market (SOMA) and the Mission District. We started the day off with a visit to Japantown, which ended up being a great time. This area of San Francisco, which is located about 15 minutes from Union Square, is home to scores of Japanese shops and restaurants.

Japantown San Francisco

DSC09123

Instead of a big breakfast, we decided to pick up some pastries from Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop, a Japanese family-run bakery in the heart of Japantown. Everything in this very small bakery looked so good, but we both decided on the Chocolate and Strawberry Roll. And let me tell you, this was probably the most delicious piece of pastry that I’ve had in a very long time. The roll itself was very soft but the strawberry filling tasted like strawberry ice cream. I wish I could have tried more pastries from Yasukochi’s, but alas, there’s always next time. Make Yasukochi’s a must stop if you ever find yourself in San Francisco.

Japantown had so many little shops to offer. Michelle spent a considerable amount of time in the largest Sanrio store that I’ve ever seen. Talk about Hello Kitty overload. I’ve never been in a room with more pink in my entire life. Wow.

Japantown Red Bean Fish Pastry

While Michelle indulged in her shopping, I decided to stop by a little food stand called May’s Coffee Shop. They specialize in these little fish-shaped pastries that are filled with sweet red beans. I picked up one of those as well as a spam musubi. It almost felt like I was back in Hawaii (spam musubis are huge in Hawaii). And for the uninitiated, spam musubis is a rectangular block of rice topped with a slice of spam and wrapped in nori (seaweed). The red bean pastry was good, the musubi was ok, but more interesting than that, I was sitting next to the owner of May’s Coffee Shop. I struck up a conversation with this 75ish looking Japanese lady and she mentioned to me that she had just returned from vacationing in Hawaii. How neat!

Nippon-Ya is a great place to pick up Japanese candies and mochi. I picked up a box of strawberry and chocolate mochi as well as a box of banana and chocolate mochi. I can’t wait to try them!

Nipon-Ya

PikaPika

The most exciting part of our journey to Japantown was the experience known as PikaPika. PikaPika is a shop filled with tons of Japanese photo booths. And we are talking authentic Japanese photo booths that speak to you in Japanese! Luckily, they provide English directions on these large cardboard slabs. What makes the PikaPika fun is that it’s timed so you have to move quickly when figuring out your different poses. Some booths also have monkey bars for those who want to try out some outrageous poses! Once you’ve taken all of your photos, you can then design them with borders and different designs. Apparently, these photo booths are all the rage in Japan. It was a super fun experience!

After Japantown, we headed toward the area of San Francisco known as SOMA, which is short for South of Market Street. Our main mission in SOMA was to stop by the Gama-Go store. T-Shirt fans will probably be familiar with Gama-Go. They are an independent T-Shirt brand based out of San Francisco. I’ll give Gama-Go their own post here on the blog with photos taken at the shop, so, be on the lookout for that.

Game-Go

Things got interesting when we left SOMA for the Mission District of San Francisco. The Mission District has a very large Latino population, so much so, that it caught us a little bit by surprise. We had planned to stop by a restaurant known as The Sandwich Place for lunch, but unfortunately they had just closed for the day. So, we decided to go straight to our next stop on the day’s itinerary which was Goldilocks Bakery, a bakery deep in the Mission District. Michelle ended up buying an insane amount of Filipino pastries to take home for her mom.

We wrapped up the afternoon by eating lunch in a Chinese hole in the wall across the street from the Goldilocks Bakery. It was called Chop Sticks Fast Food Restaurant. Chinese Fast Food Restaurant. We ended up there after we saw that it had a very high ranking on Yelp. It was a one man run pit stop for very cheap Chinese food. In this case, cheap also meant very good Chinese food. We each got large plates for $4 a piece. How insane is that?

After heading back to the hotel to freshen up, we decided to catch a movie at the Westfield Mall, which was conveniently located across our hotel on Market Street. We saw the new Ben Stiller flick, Greenberg. It was an odd little indie type flick. I enjoyed it; Michelle, not so much.

For dinner we stopped by Cafe Bellini on Powell Street for some pasta. I had the spaghetti with meatballs and Michelle had the penne pesto pasta. The food was ok and we were just happy to find something open for dinner that late in the night.

Day 9 T-Shirt of Choice: I Am The Walrus and Striking Zip Up Hoodie by Fuzzy Ink (not a T-Shirt, I know, but it is made by a popular indie designer who we’ve featured on this site many times before).

