To start off this trip, we had to fly to Toronto to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Seattle before we made our way to Anchorage. I guess there are more direct flights out of Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska. We arrived around 1030PM where Kenny and Ryan were waiting for us. We walked out to arrivals and found a SUV that had the We the North flag hanging from it (Raptors won the Championship in Game 7!).
We went to the hostel – Arctic Adventure Hostel – to drop off our things and headed to Walmart (open 24hr) to stock up on sustenance for the next few days before finding a late night place to eat and have a drink. We ended up at 49th State Brewing Co. 49th State Brewing sits on a corner of a sloped street that also has 2 levels of outdoor patio with heaters and a beautiful uninterrupted view of the waters. We got a table with a live fire going to keep us warm but also in visible sight of the beautiful sun “setting”. Since Kenny and Ryan had arrived earlier, Merle and myself ate while we all drank some local beer and cheers to arriving to Alaska, the start of our adventure and Kenny reaching his 50th state.
I ordered the Baked Alaska Ale and the Elk Crossing 10” pizza (Elk Meatballs) – roughly $24USD (after tax & tip). We left the bar around 130AM and the sun was pleasantly still up as we drove home. Surprisingly, many people were still out and about. Summer is similar to Iceland where the sun rises at 430AM and “sets” (really just sits on the horizon) at 1130PM.
Since we were all coming from different parts of North America, we decided to sleep in a bit and start our day later. I routinely keep waking up for 7/8AM Toronto time so even though we went to bed around 230AM Alaskan time, I still awoke at 4AM. We ended up leaving around 930-10AM. First stop, Kaladi Brothers – We got reindeer breakfast burritos and they got cold brew coffee. According to many blogs I read, the highway going to Seward is the #1 scenic highway in USA. It definitely had some beautiful spots but I wouldn’t quite say it was the best I’ve seen in my travels. It was a pleasant drive nonetheless.
One of Kenny’s friends mentioned detouring to a small town called Whittier. Whittier has the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America. This tunnel lets to a small inlet town of Prince William Sound. This tunnel is a one-way tunnel that is shared by both cars and trains. It costs $13USD to go through and there are scheduled release times to allow traffic to go through smoothly. There are also restrooms available as you wait for your number to get the go ahead to go through.
One the other side in is Prince William Sound, a small inlet. There are a few waterfalls and also a bunker that use to hold many things. It was an interesting experience but if you have little time, I would suggest skipping it.
After this detour, we finally made it back on the road and enroute to Seward – Kenai Fjords National Park to do the Harding Icefield Trail. Parking is free and the visitor centre was open and restrooms available. The map shows you the trails you can take and also helpful tips if you were to interact with wildlife such as bears or moose. BUG SPRAY IS KEY!
We started our hike of the Harding Icefield Trail at the Exit Glacier. If you want to complete the entire trail to the top, it will be roughly a 6-8 hour hike. We arrived around 3-330PM and decided to hike to Marmot Meadows viewpoint. Reading all the comments of this hike, it was highly recommended to get hiking poles. The 3 of them had hiking poles but I decided to opt out of them. There are parts where it gets a little steep but for the most part, I was ok without them. I have to note as well that I guess I am slightly more athletic than the average person so if in doubt, get poles if you worry. Marmot Meadows viewpoint was a stunner. You get a good look at the glacier and the valley. The next point after Marmot Meadows, we attempted to goto since it would only be about an hour and we had made good time however, it got to the point where the trail was just covered in snow and me without poles, wasn’t the safest of options. Ryan and Kenny continued up while Merle and myself wait at Marmot Meadows for them. The hike down was rather quick (at least for me). I do recommend trying to go further if you can, the view just 10 minutes past Marmot Meadows I think has a better view than what you see at the Marmot Meadows lookout.
By the time we made it to the bottom, we did the smaller viewpoint loop to the bottom of the glacier.
We left the park and decided to look for dinner in town before driving back to Anchorage. We found a cool little place called Thorn’s Showcase Lounge. We all ordered a cup of seafood or clam chowder and shared some halibut butts (bites) and 2lb steamer clams in garlic butter. Delicious!
The good thing about this time of year is that the sun was still up and bright as we drove back and by the time we arrive back around 1230AM, they sun was right on the horizon and calming.
6AM wake up call. Breakfast was a big improvement with hard boiled & fried eggs, bacon, bread, boar sausage. It was the final tear down – bittersweet. The rain had past but the fog hadn’t fully lifted making it eerie but beautiful as we drove. Another round of gin rummy and a few hours later, we made it to our last pitstop at the mall for lunch. (lunch is not included)
Will realized after he purchased a new phone that he had left his pouch with his sim card and passport back at Kruger which was 3-4 back the opposite direction.
