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Tag Archives: travelling

I’ve never used Airbnb until my recent trip to Spain, but decided to try it once to see what the hype was about. I booked an (entire) apartment in Seville for 2 nights, and while there was nothing wrong about the experience, using Airbnb just doesn’t seem suited for me.

The first thing that put me off is that it is kind of difficult to “check in”. Unlike a hotel, there is no desk so you have to call someone and have them meet you to pick up the key. Meaning you need a working cell phone and you might need to wait. That just complicates or delays things.

Second, you’re in someone’s home which may or may not have the amenities you expect. Sometimes there’s more stuff than a hotel, sometimes there’s less. It’s actually probably going to be a little bit of both. You can assume or you can ask, but there’s a lot you could potentially ask about.

I can see myself using Airbnb again if I wanted a one-of-a-kind experience that a hotel couldn’t offer, or if I’m traveling with a large group. And I can see how some people may enjoy the more personalized and host-driven experience that a spartan chain hotel; but I think for me I would prefer using hotels rather than Airbnb.

I hardly blogged this month and I guess my reason is because I was busy with a lot of vacation planning for the summer. We didn’t have a vacation last year because Jovian was being born, and the year before that, we took Apollo to Asia. This year, we’re going to take both kids with us to Europe and it’s logistically difficult since this is the first time for us to try this sort of undertaking. Looking back, travelling with just one baby must have been a breeze! We’re heading over next month so we’ll see what happens.

We had one week of really hot (summer weather) but the rest of the month was fairly moderate Spring weather. I didn’t have Victoria Day holiday this month because I was working on a US schedule, but I had Memorial Day (the week after off). We didn’t go anywhere special, just a short day trip down to Niagara Falls. It was surprisingly busy, I guess a lot of Americans came over to take advantage of the 1:1.20 exchange rate.

We also have been planning to fix our backyard (i.e., remove grass and make it usable). That has been proving to be a challenge as we couldn’t decided between patio stones and decking. We finally embarked on the decking project at the end of this month though, so hopefully we can enjoy our backyard this summer! One side effect of this is that our backyard is mostly covered in dirt right now, so I’ve only had to cut the grass ones (hopefully that’s all for this year).

Now that we have young children, we don’t do nearly as much vacation planning as we used to (as in, we don’t take as many vacations; not that we fly by the seat of our pants). But when we do vacation planning, the approach is different. I guess you could call it maturity or maybe it’s just an evolution.

  1. Tag-a-longers: When you’re young and not independent yet (i.e., teenagers), you just follow along whever your parents or guide takes you.
  2. Beginning Travelers: Then you have some money and can decide where to go. You hit the guidebooks and visit the “Top 10” sites of where ever you’re going.
  3. Lonely Planet phase: After you realize that tourist attractions are a bit of a farce (ok some are grand). You just want to wander and absorb the atmosphere. Try and avoid the tourist trap restaurants and seek out the authentic culture of the locale.
  4. Pack in as much in as possible: Turns out that places aren’t that different, or at least you can’t spend enough time in a place to discover its intricacies. So let’s just try and see as many different cities as we can. Shotgun approach will find something interesting! Hopefully.

And now, we’re in the next phase where we’ve seen most of the major travel destinations (Paris, Tokyo, etc), the remaining are too difficult/dangerous with kids, we’re not ready to do yet (i.e., Disney), or just not that interested in (Caribbean). The current philosophy is experience-based – what’s something cool or great that we can do and plan a vacation around that. It might even be something from your bucket list.

The experience forms the general structure, but it’s probably a couple of hours/full day type thing. It’s not an entire vacation, so to fill the rest we try and balance between must-see tourist attractions and finding things to do that are unique or distinctive about the region. The latter is the hard part because it’s not a matter of reading Lonely Planet; it has to be something that captures our imagination as well. That actually takes longer as it requires more research and planning to pull that off.

But I guess if you don’t travel as much anymore, it’s worth it!

