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I spend a bit of time each year in Toronto. Coming from Chicago, Toronto is a very easy city to navigate. While I do find the comparisons between these two cities to be pretty accurate, there are some things that I think Toronto gets right and Chicago fails. Here’s why I love Toronto.
Both cities have really great food scenes. From fine dining to casual street food you can’t go wrong in Chicago or in Toronto. Canoe, in Toronto has an amazing view that is only matched by the food itself. The Michelin Guide doesn’t visit Toronto, so you can’t find any official Michelin Starred restaurants, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have great options.
The transit in both Cities is great. I don’t have a car in Chicago and I’ve never needed to rent one in Toronto. I get everywhere I need to go by foot, streetcar or subway. Worst case scenario, taxis, or ride share options are plentiful.
Why I Love Toronto
The one thing that I love about Toronto, much more than Chicago, is the diversity. Both cities have a few million people and a strong immigrant community. When walking around Toronto, I often hear several language. Not only do you frequently hear English and French, but it isn’t uncommon to hear Arabic, Hindi and Mandarin. While these language exist in Chicago, I never hear them when I’m walking around in the central business district. This worldliness gives Toronto a more cosmopolitan feel than Chicago. This is really why I love Toronto.
What do you think about Toronto? Is there just one thing that you really dig about the City that you can’t get back home? What’s the one thing you suggest to people visiting Toronto?
Open House Chicago is one of our favorite weekends each year. If you are unfamiliar with this event, take a look at their website for all the details. High Level: 250+ public and private spaces are open to the public over a weekend in mid-October each year. You’ll see everything from private clubs, to corporate offices to modern factories. Have you ever wanted to see what the Groupon offices looked like? What about a luxury hat manufacturer housed in an old fire house? Well, you can with Open House Chicago.
2018 marked the eighth year of this event in Chicago and the idea has spread all over the world with more than 40 cities participating. Each year, we decide to venture out of our known areas and explore an unfamiliar neighborhood (unfamiliar to us, that is). This year, we ventured out to Beverly / Morgan Park on the far southwest side of the city. Having never really explored this area, we were very excited to welcome a new neighborhood not only into our lives, but into Open House Chicago.
Photo Journal of Beverly / Morgan Park
Taking only public transit and walking, we made our way through every site in Beverly (we didn’t photo all of them though), grabbed a great lunch at the Horse Thief Hollow (104th/Western) and a beer at the end of our trip. The weather was spectacular, the people were welcoming and the neighborhood was beautiful. If you haven’t explored Beverly, go do it. It’s a beautiful place.
Have you explored Open House Chicago (or another city)? What are your favorite sites? Do you have any tips and tricks for people?
Changes to the MileagePlus program, most notably the United Premier 1K Status have been announced. MileagePlus offers six levels of status to frequent flyers: General Member, Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K and Global Services. Basically, the more you fly the higher your status. I’ve been a Premier Platinum member for a few years now. To earn this status I must fly at least 75,000 miles annually, plus spend $9,000 with United.
Historically, United Premier 1K Status has been awarded to members who fly 100,000 miles annually and spend $12,000 with United. I’ve never flown enough paid miles (miles flown on award tickets don’t count in this tally) in a given year to earn 1K Status. I’m pretty content with my simple Premier Platinum too. Each year, I do the math and see if it makes sense to accelerate travel to earn 1K status. I never has, for me.
United just announced a change in the earning requirements for Premier 1K Status. In addition to flying 100,000 miles annually, you’ll have to spend $15,000 with United. That’s a 25% jump year over year. Now this is effective for status starting in 2020. Therefore, you’ll have to fly the same number of miles, but spend quite a bit more money just to keep (or earn) your Premier 1K Status.
United has been making some other changes recently too. In addition to the changes to their boarding process, they are also changing the earning bonus on one of their premium fares. You can check out their dedicated website for all the details.
Are you currently a Premier 1K? How does this change impact your travel plans for 2019? How easy will it be for you to requalify for this lucrative status.