Another hour or two and we finally made it to Benoni (roughly 20 minutes drive to airport) to Mufasa Backpackers where we all disembarked from the truck one last time. Earlier in the week Will asked for all our plans and arranged rides for all of us to get to our next destination. It cost 600ZAR to get from Benoni to Rosebank by taxi. Before we all parted ways, we presented Will, Frans and Clive with envelopes containing our collective tips for them.
TIPPING – On the Go Tours
Tipping is all dependent on what you feel comfortable paying. Our guide mentioned to us that it is roughly $5USD/day per staff for the length of the tour. In the end, depending on how long of duration your tour is, it can add up. In the end, we thought it fair for $150USD collectively split amongst the 3 staff. Tipping is a very Westernize custom but USD goes a long way especially in Africa. We (as in Canadians – Torontonians precisely) pay at least 13% back home. Tipping also customarily shows the person you are tipping if their skills were up to par or if they need improvement.
It is not highly recommended to take public transit or walking around especially for foreigners. There is high crime rate in Joburg. Uber is a good alternative to taxis especially for the price.
We booked with Hyde Park Villa (28B – 3rd Road, Sandton) for 2731ZAR for 2 villa rooms with 2 single beds in each room for a night. The bathrooms are just as large as the rooms with a full tub and walk in shower. Rosebank & Sandton are a gated community and this hotel is gated and felt very safe and secure. This hotel is located near a St David’s College. They have an honours bar where you take what you want but write down your room number and pay later.
We got the villa rooms 12 & 14 close to the breakfast room and closest to the pool in the inner courtyard. Room 12 has more natural lighting coming into the room but nonetheless the rooms are nice and cozy and their bathrooms are beautiful and spacious including a open shower and a giant tub with 2 sinks. The only issue we had in room 14 was that the AC/heater unit was giving off a funky smell. The courtyard was very cozy and inviting but unfortunately we didn’t have time to use the pool. The stairs to the units above our room made you feel like you were somewhere in Europe. There is free wifi on the premises via Alwayson provider which allows a complimentary 500MB per day. It is a decent speed.
We got in and settled by 445PM and with lack of time, we opted to goto to Rosebank Mall (15A Cradock Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa). We wanted to Uber to the mall as it is the cheaper option for transportation but we couldn’t get the app to work so luckily Jackie was kind enough to book one for us (Uber updated so you have the option to pay in cash).
Our room key comes with a gate opener that allows us to go in and out without needing to buzz security. Ellet was our driver who was originally from Polokwane and was such a sweet man.
We arrived at the mall and tried to check out the rooftop market but only then realized it is only opened on Sundays so we tried to check out the Arts and Crafts Market on the outside of the mall but they were in the midst of closing at 530PM and we tried to see if they would stay open but majority of the vendors had left. We walked through the mall to search for souvenirs but nothing so we went grocery shopping at Pick n Pay for last minute purchases of snacks and coffee beans. After research, There was high rating for Bean There Coffee, Monate Coffee but I also purchased Terbodore Coffee and E Cafe all for my father.
Unfortunately the mall was closing by the time we finished grocery shopping (everyone told us the mall stays open late into the evening – not true). Luckily there was complimentary wifi and I was able to download Uber and Ubereats. There weren’t any restaurants at the mall so we opted to go back to the hotel and order Ubereats since the mall was closing and our access to free wifi was coming to an end. We had the hardest time trying to make an order on Ubereats. We had made a few selections and had our order ready for 2-4 restaurants but we couldn’t get the app to complete any orders. Luckily Sarah had Skype credits and we ordered pizza from Andiccio 24. I got the Pumpkin Banting (cauliflower crust) with bacon. By the time the pizza’s came and we all showered, it was already 1130PM. Our hotel also gave us complimentary wine but it was just too strong and sweet. We repacked and went to bed in an actual bed.
We got to sleep in until 8AM as complimentary breakfast services finish at 9AM. Not the hottest of mornings like we had days previous so taking a dip in the pool wasn’t an option. Breakfast was great. Cute little eating area with buffet set up of yogurts, pancakes, fruits, bread, smoke salmon and juices/coffees .Jackie is the owner of the bed and breakfast and such a sweet lady. She is very involved including making custom omelettes for us for breakfast. Once seated, Jackie would come over and ask if you wanted any hot food customized. We all got mushroom and cheese omelettes with a side of bacon.