Last week, I was in Silicon Valley for work. Our offices there moved from San Jose to a new building in Mountain View and it was my first time at that location – the building/campus is pretty nice! However, the general lifestyle is still the same so that was rather boring. One day, I decided to drive around after work but after the sun went down (i.e., 8pm) there wasn’t a lot I could do/see because the area doesn’t believe in street lights.

I wasn’t happy with that so I went back to the hotel to see what else I could do after work. Looking at the map, I was surprised that Santa Cruz was actually quite close! The next day, I was able to make it out of work early (5:30) and made the drive down. Even with San Jose rush hour traffic, I was able to get there in about 1h20m.

Once you get out of the San Jose area, there’s a really interesting drive up and down over mountains, trees on both sides, lots of S-turns throughout, and a relatively high speed (50+ mph speed limit). I don’t think you can actually go at the posted speed limit for some parts. It was almost worth it to go just for that drive!

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Santa Cruz as I had to make it back to my hotel that night. I checked out a beach, walked along the wharf and had dinner there. Foursquare didn’t have a strong opinion so I chose Stagnaro Brothers which seemed ok.

There weren’t a lot of tourists there at that time, but I had some difficulty finding parking. There was a lot of metered parking, which was $1.50/hr. I didn’t know how long I was going to be there and didn’t have that much change. You could also pay online, but after I downloaded the app, signed up for an account and attached my PayPal account – it turns out that at that location I could only pay by Visa/Mastercard…!!! Instead of doing that I decided to drive around some more. Most of the parking was paid under that scheme, but I found a large lot near the Boardwalk where you get a ticket and pay after. Luckily, after dinner when I was leaving, it seemed like they were offering free parking so I didn’t have to pay at all!

Unlike The Imitation Game, I had wanted to see Big Hero 6 for a long time – ever since I heard that the visuals were a combination of San Francisco and Tokyo. But I was hesitant to see it on my flight because I had a copy at home that I hadn’t watched yet – so should I bother watching it on a small screen? I decided that I might as well since my copy at home has been unwatched for awhile.

Aside from the little nugget above, I didn’t know much about the film. But it was interesting right off the bat – the premise is there is a prepubescent hotshot who has his eyes opened about how cool tech is being researched at a nearby technical school (cartoon equivalent of Berkley or Stanford). I liked how Disney basically wove in Silicon Valley (but being a cartoon, they could make up a lot of technology).

Following that is your basic superhero group story, fighting against a super villain. One good thing is that because there’s no backstory/fandom, they could build a group from scratch (it doesn’t help them avoid clichés though). Given that the movie is for kids or pre-teens, I’m not too bothered about that.

I’m going to give Big Hero 6 5 stars out of 5! That might be a little overrated but I’m fine with it. It’s a kids movie so I don’t expect a lot aside from it being fun – and it was. There were actually quite a number of funny parts that appeal to adults/comic book nerds and having a cool mash up city definitely helps its score here.

The Imitation Game is the story of Alan Turing and his work in breaking the Enigma machine that helped shorten WW2 for the Allies. It is also a movie with a sub-theme of being different – whether its autistic, non-military, female or gay. I watched it on my Air Canada flight from SFO -> YYZ (aside: I was originally scheduled to take AA with a stop in DFW, but bad weather caused AA to rebook me on a non-stop with Air Canada).

I didn’t really know the history and after watching it, I was somewhat curious about reading it on Wikipedia. But since I saw it on a flight, I moved on with my life. Curiosity, however, got the best of me and I later found this article that talked about the deviations from history – some are quite significant, but most of the broad strokes are correct.

Although this movie had a lot of Oscar buzz (and was one reason why I chose to watch it), I didn’t find it to be that great of a movie. I wasn’t bored, but I was also a captive audience. I guess I would rate The Imitation Game a 3 out of 5 stars.

I ended up doing a lot of travelling to the US this month. I made a trip to California at the beginning of the month for a couple of days, then a day trip to New York a week later, and at the end of the month we went to Pennsylvannia/Buffalo for Black Friday shopping. It feels like I’m in a constant cycle of packing and unpacking now even though I don’t really travel for work.

