I think that waiting for packages to arrive is one of the most exciting/thrilling/frustrating/annoying activities in our modern lives. From the moment we place our order to the time that we receive our tracking information to the very day of expected delivery it’s a never ending roller coaster of emotions!

I was talking to my mom yesterday about how every time a car passes by the house I’ll run to a room with windows facing the street just to see if it’s the UPS/Fed-ex/Purolator/LDH guy. And every time I would come back to my room a little bit more disappointed than the previous visit. My mom laughed and mentioned that I’m a lot like our family friend Betty, who is in her eighties. When Betty was younger their family would order items from the Sears catalogue (!!) through regular mail (!!) and she would love the anticipation but had no idea when her packages would arrive. I can relate a lot to Betty, but I’m also glad that we live in an era where we have tracking information and the internet to complete our orders.

Hidden Gems

One of the really neat things we love about living in Kingston are all hidden gems like the little restaurants and bakeries that have informally cemented themselves as practically institutions in the city. Fardella’s Classic bakery is one of those places. I remember going there when I was younger and getting cheesecakes and quiches for special occasions. They’ve recently relaunched themselves as a internet cafe/breakfast/lunch place to go along with their bakery and so Catherine and I decided to give it a try. It’s a really cute and intimate spot with vintage decor all over the place. The sandwiches were really delicious but the highlight were definitely the baked goods, which I clearly forgot to take a picture of!

(A)typical Saturday

Saturdays in Kingston are typically now our free days. I’ll spend a couple of hours at work in the morning and by lunchtime the day is ours again. Our favourite lunch place to hit is a little Japanese hole-in-the-wall in Portsmouth Village near the university. I don’t want to say the name here because this joint is so small and so good that people will no doubt flock to it in droves.

Lunch here is always so so so soooo good and typical to Kingston, the owners of this Japanese establishment are Korean but the food is delicious and the value is just right. During lunch today Cat and I tried to map and time out how to best use the rest of our day. We decided that we would first go for a hike at Marshlands Conservation area along Front Road. Catherine has been wanting to show me this place ever since she went on one of her biking excursions down there.

The trail itself, I’ll admit, was a bit boring. It’s certainly not the lengthiest or most varied trail in Kingston, but it definitely has it’s charm. We came across a couple of link ups to the train tracks, which brought out the inner vagabond in us. There was also these really neat crossing points that had the trail turn into a wooden plank bridge across the marshlands. Also unlike typical trails this one was a straight line, meaning that once we got to the end point (Queen Mary Road) we had to turn around on the same trail. I don’t know how often we’ll come back to this trail for our hikes since it’s quite far from where we live but it’s pretty awesome for people who live close by!

After the hike we decided that we should head to the Hudson Bay Company at the mall. Earlier an aunty from our former church dropped off a gift card on behalf of the moms and dads of the youth that we used to work with. It was such a sweet and generous thing of them to do. We’ve been in the market for a vacuum cleaner for the past 4-6 months and much to Cat’s resentment I’ve been holding us off on the purchase until I’ve “completed my research”, which basically means scouring the internet for vacuum reviews. Appliances are kind of my thing so Cat is more than happy to let me have at it, even if it means our carpets go unclean for longer periods of time. Just as an obligatory hygiene note: we have been borrowing my parents’ spare vacuum for the past little while, so our house IS clean!

When it comes to picking out appliances or other products I’ll turn to my friend Terry, who got engaged around the same time as Catherine and I, and we’ll get into lengthy email/text conversations about which brand is best and why. Terry, along with my parents, pointed us in the direction of Miele, a German company who has basically written the book on how to design the cutest looking vacuums while making them incredibly functional. These bad boys, depending on the model, can range from $400-1200.

So walking into the Bay I knew what brand/model-ish we wanted and had coerced Catherine into being okay with buying a $600 vacuum (hehe), reassuring her that I knew what I was doing. Man did we ever get lucky. As we walk up to the vacuum section there’s only two of the S2 canister models left, one of which was a fairly dinged up floor model and the other was a sealed box model with no price. The floor model had a sticker on it that said $359.99 (MSRP $599). I started freaking out to Catherine because I felt like we had totally lucked out on that price, even if it was for a floor model. A sales associate comes by and I ask about the floor model and he mentions that there’s a sealed box model on top (duh) and that it’s priced at $359.99 as well. I don’t even remember if he finished his sentence before I told him that we would take it. AND since we had giftcards, we ended up only paying about $100 for this vacuum.

