Hanley Ramírez entering Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 Town Hall at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut

Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend: What’s it really like?

For the past few years, before the Red Sox have headed off to Florida for spring training, they’ve hosted a weekend get together for the Fenway Faithful at Foxwoods Resort and Casino. Back in November, we hit the “sign us up!” button for the Red Sox Winter Weekend the day tickets became available. We weren’t alone – the 2018 event, which was held on January 19-21, sold out very early, with reports of close to 7,000 in attendance.

We signed up for Winter Weekend because it sounded fun and interesting, but honestly, we had no clue what Red Sox Winter Weekend would be like. Sure, we’d read the schedule, but we still wondered who would be there, if this was really just a “kid thing” or if there was something for all ages, and ultimately, would it be worth what we’d sunk into the weekend? The event itself was only $65 per person, but staying at Foxwoods is a little pricey. Even with the Red Sox hotel discount, our two tickets and two hotel room nights put us back a total of $745 – and that didn’t include the cost of transportation to the event and dining at Foxwoods, which can also be pretty expensive.

Winter Weekend Prep

A couple of weeks prior to the event we received an email to sign up for our preferred sessions – one guaranteed autograph signing/photo session per attendee and one panel discussion per attendee. We made our selections and pre-registered for the events and, on Friday the 19th, we headed to Connecticut for our first Red Sox Winter Weekend.

For autographs, we purchased two MLB balls in advance and brought a game ball Greg had snagged last summer at a Sox game in Toronto. However, after arriving, we found balls and other memorabilia were available for sale in the gift shop in the Winter Weekend Fan Fest center (but we got a much better deal on the internet).

While some attendees came equipped with cameras, we decided to leave ours at home and just went with iPhone shots for the weekend. We did make sure to bring comfortable shoes, a necessity as the hotel is sprawling (we walked 8 miles the first day, 6 miles the second).

Boston Red Sox, Connecticut, Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Winter Weekend
Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Redsox Winter Weekend 2018

Arriving at Foxwoods, we were engulfed in a sea of Red Sox fans – young, old and everywhere in between. We’d booked our rooms through the Red Sox website and were quickly checked into our room in the Fox Tower. We had a nice king room with a western view overlooking the forest.

Our welcome package included tickets and wristbands for the Winter Weekend events we’d chosen, some general event information, and two grandstand tickets for a game at Fenway in April.

Winter Weekend: Redsox Town Hall

Kim Hull with Wally at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut
Kim Hull with Wally at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After an early dinner, we headed over to line up at the Grand Theatre entrance for the opening night event, the Red Sox Town Hall. During the wait to enter, Wally and Tessie, the loveable Fenway mascots, hung out with the fans, giving hugs and taking photos.

Kim Hull with Tessie at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut
Kim Hull with Tessie at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Red Sox Town Hall was open to all Winter Weekend attendees. Upon entering, we found aisle seats in a general admission side section a couple of rows behind the seats reserved down front for season pass holders.

Hanley Ramírez entering Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 Town Hall at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut
Hanley Ramírez entering Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 Town Hall at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Kicking off the Town Hall, the 2018 Red Sox coaches, team members, and a few former players were introduced individually, making a dramatic entrance from the back of the auditorium, high-fiving fans as they made their way to the stage.

Christian Vazquez entering Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 Town Hall at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut
Christian Vazquez entering Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 Town Hall at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Providing a high-energy start to the evening, the players seemed to have as much fun as the fans as they made their way through the roaring crowd.

Chris Sale entering Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 Town Hall at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut
Chris Sale entering Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 Town Hall at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Once everyone was on stage, Winter Weekend attendees had their first view of the 2018 Boston Red Sox team and coaches, with the exception of a few players not in attendance and, of course, any that may be acquired in the final few weeks before spring training.

Boston Red Sox at Winter Weekend 2018 Red Sox Town Hall at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut
Boston Red Sox at Winter Weekend 2018 Red Sox Town Hall at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Red Sox chairman, Tom Werner, Red Sox President and CEO, Sam Kennedy, Red Sox President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, and the team’s new manager, Alex Cora, were joined by fan favorites, David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez, for an entertaining roundtable discussion and a fan Q&A. The Town Hall was excellent, providing an evening of excitement, humor, insight and fun for all attending.

Tom Caron, Tom Werner, Sam Kennedy, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Dave Dombrowski, Alex Cora at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 Town Hall at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut
Tom Caron, Tom Werner, Sam Kennedy, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Dave Dombrowski, Alex Cora at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 Town Hall at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

NESN was on hand to emcee and record the Town Hall and other activities throughout the weekend, with the Winter Weekend broadcast available for viewing by Red Sox Nation multiple times in the weeks following the event.

Winter Weekend: Fan Fest and Trophy Room

Golden Gloves and Silver Sluggers at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut
Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Winter Weekend Fan Fest was a huge area with a multitude of activities for fans of all ages including pitching and batting cages, Wiffle Ball, the NESN Zone, the VR Dugout, Ballpark Eats, a beer garden (with more than beer), and a merchandise area. While visiting, we picked up some Winter Weekend gear and four of the special offer half-price $50 gift cards good for merchandise back at the Red Sox Team Store in Boston.