The actual property of Hyde Park Villa feels like being in a private European park that makes you feel secluded and relaxed. Jackie had booked an airport shuttle for us for 550ZAR prior to coming and we had asked her to adjust the time for pickup to 10AM as opposed to the original 11AM as our flight was 210PM. We only were successful in downloading Uber late the night before (it would’ve been 225ZAR) so it was too late to cancel the airport shuttle. We wandered the property until our taxi came for us. We played with Jackie’s dog Mishka who is also a delight and so sweet with it’s spot on the lawn near the swimming pool.
Once we got to O R Tambo, the line for Ethiopian Airlines was enormous and somehow was 3 lines funnelling into 1. We spent an hour at the Made in SA store outside the gates to get souvenirs. We really wished we picked up souvenirs before in Zimbabwe and Botswana but the only opportunity in the trip to do so was realistically in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe at the very beginning before we started our tour.
We made it through security and spent more time in Duty Free and the Out of Africa store (has a much bigger selection than the store outside) still pricier than markets outside of the airport but last minute buys, not bad. Our flight home was long but with Emergency seats, you can’t complain too much. We went from Joburg to Dublin (we didn’t get off but cabin crew changed and plane re-fueled) then Dublin to Toronto. Halfway through the flight, our personal media units (the ones that you unfold from the armrest) stopped standing up on its own and kept falling down. It felt like we were on the plane forever consuming 7 meals and periodically sleeping. One thing I don’t understand when being on planes is the sheer laziness of people who goto the washroom barefoot or in their socks – disgusting.
I had the opportunity to live in Vancouver for a month in 2014 with my friend Yolande. I spent a lot of time getting to know extended family, meeting new people from all walks of life and just enjoying the West Coast lifestyle with my “Toronto Crew that now reside in Vancity”. Instead of detailing the day-to-day of my time out west, this post will showcase what I ate and what I wanted to eat during my time in Vancouver.
EAT SUSHI! I cannot get over how cheap it is to dine on sushi here – a maki roll is around $3-4 but back home its like $8-14. Even with the cheaper price, the quality is superb in Vancouver- absolutely fresh.
The original Guu is located on Thurlow and it is the not only the original Guu but also the first Izakaya in Vancouver. As you enter, you will receive a very warm and loud welcome and same as you leave. Izakaya is similar to tapas and are all rather small sharing dishes to go along with drinks. The menu is quite diverse with food that is grilled or fried but they also have Udon noodle soups to beef sashimi to salads. The Original Guu is a small cozy establishment but you will be satisfied with all the flavours and atmosphere. There are multiple locations in Vancouver and also in Toronto.
Hubbub is the place to go if you want a fresh sandwich served on a toasty baguette. All you need to is to choose your protein and each sandwich comes with a base of pickled jalapenos, creamy garlic sauce, romaine lettuce, cilantro, and crunchy caramelized onions. I chose the pulled pork and it was absolutely delicious and with a sweet heat kicking.
Japadog offers gourmet hot dogs that are served Japanese-style. The location on Robson St is the only sit-down location. If you can’t make it to the actual sit down joint, you can find a few carts located around town such as the corner of Smithe & Burrard, Burrard & Pender. There is also a Japadog truck so keep an eye out. The Japadog truck and the restaurant location are the only ones that have the full extensive menus and offer their shaken fries. On one particular visit, We had the croquette (Fried mashed potato) dog and their Shichimi & Garlic tossed fries.
If you are hankering for a good burrito go no further than Steamrollers. The burritos here are fresh, tasty and made quickly. As their namesake tells you – they don’t deep fry or use grease but rather cook with steam. A traditional burrito starts around $7.25CAD and also have vegetarian options. You can also get gluten free options.
Breka Bakery smells heavenly with in-house baking of fresh breads. Not only does this bakery serve up some scrumptious breads, it also offers pastries to suit anyone’s tastes. Muffins, pretzels, cookies, donuts, pies and so much more. I ended up leaving this establishment with a cheesecake brownie which was large enough for 2 people. There is also a large selection for drink and meal options.
A spacious spot with welcoming vibes brings you to Greenhorn Café. Coffee, tea and espresso as well as breakfast and lunch are available. On weekends, the brunch selection is opened to include baked eggs and eggs benedict. I met a good friend here and grabbed a crimson berry (house blend) tea and a croissant.
The always-busy Twisted Fork Bistro serves up brunch the right way. Be sure to make a reservation because this place is always packed for the brunch run. It is a rather cozy spot but very comfy. I got the Gruyere baked eggs with sourdough toast, bacon, tomato, rosti and baked beans. Very flavourful and rich. Not sure why but we had decided to workout after this meal. Perfect meal on a cold day.
