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Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Bellroy Note Sleeve Review

Apparently I forgot to point out this review as well.

Our trip to Europe proved many things to me, but one of them was the fact I needed a new wallet. My older Roots wallet couldn’t fit international currency, had far too much leather, and couldn’t carry everything I needed in as efficient a manner as I wanted. I had my eye on a Bellroy Note Sleeve for quite some time, so our Euro trip was the final nail in the Roots wallet’s coffin.

Without a doubt, the Bellroy Note Sleeve is the best wallet I’ve ever owned. It’s minimal, small, and somehow capable of carrying more than my prior wallets. It’s even a nice teal colour, which brings a little pop to my everyday attire.

As a result of this review, Bellroy reached out and sent me both the Travel Wallet and the All Conditions Essentials Pocket for future reviews. My thoughts and photos are imminent, so stay tuned.

Check out the review of the Bellroy Note Sleeve on Tools & Toys.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The ONA Berlin II Review on Tools & Toys

Friday, September 23, 2016

Apple Watch Series 2

I’ve finally arrived to the party.

This is an entirely new category of device for me, so I insist on giving it some more time to nestle itself in my daily life. Be sure to check out the review in the coming weeks on Tools & Toys.

In the meantime, I’ll give a few quick first impressions.

  • Originally, I despised the look of the Apple Watch. Now, after two years, I’m finding the design to have immensely grown on me. I genuinely like the way this watch looks on my wrist.
  • I don’t like the white fluoroelastomer band. I like the fluoroelastomer band, but the white is just too much.
  • I really wish someone made brown leather bands with aluminum buckles. I’m hesitant to plow a stainless steel band to this aluminum Watch.
  • Speaking of, I really want the stainless steel variety. This could be my only regret, in fact. I’m just not sure I want to drop $900 CAD on the model I truly want.
  • I’d pay real, actual money in an Apple Watch Face store.
  • Why can’t you have two Simple faces to swipe between?

    Update: You can have two Simple faces at once — I just never took the time to discover how. Simply go into the face gallery, click on a face, and hit “Add”. If you need to customize further, just customize as you would normally. Pretty easy actually.

  • My iPhone has been on silent mode since I opened the Apple Watch box. I prefer the notification sounds and alarm beeps on the Watch.
  • The app homescreen is very oddly designed. I’m surprised this is a Jony Ive product.
  • Nightstand Mode is simply fantastic.
  • Yes, notifications on the wrist is the best way to handle them. I’ve responded to more emails on time this week than ever before in my life.
  • Haptics on the Apple Watch are superior to the haptic on the new iPhones 7. I just wish they’d tap my wrist a little harder during workouts.
  • I went for a run yesterday for the first time in two or three months.
  • The Apple Watch is the world’s greatest speakerphone when driving a car.

I’ll leave the remainder of my thoughts for the full review. But at this point in time, it’s safe to say I regret waiting two years to try out an Apple Watch.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Santorini, Greece

It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place on Planet Earth.

From the moment you arrive at the port or step off the airplane, Santorini welcomes you. A private van awaits to carry you up the steep cliffside from the ferry port, followed by a picturesque drive along the sea-side of the island. Staring off into the hazy sea quickly ushers you into dreamful awe. A sudden stop, a popped trunk, an eager gentlemen grabs your bags, and an usher greets you before guiding you through the Santorinian steps to your Greek oasis. Checking in is followed by a quick mimosa — or in our case, Greek iced tea — at which point another gentleman guides you to your room.

From the ferry to your room’s front door — it’s all build up. Build up for what awaits on the other side of your hotel room’s shutters. It’s like the caldera is purposely hid from view as you ride to the hotel. It’s like the island’s beauty must be unwrapped like a Christmas gift.

The caldera.

I’ve never seen something that can match its serenity. From the cliff, the caldera looks as though it can be picked up and held in the palm of your hand. The ripples of the sea wave in the Cycladic breeze, while small ferries usher visitors to and from massive Mediterranean cruise ships. It’s all right there, right in front of you. The most beautiful place on Planet Earth.