Winter Weekend memorabilia and Red Sox Team Store gift cards
Winter Weekend memorabilia and Red Sox Team Store gift cards at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of the highlights of the Fan Fest zone (and I think missed by many because it was very low traffic whenever we stopped by or looked in) was the trophy room next to the main Fan Fest room. Visitors could view the Silver Slugger awards and Gold Gloves that have been won by Red Sox players and fans could take a photo with the 2004, 2007 and 2013 World Series Trophies. Amazing!

Kim and Greg Hull with 2004, 2007 & 2013 World Series Trophies at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend
Kim and Greg Hull with 2004, 2007 & 2013 World Series Trophies at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut

Winter Weekend: Ticket Town

The Fan Fest area was also the site of Ticket Town, where attendees could purchase June, July, and August single game tickets prior to the tickets being made available to the general public. We purchased tickets for 18 summer games at Ticket Town and got great seats. The purchasing process was quick and easy, working directly with the helpful Winter Weekend Red Sox ticket staff. After adding the tickets for those 18 summer games to the 10 spring and fall games we’d purchased back in December, we are set for 1/3 of the 2018 home games.

Winter Weekend: Meeting players, getting autographs and taking photographs

One of the things we were most curious about prior to attending was how much the team, management, and former players would mix about the crowd. Our question was quickly answered.

On Friday night, we spotted countless team members around the hotel and casino. Upon returning to our room that evening, we found an autographed photo of Red Sox catcher, Christian Vazquez, had been slipped under the door to our room. What a cool surprise!

I went down to get takeout coffee Saturday morning and Dave Dombrowski was in line behind me. We chatted briefly about the Town Hall and, as we waited, if a staffer walked by, he called them over to buy them a coffee or breakfast. He’s a very nice guy.

Dennis Eckersley signing a ball for Kim Hull, Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut
Dennis Eckersley signing a ball for Kim Hull, Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

When we walked off the elevator later to start our Saturday events, Hall of Famer, Dennis Eckersley, was standing in the lobby near the elevator. He signed for those of us in the lobby and graciously took pics as he texted with someone and took a couple of calls about his schedule that day.

As far as the autograph and photo sessions, this was the one area of the event that suffered from the fatigue of hosting nearly 7,000 guests. The autograph and photograph sessions are essentially a lottery – you sign up for a room number and a time and are guaranteed one autograph and one photo during the session – but you have no idea who will be there until you enter the room.

Even though we had a specific time and room assigned with our pre-registration, we first waited in a line of hundreds of people in the hotel hallway, to then advance to one of four different holding areas, to then wait in line for the autograph and photo.

Heath Hembree and Deven Marrero signing autographs at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018
Heath Hembree and Deven Marrero signing autographs at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

So, who’d we get? My room had Heath Hembree and Deven Marrero signing and Craig Kimbrel taking photos.

Craig Kimbrel and Kim Hull, Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018
Craig Kimbrel and Kim Hull, Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut

Greg’s room had Andrew Benintendi signing…

Andrew Benintendi signing autographs at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018
Andrew Benintendi signing autographs at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

and Ben Taylor taking photos.

Dan Taylor and Kim Hull, Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018
Ben Taylor and Greg Hull, Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut

The entire process took over two hours and, quite honestly, was one of our least favorite parts of the experience. I realize it is the most challenging part of the event to manage with only a limited number of players to sign and 7,000 autograph seekers, but it was a great deal of waiting and chaos for an autograph and a photo.

Autographed baseballs from Winter Weekend 2018
Autographed baseballs from Winter Weekend 2018. Lower left ball: Dennis Eckersley, Lower right ball: Andrew Benintendi, Top ball: Rafael Devers, Rick Porcello, Heath Hembree and Deven Marrero. Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Winter Weekend: Panel Discussions

The panel discussions were our favorite part of the entire event. The first session we attended was the one we’d pre-registered for: “On the Mound” hosted by NESN’s Dave O’Brien with Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, and Chris Sale.

Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, Chris Sale, Dave O'Brien at the On the Mound Panel Discussion at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut
Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, Chris Sale, Dave O’Brien at the On the Mound Panel Discussion at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

It was really, really good. When you see the players at the park, they have their game faces on and are understandably distant. Having been on the media side of pro cycling, we’ve shot enough press conferences to understand why athletes have to be a bit wary of the press and again, typically remain a bit distant. Which is why the panel discussions were so entertaining, providing a glimpse into the human side of the players. The players were open, taking question after question from the audience, sharing stories and bringing the crowd into their world.

David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, Tom Caron at the Teammates for Life Panel Discussion at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018
David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, Tom Caron at the Teammates for Life Panel Discussion at Boston Red Sox Winter Weekend 2018 at Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We liked “On the Mound” so much we decided to wait in the standby line for “Teammates for Life” and were lucky enough to snag seats for the session. The panel consisted of David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield with Tom Caron “moderating,” but with Papi and Pedro in attendance, Caron’s role was more like herding cats. The stories were hilarious and it was the perfect ending to the day and, for us, Winter Weekend.

While we stayed on until Sunday, we skipped the Saturday night movie “Sandlot” and the Sunday morning Wally and Tessie breakfast.

Overall, Red Sox Winter Weekend was well worth the money, although next year (yes, we already plan to attend), we will most likely head back to Boston on Saturday evening. For us, the Town Hall and panel discussions were the highlights, but that was us – with so many varied activities, attendees can arrange their own Winter Weekend schedules to match their personal preferences.

