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Why I Love Toronto
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?
Need Advice: Argentina Trip
Each year, we travel somewhere for Thanksgiving. We find it a great time to leave the country as no one is traveling for business that week and most Americans are traveling domestically. We’ve traveled to Ireland, Mexico City, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Colorado, and Oregon for Thanksgiving. This year, we are heading south to Argentina. This will be my first visit to the country, while it will be Mike’s second.
So far, we’ve book airfare down to and back from Argentina as well as flights inside the country. We’ve chosen our cities to visit and the hotels in which to stay. We’ll be staying in Cordoba, Mendoza and finally a few days in Buenos Aires. I’ve only made reservations for one meal while we are there too – our final night in Buenos Aires, we are hitting a lovely fine dining restaurant as we celebrate Thanksgiving.
I need your help though. I’m looking for advice from travelers and locals who can tell us great places to eat and wineries to visit. Frequent readers know that I love a good bike tour, so any recommendations on who to ride while while in Argentina, let me know.
What is the one thing you wish you had done while you were in Argentina? What about the one thing you wish you hadn’t done?
Singapore Sling at Raffles
The Raffles Hotel is colonial Singapore. Opened 1887, it has been the mainstay of imperial stature and architecture in the region. I love visiting classic hotels while traveling; especially when these hotels have famous cocktails like the Singapore Sling. I find the colonial hotels in southeast Asia really pique my interest. While the ideal of oppressive imperialism turns my stomach, the romanticized notion really gets me going. Living in relative luxury, overseeing your “enterprise” – and in this scenario, “your enterprise” is the pillaging of the land and the enslavement of the people. But I digress.
A major renovation has closed the Raffles Hotel. It is slated to reopen again in the first half of 2019. Obviously that didn’t work for me. I was fortunate enough that the fine Raffles folks opened a PopUp Shop next to their hotel. Of course I had to stop by.
The PopUp has a limited menu, consisting of only five items, two of which are alcohol-free. The Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel is known for the Singapore Sling, which they invented. This cocktail cost 31SGD or 22USD, which is outrageously expensive for this cocktail. I still ordered it, but I didn’t order a water as the tiny bottles were 14SGD OR $10USD. I’m usually not a cheapskate, but these prices are extreme.
The Original Singapore Sling was phenomenal, despite the crippling price. I debated on ordering a second but, after working all day on Tuesday, traveling 23.5 hours, sleeping a bit and having a full first night ahead of me, I decided to stick to just one Original Singapore Sling.
I enjoyed the cocktail and when / if I am back in Singapore, I will grab another one at the proper bar in the renovated hotel.
Do you like hitting up classic hotels and trying their famous cocktails? Have you visited Raffles before? Aren’t these prices nuts?
SO Sofitel Singapore
The SO Sofitel Singapore was our second hotel on our stay. We moved out of the M Hotel because we wanted a nicer property and a great pool. The price was identical too. We collected our bags, that we left on Friday morning at the M and made our way just a couple blocks away to the SO Sofitel.
I’m sure we are all familiar with the Sofitel brand, a part of the Accor Hotel Chain. Accor includes other less exciting brands like Ibis, Red Roof Inn and Motel 6 (they also have the Swissôtel and the Fairmont names too). The SO Sofitel brand is part of Accor’s Luxury line. With only four properties currently open, it’ll be tough for the average traveler to experience the great spaces. Each of the four hotels were designed by a different fashion designer. Karl Lagerfeld designed the Singapore outpost, and I just loved it. The designer put their touch on the fabrics, the furniture design and and the accessories.
In addition to Singapore, you can find an SO Sofitel property in Mauritius (designed by Kenzo Takada), Bangkok (Christian Lacroix) and Hua Hin (Polpat Asavaprapha). I didn’t know where Hua Hin was (did you?) – it’s south west of Bangkok. SO Sofitel plans to open additional properties in Berlin, Auckland, Kuala Lampur, Samui, Jakarta and of course, Paris.
SO Sofitel Singapore
Checking into the SO Sofitel was a delight, especially compared to the gauntlet that was the M Hotel. A slim, sleek desk, staffed by two eager employees welcomed us in immediately. The lobby was bustling with guests and staff flitting between the high design furniture and expertly curated displays. While the back office check-in work was done, we were given a quick rundown of the hotel. A long drawn out welcome process is a major pet peeve of mine. The one thing we weren’t told about was the pool and we didn’t think of it until we were actually on our way to the pool a little later that day.