I can’t help but recommend Imerovigli. The main island of Santorini has a few towns, each with their own personality. Oia1 is the most popular and most touristy, and is home to the most incredible sunset on the planet. Fira has the most restaurants and some of the best nightlife on the island. Firostefani is quiet — we walked right throughgh it without even knowing it. And Imerovigli — not only is it quiet, it’s also situated as though it were hanging over top of the caldera. Santorini’s caldera view is best experienced in Imerovigli, while Santorini’s sunset view is best experienced in Oia. I say stay in Imerovigli, and take the bus to Oia for the sunset.23

Oia’s sunset is magical. But you can take it a step further by making the dungy4 walk down to Amoudi Bay and ordering a fresh fish at Katina’s. The fish on display are all caught the day of, are ordered right from the display, are cooked within minutes, and are served whole. You pay per fish, and one fish is more than enough to feed two people. We paid around 55€ for a simple sea bass cooked in oil, yet that fish may have been our favourite meal on the trip. Whatever is left over is fed to one of the stray cats wandering around.

The sea food at Katina’s is fresh and delicious, of course. But Katina’s is located right on the water — a few tables will surely get a salty splash from time to time. These tables are the most coveted on the island — many couples are engaged at Katina’s under the gentle sunset. I can’t imagine a more scenic, romantic, and picturesque setting. Be sure to call ahead — or have your hotel call for you — to make a reservation.

Assuming you stay for a few days and eat at Katina’s at least once, you should have a second or third sunset to take in with a glass of wine from your hotel balcony.5

Take a few sips of wine and breathe in the cooling air. Don’t blink. Don’t grab your camera. Hold your spouse’s hand. Smile. Watch the waves ripple and the tour boats float back and forth. Say “Wow” once or twice. Maybe eat some risotto if you haven’t had dinner. Comment on the vast elegance and beauty of the natural world. Close your eyes. Gently open them again. And treasure every moment of the setting sun as it floats behind the far off islands.

That one magical sunset is worth every dollar. It can’t be taken away from you in that moment. It’s never-ending, yet gone in the blink of an eye. And it will call you in your photographs for the rest of your life.

There is no more beautiful place on Planet Earth.

  1. Pronounced “ee-ah”.

  2. Or, stay at Grace Santorini and experience the best of both worlds.

  3. A quick aside about where to stay: The hotel in which you choose to stay on Santorini will largely define your experience. Hotels are expensive, with some selling out years in advance. I believe Santorini would be better enjoyed during the “shoulder season” (April, May, September, October) than in the expensive high season. The shoulder season’s availability of high end hotels is much greater, and the Greek sun is less hostile. If you choose to stay in Imerovigli, be sure to check out Grace Santorini first. If the rooms are booked (which they probably will be), check out the Chromata (it boasts a coveted Leading Hotels of the World title). If you stay in Oia, check out Katikies or Kirini. All of these options are lots of money per night, but they will give you that luxurious Santorinian vacation which you see in the postcards.

  4. As in “poopy” — the steps down to Amoudi are littered with horse dung. Not only is it a difficult climb in the heat, it’s also a classic game of “Keep Your Shoes Clean”.

  5. Santorini’s signature wine was expensive and a bit boring, so I recommend trying a rosé.

Friday, September 02, 2016

A Day at the Petasos Beach Resort & Spa in Mykonos, Greece

Researching and putting together our 17 day trip consisted of perusing endless websites, travel reviews, and recommendation lists. Putting Cinque Terre aside, four of our first five stops were big touristy destinations. Nailing down an itinerary that covered a wide range of points of interest was more difficult than we’d have liked.

Mykonos and Santorini, in the same fashion, are tourist destinations first, and cities second. Both islands have been built by tourists, for tourists, and have some of the most expensive hotels and restaurants to be found anywhere in the world. The amount of travel information on the web is, expectedly, infinite.

This said, the only website we needed for Myconian hotel research was Santorini Dave’s list of luxury hotels. Santorini Dave covers more than just Santorini and Mykonos, and his lists of high end hotels are thorough and spot on.