It was also spectacular to see families sitting at tables in restaurants talking to each other about the players they saw and the things they’d done that day, instead of just staring at electronic devices. There’s quite a bit of competition for the minds of that next generation of baseball fans, but it just goes to show you that quality entertainment and engagement, like Winter Weekend provides, can hold the attention of the young (and the old) – and that’s definitely a “W” for the sport of baseball.


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.


 

Christmas in Athens, Greece

Cover: Syntagma Square in Athens at Christmas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


After visiting so many wonderful places over the last year on the road, we wanted to return to one of our very favorites for the holidays – Athens.

Greece in December? Yes! It is lovely. We were in Athens the entire month of December and most of the days were sunny and in the mid 60°s F (16C). On a few days the cruise ship tourists descended on Plaka for a few hours (usually on Tuesdays), but soon they would be on their way and the quiet December life in Athens would return.

Metropolitan Cathedral of the Annunciation on a sunny December day, Athens, Greece
The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Annunciation on a sunny December day. Also, known as the “Mētrópolis,” it is the cathedral church of the Archbishopric of Athens and all Greece. Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

98% of the Greek population is Christian Orthodox, so Christmas and Easter are the two big holidays in Greece. We were fortunate to be in Athens for both in 2017.

What is the Christmas season like in Athens? It’s much like celebrating in other locations with eating, shopping, gift giving, decorating, events, festivities and gathering with others. However, as with all cultures, the Greeks have some of their own traditions and customs and learning those makes celebrating the holidays abroad an even more special experience.

Greek Christmas traditions and decorations

Christmas tree at Syntagma Square, AthensWhile Christmas trees can be spotted around Athens, including in the giant one at Syntagma Square near Parliament (there’s really no tree, it’s constructed of poles and lights), Greeks also decorate small boats with lights and place them over the fireplace,  on a shelf, or in a store window.

Decorated Greek Christmas boat
Decorated Greek Christmas boat in a store window. Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A nod to the significant role sailing, the sea, and the islands play in Greek life, decorating small boats in Greece during the holiday season is an old tradition that has been revived in recent years. About mid-December, decorated Greek Christmas boats began to appear throughout Athens. We saw them in shop windows, in bars, in restaurants, and in homes.

Greek Christmas boat
Traditional Greek Christmas boat. Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For a bit of Christmas in Athens any time of the year, Noel the holiday bar is a spot in central Athens with creative cocktails that will put you in a merry spirit. Over-the-top festive, it’s always Christmas at Noel. We popped over on the 23rd of December to get into the holiday mood and it was beyond crowded, lively and quite beautiful.

Noel the holiday bar, Athens, Greece
Noel the holiday bar, Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Christmas shopping in Athens

Shop windows decorated for the holidays in Kolonaki, Athens, Greece
Shop windows decorated for the holidays in Kolonaki, Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

I decided I wanted to send my great niece a collection of made-in-Greece items for Christmas, so we hit the ground shopping the first week of December in order to get her package in the mail with hopes it would arrive before Christmas. (It did, yay!)

Athens has a wide selection of shopping options ranging from worldwide-known labels to local Greek brands to specialty stores. Along Ermou Street between Monastiraki and Syntagma, you can find American Eagle, Sephora, Marks and Spencers, and H&M and countless other large stores. In Kolonaki, high-end, luxury labels, such as Baccarat, Dior, Prada and Louis Vuitton, and Greek designer boutiques are in abundance.

The Monastiraki markets and the tourist shops in Plaka are both fun areas for a stroll and also a good spot for finding an eclectic item or two. Both areas also have countless places to stop for a coffee, a meal or a wine and, if one is craving soy chai or a holiday beverage, a Starbucks can be found in Monastiraki at Mitropoleos 80.

Monastiraki Starbucks in the holiday spirit
Monastiraki Starbucks in the holiday spirit. Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

December dining and Christmas treats in Athens

Greece is a paradise for food lovers any time of the year, but in December, Athens restaurants are quiet during the week, making dining especially pleasurable at the slower pace. Feasting on multiple courses and lingering over coffee and conversation amidst the holiday decorations is an absolute delight.

Santa Claus and Christmas decorations in Athens, Greece
Santa Claus and Christmas decorations at a Plaka restaurant in Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While quiet during the week, Athen’s restaurants and bars come alive in December on the weekend as Athenians gather with family and friends for pre-holiday parties and gatherings.

On the Sunday before Christmas weekend, we happened upon a large party at one of our favorite restaurants in Plaka, Stamatopoulos Tavern. We arrived just as the group was finishing dessert and had turned their attention to dancing. Different groups danced to each song – it was a priceless experience!

In addition to the fabulous food found in restaurants, the bakeries begin to add Christmas delicacies to their offerings.

Kourabiedes, which are also called kourabiethes, (shortbread sugar cookies with almonds covered in powdered sugar) and melomakarona (spiced, honey cookies) are two traditional Greek Christmas cookies – we’ve had way too many of both and they are delicious!

Christmas baked goods at Takis Bakery, Athens, Greece
Christmas baked goods at Takis Bakery, Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Christopsomo is a Christmas bread with a cross on top that is traditionally made on Christmas Eve and shared by the family on Christmas Day. We headed to our favorite bakery in Athens, Takis Bakery (Misaraliotou 14 near the Acropolis Museum), on Christmas Eve to purchase a Christopsomo for our Christmas table.

