Greetings from California! If you are following me on Twitter, then you know that this past week I was all over the map. The highlight was getting a tour of San Francisco’s beautifully redone Terminal 2. I will post that story next week since there’s so much to show and tell you. In the meantime I will share my trip to the Bay Area and the ones leading up to it. We also have my sister Georgie Jet’s trip to Riviera Maya in Mexico for the Day of the Dead.
TORONTO TO ERIE
Last week I left off from Toronto, where I was visiting my girlfriend, Natalie. Since I was so close to Erie, Pennsylvania, I figured I would go visit my dad after talking Natalie into going. In case you are new, I grew up in southern Connecticut but after my mom passed away in 2000, my dad moved to Erie (long story). The 196-mile trip from Toronto was smooth and easy. It took three hours since there was no traffic. FYI: The border is pretty much the halfway point.
We crossed over the Peace Bridge, which is one of the three nearby U.S.-Canada border checkpoints. It was just a two-minute wait, and the agents asked a bunch of personal questions. I don’t want to divulge the nature of the questions, just in case some cowardly terrorists are reading this! Once we crossed the border, we were in downtown Buffalo, New York. And as my Canuck girlfriend pointed out, the drive from Buffalo to Erie is actually much prettier than the first part of the drive, from Toronto to Buffalo.
Drivers have to pay a toll to use New York State’s Thruways. Once you enter the state you get a toll ticket, and then you pay when you get off at one of the exits. We went as far west as you can (Buffalo to PA state line), and it cost us $3.15 (and the same on the way back). Speaking of the way back, there’s a $3 toll to get back into Canada. You can pay in either U.S. or Canadian currency.
FYI: Right now the Canadian dollar is stronger than the U.S. ($1 USD equals just $0.96 Canadian).
GOOD TO KNOW: You can see current border wait times by logging on to this Canadian website.
When I arrived in Erie we hit one of my favorite grocery stores in the world, Wegman’s. We stocked up on some food for my sister’s vacant summer house, where we were staying, and grabbed a 14-inch meatball grinder ($7.99). The trees haven’t blossomed yet, but they are aching too. One thing is for sure: on a clear day Lake Erie is absolutely gorgeous, and its sunsets are the best I’ve ever seen in the world. Seriously. The highlight of the trip, besides going for a walk along the shore, was beating my dad in Scrabble.
DID YOU KNOW: Depending on where you are coming from, it’s sometimes cheaper and quicker to fly to an alternate airport instead of going directly into Erie? Erie’s alternate airports are Buffalo (105 miles away), Cleveland (112 miles), and Pittsburgh (134 miles).
TORONTO TO L.A.
We drove back to Toronto, and I spent a couple days there before flying to California. I was supposed to fly to San Francisco via Chicago on Saturday, but thanks to a weather delay I was able to switch my flight to LAX. I had planned to go to San Francisco a few days early to see friends; my tour of the new terminal wasn’t until Tuesday. But since I hadn’t been home in three weeks, I asked if I could switch my flight to L.A. The first agent said no, but when I got to the gate they said yes only because there was a weather delay and I would’ve missed my SFO connection in Chicago. The key was I didn’t have checked bags and I was very friendly.
FYI: I knew my flight to Chicago (ORD) was going to be delayed even though American’s website was showing the flight was on time. That’s because I checked the flight status of the plane coming from ORD, which I’d be taking back to Chicago, and it was showing a delay.
The good news was I was able to get my destination switched. The bad news is I had five hours to kill in the airport, and YYZ’s Terminal 3 is nothing special. There’s just a few places to eat and shop. I bought a bottle of water for myself and some cookies to give to the gate agents for being so kind to me. What was cool is that I remembered to use my Capital One visa card, so I didn’t get charged an international transaction fee, and within seconds I got an email from Capital One stating a charge had just been made. I forgot that I had signed up to receive their free international transaction alerts, which not only cuts down on fraud but also gives you the actual amount you spent in U.S. dollars. Here’s the email: As requested, we are notifying you that an international transaction has been charged to your Capital One® VISA BUSINESS account. On APR 16, 2011, at TOAST OF TORONTO a purchase of $9.40 was charged.
Instead of spending another $3 on a bottle of water, I filled up my empty bottle at the water fountain. It didn’t taste too good, but at least it was free.
TORONTO TO LOS ANGELES
Flight time was five hours and two minutes, and the flight felt abnormally long to me. The big reason is because I was sitting in the airport for five hours (thank God YYZ has free Wi-Fi), and then we sat on the plane for close to an hour because there was a discrepancy in the bag count so they had to rescan all the checked bags. To kill time I watched Gulliver’s Travels with Jack Black. It was pretty bad, but I loved the fact that they referenced Frommers.com multiple times.
LOS ANGELES TO SAN FRANCISCO
It was so nice to be home. On Sunday it was literally like summer, and I hit the beach to play five games of beach volleyball with my friends. Like a fool I forgot to put the sunscreen on my feet, and the tops them are still burnt. On Monday I arranged to fly to San Francisco on Virgin America. Flight time was scheduled for an hour, but we ended up circling for 30 minutes because SFO almost always seems to be encased in fog. No one seemed to care, though, because Virgin America has such amazing individual entertainment systems; I was just flipping through live satellite TV.
SFO TO THE CITY
I don’t want to spoil next week’s story, but I will tell you that SFO’s T2 is amazing. After wandering around for a bit, I followed the signs to BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). I had to get on the airport’s free AirTrain to reach the BART station. BART’s automatic machines aren’t that easy to figure out at first, but I asked a local who helped me get a ticket. To become familiar with the system, you can read this overview on their website. Also use their handy fare calculator to see exactly how much your trip will cost. It cost $8.10 to go from the airport to the city’s last stop (Embarcadero). It took about 40 minutes and was totally worth it, since I was traveling alone and a taxi would’ve been about $40 (and probably taken longer due to rush-hour traffic).
I stayed in the Marina at the house of our longtime family friend Rick Teed. I grew up with Rick and his siblings in Connecticut, but he moved out to San Francisco to start a very successful real estate business. Check out his website, TeedHaze.com, to see what I’m talking about. I only spent the night, but he and his girlfriend took me to the popular Italian restaurant called A16 (named after Italy’s famous highway). They serve authentic Margherita pizzas ($14.50) and other Italian delicacies. Be sure to get the Cannellini beans with garlic and oregano ($6) and the chocolate pudding tart with sea salt and olive oil. A16, 355 Chestnut St., Tel. 415-771-2216.