We had a blast of winter this month around the middle too, which was surprising as snowfall typically doesn’t happen until the end of the month. The plows and sanders had to come out for a bit, and there was accumulation on the ground for a couple of days – until temperatures went up into the teens on the weekend to melt everything away. Buffalo wasn’t so lucky and they were hit with “5 feet of snow” in some parts. When we drove through Buffalo almost 2 weeks afterwards, there was still mountains of accumulation on the side of the road (even after several days in the teens)

I started working on a new app idea this month after my last app got pulled from the store by Google. I have a good idea for the product, but I don’t know if I want to do all the technical work to make it releasable. Maybe I will just release a prototype/technical preview to the store to see if it catches on.

Between Black Friday and buying online, I think we’re actually done all our Christmas shopping this year! That means the next month is just for relaxing right? Well we’ll see.

This September we did some travelling but it was probably not what you would think. For Labour day we went down to the US since we haven’t been in a long time – that trip was pretty typical, although the highlight of the trip was to reproduce some photos with our newborn.

Later in the month, I went down to NYC for work; but instead of going during the week, I went down on the weekend. The main purpose was to attend Droidcon. It was better & bigger than the last Android conference I attended but unfortunately only had similar swag (there were a lot of opportunities to get t-shirts, but I didn’t bother trying to maximize the swag). I also saw a bunch of people walking around with Google Glass, and almost 50% of the people had Android Wear devices.

While I was down in NYC, Pauline took the kids to visit her sister in Ottawa which was the first time they went on a trip without me. It turned out ok without any disasters so that was great too.

Meanwhile in the city, this month we went to a bunch of places to pick fruits and vegetables. We don’t have a cold cellar so can’t really store any of what we gather, so we basically have to eat or share it. Apollo also started his first music class, although it’s more like listening to music/singing and dancing. Not an actual class where he will learn to play instruments (not even percussion ones). We also went to the zoo, which was actually a lot less fun than you would think (even though Apollo can recognize some of the animals)

This month I also got my second set of wisdom teeth removed. It was an easier process because they were both out anyways – I didn’t even need stiches.

Last July when I flew Porter to NYC for work, I had to stay an extra night in NJ because my departing flight was delayed for too long due to thunderstorms (and the early curfew at YTZ). Out of that trip I ended up with $150 in vouchers/credits which were expiring soon. So I used them on my most recent trip down for work (although somehow, only the $50 voucher worked).

Coincidentally, on the day I was going to depart NYC, I received an email saying that my 20:10 flight had been cancelled, again due to weather (thunderstorms/lightning) and that I had been moved to a flight on the next day. I didn’t really want to do that because Jovian is still pretty young and I wanted to get home. So I looked at my options for changing my flight.

Through Porter’s web portal, I wasn’t able to change to the 19:30 flight so I tried to call into their call centre to try my luck. It turned out that that flight had been cancelled too! The agent suggested that I try and switch to the flight before that, departing at 18:15. That was way to early for me because I couldn’t get to the airport by then! But then he told me that that flight was already more than an hour delayed (this was around noon).

Meanwhile I had looked at other options. I could book a flight out of another airport for around the same time. But in the end, I figured that if there was a weather delay affecting EWR, it would affect JFK or LGA as well. So I might as well try my luck with Porter (at least the 18:15 flight had a known delay). I went back onto the web portal to change my flight and…the web portal didn’t let me (always showed an error).

So I called into the call center again. After another 30 min wait, I was able to change onto that flight. And I thought all was good!

A little bit later in the afternoon, I checked my flights again and found out that the 18:15 flight had been delayed to past 10PM! I knew this was bad because it was luckly that that flight wouldn’t fly into YTZ due to curfew. I looked at the flight before that, scheduled for 16:00 and it was delayed until 20:35! I could definitely make it to the airport before then so I switched to that one. I was kind of worried that the flight would leave earlier than expected though (does that ever happen)?

In the end, I made the right choice. That flight left “on time”, after the 4h35m delay and I was able to make it home that night. The 18:15 flight ended up being completely cancelled and a co-worker who was flying out of another airport to upstate NY ended up staying an extra night.

