New York City

I recently went on a business trip to New York City with two co-workers for a youth event called “Serve Your Youth 2014” in support of the Israel Tennis Centers Foundation.  This was the first year I’ve attended and it was really great to see so many people come together in an evening where you gather and network with other like-minded youth as well as supporting a great cause. It was held at the Bowery Hotel, a beautiful venue in the Lower East Side. Speeches were made alongside a silent auction. I’m really glad I went.

I flew with Porter Airlines, a Toronto based airline that flies to major cities along the Canada/USA boarder and the east coast. It was my first time and a great experience: easy online check-in and security check, nice lounge with free beverages and snacks, wi-fi throughout, boarding was easy and fast. The on-board crew and service provided was excellent. One and a half hour flight, you land at Newark Airport. Same experience on the way back.

From Newark Airport, you can take the NJ Transit train into Penn Station – New York. It’s a 30 minute train ride that will cost $12.50 USD compared to a cab ride that will put you back by at least $60. However, the only setback about taking the train is that you have to get to them from your terminal and that takes time so the entire journey took about an hour.

Once in New York City, the walk to my hotel was about 10-15 minutes. I stayed at the New York Marriott Marquis with a room overlooking Times Square. It was crazy because of the Super Bowl weekend where festivities were set-up. We even got woken at 6:30am by cheerleaders because that’s how close we were! The elevator system was interesting since you had to type your desired floor and go to the assigned elevator rather than pressing a floor button. The elevators then go to only the floors assigned. I really wanted to stay the weekend but with rates at $465 USD (+taxes) a night, it wasn’t financially sound. It came out to ~$630 CAD for one night.

Cabs were pretty cheap to take since the base fare started at $2.50 USD ($2.75 CAD) compared to the rates in Toronto where it’s $4.00 once you get in the door. Also, the cabbies were really nice – I met a Mexican who had moved to NYC 20 years ago and considers himself more of a New Yorker than Mexican, another where I’m sure he was high or something because the things he said did not make sense – we just went with it. If taking cabs are too much, there was always the option to walk. Manhattan is set-up as a grid with the street names are mostly numbered so you can’t get lost. We walked to Central Park and FAO Schwarz after a meeting. It was too cold to walk around the park (an incentive to come back during warmer weather) so we went to the toy store, home of the Big Piano!

Food, I’m very sad I didn’t get any foods that are famous to New York except pizza and it was delicious. Next time I come back, I’m going for it: hotdogs, cheesecake, cocktails, Pastrami sandwiches, and goodies from Magnolia Bakery.

I can’t wait to go back, probably in the summer time because there are so many more places that I want to explore!

A Belated Happy New Year!

I can’t believe it’s already February 2014 – I want to wish everyone a belated happy new year and lunar new year. I ended the year with at trip to Montreal, Quebec for four days with the bf and another couple. Montreal is a place that my friends and I often went to throughout university because we had friends who were studying there so we had a place to crash. Now that we’re all working, these trips are seldom, which made my visit in December a treat. We were greeted with warmer temperatures and I stayed in a hotel for the first time in Montreal. The days went by really quickly filled with lots of food, drinks and sights!

The drive from Toronto to Montreal took only six hours and with three drivers (I don’t drive), it was great to make a quick stop every two hours to change drivers and stretch the legs out. There are service centres every 75-90kms along the highway, which were very convenient for bathroom breaks and food along the way. I managed to sleep most of it. There’s something about being in a moving vehicle that I get some of my best sleeps! It helps also to have our taco pillow and blanket in the car!

Taco pillow

Taco Pillow!!

We splurged on a 5-star hotel: The Sofitel Montreal Golden Mile. We got a great rate from and the hotel didn’t disappoint. We drove the six hours there and was greeted with valet service upon arrival (it’s $35/day for parking but totally worth it when split between four people). The check-in process was quick and we headed to our rooms.  With free wi-fi, it seemed that everyone was more eager to be on their gadget than outside – granted we were looking up places to go for food.

Our first breakfast was at a place called Nocochi. They had a great brunch menu with lots of vegetarian options on the menu. Most of the food came with orange juice, which was a treat! We set out to wander Montreal after a delicious meal and it brought us to Old Montreal, an area I’ve always loved to walk around. The buildings are a mix of residential and commercial (stores, restaurants, business offices). I love the cobblestone roads! After a long day of walking and sightseeing, food and drinks are in order.  A favourite place of mine to go to when in Montreal is Les 3 Brasseurs because they brew their own beer and you can get a metre of beer!! The food is delicious and a great atmosphere for small and large groups.

If you like shopping, there is a series of underground paths that connect several malls with one another and you never have to go into the bitter cold. My friend and I opted to go shopping and the spa while the guys went to the Casino de Montreal. We spent the morning at the Spa Escale Sante for the Thermal Experience.  It was going from different temperature pools to the sauna and steam room. Super relaxing but I would recommend going to the Scandinave Spa – Vieux Montreal instead. I was there last year and it had a better layout and bigger space as well as better facilities. Moving on, after the spa and a long day of shopping, it was time – poutine time. For those who don’t know what poutine is, it’s a Canadian specialty: fries, gravy and cheese curds about sums it up. We settled on Frites Alors! because it was close by and we were hungry. There were tons of options and we settled on La tunisienne (merguez sausage and fried onions) and the veggie burger. The guys came later so they didn’t eat.

I would like to point out that you can get alcohol (mainly beer and some wine) at the convenient store. Coming from a province where you have to go to specifically licensed places to get alcohol, it was so nice to pick a some beer on our way back to the hotel to enjoy. Plus, it’s cheaper and they came in the 750ml bottles so you can share them 🙂

On the day we left, we stopped by La Banquise – one of the best poutine places in town! It even has it’s own Wiki page. One winter when I was visiting Montreal, we trekked out to La Banquise amidst a super windy and snowy night, just so we could get poutine from one of the best – definitely worth it. I got La Taquise (guacamole, sour cream & tomatoes) and it was so delicious: freshly chopped tomatoes, guac and the real deal on sour cream (not the low fat kind but the kind that is so thick, you can turn a spoon upside and it’ll still stick kind). I got the small one because looking at the portion sizes around me, the large was huge. I didn’t want to be that bloated on a six hour car ride home.

It was a fantastic couple of days to be away from home and relax. A great way to bring in the new year!