Christopsomo Christmas bread from Takis Bakery in Athens, Greece
Christopsomo Christmas bread from Takis Bakery in Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Christmas events and festivities

Christmas tree reflected in balloon at concert by Greek Air Force Band, Athens, Greece
Syntagma Square Christmas tree reflected in balloon at concert by Greek Air Force Band in Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Greek holiday season continues through Epiphany on the 6th of January with Christmas events and festivities occurring all around Athens. Finding events is easy as the City of Athens publishes a pdf calendar of Athens holiday events (English is in the back half beginning on page 32).

We enjoyed multiple free concerts at Syntagma Square including performances by the Greek Air Force Band and the City of Athens Philharmonic Orchestra. Combined with the glow of the Syntagma Square Christmas tree and the bustling holiday crowd, the Christmas music created a joyous spirit in Athens.

Greek Air Force Band Christmas Concert at Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece
Greek Air Force Band Christmas Concert at Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Spending December and celebrating Christmas in Athens has been a wonderful experience! καλά Χριστούγεννα / Kalá Christoúgenna! (Merry Christmas!) and καλές γιορτές / Kalés giortés (Happy holidays!) to everyone!

Plaka decorated with Christmas lights. Athens, Greece
Plaka decorated with Christmas lights. Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Eating our way through Athens

Eating our way through Athens

Cover: Dining in Athens, Greece
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


I really don’t know how Athenians don’t weigh 1000 pounds. After spending three months in the gym following our month-long visit to Greece in April, we were determined that during our return in December, we’d avoid gaining weight. Our determination lasted about as long as our Uber ride from the airport. You see, the apartment where we stay in Athens is above a gelato shop.

Gelato at Davinci Gelato, Plaka, Athens, Greece
Gelato at Davinci Gelato, Plaka, Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

I thought maybe they would be closed for the winter. Nope. Oh, my – well, best-laid plans and all…

Eating our way through Athens

Having already seen the sights, visited the monuments, and toured the museums during our April visit, we planned on a month of simply living in Athens enjoying the culture, the people, and the food.

The food in Greece is simply delicious. I could exist on Greek salads alone and, as my Greek-American friend Paula says, “Everything’s betta with feta!” But there is so much more. From tzatziki to souvlaki to the seafood, the Greeks have mastered the craft of cooking. And, we in turn, did quite a bit of sampling and eating in Athen’s restaurants – and here are some of our favorite finds…

Stamatopoulos Tavern

Greek salad, or Horiatiki, at Stamatopoulos Tavern, Athens, Greece
Greek salad, or Horiatiki, at Stamatopoulos Tavern, Athens, Greece. Tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, red onion, capers, feta cheese, olives, bell peppers, oregano, and olive oil. Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Our first stop upon arrival was dinner to celebrate our anniversary and we chose one of our favorite restaurants in Plaka, Stamatopoulos Tavern. Located at the foot of Lisiou Street (the stairs in Plaka with the restaurants and bars), in the summer the restaurant has a large, lovely outdoor dining patio and in the winter, the indoor restaurant is full of charm and warmth. With music and good food, we visit Stamatopoulos Tavern once a week when we are in Athens. Yes, it’s a bit touristy, but yes, it is enjoyable. Our go-to menu selection: octopus and a Greek salad. νόστιμο! (Delicious!)

Stamatopoulos Tavern is located in Plaka at Lisiou 26, Athina.

Octopus at Stamatopoulos Tavern at the foot of Lisiou Street in Plaka, Athens, Greece
Octopus at Stamatopoulos Tavern at the foot of Lisiou Street in Plaka, Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Mama Roux

Meza Sampler with Moutabal at Mama Roux, Athens, Greece
Meza Sampler with Moutabal at Mama Roux, Athens, Greece
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Eclectic and relaxed with a wide range of cuisine options, we visited Mama Roux multiple times during the month. We highly recommend the Meza Sampler – the Moutabal (smoked aubergine purée, we had it vegetarian) is amazing. We also always get the quesadillas, which are tasty and the pico actually has a kick.

Quesadillas at Mama Roux, Athens, Greece
Quesadillas at Mama Roux, Athens, Greece
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Mama Roux is located near Monastiraki at Aiolou 48, Athina. From the Starbucks, walk up the street with the home goods and cloth stores.

Eat at Milton’s

Prosecco at Eat at Milton's in Plaka, Athens, Greece
Prosecco at Eat at Milton’s in Plaka, Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We’d dined at Eat at Milton’s when we were in Athens in April and it was definitely on our must return list for our December visit. A lovely, upscale restaurant in Plaka, Eat at Milton’s is the place to go for a little bit of luxury. On this visit, we began with a bottle of Prosecco, which we leisurely enjoyed as we watched the frantic holiday crowds bustling about outside.

Greek salad at Eat at Milton's in Plaka, Athens, Greece
Greek salad at Eat at Milton’s in Plaka, Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Next up, the Bio Greek salad which is an art form at Eat at Milton’s – so pretty, you almost don’t want to eat it – almost. The salad was fresh and tasty with an innovative spin on a Greek classic. For our main courses, we had the shrimp ravioli and the fettuccine vognole. Both were fabulous and the shrimp sauce on the shrimp ravioli is amazing.

