Tag Archives: Traveling

A Taste of Pittsburgh

Since my wife is in charge of meal planning for all of our trips, I wasn’t sure what to expect food-wise but I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of amazing restaurants in Pittsburgh. Highlights included:

Primanti Bros: Whenever I asked about Pittsburgh, people have told me that I have to visit Primanti Bros. The place has been around for about 80 years. It started out as a small sandwich shop in the Strip District and because most of the clientele were truckers, they started designing their sandwiches with french fries and coleslaw right on the sandwich itself….for ease of eating while driving. The four elements that make up most of the sandwiches….. the bread, meat, french fries, and coleslaw…were all delicious. The sandwiches were all big, solid, excellent sandwiches. Whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, or a late-night bite, I definitely agree that Primanti Bros. is worth a stop. Or maybe more than one….

Gaucho Parrilla Argentina: This unique hotspot is open for lunch and dinner, and they cook right on open wood! Whether you’re looking for chicken, lamb, steak, or sausages, this place has it all. The restaurant works a little differently than many other restaurants, as you line up, almost like a fast-food joint, if you will, and they only take your order once there’s a table available. After you place your order, you then sit down, and they deliver your food right to you, like regular table service. When it gets later in the dinner period and they won’t be able to seat anyone else, they give the last person a t-shirt that says “end of the line” and that person’s responsibility is to inform anyone else who shows up that they will have to come back another time. The service is amazing, and the staff are extremely friendly…in fact, once they learned we were from out of town, they accommodated us even though the person in front of us had the “end of the line” t-shirt. On top of that, they were kind enough to gift us with our own t-shirt after I was joking around with them. It’s a terrific place with great décor and service, topped with delicious food. If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth standing in line for. Also, this local joint is BYOB!

Kaya Island Cuisine: This restaurant is in the Strip District and serves up some hot and tasty Caribbean food. Near the end of my trip, I was a little fooded out, and wanted something a little different. Although we hadn’t planned on going to this restaurant, we changed our plans given that the menu had so many unique dishes. We actually ended up sharing the food, as they had a lot of appetizers that all looked amazing, including conch fritters, baby back ribs, Jamaican jerk wings, a spectacular salad known as the Caribbean rainbow salad, crispy fish tacos, and pulled pork quesadillas. All of the food came out very hot and fresh, very nicely presented, and we were pleasantly surprised to learn that it was big portion sizes, big enough to share among three people. The service was very good, and the atmosphere was fun, lively, and vibrant. It was the perfect meal to end our trip. It seems that, despite the popularity of the Strip District, most of the area closes down earlier on Sunday nights and Kaya was one of the few restaurants that stayed open. It’s definitely worth a visit.

Peace, Love, & Little Donuts: This is a small donut shop found in the Strip District, and I guess appropriately, they serve small donuts…about half the size of a regular donut. They actually take a plain donut and jazz it up with different toppings, which you choose off of their extensive menu. We tried the apple pie, banana split, s’mores, and the strawberry french toast, but you can choose from almost one hundred more. We stopped by after brunch one day and it was the perfect ending to our meal, with the four of us sharing six donuts. Although there is a little bit of a wait while they prepare each donut, it’s well worth the extra time, and they ended up being an awesome sweet treat.

The Church Brew Works: This is a microbrewery located in a very large, old church. The food is good pub food, all designed to go with beer. The atmosphere was truly amazing and certainly worth visiting. They also conduct tours of the brewery two or three times a day.

Whether it’s sandwich shops, pizza joints, or even some chain restaurants, there is certainly no shortage of great food in the Pittsburgh area. Happy eating!

 

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A Party Down in Pittsburgh

As often as I can, I try to get out of town on long weekends and the recent Victoria Day long weekend was no exception. In fact, this time I turned the three day weekend into a five-day road trip and took my wife and daughter to Pittsburgh.