United Airlines just announced changes to their passenger boarding process. Every couple of years it seems like the airlines (not just United, of course) try a new method for boarding their planes. For a while, it seemed like every airline had an elaborate queueing process, with half a dozen or more boarding zones. These zones caused people to line up long before boarding actually began. Sometimes the passengers getting off the arriving plane were met with a wall of people eagerly lined up to board. It was a mess.
United is trying to fix that issue. How many of you have been to O’hare, SFO, or EWR recently and had your path obstructed by dozens of people in the boarding line, snaking into the main concourse? Well, United’s plan to fix this is simple. Passengers should only line up if they are in Boarding Groups 1 or 2. Groups 3-5 remain seated and then they’ll be called once the first two Groups are on board. That part of the plan seems fine, although I really don’t think it will work. See, if you are in Groups 3-5, you’ll end up boarding through Lane 2…which means you’ll likely still be fighting for your spot in that line.
My biggest issue is how the new Boarding Groups are organized. I’m a Premier Platinum flyer with United, meaning I fly 75K+ miles each year and spend $9K with them. Currently, I board in Group 1. Group 1 consists of Premier 1K (100K mile flyers), Premier Platinum and First Class Passengers. We are the first to board the plane after the pre-boarding folks (Uniformed Military, Families with small children, Global Services and people with mobility issues). This is great for me. I board and get situated; I never have a problem finding overhead bin space near my seat for my roller bag. Group 2 included Premier Gold (50K mile flyers), Star Alliance Gold, and certain credit card holders. When I use to board with Group 2, I had a hard time finding space for my bag near my seat – often times I’d need to go back 4-5 rows to properly stow the bag. Now I don’t usually need my bag while in flight, it is just problematic when we deplane. Swimming upstream to get my back is always a pain the neck.
The New Process
The new process adjusts who is in Group 1. Now Premier 1K is part of pre-boarding. Group 1 consists of Premier Platinum, Premier Gold, Star Alliance Gold and Premium Cabins (First and Business Class passengers).
Now I know that on the grand scheme of things, this is a minor issue. The most important part of flying is arriving safely and close to the schedule. One of the benefits for hitting 75K miles each year was to board a bit earlier. If I’m not traveling with my roller bag, I don’t board early. I wait until the bitter end as I don’t want to sit on the plane any longer than I have to.
The best part of this change is that it keeps the credit card passengers a Group behind us. Once I get a couple more trips under my belt, it may all work out just fine and I’ll actually enjoy this new structure. I’m not sold on it now though.
If I were designing the boarding Groups (purely for selfish reasons of course), I’d have Global Services continue to pre-board. Then Group 1 would be First Class, Premier 1K and Premier Platinum. Group 2 would be Premier Gold, Star Alliance Gold and credit card people (I believe that United makes decent money off these folks). Group 3 would be Premier Silver, Star Alliance Silver and people who purchased Priority Access. The rest of the Groups would remain unchanged.
How will this change at United Airlines impact your travels? Are you boarding sooner or later? Do you not care at all because you just check your bag and don’t have to worry about it?
EVA Air boards Business Class passengers directly from the Air France / KLM Lounge for our flight to Taipei. I was the third person on board and quickly took my seat of 9A. As I was getting situated (you know, tablet, headphones and chargers out), Daisy, the flight attendant working my portion of the cabin approached, delivering menus and a warm moist towel to help you get refreshed before the 15 hour flight.
On the Ground
EVA doesn’t serve champagne on the ground, at least in Chicago. Cook County taxes are very high and they don’t want to pay them, so they serve an inferior sparkling wine, they wouldn’t even tell me what kind it was.
Daisy asks if I want the seat cover – not a mattress pad mind you, just a quilted cover over the seat. I took it. I’ll take any additional padding I can get on airline seats. Pajamas were delivered and I immediately hopped up and changed. The lavatory between the two business class cabins is much more roomy, making it much easier to change. The front lavatory is a standard sized room…small, very small.
Boarding continued and I sat back and enjoyed my drink, in my new pajamas, and thought about my trip. Was I crazy for flying so far for just a couple of days? Maybe, but I am going to enjoy the journey. The door closed at 00h20 and we were pulling away from the jet bridge at 00h23. It was fast. Then we sat on the tarmac for about 20 minutes.