Last Friday, I was invited to be part of a panel at a workshop about CODE, which involved me flying to Ottawa for a day. It was a new experience because this was the first time that I flew somewhere, and then back home on the same day! It was liberating too, because I didn’t need to bring a computer with me so I didn’t need a backpack. I still ended up bringing a bag for my random electronics (Kobo, phone charging stuff) and and umbrella because it was supposed to rain the entire day.

The workshop lasted the morning, but I had the afternoon to myself. Fortunately (or unfortunately if you consider I had to carry an umbrella around anyways) it didn’t rain so I had time to explore. I mostly concentrated on the Parliament Hill region as I haven’t been to Ottawa since I was probably 15.

I didn’t bring a (real) camera with me so took a bunch of photos with my phone. The above is a photosphere that actually seemed to work! Maybe they improved the algorithm now that I’m on Android 4.4.3. It shows the Rideau canal with a conference centre on the right and Parliament/Chateau Laurier in the distance

I also liked this shot of couple of small locks to get from the Rideau Canal to the Ottawa river. It is right between Parliament Hill and Chateau Laurier.

I also did the Parliament Hill tour, which I don’t remember ever doing. It’s pretty short as you only get to visit the House of Commons, library and Senate. You have to go through security first so the ½ hour tour ends up taking an hour. It wasn’t that interesting (lots of waiting and not much to see), but the House of Commons and the outside media area looks exactly like it does on TV! Next time I’ll try and go to question period.

I’m skeptical that I’m going to make it to SPG Gold again this year (10 stays), so I started trying to game the system. I went to NYC for 2 days for work and hotel hopped – stayed at 2 different hotels during the trip. Then we took a cross-border shopping trip to upstate New York the following weekend and I stayed at another SPG hotel. That’s 3 different SPG hotels in one week! Now I’m halfway to gold (and it’s about halfway through the year so I’m not really ahead).

I was finally able to release an update (v2) of A Healthier Commute to Google Play. This was a substantial release as the app actually passively learns your commutes and plays them back in the UI. I was actually done the majority of the code in April, but spent May tweaking various parameters of the algorithm to make it work better. It’s still not perfect but it’s getting better. I’m not sure how much better (certainly not perfect) I can make it though; I’m sure someone like Google could implement it better, but I’m stuck with the tools that I have access to.

Last May, we spent a lot of time outdoors going to parks and whatnot with Apollo. I remember this because I have a lot of photos with Apollo outside. We didn’t do as much this year. We tried to do it a bit earlier in April, but it was too cold, and we just didn’t make it out as often over the weekends in May.

I finished up my Pocket queue this month – mostly because I had a bunch of short articles and was travelling. Now I’m trying to restock, but I may have to resort to reading books on my eReader instead!

I know I usually end up blogging about the weather in these recaps, and it’s sometimes because there’s not much else to blog about. But this month’s weather truly was a pain. In fact, this entire winter (i.e., December and January) has been pretty trying. We didn’t get a lot of snow fall in January, but it was just cold everyday. -20°C or 0°CF cold every day. That’s just annoying. Most of North America has been cold too, it hasn’t just been an issue with Toronto. They had ice as far south as Atlanta and Florida and as you can expect it caused quite a bit of problems there.

I finished playing Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. I wanted the game to last awhile, but eventually the story got interesting and I finished half the game in a couple of days. I looked around for awhile for a Diablo-like game but didn’t find anything that interesting. I might end up buying Torchlight at some point from Steam instead.

This month Apollo had a big cognitive change and is now able to recognize many more words and concepts. He’s even able to talk! Well, in his own language at least. It’s not baby babble anymore, it’s actually his own language. He chains a whole bunch of weird sounds together (that don’t exist in English, Cantonese, Mandarin or Korean) into a phrase. No one understands what he’s saying but he doesn’t seem to mind.

After skipping a few months, I made it down to the NY office at the end of the month. I had a couple of evenings off to myself so I made good use of it and caught some theatre shows. I also exhausted the places I can go eat by myself in NYC (#firstworldproblems) and missed the Super Bowl festivities that would be happening a few days after I left.