Shrimp ravioli in shrimp sauce at Eat at Miltons in Plaka Athens, Greece
Shrimp ravioli in shrimp sauce at Eat at Milton’s in Plaka Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While one of the pricer restaurants in Plaka, a lunch or dinner at Eat at Milton’s is definitely a luxurious treat. Eat at Milton’s is located at the corner of Adrianou and Nikodimou Streets in Plaka at Adrianou 91, Athina.

The Greco’s Project

Vegetable Souvlaki in a pita at The Greco's Project. Athens, Greece
Vegetable Souvlaki in a pita at The Greco’s Project, Athens, Greece
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A very busy spot near Syntagma Square, The Greco’s Project delivers true value, serving super tasty fare for very reasonable prices. As we don’t eat meat, souvlaki is normally out of the question for us, but The Greco’s Project does a vegetable souvlaki in a pita with the yogurt sauce that is fabulous. As far as the other items we sampled… skip the pasta – not enough sauce. The Greek salad is interesting, using caper leaves instead of capers. The Greco’s Project salad is quite good and the bean soup is really tasty. The pitas are divine.

The Greco’s Project is located at Mitropoleos 5, Athina.

Cherchez La Femme

Small plates at Cherche La Femme
Small plates at Cherchez La Femme, Athens, Greece
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We must have walked by this restaurant 100 times before a friend recommended we give it a try and he was so correct. Located on Mitropoleos across from the cathedral, Cherchez La Femme is the perfect spot for a lazy afternoon of wine and small plates. We had the smoked mackerel, portabellos, octopus and a few other delicious dishes. Well worth a visit!

Cherchez La Femme is located at Mitropoleos 46, Athina across from Mētrópolis, the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Annunciation.

Mani Mani

Mani Mani dining room, Athens, Greece
Dining room at Mani Mani, Athens, Greece
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Mani Mani, or Manh Manh, came highly recommended by an Athenian friend (yep, the same one that recommended Cherchez La Femme – the guy knows food) and Mani Mani did not disappoint. Serving creative food in a charming atmosphere with stellar service, we loved Mani Mani. We began with the Mani Mani salad, greens in a sun-dried tomato dressing and topped with grilled goat cheese. Spectacular.

Mani Mani salad, Athens, Greece
Mani Mani salad with lettuce, rocket sun-dried tomatoes, and goat cheese at Manh Manh in Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Next up, balsamic glazed octopus on a bed of fava bean purée (yeah, we rarely pass up the octopus in Greece). The octopus was tender and flavorful and the fava bean purée serves as an amazing dipping sauce for the delicious bread.

Octopus on fava bean purée at Mani Mani, Athens, Greece
Balsamic octopus on fava bean purée at Mani Mani, Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For the main course, we opted for the special, a seafood orzo in a sauce accented with fennel. It was superb. The presentation was excellent, the atmosphere is lovely with great music and, for the price, Mani Mani is a must visit. It’s just a couple of streets over from the Acropolis Museum at Falirou 10, Athina.

Seafood Orzo at Mani Mani, Athens, Greece
Seafood Orzo at Mani Mani, Athens, Greece
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Psaras in Plaka

Happy hour in Plaka, Athens, Greece
Our perfect perch for happy hour in beautiful Plaka.
Plaka, Athens, Greece
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

When we were in Athens for the month of April, we spent many afternoons on our perch on Lisiou on “the stairs” sipping vodka at Psaras. This December, we moved inside for dinners, still amazed by the view, but enjoying the good food in the warmth of the glass-enclosed patio. We typically partake of the octopus or the sea bass. Both are excellent choices and enjoyed with a stunning view overlooking Athens.

Psaras Traditional Restaurants in Plaka are located at the top of the Lisiou Street stairs at Erotokritou ke Erechtheos 16, Athina.

Dining at Psaras Traditional Restaurant in Plaka, Athens, Greece
Dining at Psaras Traditional Restaurant in Plaka, Athens, Greece in December
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Bel Paese Pasta al Momento

Rigatoni al Tonno at Bel Paese Pasta al Momento, Athens, Greece
Rigatoni al Tonno at Bel Paese Pasta al Momento, Athens, Greece Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We first saw this restaurant when headed to the market/grocery located next door. Beautifully decorated, Bel Paese Pasta al Momento is one of those restaurants that hits on all points without appearing to try too hard. The decor is upscale comfortable, the music selection relaxing, the service friendly and thoughtful, and the food spot on. The Bel Paese salad is splendid – fresh, crisp lettuce, dried cranberries, onion, avocado, orange, almonds with orange-honey-mustard dressing. Both Rigatoni al Tonno and the Tagliatelle Alla Puttanesca were tasty and, on another visit, we had Capricciosa pizza, which was delicious.

Bel Paese Pasta al Momento is located near the Acropolis Museum subway station at Athanasiou Diakou 6, Athina.

Harvest

Eggs Benedict with salmon at Harvest Coffee & Wine
Eggs Benedict with salmon at Harvest Coffee & Wine, Athens, Greece
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We’d passed this spot several times on the weekend and it was always crowded, so we decided to pay a visit on a weekday afternoon and managed to grab a table. We opted for the eggs benedict with salmon and the avocado toast with poached eggs and jalapeño sauce. The eggs were cooked perfectly and the coffee was aromatic.

Harvest Coffee & Wine is located on Evripidou, Athina. From the Starbucks, walk up the street with the home goods and cloth stores. It’s on the corner of Evripidou and Aiolou.