Sejuiced, is a vegetarian / vegan joint located in Kitsilano. It is the west coast version of Toronto’s Fresh – http://freshrestaurants.ca/ . There is an array of items on their menu such as soups, yogi bowls (bowl with rice or quinoa), sandwiches, wraps, quesadillas, salads and even veggie burgers. They also have an extensive shakes and juices menu. For my visit, I had the mega protein salad with tofu ($12CAD).
This café is very quaint with French-inspired pastries. I went the sweet tooth root and had to get myself a peanut butter cookie sandwich and a croissant that almost rivals Thomas Haas’ double backed croissant. They also get very inventive with their pastries here.
A small yet cozy place with a patio to boot. The double baked almond croissants are amazing and go fast. It is a must stop if in the area. If a croissant isn’t up to your flavour, they offer a wide selection of chocolates, macarons, sandwiches, cakes and so much more. It is very difficult to choose just one item but don’t worry, you can purchase to take away with you for later. There is even a chance you might actually see Thomas Haas working while you visit.
49th Parallel is a coffee shop that locally roasts their own beans and serves pastries as well as Lucky’s Doughnuts. It is a great place to people watch through their glass walls and also get work done. I grabbed a salted caramel & a Mango /Passionfruit Bismarck donut from Lucky’s Donut. They were both delicious!
For fresh in-house handmade noodles, Shaolin Noodle House has a small selection but make that selection really well. You have the option to get the noodles dry or in soup and also different options for the type of noodles you want. Dragging noodles are hand-pulled and very long. Pushing is noodles that are flattened with a rolling pin then cut. Round is similar to pasta and udon shaped. And Cutting are pieces that are literally cut off from a ball of dough directly into the soup while it is cooking. I had the seafood and vegetables cutting noodle in soup and we shared lamb skewers and steamed dumplings – all so tasty and good.
Close-by to Shaolin Noodle is Peaceful Restaurant. Peaceful Restaurant was featured on Guy Fierti’s Diners, Drive-ins & Dives but even without that, this place deserves to be known – they do Chinese food well. They have hand pulled noodles but also amazing selection of dumplings. We got the Peaceful House Noodles, Spicy & Tangy Dumplings and Green onion beef (tender beef rapidly stir-fried with green onions & ginger). The green onion beef rolls were hands down the best thing ever and the noodles tasted so fresh.
Suika is a Japanese Izakaya – very animated decor with a sake bottle chandelier. Suika serves up creative and intricate mixes to provide a strong menu to make you come back for more. We (3 of us) shared the Tuna Avocado, Beef short rib, the Chicken Kara-age & the Kakuni Bibimbap – stewed pork belly, sweet dried shrimp & scallions on rice served in a hot stone bowl.
I absolutely love sushi and Vancouver seems to be the place for quality sushi for decent prices. A popular place for Sushi is California Sushi. I got the Energy Roll (unagi, asparagus etc) and it was of generous portions for being only $4CAD which is half the price than Toronto standards.
For family style chinese food – Congee Noodle is the place to go. Its more spacious than some other restaurants in the area. Between four people, we ordered the Giant fish congee, Gai lan (chinese broccoli), Dough fritter with rice roll around it, Scallop rice roll, Seafood chow mein, and half a chicken.
Located by the docks, this little shack serves up some fresh fish & chips options. We had cod fish and chips and the portions were large and a steal for it’s price. The island has little shops similar to Stevenson and a market place like Toronto’s St Lawrence Market
There are tons of local eats in Granville Island as well as great local coffee choices. Closed on Mondays.
You cannot leave Chinatown without visiting New Town Bakery. It feels like home when you are in there. An assortment of pastries & steamed buns are the main draw. The BBQ pork buns are to die for. It gets busy so grab a number once you enter. Cash Only.
Pizzeria Farina makes the dough fresh every morning and when they run out, they are done for the day. The freshest of ingredients. We were lucky enough to get the last 3 pizza doughs. We got the Funghi, The Speciale and the Finocchiona – they were all amazing but the funghi stole the show for me. The pizza’s range from $10-17CAD in price. They also make their own oregano and chili infused olive oils which you could also purchase.
Phnom Penh is probably one of the most talked about musts for places to eat in Chinatown. It is hard to get a spot in this restaurant so make reservations. Serving up Vietnamese – Cambodian dishes, this institution is always busy and the food always worth the wait. I ate with a group of 8. We got individual items but shared a plate of fried chicken wings to share and the spice that put in it were so good that it made up for the fact there wasn’t actually too much meat on the bones. I got the beef stew with egg noodles, a dry egg noodle dish with organ meat like liver and other meats and a rice dish with meat, a over easy egg and cabbage.