Every year I expect to travel less, but it seems like I still do get a chance to travel. Here’s where I stayed overnight in 2013.

  • Toronto, ON, Canada
  • New York, NY, USA
  • Montreal, QC, Canada
  • Newark, NJ, USA
  • Calgary, AB, Canada
  • Erie, PA, USA
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • Busan, South Korea
  • Narita, Japan
  • Hong Kong, China

Ok, in 2014 I really do expect to do less travelling!

For the first time since I started collecting in 2005, I made it to the Gold plateau in the Starwood Points program. I can attribute this goal to traveling for work AND the flight delays at EWR as they both were instrumental in helping me pass the milestone of 10 stays this year.

I’ve collected and used SPG points for awhile, because they are relatively easy to obtain without staying in hotels (thanks to first, the MBNA card, and now the AMEX version of the same). The points+cash redemption options are also superb value, and which I have used many times.

But this is my first time attaining Gold, and I’m happy about that. I guess the main perk is that I can get internet access comped whenever I stay at a SPG hotel.

Now that I’ve achieved this plateau, I’m fairly confident that I will not reach the platinum plateau (25 stays). I’m actually thinking which other hotel rewards program I should start staying at for the rest of the year (until I need to work towards renewing my Gold status). I have memberships with Priority Club (Holiday Inn & etc) and HHonors (Hilton) so maybe I should try building those up?

We didn’t plan a lot on this trip to Japan since its our third trip in 5 years, but one thing we did plan was to go to a baseball game because we have heard that that experience is unlike what you get at North American parks.

I did some research beforehand and while the Tokyo Giants (Yankees of Japan) would not have a home game during our stay, the Yokohama DeNA Baystars across the Tokyo bay did, and they were playing the Hanshin Tigers (Red Sox of Japan). We couldn’t buy tickets online (cheaply) so we just went up to the gate and bought them – although this was difficult as we had a double handicap where we couldn’t speak or read the language and had a baby with stroller.

In the end, it wasn’t too hard as the random ticket office lady spoke English and we were able to check our stroller at the gate. There were actually a lot of babies at the game!

We sat on the first base (home team) side at the 200 level equivalents. It cost 3500 per ticket but I got a 1500 discount because the promotion that day was that men got a discount. We also arrived early enough for the tailgate party which featured cheerleaders and a power ranger (turns out he was one of 3 mascots for the team).

You’re allowed to bring your own food, drinks and booze into the game so we went to the local corner store to pick up some stuff. They only ask that you pour your beer into a cup. You could also buy a beer from one of the beer girls running around – there were a lot of them each selling a different brand. That would set you back 500 which is about double the price. You could also buy bento boxes, ice cream or ice coffee/tea – no peanuts though.

In the seventh inning, instead of stretching they blow up balloons in the team colors and then collectively let them go/deflate into the air. The visiting team got to do their colors at the top of the inning.

The other weird thing was that relief pitchers would come in on a convertible! They still have a walk of shame to the dugout though.

The seating is a bit different. They put seats in the foul line (where MLB TV cameras are) and there is an overhang so you can sit above the dugouts (and get things that players toss)

For all the hype about the the baseball experience in Japan, it wasn’t that incredible – they just do a lot of things differently than North America. After a while, the game is just as boring or interesting as it would be here because once you get past all the culture watching, it is still baseball. I would say that the experience is like going to see a Toronto FC match at BMO field. You have ardent supporters who bang on drums and cheer their team on. If you are a true fan, then you want to yell and cheer anyways regardless of where you are.

I am a huge fan of traveling as light as possible and one area where I am always optimizing is my toiletries bag. On this recent trip to Asia, I picked up some supplies at Daiso and Muji to further miniaturize my toiletries bag. Here is what my “version 4” toiletries bag now looks like:

I think it’s pretty small and I’m happy with the size now. I picked up the mesh vinyl bag from Daiso and bought the smallest possible bottles for body wash and 2-in-1 shampoo that I could from Muji (they are just for emergencies anyways, because hotels usually supply everything I need).