I haven’t been to Pittsburgh in about 25 years, but remember enjoying my last visit. Initially, we were only going to stay a day or two, go to visit Fallingwater and the Hershey factory, when I realized that Hershey was about three and a half hours in the opposite direction. So we changed our itinerary. It turns out that we had no problem finding tons of things to see and do in Pittsburgh! The city is very vibrant, home to many innovative companies, products and services, has truly fantastic restaurants and plenty of sporting events for the athletic enthusiast. I can honestly say that one out of every four people in Pittsburgh were decked out in black and yellow in an ode to the Pirates, Penguins or their beloved Steelers. This is a city that wears their love of the game on their sleeve…where everyone can see it!

Pittsburgh is a tourist friendly city! When we were trying to find a specific area of a large cemetery, to avoid having us get lost, the groundskeeper gave us an escort over to the exact location… in his cart. The next day, we stopped to ask a police officer how to find the Duquesne Brewery Clock (the largest single face clock in the world – two times the size of Big Ben!). Moments later, we found ourselves with a police escort right to its location!

Over our four day visit, some of our favourite sites included the Heinz Center, the Strip District, Randyland, and Fallingwater.

Of course, during our days of sightseeing we needed energy and found no shortage of great restaurants. For lunch and dinner, whether it was Primanti Bros., an Argentinian steakhouse, or some fun and whimsical donuts at Peace, Love and Little Donuts, you could simply eat your way through the city and walk away a happy camper.

Sports fans, don’t look any further than Pittsburgh, which has an NFL, NHL, and a major league baseball team. During my trip, the Pittsburgh Pirates were in town, and while they weren’t successful on the field, the ballpark was beautiful to see and it was a beautiful spring night for baseball.

Lastly, I have to mention a one-day excursion down to Fallingwater. Built by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, this beautiful country home is about 1.5 hours away from Pittsburgh. It is a a gorgeous drive and should not be missed.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll highlight a few of the places on my trip, but needless to say, if you’re up for a fun and adventurous road trip, Pittsburgh should be next on your list!

 

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Ride the Rocket!

Empty Toronto subway car.

A couple of weeks ago, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) was in the news after a horribly frustrating morning of delays, due to switch issues, maintenance problems, and emergency alarms being pulled. While I realize that these challenges are experienced on a far too regular basis, for those passengers that rely on the TTC for their daily commute, I wanted to share some positive thoughts on the organization.

Although I am not a daily TTC user, I often take public transit when traveling downtown to events or meetings, as it is easier and less stressful than driving in a car. I’m able to sit and talk to my friends and family without having to focus on the road, and I don’t have to worry about finding parking.

Though the TTC undergoes plenty of maintenance, I have experienced minimal delays when traveling on the system and when delays do happen, I’ve found that the employees have done their utmost to get us moving again. Generally speaking, my trips have been smooth and comfortable and more than once I’ve found myself lulled to sleep by the swaying subway cars.

In more recent times, I also had the opportunity to use the TTC app, which provided me with accurate information regarding the bus schedule, allowing me to maximize my time visiting someone at the hospital, while also getting me to my destination on time.

My only two complaints would be the quickly rising cost of the fares and the added cost of parking at a TTC lot – why charge for parking when you’re trying to encourage people to leave their cars at home and take public transit?

One last thought…although becoming increasingly rare, I truly enjoy the look of those TTC operators who still wear the more formal “peaked” uniform hats (like the police or ship captains wear). These hats exude a more professional image, resulting in an increased level of respect from customers for employees and the industry.

The TTC has certainly had it’s share of ups and downs, but for more convenient and relaxing rides, consider taking the rocket from time to time.

Toronto Transit Commission
www.ttc.ca
416-393-4636

 

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Up, Up, and Away – Beyond Great Service at Buffalo Airport!

Buffalo Niagara International Airport

Flashback to ten or twenty years ago, and there was a long period of time where it was significantly cheaper to fly out of the US, instead of Canada, due to the difference in taxes and fees.