Wildebeest is a meat centric offering in Gastown prepared and served family-style. They also source ingredients from local sources to create a fun and intricate menu. It is also a secret spot for brunch.
Save on Meats – http://saveonmeats.ca/diner/ – 43 West Hastings St
This building was built in 1891 and you can’t miss the neon pig sign on Hastings. This place is serving up the classic diner foods and all day breakfast. Sheppard pie, Salisbury steak and burgers make this place what it is.
Revolver Coffee is all about the simplicity and quality of their coffee and the experience around it. There is very intricate selection of coffees and also methods of brewing. The décor is an add plus.
In the heart of Gastown, this establishment is a slightly pricier restaurant with a good selection of alcohol but also delicately put together menu. I went with a group of 6 and we came with an appetite. We ordered pretty much 75% of the menu to share. Everything was delicious.
Our Appetizers to share:
-Brusselsprouts and bacon
-Mac & Cheese
-Albacore Tuna with Artichoke
-Butter Lettuce & Citrus
-Beet and endive salad
-Oysters with mignonette sauce
-French Onion Soup with Gruyere & Croutons
-Grilled Cheese with Spicy Tomato & Fennel Soup
-Roasted Bone Marrow with Sea Salt, Pickled Radish, Parsley, Grilled Bread
-Smoked Salmon with Potato Salad, Dill, Crispy Capers, Beet & Endive Salad with Apple, Walnuts, Blue Cheese Dressing as starters.
The main course meals we ordered:
-3 Cornish Game Hen with Grilled Romaine (romaine that is dressed in Caesar dressing then bbq/charred – need to try this out at home!)
The main chef at Red Wagon uses french inspiration in his cooking which turned this place from a hole in the wall into a cozy diner for good eats. Guy Fieri left his seal of approvable from Diners, Drive-ins & Dives. This place has line-ups out the door but luckily it wasn’t too busy and we only had to wait 15-20 minutes. I had the Pulled Pork Pancakes (3 buttermilk pancakes layered with pulled pork with Jack Daniels -spiked maple syrup) and let me tell you it was so filling and so unbelievably good. Usually I crave pancakes because of the smell but the taste is usually not as satisfying and only a few bites in I no longer desire to eat it but I cleaned my plate (took some time because it was so filling). The chef also opened up le wagon rouge, which is their bistro restaurant.
If you are craving matcha then Basho Cafe is the spot for you. Basho is a family run Japanese café that will feel like home. You can choose to indulge with a matcha latte or the wide array of pastries that feature matcha.The pastries are baked daily and the menu changes daily. They also serve up a special set menu that includes a small cup of soup, veggies as well as mini sweets in addition to your main.
Merchants is owned by Doug Stephen and one of the chefs was my cousin’s friend. They use locally sourced, organic ingredients. We started off with drinks – an old fashioned and myself a Gin Digger (did you know a digger is what a Caesar’s real name and it originated in Calgary). We decided to order we would order our own 4 course meals $40 (sharing as well). For our snacks, we both grabbed baked oysters with truffle cream. Before we got our 1sts, they brought out a special plate for us for an event they had prepped and had extras to spare. It was parsley served 20 different ways with a little help with panna cotta. My favourite item was the parsley chip; so tasty yet so delicate. For the first dish, we grabbed the beef tartare served on crostini with Sriracha and pickled shallots and Gnocchi with black garlic (this is expensive so not used in many places) & pickled garlic. We both got the Ling Cod with kimchi, smoked egg yolk and swiss chard. Finished off with chocolate ganache with cumin, caramel & pistachio as well as a Blood orange tart with browned butter and marshmallows. The food was phenomenal and the service was great.
This place is a cozy spot on Commercial Dr with live music courtesy of La Santisima – traditional Mexican songs – every Sunday. Their selection of mezcal spans the wall with an open concept kitchen and bar so you can see what they are doing and making. La Mezcaleria is such a cute little place. We took a sit up at the bar in front of the chefs working away at making all the dishes.
We had the Campechano Flight (a flight of both the red snapper and tuna ceviche’s, guacamole and pico de gallo served with chips), We also grabbed Tostadas de Pato (Fraser Valley duck confit, guava, fruit mole sauce (manchamanteles), chayote squash and radish), Tinga de pollo (free range chicken with chorizo in a chipotle tomato sauce, topped with Mexican cheese and sour cream) & Al Pastor (pork marinated in achiote chilli and pineapple) tacos and ended off with flan for dessert. I also ordered take-away for a friend. I ordered Tinga de Pollo and De Cachet (braised beef cheeks) tacos. Great vibe, great people and great food.