Also in this pack are:

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss
  • Electronic shaver with built-in world charger (no need for extension cord or transformer) and long hair trimmer. This only has a single coil due to the size, which is annoying because it’s slow, but that’s the sacrifice to be compact
  • Extra business cards in small waterproof baggie
  • Bandages, rubber bands, alcohol wipes, backup floss picks, Q-tips, and a foldable nail clipper

The best thing is that it isn’t super “packed”. Everything fits with ease so I could even put in a towel if I needed.

While we travelled to a variety of places this year, we haven’t gone on an extended vacation. We decided to do one now to Asia before Pauline’s maternity leave ends, and so that Apollo can visit his relatives there (or vice versa).

However, instead of sitting around HK for two weeks, we’re going to do some of our own travels beforehand, going to Tokyo and Busan for a couple of days each. For once we’re not “backpacking” our way there as we have a lot of baby-related things. We bought a suitcase in Japan the first time we were there (to carry bunch of stuff back) and now we are using it again to go to Japan. Seems like that is the only time we use that suitcase!

This year, I had the July 4th long weekend as a holiday instead of Canada Day, so we decided to go somewhere where Canadians wouldn’t be – cross border shopping. We went on the Thursday and Friday (when Canadians would be working) and if that wasn’t enough disincentive, the USD dollar was at a two-year high compared to Canadian (up to almost $1.06). This was also our third year in a row making the trip down there (2010, 2011, also in 2007).

We only stayed one night (in Erie), but because the exemptions had been increased in the past year (up to $200 for an overnight trip) and we had 3 people, we had plenty of room to shop. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring a phone charger with us so we were only able to charge our phones with a car charger while we were driving. That made for some interesting battery stats! I kept my phone in airplane mode while I was sleeping (who was going to call my US number anyways). Here’s what my phone tracked:

You can really tell when my phone is in airplane mode, it hardly lost any battery – only 2% overnight. The real battery drain is when the phone is connected to the network, either just being on the network or all the background sync that is happening.

Earlier this week, we made a short trip to Calgary so that Apollo could visit his relatives out west. Whenever we go to Calgary, there’s always some CRAZY weather that happens. This trip, it turns out that downtown Calgary was completely flooded and shutdown (as well many other low-lying areas around the Calgary). We actually didn’t know about this until we were at the airport and saw it on the news while waiting for our flight. It ended up being a huge news story that was played all over Canada and made it to CNN.

Luckily for us we weren’t affected at all. It was a bit surreal actually, because there is this cataclysmic disaster 10km from where we were, but there was actually no effect from it in our neighborhood.

* The last time I was in Calgary, it snowed in August!

I went on several trips this April. The first was to Montreal and was our trial run for an overnight trip with Apollo. Then, later in the month I went to NYC for work. That was a short trip, as I left home Thursday morning and made it to the office, door-to-door in 4.5 hours flying Porter. I expected to get back on Friday night – however, my flight got delayed so I ended up staying an extra night and came back on Saturday instead. The delay was a bit weird, as it was due to weather; but the weather at both EWR and YTZ seemed fine. I was flying back on the day that they caught the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, and it seemed like that would be the cause, but NYC was rather unaffected by that event.

Because my trip to NYC was so short, there wasn’t much noteworthy from it. I did go to yet another Momofuku location – the ssäm bar; but that was due to the team deciding to go there for lunch.

The Boston Marathon bombing and ensuring manhunt/craziness in the Boston area was the major story of the month. They locked down Boston for a day while two brothers caused chaos around the suburbs of Cambridge and Watertown – both places that we visited when we went to Boston in 2012. This month also saw the deaths of Margaret Thatcher and Rita McNeil – I just saw Rita McNeil a few months back on Strombo and so was a bit surprised that she died (apparently due to complications from surgery).

The hockey season ended this month, and surprisingly, the Leafs will play hockey in May. We’ll see how long that lasts for (not more than one series I bet). I also started working on another Android app (not for work, but personal) but I’m not ready to blog/talk too much about it yet. I’m hoping it will be successful (in Toronto at least).