And so the journey back home begins. But not just yet. We still had a few hours left in lovely San Francisco so we decided to make the most of it. We had breakfast at one of our favorite breakfast spots in the city, Sear’s Fine Foods. If you watch either the Travel Channel or the Food Channel then chances are that you’re familiar with Sear’s. The thing to get at Sear’s is their World Famous 18 Swedish Pancakes. We of course ordered that as well as the usual breakfast fare of eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast.

Sear's Fine Food

After breakfast we crossed the street to Union Square–home to the famous San Francisco Hearts. These large heart structures can be found throughout the city, but the ones in Union Square are definitely the most famous. “Hearts in San Francisco began in 2004 as a fundraiser for the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. Like the famous painted cows, the painted hearts, created from uniform molds and painted by individual artists, decorate the city in areas like Union Square, until they are auctioned off at a benefit for the charity. New hearts are unveiled each year.”

San Francisco Heart

And with that final sightseeing session, our vacation was officially over. As we prepared for the daunting 8 hour trip back home, we reflected a bit about the last 9 days. We both realized that we genuinely loved the city of San Francisco. We also both realized that we absolutely hated flights that involve stop-overs. Philadelphia undoubtedly has some of the best eating spots on the planet. San Francisco’s eclectic and diverse culture never gets old.

We both began brainstorming ideas for our next trip, and the one after that. One thing is for sure, we both love traveling and food. And the best way to experience one or the other is to do them both at the same time. I could have a cheesesteak anywhere in the world, but it would never be as good as a cheesesteak eaten in the heart of south Philadelphia. I look forward to my next trip, wherever that may be. I just hope that it is as good as this one has been, filled with just as many memories, and involves lots and lots of great food.

And here’s a little video slideshow for you to enjoy!

Seattle/Portland Trip Day 5 + 6

And my Seattle/Portland daily recaps continue!

Day 5 T-Shirt of Choice: Make Me A Sandwich by Seibei and Bombs Away by Dale Edwin Murray (Tilteed)

This marked the start of our road trip to neighboring state, Oregon. We began the morning by having breakfast at a little cafe en route to Tacoma, were would switch off with our friends cousin whose car we were borrowing for the trip to Portland. The Shipwreck Cafe is this small stop off of Martin Way in Olympia, Washington. I got the breakfast special, which consisted of chickenfried steak, eggs, hashbrowns and toast. It was better than I expected! Tons of gravy lathered over the chicken steak. Don’t pay attention to the calories because the gravy really makes this dish special.

Oregon

After breakfast we headed straight for our first stop in Portland, the Full Sail Brewery, which is right next to Hood River. Full Sail Brewery is known for their award winning Session brew. The brewery tour lasted about 30 minutes and was quite interesting and informative. They walk you through the entire beer making process and even let you taste the ingrediants that go into brewing beer. At the end of the tour you score a free Full Sail glass!

Full Sail Brewery

The food at Full Sail Brewery was OK but the beer was exceptional. I especially loved the Full Sail Session Lager, that is definitely my type of beer and well worth the 2.5 hour drive from Tacoma. We ended up buying a case to bring back to the hotel.

After Full Sail we headed to Portland to check into our hotel, the third Marriot stop of our Seattle/Portland journey. We got lost. But that was a good thing because we ended up at a Traders Joe’s and bought tons of snacks! I wish Hawaii had a Trader Joe’s.

Lo and behold our hotel was only 5 minutes away from Trader Joes. We made it to our hotel, quickly unpacked and headed out to yet another beer destination – Rogue Distillery & Public House, to meet up with Travis Greenwood of Found Item Clothing and Patrick Treadway of Tilteed! We had a great time chatting about tees, Portland life, tees, and tees! It was great meeting up with those two excellent dudes. And my friends were happy because they scored some free tees from Patrick and one of you lucky readers will score a free tee(s) from Travis (I need to first figure out how to give them away)!

Travis Greenwood of Found Item Clothing

That’s Travis Greenwood from Found Item Clothing. Amazing guy who knows a ton about shirts and has crazy ideas! Follow him on Twitter @founditemclothing.

Parick Treadway of Tilteed.com

Hey, it’s Patrick from Tilteed.com! He markets, prints, and ships out all Tilteed orders by himself! Talk about dedication and being passionate about what you do! Follow Tilteed on Twitter @Tilteed. Use the code “TiltCoty” for an additional $2 off your Tilteed order!