We used David’s list of the 15 Best Hotels on Mykonos as our starting to point to gauge prices and accommodations on the island. His list is spot-on, with the highest-end, best-reviewed hotels ranking right near the top. Although pricy, David’s list served us well.

At the bottom of the list was a little easter egg which came with its own share of bias:

Full disclosure: this is where I’m staying this summer with my wife and kids. Great hotel a 1-minute walk to Platys Gialos beach and many restaurants and tavernas. Bus to Mykonos Town stops just outside the front door. Very nice pool and large sundeck look out over the water. Beautiful!

Petasos Beach Hotel & Spa is the last hotel on Santorini Dave’s list, but the photos (and the inexpensive price, in relation to the others on the list) really caught our attention. We doubled down a little on price and ponied up for what we expected to be a little two-day-vacation within a vacation. A flight delay and a missed connection meant we only stayed at Petasos for a single day, but it turned out to be the best day of our 17-day Europe trip, bar none.

Petasos Beach Hotel & Spa is located in Platys Gialos, about a 10 to 15 minute drive from the airport. From the moment we booked with Petasos, we were in touch with the hotel to ensure all details were covered. Petasos sent an 8-seat Mercedes bus to pick us up from the airport, and although we arrived before check-in, the hotel had us for an exquisite continental breakfast unlike anything we ever imagined. We grabbed a table sitting above the water and ate pancakes, eggs, fruit, Greek yogurt (of course), and drank Greek coffee while the lovely Cycladic breeze blew in our faces.

Our flight delay and missed connection took a lot out of us, so after breakfast, we checked into our room, showered, napped for 30 minutes, and proceeded to spend the majority of the hot day at the Petasos poolside.

The pool and deck are simply stunning. The deck overlooks the beach at Platys Gialos, with many sunbathing beds surrounding the salt-water pool. On both ends of the deck are restaurants; one for lunch and afternoon beverages at the pool, and the second for the incredible continental breakfast and fine dining experience in the later evening.

Hidden behind the VIP Restaurant was Petasos’ very own private beach. All the sand was groomed perfectly, with more beach beds to be had in the blazing Greek sun, and a lovely swimming area built into the Mediterranean rocks.

With all the amenities around us, we spent the majority of the day on the Petasos deck and beach. We ate lunch at the restaurant, drank a few Mythos and pińa coladas, and burnt our already-burnt Canadian bodies in the sun. It was, quite simply, one of the best afternoons of my life.

We only had a single day in Mykonos because of that flight delay, so we jumped on the local bus (which just happens to stop right across the street from the Petasos resort) and took the 10-minute bus ride to Mykonos Town.

Had we had an extra day, we would have enjoyed Mykonos Town to its fullest potential. The town is filled with classic Greek architecture seen in all postcard photos. The Cycladic wind pushes the Mediterranean right up to your feet in Little Venice and helps to ease the heat.

A short two minute walk from Little Venice has you eyeing the famous Mykonos Windmills. The windmills themselves are classic, old — it’s hard to imagine them ever operating on any efficient level. But photos and videos don’t deliver the full Myconian Windmill story: that Cycladic wind is simply unstoppable on the windmill hill. A parking lot behind the windmills had cars layered with dust and sand. Climbing the rocks down to the beach against the wind was it’s own challenge. With winds like this, there’s a reason the Myconian windmills have stayed around as famous landmarks, and as currently-operable windmills.

If you’re taking the three-hour ferry to Santorini from Mykonos, you have to venture to a ticket validation office in Mykonos Town. This was a short walk along the promenade from Little Venice and allowed us to take in more of the town. If you’re hungry, there are a number of exceptional restaurants along the water that are sure to give you a Greek delight.

After validating our tickets, we walked back to the main bus stop to return to Petasos, but not before having classic Greek baclava. If you don’t try baclava while in Greece, you’ve missed the point of the entire trip.

Greeks apparently eat dinner much later than North Americans. We returned to Petasos around 7:00PM and headed to the VIP Restaurant for the acclaimed experience. We walked into what felt like a deserted restaurant, only to learn that the general dinner time for Greeks and travellers alike was between 8:00PM and 9:00PM.