During our trip, we went to a couple of places for food that I was looking forward to.

La Banquise was a place that I heard was good for poutine. We went in the middle of the afternoon (3PM) and it was packed, with a lineup outside the door! That was a bit weird, because everywhere else in the city, there weren’t that many people. Guess it is popular with locals too and turns out that it is a 24 hour place, so we should have went at 3AM instead! We ended sharing 4 different small poutines: La Classique, La Mart (hot dog, bacon, mushrooms), La T-Rex (steak, pepperoni, bacon, hot dog), and La Reggae which was a special with jalepaneos, tomatoes and guachamole. The cheese curds are definitely better in Qc but overall I like the poutine in Toronto better – there’s more flavour.

I heard Union Pig & Chicken in Pittsburgh). By the time we got there (1.5h before closing on Saturday), they had run out of chicken and turkey (and ribs after someone else in our group ordered it) so we ended up with a pork sandwich, and a beef brisket plate with braised greens. The most noteworthy thing I had there was a Jamaican style ginger ale!

And a trip to Montreal is not complete without a trip to Schwartz. We arrived when they opened at 10:30AM, and was only able to order smoked meat (the other things on their menu was served starting from 11AM). There was also plenty of seating and no line up (even when we left shortly after 11AM there were still many open seats). One thing new on this trip is that Schwartz opened up a take-out shop beside their main store so perhaps that handled some of the overflow (there were individual seats at the back there).

Last weekend, we spent the weekend in Montreal. There was no real reason to do so as it was just a random weekend in April, but we did it for a few reasons:

  • We were discussing with some friends and decided it would be fun to go on a trip
  • We wanted to practice/see what it is like travelling with Apollo
  • We wanted to practice/see what it was like for Apollo to stay overnight away from home
  • Montreal is relatively close enough to drive so we could bring a lot of extra baby things “just in case”
  • Montreal is a place we’ve been to a couple of times before, so there weren’t anything that were must-sees and we weren’t stressed by an overwhelming schedule
  • April is relatively warm so we would have the ability to walk around outside

The last point ended up being a bit contentious because on the Friday, Mother Nature decided to dump 15cm of snow and ice on Montreal! The temperature gradually increased throughout the day so a lot of it had melted by the time we reached Montreal at midnight, but there was still slush everywhere. The snow remained throughout Saturday as well (and it was kind of raining as well) and “warm” was relative – we still had our winter jackets (not parkas though). Sunday was pretty nice as the snow had melted and the sun was out.

Montreal “Spring”

We stayed at the Le Meridien Versailles in downtown Montreal because there was a great SPG points+cash deal ($45 and 2800 points). We ended up getting upgraded to a larger PH room, I think because they saw that we had a baby, and because there weren’t a lot of people in the hotel that weekend. In fact, in general there weren’t that many tourists in Montreal this weekend. We drove around between destinations (too far to walk) and it wasn’t a challenge to find parking.

Apollo’s new bed

Since we had been here before, we didn’t go to too many destinations. Aside from various restaurants, we visited Atwater Market, Old Montreal/Notre Dame, St Joseph’s Oratory and this big Orange thing.

I’ve flown Porter Airlines a few times now, from Toronto Island airport to nearby destinations. In theory, it sounds like a great alternative to Air Canada and Pearson International Airport, but in practice there are always tradeoffs:

  • You get real glass for your on board drink, and you can also get complimentary beer or wine!
  • There’s free drinks and snacks at the Porter lounge, even in airports other than YTZ
  • The check-in and security is fast at YTZ
  • The check-in system is online so you don’t have to carry around a paper boarding pass (although you do need a mobile device)
  • The points program is very easy to understand

But, here’s what’s not so great:

  • The planes are small and all propeller planes, so the flight is noisy no matter where you sit
  • No personal on-board entertainment system – not a big deal for the short flights though
  • It sounds convenient to be able to get to YTZ by transit, but you actually end up waiting a lot. Waiting for TTC, then waiting for the free shuttle, then waiting for the ferry to cross to YTZ. It sucks if you’re pressed for time

By the way, YTZ also has Air Canada flights, but for whatever reason they only fly to Montreal! AC might as well not fly out of YTZ.