The Pasta Shop

Pasta at The Pasta Shop in Athens
Pasta at The Pasta Shop, Athens, Greece
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

If you are looking for some homemade pasta and sauce at very reasonable prices, this is the place. Everything is made on site from fresh ingredients. We loved the rosa and the Arrabiata sauces. Inexpensive (6-7€ each) and cooked to order.

The Pasta Shop is located just a couple blocks around the corner from the Starbucks in Monastiraki at Kalamiotou 9A, Athina.

Αιόλου 68

Caesar salad with smoked haddock at Αιόλου 68, Athens, Greece
Caesar salad with smoked haddock at Αιόλου 68, Athens, Greece
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

At Αιόλου 68 in central Athens is a great spot with a large seafood selection, very tasty food, great service, and a wonderful atmosphere that makes for an excellent dining experience. We sampled multiple dishes including the Santorini fava bean purée, the octopus, and the fish soup – all which were quite good. Our favorite though was the Caesar salad with smoked haddock – absolutely delicious!

Αιόλου 68 is appropriately located at Aiolou 68, Athina.


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

"Just in case you forgot something" Airbnb supplies

10 things every Airbnb needs

Article by Kim Hull

Living on the road full time for the last year, we’ve spent the majority of our time in Airbnb apartments – 62% of the time or 227 days from December 2016 through November 2017, to be exact. In the last year, we’ve rented Airbnb apartments in England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Malta, Greece, Canada and the United States, and some have been great, some okay, and a couple of spots – well, we left and went to a hotel.

Airbnb

At the top of our Airbnb annoyance list –  #2 would have to be receiving instructions advising us to hide from the condo staff or apartment building personnel because running an Airbnb is a violation. Notification usually occurs far after booking and paying, in a subtle statement along with the address and directions which we receive a day or so before we get there. Upon arrival, it gets more direct and places us in a very uncomfortable situation.

Sign in elevator at Airbnb Toronto
Sign in elevator at Airbnb in Toronto

If that is #2, what is the #1 Airbnb issue? The apartment actually needs to be at the place where the listing says it is. That happened in May in the U.K. – the owner apparently didn’t want to change the listing address, even though he’d actually moved because he would have lost his Airbnb ratings. We found out when we showed up to the address in the email sent by Airbnb and the owner was at a different address about a half mile away. He must have gotten the new place for quite a bit less and seemed to no longer find it necessary to use a quality cleaning service. Yep, that was fun.

This wasn’t our only encounter at a place of questionable cleanliness. We only rent entire homes, typically in the range of $125-$175 per night (daily rate), and there are certain things we consider to be table stakes (the minimum required) for every rental: kitchen with fridge, TV, working internet, decent sheets, and the apartment should be professionally cleaned. The unit should also be well maintained with repairs made to issues caused by former occupants.

If someone drops nail polish and it splashes on the wall, remove it and repaint.

Nail polish on Airbnb bathroom wall
Nail polish on Airbnb bathroom wall in Canada

If the toilet seat has issues, buy a new one – don’t paint it.

Painted toilet seat in Airbnb
Painted toilet seat in an Airbnb

Fortunately, there’s been much more good than bad, but almost all missed something that would have enhanced the experience – things that would elevate the stay to truly deserving a five-star rating. I’ll reserve speaking to the failings of the Airbnb rating system for a later article but, let’s just say that a great stay isn’t about showing up to greet the guest with water or wine and cookies (it’s a popular thing in Europe). That’s nice, but there are other things far more important.

With this roaming lifestyle, you learn to adapt and flexibility is key, but there are certain things that, if every owner would provide them, would make life as a guest easier and more enjoyable. And, to any Airbnb guests out there – if your host provides these items, don’t steal them. If you break them, pay to replace them. Let’s keep it working for all of us.

So, to all of the Airbnb owners out there, this is to you, and here’s our list of….

The 10 things every Airbnb needs

1. A supply of essentials

Toilet paperArriving to find no toilet paper or soap is so annoying. Sure, we will be heading to the market soon after arrival, but if it is late afternoon or evening and we’ve been on train or plane all day, drinks and dinner sound far more appealing than finding a store for soap, shampoo, and toilet paper.

We always carry a small bar of soap, shampoo, and conditioner and, if space permits, a roll of toilet paper but, most people don’t do this, so come on owners, add an extra five bucks on to the cleaning fee or rate and make people’s lives easier. And, with that, throw in some rolls of paper towels (not 4 sheets leftover from the last cleaning), adequate hand soap, a bottle of shower gel or a bar of soap (new in the box), dishwashing detergent, and, if there is a washer, laundry detergent.

Best essentials array we’ve seen – an Airbnb townhouse in Boulder, Colorado’s  “Just in case you forgot something” stash Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

2. Cleaning supplies

Airbnb cleaning supplies
Airbnb cleaning supplies Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

If you want us to keep the apartment clean, you need to leave some cleaning supplies –  a broom, Windex, paper towels, toilet brush, trash bags and new sponge at a minimum. Even for a rental of just a few days, we want to keep the place clean, but you really shouldn’t expect us to go buy a broom to do so.

hangers and fan3. A fan

Nothing fancy here – just a fan. They can typically be purchased for the equivalent of $15-$20 USD (we know, we’ve purchased and left them as we went). If the apartment doesn’t have air conditioning, then get at least two – a fan is all that is needed sometimes to circulate air when it is still cool outside, which will save you money in the long run and makes guests more comfortable.