After declining the assistance with our luggage, we made our way to the elevators across the lobby, passing beautifully appointed sitting areas. These areas were being used by guests enjoying a coffee or reading a magazine. People wanted to spend time in the lobby – who wouldn’t? It was beautiful.
We make it to our room, on the sixth floor. The beauty continued from the common spaces into the private areas. Bright white walls and colorful accents brought so much energy into the space.
The layout was a little funky as you were met with a large double sided closet right when you walked in. I assume that was a functional issue as it is likely hiding some building mechanicals too.
The SO Sofitel was unlike the M Hotel in almost every way. Not always positive though. The desk was a proper writing desk, with limited real estate. Since I wasn’t here to work, I wasn’t frustrated by the lack of space.
The bathroom was large, and was great for a single traveler. I do not dig the large glass bathrooms, when traveling with others. I want bathroom privacy, no matter who I’m traveling with. The toiletries and other bathroom accessories were well appointed and you could even see that Lagerfeld had his hand on this part of the design too. The small storage boxes were fun and functional – although, you can see they didn’t quite fit in their designated spaces.
When one thinks of Singapore and hotel pools, I’m sure the Infinity Pool at Maria Bay Sands is the first thing that comes to mind. It sure was with me. Unfortunately, there is no way to access that pool without being a paying guest and I had no intention of spending $600USD per night for access to a pool. The SO Sofitel Singapore has a rooftop pool with a fully staffed bar.
Surrounded by downtown high rises, the pool felt like an urban oasis. The infinity edge isn’t as grand as the Marina Bay Sands, but it is a fun spot to hang out.
The bar at the pool is limited, but the cocktail offerings are truly on point.
Our time at the pool was late in the day when it had started to cool off a bit. We were one of only three groups spending time at this oasis too. I could easily spend half a day lounging, reading, swimming and drinking here. Unfortunately, the city of Singapore was calling and we had to continue our exploration.
Have you experienced the luxury that is the SO Sofitel Singapore? What about the other SO properties throughout the world? I am excited to see the other urban offerings as the come online.
M Hotel Singapore
Have you even heard of the M Hotel Singapore? I hadn’t either, before my stay. Located a short walk from the Tanjong Pagar Metro Station, the M Hotel really does cater to business travelers. Found in the central business district and surrounded by densely packed skyscrapers. This hotel was where Mike stayed for the week while in Singapore. His office is just around the corner.
I arrived around 13h00. My name had been put on our reservation and it was made clear that I would just need to show up, present a photo ID and grab my key. Not so much. When I arrived, the four people working reception were chatting amongst themselves and watching something on their phones. After a couple “Excuse mes” and “Pardons”, one lady tore herself away to help me. She said Mike didn’t have a reservation, despite the fact that he’d been there for four days already. She eventually found it, but said I wasn’t listed and he’d have to come back and vouch for me. Fine…I’d just leave my suitcase and head out to explore. Since I had taken a shower in Taipei just a few hours earlier, that wasn’t a big deal. She wouldn’t let me check my luggage – it was only for registered guests.
“MayI speak to the front desk manager please?”
A couple minutes later, the manager arrives, I explain my situation and he immediately says “Ah, yes, Mr. Timothy. Mr. Mike told me of your arrival. You are in room X on the 24th floor.” Then he started speaking Mandarin to the woman previously helping me. He was pointing vigorously at the monitor and appeared to be scolding her. I don’t speak Mandarin in the slightest, but I know when someone is getting a dressing down. He delivered my keys with way too many apologies.
The elevators were a little slow, so once one arrived, it was a bit like Lord of the Flies trying to board. I had forgotten about pushy Chinese Tourists. I didn’t make it on the first elevator. The second one was mine – I barreled through the crowd and made it to my room in short order.
Equipped with a queen sized bed, this room was meant for a business traveler. The room was a decent size and served our most basic needs well.
While a relatively nice hotel, it didn’t have a relaxed vacation feel to it. We decided to move after just one night. The hotel did have a pool, but it looked pretty rough and I really wanted to spend at least an hour poolside. We decided to move to the SO Sofitel for the last two nights of our stay.
Other than the issues at check-in and the hordes of loud Chinese tourists commandeering the elevators, we had one other interesting experience. While grabbing breakfast one morning, I was enjoying some noodles and dumplings (I hate traditional breakfasts) and a man just sits down with me at the two-top table. 85% of the other tables were completely free, but he chose to dine with me. He didn’t say a word. He read his news paper and slurped his noodles. It was so strange – I have never seen anything like this before.
Have you stayed at the M Hotel Singapore before? What did you think of the property? Did you hang out at the pool at all? How many random Chinese people sat down with you at breakfast?