Time for the 6th annual list of where I stayed overnight and the shortest one since I started keeping track in 2006:

  • Marrakesh, Morocco
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Dulles, VA, USA
  • Toronto, ON, Canada
  • Cambridge, MA, USA
  • Chicago, IL, USA
  • Pittsburgh, PA, USA

This is probably the last year where this list will have more than 1 or 2 cities on it, since my travelling is curtailed now that we have a child.

After a couple of years that weren’t so eventful, 2012 was a year that was quite memorable for both good and bad reasons. It was a year of change, evolution and growth with a series of notable and lifetime events.


The year started like any other, on vacation. This time we were completing our trip through Morocco and Spain. Spain was already in an economic crisis, and we took advantage with some cheap shopping. At that time, we knew it would be our last trip in Europe for awhile (we had flown too frequently there in the last few years), and also our last major trip for awhile too.

(Probably the one time I will go to Cleveland airport)

When I came back, I started a new job that’s a little bit closer to home than my previous one. January was spent learning the ropes there. The next big moments in the year came in February. We celebrated because Pauline was pregnant with our first child and I ended up breaking my arm (unrelated). I ended up getting surgery to fix my arm and spent the next two months with a cast on, restricting my ability to function and learning new ways to do what I had to do (with one arm). Not only that, we were getting accustomed to our new pregnant family lifestyle (which isn’t a huge change, but still a change nonetheless).

(Nowhere near Chinatown)

Luckily, my arm & cast didn’t prevent us from taking our annual March Break trip, which was to Boston this year. Since we were done with Europe, only had a week (so couldn’t go to Asia), and wanted to stay closer to home due to the pregnancy; we decided to vacation in the US this year. We chose Boston because the flights were cheap (Porter), we hadn’t been there yet, and had a friend working there.

(Too early for the baseball season, so this is just Fenway Park)

A few weeks after we got back from Boston, we went with a large group of friends to Chicago over Easter long weekend where we shared our baby news. We also went on a trip to Pittsburgh over the Canada Day long weekend. That was the extent of our travelling this year, mainly because we didn’t want to travel late in the pregnancy and because I wanted to save my vacation time until after Apollo was born.

(I’m bigger than the Millenium Bean!)

We knew that we would be in for a lifestyle change once Apollo arrived. We would probably stay indoors for the next half year (also because it would be winter), and there is the associated lost of freedom when you have to take of a baby/child and not just yourselves! Because of this, there was a larger sense of urgency to go to events where you can’t take a crying or fussy baby such as fancy dinners & sport events (Marlies, Raptors, etc). I think I was mentally prepared that this lifestyle shift would happen and expecting it, but even then there is a feeling of loss as you know a stage of your life is coming to an end.

(Meeting the Chef at Chef’s House)

Apollo arrived in October but we were prepared for his arrival by August (in terms of supplies at least). Our lives changed, as expected, but it wasn’t crazy like some people say having a baby was. I took a two weeks off work, and my parents and in-laws were around most days, but we transitioned to a quieter schedule before the end of the month. The weather wasn’t too cold in October and November so Apollo took several trips outside as well too. In the last few months of the year, it was a matter of getting used to how things should be done now and watching Apollo grow physically and mentally.


I had expected that once we had a baby, I would spend more time on some hobbies and less on others. I expected to read more, but that hasn’t quite happened yet. I picked up a new hobby this year, which was to learn Korean and I’ve been working on that on-and-off for over half a year. I made several Android apps this year, both as part of work and at home. But one that thing that has changed is that I can pay more attention to hobbies that can be enjoyed in 5 minute intervals, instead of hourly intervals. Gaming is more bite sized now as well. In a similar vein, I’ve tried to make my “computing” more bite sized by trying to do as much as I can on my phone (i.e., surfing, catching up on social media).


2012 was a big year for change and evolution, and one of the pivotal years in my life much like graduating school or going to university was.