Our new Miele vacuum on the right, aptly named Blueberry the Blue vacuum. My parents’ Miele S2 on the left, which Catherine dubbed PomPom (for pomegranate)

It’s hard to explain my emotions on getting this amazing Miele S2 Continuum canister vacuum with powerhead and HEPA certified filters for basically 1/6 of the price. We’re so┬ádomestic-ized.

We Went on a Trip

Every year, in the middle of July, we go away for a conference for Kelvin’s work. More often than not, a trip for the 3-day conference will turn into a week-long (or more) vacation of the surrounding area. Last year, we kept it domestic, as the conference was in Vancouver. This year, however, corporate opted for a slightly wilder city – Las Vegas. Now, let it be known that Vegas is not my type of city. There is something about extreme dry heat, gluttony, and drunken, scantily clad people that just doesn’t strike my fancy. But, seeing as how we were on that side of the country anyways, we took this as an opportunity to visit a slightly cooler (in temperature…and otherwise) city – San Francisco. And since we were flying out from Syracuse, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to stopover in NYC on our return leg. Here are some things that we did.

I like to document all our trips in my journal(s). This was the first time I stuck with pen only, saving all our ticket stubs, etc. for our adventure book.

We Saw

Where to begin to share the things that we saw on this trip. Because Kelvin’s family had been to San Francisco pretty recently, I was the one who wanted to do all the touristy things. Kelvin and I got ourselves one CityPass each, and proceeded to visit many of the “must-see” destinations in San Francisco – Alcatraz, Golden Gate Park and Cal Academy, the Ferry Building, and Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39. Getting that CityPass was one of the smartest decisions, especially for our trip to Alcatraz, because all the tickets were sold out and the next available tour was for a date about a week and a half from that day we went. With our unlimited MUNI pass, we rode the streetcars, buses, and light rail everywhere.I have a National Park passport in which I collect cancellations or stamps for US national parks, and I filled a page or two with stamps on this trip. That made me happy.

We also took the Cal Train out to Mountain View, CA to visit Kelvin’s cousin who works at Google, and what FUN that was! They have delicious food, and the complex is really like a university campus. If only we had a skill set that they desired! The train ride itself was an experience – we sat in the bike car, and watched as all these people wandered up to the top deck hoping for a spot from where they could keep an eye on their valuable belongings.

I desperately wanted to ride those google bikes, but liability issues forbade me from doing so.

In Vegas, we knew we wanted to watch a show, so on our first night there, we walked over to Bellagio to eat the buffet and watch “O” at the theatre. In true Cirque du Soleil fashion, the show was great, but we had no idea what the plot was really about. I was mesmerized by the swinging seesaw and diving act, and am still reeling from the fact that people willingly threw themselves into a tiny pool from such towering heights. The next day, we took a trip with sweetours out to Grand Canyon West, which was an interesting experience. We learned a lot about plants from our bus driver (and he quizzed us later too, though we all failed horibbly). The food there was also surprisingly good, though I don’t know if we can say the same about this “Skywalk” experience. The building wasn’t even finished yet, and they really shouldn’t have charged us as much as they did.

Kelvin was much better at horseshoes than I was.

In NYC, we attempted to tone down our tourist behaviour. We paid a visit to Central Park and to the 9/11 Memorial, and we watched Lion King (which was conveniently located right across the street from our hotel). Other than that, it mostly consisted of eating and shopping, and it was wonderful.

We Savoured

Trips with Kelvin’s family always means that we will eat well. Some meals were more expensive than others, but the common vein across them all was the level of deliciousness. In San Francisco, we dined at a disproportionately large number of Asian-based establishments. In Vegas, most of our food was provided by the conference. And in New York, we mixed it up with some new and some familiar restaurants. Also, let it be known that I developed tonsillitis about a week into our trip, and it persisted until our second day in NYC. This greatly impeded my ability to eat, but alas, I made it in the end, thanks to a doctor at Duane Reade, and the beckoning of ramen noodles at Ippudo. Here are some of the places we visited:

  • Penang Garden (Chinatown, SF) Our first meal in San Fran – a go-to restaurant for Kelvin’s family with absolutely delicious mango sticky rice and deep fried banana ice cream for dessert
  • Mama’s on Washington Square (SF) We got there at 7:15 to wait in line for breakfast. The french toast and hot chocolate were delicious. And the chunks of dungeness crab that you got in your meal were absolutely huge
  • The Slanted Door (Embarcadero, SF) Asian fusion yumminess right in the Ferry Building where we ordered iced tea and forgot that they don’t sweeten it in the States
  • lers ros thai (Hayes, SF) An authentic Thai restaurant where we ordered way too much food, with a Tom Yum Goong that packed a serious punch of spice
  • Tartine Bakery (The Mission, SF) The line up was totally worth the croissants and croque monsieur
  • Pizzeria Delfina (The Mission, SF) Super thin-crust pizza that tasted like heaven, but that you need to eat before it gets cold! And they also have ridiculously good breadsticks, which they store in a drawer. It was fascinating
  • Chairman Bao (Food Truck, SF) Three words – Baked Spicy Chicken. I could have eaten that forever – it was that good
  • Kung Fu Tacos (Food Truck, SF) The food truck that made us run all over town trying to find it. Their tacos trumped their burritos, which weighed approximately 3 pounds
  • The Buffet (Vegas) Crazy long line up for a $30 meal. I am still undecided about whether I liked this place. The interior could have used an update
  • Shake Shack (8th Ave & 44th St, NYC) We ate this…twice…All I need is a Shackburger with fries. It also helped that this location was about 2 blocks from our hotel
  • Ippudo (4th Ave & 10th St, NYC) The go-to ramen place for Kelvin’s family. The first meal that I essentially inhaled once my tonsillitis started to disappear. I love ramen
  • Momofuku Noodle Bar (1st Ave & 10th St, NYC) We ordered the fried chicken – 2 whole chickens to be precise – and it was amazing. Especially the Korean flavoured one. I took some home with me and proceeded to eat them in the stations while waiting for our subway. And Milk Bar is just around the corner, to satisfy all of your cookie cravings
  • ‘Wichcraft (SF and NYC) So clearly we love ‘wichcraft, because we ate it multiple times on the trip. These sandwiches are delicious – I always get the one with pear…

We Shopped

Kelvin and his mom are big shoppers, and they are serious when they do it. Whenever we are in the city, they always make sure to pay a visit (or more) to Uniqlo. They are all about quality over quantity, but it’s best when they can get both. I, on the other hand, tend to shop at my local H&M, hesitant to spend more than $25 on a pair of jeans. Living close to Union Square was amazing in San Fran, though we wish we lived even closer. I spent many hours in that area, perusing the XXI, Levi’s, and Macy’s stores.

We Stayed

I must say – I quite enjoyed the hotels that we stayed at on this trip. When we were little, both my family and Kelvin’s family stuck with the Best Westerns, Sleep Inns, and Super 8’s of America. Then, one summer, it was as if a light went off, and our parents respectively decided that they had had enough of motels, and that it was time to fast track into the world of SPG properties. Our hotel rooms now had safes, bathrobes, duvets, and ample space, and we never looked back. The plan is to do a TripAdvisor review for each of these hotels, but I will give you the Reader’s Digest version of them here.

In San Francisco, we stayed at the Palace Hotel for 5 nights. My parents came here a few months ago and absolutely loved it, but I will rate our stay as average. For a Luxury Collection hotel, it should have been cleaner, and it shouldn’t have taken us 20 minutes to check in. However, it more than made up for everything when it came to location. The BART and MUNI were right there, with Union Square a few blocks southwest, and the Ferry Building a few blocks northeast.

In Las Vegas, we stayed at the Cosmopolitan – a beautiful and new hotel with a pool that I could have spent weeks at. We had our share of fiascos at this hotel, and I am still confused as to why there was a big window into the shower, with a curtain that could not be operated by the person actually taking the shower, but I think I would come again. I’m glad we left just before the weekend started to get rowdy.

Best thing hands down – this pool

Last but not least, we stayed at the Marriott Marquis right in Times Square – and we had a Times Square view! Another stellar location, but the hallways are not for those afraid of heights. It’s a long way down to the lobby…

Apologies for the poor quality, but this was our view!