In fact, the cost savings were so significant, that many people found it more economically efficient to fly out of the US (driving down to the states, go about their travels, and drive back to Canada upon their return). In addition, it really wasn’t difficult to make the arrangements, so for the extra driving time, and slight inconvenience, it was well worth it.

Fast forward to present day, and although the difference in pricing isn’t as significant, I still think it’s worth it for Canadians to consider flying out of the United States.

In my case, Buffalo is an easily accessible city if traveling by car, and is one of the reasons why the Buffalo Niagara International Airport is a hotspot for traveling Canadians. My family and I passed through the airport during a recent trip, and I couldn’t help but think of several benefits for using the airport:

  1. When arriving at the airport you would have already cleared customs, as a result of driving down from the Toronto area.
  2. The airport itself has a modern, clean look to it, and while it is a large airport, it is nowhere near as busy as Pearson, meaning shorter (or no) lineups, resulting in far less stress and pressure.
  3. Getting through security seems to be far less of a hassle than in other airports.
  4. The airport has many plugs and open electronic ports to charge laptops, phones, and other devices.

In a nutshell, the airport is a modern facility that supports easy travelling, while providing a variety of features to suit the needs of every traveler.

Aside from the airport, there are an abundance of hotels nearby, with great room rates, and shuttles that take you straight to the airport…perfect for those with an early morning flight. In fact, some of the hotels are so close that you could literally walk across the street in less time then it would take to grab a shuttle. Many hotels also accept Canadian currency at par, and allow you to park your vehicle for up to 14 days.

The only potential drawback to flying out of Buffalo, would be the risk of bad weather in the winter, as there is a higher risk of flights being delayed or cancelled, compared to Toronto.

In more recent times, the airport opened a Tim Horton’s inside the terminal, which tells me they know their consumer base well!

Buffalo Niagara International Airport
www.buffaloairport.com
1-877-359-2642

 

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Ja’ Makin me Happy…Patrice Bailey!

Photo of Patrice Bailey on one of her Falmouth Tours

Last year, I got to know Patrice Bailey when I began planning a day trip for my family to explore the area near the Port of Falmouth in Jamaica. Our cruise ship was docking there for the day and I wanted to plan an excursion to make the most out of our stay, since my research showed that the port was located in the middle of nowhere with nothing really around it.

While I was surfing the web for ideas, a tour guide by the name of Patrice Bailey kept coming up…and with great reviews, I decided to send her a short email. Within a few hours, I was communicating with Patrice by phone and email, and we made an arrangement to hire one of her colleagues to drive us from Falmouth to a beach in Montego Bay, since she herself was fully booked. When we arrived at the port, Patrice introduced herself with hugs all around before sending us on our way, with our tour guide. We immediately felt like family.

Our tour guide was really friendly and he even managed to give us a short tour of the area before taking us back to the ship. He also took us to a great local place for Jamaican patties, which was the icing on the cake!

Flash forward to 2017 and I gave Patrice a call when we chose a cruise revisiting Falmouth. Since we had developed more of a personal friendship over the last year, during our numerous email exchanges, I invited Patrice to lunch as a thank you for planning a great trip the year before. Patrice accepted the invitation but when we arrived, she surprised us with an entire day of fun filled activities.

Patrice took us on a tour of the area, which included the neighbourhood that Usain Bolt grew up in, as well as a couple of gorgeous lookout points. We then went to a secluded beach, where there were only a few other people nearby and you could see blue water and white sand for miles. When we were ready for lunch, we asked her about good, local jerk chicken. Patrice said, for really good jerk chicken, she would only take us to one place and that began our 45 minute drive to Scotchies… more about that in my next blog.

After our great lunch, Patrice showed us a few beach clubs that we can visit on future trips and took us back to the port where we hugged and promised to keep in touch.

Being in the hospitality industry, I typically make friends wherever I go, but I have met my match in Patrice. If you are looking for someone to make your experience in Falmouth amazing, Patrice Bailey is definitely the way to go. She is really easy to deal with, professional, reasonably priced and a barrel of fun!