In the Air
Once airborne, the crew sprung into action. It was late, people wanted to sleep and the sooner they can put us to bed, the easier their flight will be.
I had preordered the duck for my entree, which was easy to do on the EVA website. EVA offers some additional entrees that aren’t normally stocked on board, but they are catered upon request.
Another glass of champagne arrived as did the amuse bouche. It was quite lovely, Turkey Ham (huh? What’s turkey ham?) with Asparagus with champagne was a great way to kick off this Business Class Meal.
The lobster appetizer arrived fifteen minutes later. It was served with drawn butter and a quinoa salad that was just packed with flavor. I skipped the quail egg though
Right at 01h30 my duck arrived. I asked for a glass of Bordeaux to accompany the duck, but it never arrived. The duck looked…well…strange. I’m not sure what happened to it, but about three-quarters of it looked and felt like it had been eaten by someone else then spit back onto my plate. I was disgusted. I couldn’t eat it. Daisy came by and saw that I wasn’t eating and she asked a couple of questions, then took it away. The purser came back to talk to me and she was mortified. She suggested I choose a different entree, which I did. The kung pao chicken sounded good to me and it was delivered moments later.
The chicken looked strange too. It was stuffed with a truffle brioche that just seemed off when paired with a kung pao truffle jus. I scraped out the stuffing and ate the chicken. Quite a disappointing entree selection.
The fruit and cake plate and was delivered. There was no cheese course. When I asked about it, the matter of fact answer was that “There was no cheese course tonight.” Hmmmrph.
At 02h00 the dinner service was over, plates and linens cleared. I was a bit disappointed.
It was time to turn in, so I laid my seat out to a bed and put on the EVA provided headphones and listened to the Big Bang Theory as I slept. It is a great plane show – as it always makes me want to sleep.
I woke up after about 5 hours of sleep and decided to watch a movie I brought (Indiana Jones) and get some work done. The internet was slow and cost $16.95 for three hours of service. It did what I needed it to do, but it was soooo slow.
At 08h00 I ordered the vermicelli with pork, which was a great choice. I should have had three of those for dinner.
I napped intermittently until breakfast, which was served promptly at 12h30. The lights popped on with a never before seen intensity! I’m not a big breakfast guy, so I skipped the cereals and I chose to have the fruit, pastry and the bread pudding. It was all pretty great. The fruit was a little under ripe, but it was still flavorful.
At this point, breakfast is done and we are still two hours from Taipei. US and European carriers don’t start serving arrival meal until 90 minutes before landing. We had lots of time left, but now I wasn’t really in the mood for sleeping.
As we come into Taipei, the flight crew sprung into action. Unlike the rest of the trip, they seemed like chickens with their heads cut off. Seemingly executing their landing procedures in a near panic mode. For example, I had five sheets of paper stored in a cubby behind my shoulder. I was told that I couldn’t stow anything there and as I was grabbing it another stew comes over, repeats the request, then the first grabs the paper, ripping it, then shoves it in another cubby (that also said No Stowage During Taxi, Take Off or Landing). Theses were just notes I had taken to prep for my trip – not a big deal, but the service sure went south fast. The crew all took their seats and we still had 30 minutes until we touched down.
We rolled into TPE at 04h05, 11 minutes early. Despite this flight being more than 15 hours, I wasn’t ready for it to end. I really do love EVA. The flight timing is great – I can work a full day, leave at 00h30 and be anywhere in Asia by noon the next day. That’s no small feat from Chicago. The seats are among my favorite in Business Class. If you are traveling with someone it is a bit difficult to chat, but for a solo traveler, you can’t beat these seats. The food is usually pretty good – the entrees on this flight were pretty abysmal, but the other courses were enjoyable. Loved the noodles.
I used 90,000 United Miles (Saver Award) on this Business Class flight (including the next one), the value can’t be beat. I haven’t ever checked the actual cost of the flight, because I’m not expensing these flights back to a third party. I’m not paying thousands of dollars this flight (likely) costs in Business Class.
Have you flown EVA Business Class before? Do you dig their service? What do you think was wrong with that duck entree I had? Have you ever not wanted to get off a flight after more than 15 hours of flying?