Nonetheless, Jaclyn and I grabbed a table on the water in the deserted restaurant and proceeded to enjoy the most amazing dining experience of our lives. Servers lit candles, offered us appetizers, poured different types of wine, served first, second, and third courses, and delivered one of the tastiest desserts I’ve ever tried. We sat above the water, ate and drank genuine Greek cuisine, and enjoyed the sunset behind the peninsula’s horizon. The resort, as a whole, was simply fantastic, but this dining experience was our very favourite part of the entire trip.

Of course, as everyone else filtered into the VIP Restaurant for dinner, we headed to the top of the restaurant to catch the night views and to capture some long-exposure photographs. The only thing that could have made this evening more enjoyable is if it had taken place on one of the yachts anchored to the Petasos rocks.

Our time at Petasos Beach Hotel & Spa was short, but it sure was sweet. We were treated like royalty from the moment we landed at the airport to the moment the Mercedes Benz dropped us off at the sea port. Gentlemen awaited at the door to take our bags, while hospitable ladies walked us through check-in, breakfast, the resort, and dining in the late evening.

The only caveat, as I’ve learnt in writing this post, is the current difficulty in booking a room at Petasos. I’ve gone as far into the future as I can on most travel sites, but have found Petasos to be fully sold out well into 2018. Maybe a shorter stay will provide an available room or two, and maybe you’ll have more luck than me, but at this point, getting into Petasos will be just as hard as leaving Petasos.

There are times and places to spend money and to enjoy some of the luxuries of life. We contemplated spending a large amount per night to enjoy Cereal-recommended Hôtel de Nell in Paris. Instead, we opted to enjoy (what should have been) two days of Greek luxury in Mykonos. Even though it was only a single day, it was easily our favourite day on our trip, and is likely to have us return sometime in the future.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Venice, Italy

May 1, 2011: Our first and only day in the Sinking City during our first European backpacking adventure.

I remember it clear as day. We arrived in Mestre bright and early after our overnight train from Paris pulled into the station. We wandered around and found our little bed and breakfast before freshening up and jumping across the pond into the actual city. We walked through the streets and canals, burnt our noses during a wonderfully sunny May day, and dined at an exquisite sea-side pasta restaurant. We spent 11 days in Europe in 2011, and our single day in Venice was the day we were most fond of.

This meant it had to be on our itinerary in 2016. One day was clearly not enough to enjoy the Venetian canals. Two days this time, for sure, would continue our love affair with Venice.

In hindsight, we should have skipped over Venice this time around.

The city has been run afoul with tourists, ultra high-end fashion shops, arrogant and stubborn restaurant owners, and endless, useless trinket shops. Jaclyn and I spent six hours walking to, around, and from Piazza San Marco, and we knew we had no passion to return. It’s a giant maze full of hot, sweaty tourists and super-snobby shops only the greatest of us can afford.

To get away from some of the bustle, we walked into the Venetian Ghetto in search of food, (some) peace, and a more natural sense of Venice.

But to really get away from the Venetian crowds, we hopped on the hour-long ferry ride to Burano. We saw photos of the colourful island prior to the trip and knew we needed to shoot our own.

What we discovered was the intricacy and delicacy of Burano’s lace market. Jaclyn came home with a small — and highly expensive — lace doily, and that doily helps to symbolize the once powerful Venetian trading market and highly skilled craftsmen of the region.

Burano’s streets had a feeling of the Venice we visited in 2011. Tourists weren’t as plentiful and the shops felt more genuine. Actual citizens lived within those Buranese homes. Actual citizens flee those homes when storms arise. In the heart of Burano lies a real piece of Venice that Venice itself can no longer boast about.

Skipping over Venice would have been a mistake. The city’s never ending beauty always lies somewhere beneath the hustle of the tourists above. Small moments of silence can still be had, especially if you make a wrong turn. In those moments, the Venice of today feels somewhat like the Venice of yesterday.

But it’s no longer what it was. Venice will slowly be replaced by another, more genuine destination. Wherever that destination, Venice needs to stand as a used, worn out monument in desperate need of revitalization.