Patrice Bailey Tours
1-876-509-7542
patbailey52@yahoo.com
www.patricebailey.com

 

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Losing the Pillow Fight!

Photo of people having a pillow fight

This week’s blog is a little different than the normal ones I write about, as I’m going to vent about a new pillow trend that is getting on my nerves… and resulted in me losing my last pillow fight!

Over the last year and a half, I have spent a fair bit of time traveling across Canada and the United States. To my surprise, the motels and inns I have been staying at have updated (or should I say, downgraded) their traditional rectangular pillows with the small square accent pillows you would typically find on a couch (as the decor).

I personally find this somewhat frustrating, if not ridiculous, as these “new” pillows are very uncomfortable and make it impossible to get a good night’s sleep. And if that’s not enough, these pillows create an added dilemma, as one square pillow on its own is too flat and two layered on top of each other are way too high.

How am I supposed to sleep?

I know, I know….perhaps I can travel with my own pillow like Linus who went everywhere with his blanket… but my wife always encourages me to pack light…. so what is a man to do??

While I am not going anywhere over the holiday season, I warn those of you who are to beware of these fluffy, little troublemakers.

Have you experienced this at any hotels over the last year? Is this a new trend? Am I going crazy and just imagining this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

On that note, to all of SQM’s readers and followers, have a safe enjoyable holiday season and a happy and healthy new year.

Sleep well!

 

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What Does Saving the Rain Forest Have to Do with Coffins?…I Don’t Think the Vultures were in the Rain Forest…

A photo of Charlie Hamilton from National Geographics

Last month, I attended a National Geographic Live presentation, where the speaker was a fascinating gentleman by the name of Charlie Hamilton James.  Charlie is a wildlife photographer who has won several awards and done work all over the world.

One of Charlie’s more recent projects involved photographing the wildlife at Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming, USA.  To do this, Charlie used a different approach than other photographers, and tried to make the audience look at the world (the cast of us in the world) and animals in a different way than most people may observe it today.  One such example is when he took photographs of vultures in the Amazon Rain Forest.  While most people think of vultures as disgusting and ugly animals, Charlie’s photographs will make you think twice, as vultures are truly incredible creatures.

In addition to his stories about Yellowstone National Park and vultures, Charlie feature presentation was called, “I Bought a Rain Forest”, which was meant to help the audience look at this area of the world in a whole, new way.  For example, a lot of people in the developed world criticize people for cutting down the rain forest but they don’t realize why the rain forest is being cut down.  Charlie’s presentation showed that the main reason for trees being cut down is to provide money for the basic necessities of life, such as food, shelter, and clothing.  People in the developed world don’t realize we are paying the people in the undeveloped world for their natural resources, which in many cases are used to manufacture things we don’t really need…or can use a little less of.

For example, when you take a close look at how the people in these areas are making their money, you realize that a lot of the rain forest is being cut down so people have space for their cattle.  Not to ruin a person’s livelihood, but the truth is, that if we ate just a little less meat (and I love a good steak as much as the next guy), a lot of this land could be saved.

Another example I found mind boggling is, that a lot of the trees being cut down are mahogany trees, and the only reason these trees are being cut down is to build caskets for North Americans (mahogany is the number one wood used for casket). As Charlie suggested, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to destroy the rain forest to make coffins…a product that ends up back in the ground.

As much as I care about the environment, I have never considered myself a granola eating tree hugger, and Charlie’s presentation showed me that you don’t have to be one, to still care and do your part to protect this vital area of the world.

Overall, I found Charlie to be fascinating, entertaining and certainly worth listening to, if he is ever in your area.  Charlie did indeed buy a rain forest… but to hear that story you are going to have to attend one of his events.

Charlie Hamilton James
www.charliehamiltonjames.com

National Geographic Live Speaker Series
416-872-4255
www.roythomson.com/natgeolive/

 

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