4. Hangers

We travel light and try our best to find a place with a washer, minimizing the clothing we carry with us, but we do tend to bring more than a couple of shirts between the two of us and like to hang them up. Do people steal the hangers and that is why so many places have so few? You don’t need to spoil us with wooden hangers – just get 20 inexpensive ones and replace them if they disappear.

5. A kettle and a coffee maker

Nespresso & kettleOne of the best things about staying in an Airbnb is having the option to prepare some meals at home in the apartment. Even if guests don’t want to get their Julia Child on, nearly everyone likes to have coffee and/or tea in the morning before going out. That said, the coffee maker and kettle are key items to an Airbnb guest’s happiness.

For a kettle, the electric ones predominantly found in Europe are great. For coffee, a Nespresso or K-cup is perfect, providing no need for the guest to figure out how to use a Moka pot or which filters to buy. While Nespresso pods can be a bit harder to find (so, leaving a pack of them is really nice – hint, hint), they make such a great cup of coffee, it can really add a luxury feel to the experience.

6. Power supplies and power adapters

Monster Outlet to Go power supplyWe’ve been in 15 countries in the last 10 months, so we carry multiple power adapters and have a couple of small, power strips we found on Amazon and take them with us everywhere we go.

However, most people don’t bring power strips and many forget their adapters, so having a few commonly used adapters and a couple of power strips on hand would be helpful to guests. People have phones, tablets, camera batteries and laptops to charge and fighting over outlets is no fun.

7. Kitchen supplies beyond the pots and pans

Items for the kitchen that are an absolute minimum – clean pots, pans, dishes, glasses, wine glasses, mugs, silverware, cooking utensils, a baking tray, coffee maker, kettle, and at least one larger bowl (for salad, chips, etc). Most (not all) Airbnb owners provide these items.

Corkscrew wine openerBut, the other kitchen supplies that are frequently missed are a corkscrew/wine opener, can opener, ice trays, scissors, aluminum foil, and plastic bags. The foil allows baking without requiring extensive cleaning of the tray. We also buy or bring a Brita water filter pitcher for locations where we’ll be a week or more so that we don’t have to carry bottles of water home and that would be amazing to find in a rental.

To the European Airbnb hosts – Americans love ice. Ice trays are cheap Ice trayand you can usually fit one, if not two, even in the smallest of European fridge freezers.

However, finding ice trays in Venice or Athens can be a little challenging if you are staying in an area that doesn’t have many home goods stores. I carry two ice trays with us everywhere we go but would love to free up space in my luggage by knowing ahead of time they were waiting for us upon arrival. And, if you have the extras, please add the details to your listing so we know ahead of time – it may be the reason we book with you.

Last, in the kitchen items area, some reusable shopping bags and a discount/loyalty card for the nearest markets would be great additions. We generally leave these items behind after time in month-long rentals (as well as the Brita pitcher and other kitchen items) for the next guests to use.

8. Big, fluffy white towels and bath accessories

Towels in many Airbnbs passed the well-worn phase before Airbnb was founded (FYI- that was in 2008). More often than not, the towels are small, a mish-mash of colors, and look like they were the towels discarded by the owner when they bought themselves new ones.

white towelsEver wonder why you see big, white fully towels in photos of the baths of high-end hotels? It’s because guests love them. They are sumptuous. They exude luxury. Why white? Pure white means clean and spa-like (and they can be bleached to stay that way). If Airbnb owners want to compete with hotels, they need to match the things that people like/love about hotels, and then exceed in additional areas. High-quality towels – they’re a big deal.

Those plush bath towels will last longer if they aren’t laundered every day (as well it cuts down on utilities and water usage), so towel hooks can more than pay for themselves in the bathroom. Hooks are better than towel bars as it is easier to hang and keep track of multiple towels for multiple guests. The bath also needs a hair dryer and, if you want to knock our socks off, add a bath scale. We once went six months without weighing ourselves. You typically only see a bath scale in a high-end hotel and it would be a most welcome addition.

9. Make sure the keys and locks work

It sounds like a no-brainer with people coming and going all the time, but the keys and the locks need to work well. We’ve had locks where you spent five minutes every time you left and returned to get the door locked and unlocked. We’ve had doorknobs fall off in our hands. The locks need to be good and they simply need to work well and, if there are two/multiple adults renting, two sets of keys are always appreciated.

10. Apartment, building and neighborhood instructions

Nearly every Airbnb owner has house rules on their listing – don’t have parties, no smoking, and no occupants beyond those listed on the rental. Some hosts will provide local tourist information, but many miss the details of actually living in the apartment – where and when to take the trash out, how to operate the TV and cable or cable-like programming, how to operate the heating and air conditioning, and if the building has a gym, common area, or pool, where it is and how to access it.

Next, where’s the closest transit station, the best grocery stores, and a nearby pharmacy? If the building doesn’t have a gym, is there a fitness center close by that offers short-term or day pass memberships? If dogs are allowed, where’s the closest green space for walking them? Are there any farmer’s markets nearby? What are the best nearby happy hours, restaurants and coffee shops? Is pocket wifi available in your city? If so, who are the carriers and what is the approximate cost?