After Rogue, Patrick was kind enough to drive us to VooDoo Doughnuts to get a taste of the weirdness that is Portland! VooDoo Doughnoughts was great experiece filled with an eclectic set of people! I’ve never quite experienced anything like VooDoo Doughnuts. It was a trip to say the least. And Patrick was right, VooDoo Doughnuts is best experienced at night because when we stopped by the following morning, the crowd was a bore compared to the night munchers.

VooDoo Doughnuts

Yes, that’s bacon on top of maple syrup drenched doughnut. Only at VooDoo Doughnuts!

Day 6 T-Shirt of Choice: Make Wellness Not War by I Am Wellness

Portland here we come! The morning was spent exploring the Pearl District of Portland. Our first stop was the famous Powell’s Books on Burnside. To say that this bookstore is huge is a big understatement. It’s ginormous. It’s probably larger than most public libraries you’ve been to. The store is split up into 8 different sections based on genre and occupies three full floors. You could spend countless hours exploring Powell’s, unfortunately our time was limited so our visit was brief (I still left with two new books).

Keep Portland Weird

As I was walking through Portland someone walked right pass me and said “I Love Your Shirt”. You can get it from I Am Wellness. Use the code “SUMMER09″ for 15% off (hopefully the code still works).

By the time we were through with Powell’s we headed out to lunch at Old Town Pizza which is an iconic Portland eatery with a haunted reputation. “Don’t be surprised if an unexpected guest joins you for a slice today. A constant presence at Old Town Pizza is Nina (pronounced “Nigh-na”), our resident ghost. If you feel a presence behind you, or smell a faint waft of perfume, you may have just received a visit. Nina is often seen in a black dress observing diners and wandering the basement below.” We settled on the House Pizza topped with salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushroom, black olives and bell peppers. The pizza was good but unfortunately there was no sighting of Nina, the resident ghost. I will say, though, that the restroom was freaky as hell. It is very dimly lit in there and I had a weird feeling (while I was peeing no less) that someone was watching me. Freaky!

Ground Kontrol is a neat little vintage arcade that Travis of Found Item Clothing suggested we hit up and I’m glad that we did! We spent about an hour in there playing some very old school arcade games like Centipede, Punch-Out, Simpsons and Space Invaders. This is not your typical arcade because at Ground Kontrol there is a fully functional bar. Awesome.

Ground Kontrol

I’m a huge fan of Punch-Out so I was stoked to find this classic arcade game at Ground Kontrol!

After Ground Kontrol my buddies decided to grab a box of VooDoo doughnuts for the drive back home. While they stood in line (in the hot sun no less and yet another reason to go during the night time) I ventured down the street and stumbled across a neat little coffee/art shop called Stumptown Coffee Roasters. It had a a nice open space as opposed to the typical cramped coffee shop. I had the Queens Iced Tea and it was the cool refreshment that I needed! While the guys stood in that line for VooDoo doughnuts I sipped on my iced tea in air conditioning!

Good bye Portland, I knew you for just a day but I had a great time! Now en route to Tacoma (to return the car), we decided to stop by the Outlet Mall near Chehalis and in Centralia, Washington. The outlet stores of importance included Quicksilver, Billabong, and Nike. We hit those three shops up pretty hard.

From there we caught a shuttle to the 4th and final hotel of our stay – the Marriott Seattle Waterfront, which is just a few steps from Pike’s Place. We didn’t stay in the hotel for long as we decided grab some Clam Chowder from the original Ivar’s Seafood, right on the Seattle Waterfront. When you go to Ivar’s there just one thing you need to get – The Clam Chowder! We ordered one of each of the three different varieties: white, red and salmon. I urge you to do the same.

Ivar's

They encourage you to feed the Seagulls.

Ivar's

Small cup of Salmon Clam Chowder from Iver’s before heading to Del Rays for even more food and drinks!

Next we hit up Del-Rey’s for appetizers and drinks (or should I say beers and margaritas) and then finished the night off by closing down the bar at, appropriately, Ohana’s in Belltown, a Hawaiian themed bar. This was the third night that we stayed at a bar till closing (2am in Seattle).

But the night did not end there. We ventured off into the alley ways of the Seattle Waterfront and eventually ending up at Pier 67. The streets were empty and all that was left were four guys from Hawaii, laughing, talking and enjoying the camaraderie that you get from being with your closest friends.

Ohana Bar

Strangely enough, we ended our last together at Ohana’s in Belltown.