We went to Service

Our trip spanned two Sundays, so we were able to make it out to church once in San Francisco, and once in New York. Both were more “traditional” services, but oh how they were filled with the Spirit! We sang and made music, and listened intently to these dynamic speakers. Their weekly bulletins were small magazines, complete with lead sheets, quotes, responsive reading, and perforated connection cards. We visited CityChurch on Sutter Street in San Francisco, and Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian in New York, and I would gladly return to both. As we make the transition into a new church, it is always nice to visit other churches to see how they do things, and how they leave room for God’s presence and action. I particularly loved the way that CityChurch was so cognizant of their place in the city, and how they intentionally loved on those around them.

In Summary…

This was one of the most eventful trips I’ve ever been on. I got sick, and Kelvin’s parents got sick. We got locked out of our room, but then got to ride in an Escalade. We saw a wealth of both natural and man-made wonders, and we got a chance to just relax as well. Despite the hiccups, I had a lot of fun. It had been quite a few years since I last went to Vegas and San Francisco, so to be able to see them once again was very special. Oh, and a tip for those of you travelling to SF or NYC and are planning on taking transit – make sure you download their transit apps. These were hands down the most useful tools on the trip. I’m saving them on my phone under “Travel”, just in case we venture there again in the near future :)

Burrito Amigo – adieu to the burger wars

Catherine is leaving for a ladies-only trip to Cornwall/Montreal tonight and so before she leaves we decided to have lunch and spend some time downtown. I’ve been to Burrito Amigo before (I went on Friday – you’ll note today is Sunday…yeah they’re that good) with a good friend of mine as a farewell lunch for him, but this was Cat’s first visit after I raved excitedly about how delicious it was. So, waking up this morning I had burritos on the mind and couldn’t wait to head downtown.

We’ve recently been bitten with the Mexican/Tex-mex bug from our recent trip to San Francisco and it hasn’t let up since coming back to Kingston. Imagine our elation when the burrito joint we’ve had our eye on for a while finally opened! Burrito Amigo is nestled just a stone’s throw away from the hub and Queen’s campus. This place is super easy to get to for students! The menu is simple and fresh, and to Catherine’s delight is printed on craft card stock.

I went with a dark meat chicken burrito this time, which is steeped in a mustard-thyme marinade, with cilantro-lime rice, black beans fried in bacon fat, pico de gallo, fresh red salsa, guacamole, sour cream, monterey jack cheese, lettuce, and chipotle garlic mayo. Catherine went for the brisket burrito, which is double cooked in their signature spice rub, and topped it with everything I had sans guacamole and chipotle garlic mayo. In all honesty, I think burritos are the perfect meal – possibly even a contender for my pretend death row meal. I think what the Burrito Amigo guys are doing is great – hitting a niche that went relatively unfilled and serving up some of the meanest burritos in the Limestone City.

As I was eating I was conflicted because on one hand I would love to see these guys expand their menu a bit more (fresh tortilla chips to go with those signature salsas, guys!! salsa verde, perhaps?! or carne asada tacos!) but on the other hand why mess with success? Their business and their brand is still in its infancy so I can understand the simplicity of what they’re currently offering to Kingston. The owner and head chef are a couple of the most down to earth guys we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Chris Tringham and Ben Tennant seem like the kind of guys that you would want to kick back a couple of cervezas with and play some ultimate frisbee or something. Cat and I were chatting about how young these guys are and how awesome it is that they’re putting themselves out there like this. Owning a restaurant, let alone a small business, is no easy task – especially in a downtown core that sees so much tenant turnover. Speaking as a small business owner myself I have to hand it to Chris and Ben for being a couple of the coolest and bravest hombres on the restaurant scene in Kingston.

Cat and I are always down for promoting downtown businesses on our blog because we want our downtown to succeed. I mentioned to Chris that there are some food events/festivals that happen downtown that they should consider getting involved with to build their brand awareness more. They are the perfect business (easy to make, mobile food) to be using social media to their advantage in order to create hype around their business. This past Saturday was our city’s annual downtown promenade where they make Princess Street pedestrian only. Ben mentioned that they rented some tables in expectation of the crowds but very few people actually used them. Calculated financial risks are always going to be a part of any start up but I appreciate their willingness to try different things. Kingstonians are not exactly known for their adventurous spirit food-wise, so I hope Ben and Chris really try some creative ways to draw us townies in.

In the meantime, we’ll be telling our friends, family, co-workers, and anyone who stops by our blog to mosey on down to Burrito Amigo (337 Princess Street) to eat some amazing food and chat with some really great guys.

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