There are thousands of travel websites and blogs to tell you about the tourist attractions in practically any city, but those sites don’t know about your apartment, your building, and your neighborhood. Write out the information, print it and laminate it, leave it in the apartment and then send a digital version upon arrival. That would be truly helpful.


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit - SMART train at the San Rafael station

Why is it so difficult getting from San Francisco to Santa Rosa and Sonoma County?

Cover: Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit – SMART train at the San Rafael station
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


San Francisco at sunset
San Francisco at sunset. Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Four years ago we decided we wanted to live near San Francisco. More accurately – we wanted to live in San Francisco but, to avoid the ridiculously high cost of living in the City by the Bay, we drew a circle around San Francisco taking in all cities located within 60 miles, and examined which cities seemed to have a somewhat reasonable cost of living (it’s California, so that is a relative term) with decent amenities.

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We chose Santa Rosa, a mid-sized city, with two Whole Foods, quite a few restaurants, and a location in the center of Sonoma’s wine region. We envisioned daily life amongst the vines and frequent day trips into San Francisco for lunch and shopping.

Then, we encountered life with the 101. For those not acquainted with California’s north–south highway route, in northern California the 101 connects San Francisco to the North Bay area and frequently achieves near standstill conditions. We only went into the city a handful of times and, after eight months in the North Bay area, we decided to move to Lake Tahoe to be closer to the mountains.  In the end, we still spent about as much time in San Francisco as we did when we were living in Santa Rosa.

San Francisco
San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Even now with our nomad lifestyle, we still get back to the west coast multiple times per year and one thing that continues to amaze us is how few good/easy options exist for getting between San Francisco and Sonoma County. According to the San Francisco Tourism Board, over 25 million people visit San Francisco each year. I’m betting quite a few of them drink wine and would like to visit the beautiful wine region of Sonoma – so why is it so difficult to get there?

View of San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
View of San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The one-day wine tour

Drinking wine in Sonoma
Drinking wine in Sonoma, Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

If you are in San Francisco and want to just do a one day Sonoma or Napa day wine tour, there are a variety of private coach tours for about $120-$150 per person available that leave San Francisco in the morning and return in the evening. However, if you are seeking a true wine country experience, spending a day or two (or more) while casually sampling wines and enjoying the slower pace of Sonoma County, a one-day tour just won’t do.

Sonoma County, California
Sonoma County, California Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Getting from San Francisco to Sonoma County by car

There are many cities where renting a car is as big a hassle as it is an expense. By the time you rent a car, navigate where you need to go, find parking, pay for parking, pay for in and outs, and pay for gas – that’s quite a bit of irritation and money that could have been used for taking Ubers or Lyfts – and nobody has to drive. For those opting for the rental car experience, once you leave San Francisco, you get to hop on the 101 and head north for a not so leisurely experience getting to Santa Rosa. While having a car in wine country is convenient, it also requires designating a driver, which if there are only two of you, takes a bit of the fun out of wine tasting.

Getting from San Francisco to Santa Rosa by Uber or Lyft – Cost: About $100 for 2

Lyft San Francisco to Santa Rosa
Lyft San Francisco to Santa Rosa

In the U.S., ride sharing, namely Uber and Lyft, is our typical mode of transportation. We’ve only had a few bad experiences (filthy car, bizarre driver, and, one of my favorites, the driver got lost and wouldn’t believe the app knew how to get there and just yelled back at the phone as we drove in the wrong direction). But, those are by far the exception – we take numerous ride shares every week of the year and most are great.

Uber San Francisco to Santa Rosa

That said, a long distance ride share can be expensive. A comparison of both Uber and Lyft fees revealed the ride to Santa Rosa would be about $100 + tip. Doable, but a bit pricey – so we continued exploring options.

Grapes on the vine, Sonoma County
Grapes on the vine, Sonoma County Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Airporter: San Francisco to Santa Rosa – Cost: $86 for 2

When we lived in Santa Rosa and we’d fly out of SFO or Oakland, we’d use the Airporter to get to and from the airport. The Airporter picks up/drops off at the Park & Ride near the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa or at the Santa Rosa airport. A one-way adult fare to/from either SFO or the Oakland airports and Sonoma County is $34 per person. The buses are comfortable and it’s a good option if going straight to/from Santa Rosa to/from either airport.

But, what if you want to spend a few days in San Francisco then head up to Sonoma for a few more days? The Airporter doesn’t run between downtown San Francisco and Santa Rosa, so you need to get back out to SFO or OAK from San Francisco to catch one. BART fare from downtown San Francisco to SFO is $8.95 per person or a Lyft or Uber runs about $35-$50 to the airport. So for two people, the trip to Santa Rosa from downtown San Francisco using the BART – Airporter route would run about $86.

Getting from San Francisco to Sonoma County by the SMART train – Cost: $75 for 2

SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train at the San Rafael station
SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train at the San Rafael station Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The first phase of the SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train, a 43-mile / 69-kilometer rail service between Northern Santa Rosa and Downtown San Rafael, began operating in June 2017. Over the next few years, SMART is scheduled to expand service to Larkspur on the south end of the route in Marin County and to Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale on the northern end in wine country.

But, first, you have to get to San Rafael from San Francisco. Option1 is taking a bus from San Francisco to San Rafael – not expensive, but rather slow with many stops. Option 2 is to catch the Golden Gate ferry from the San Francisco Ferry building to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, then taking the route 31 shuttle to connect to the SMART train station. The ferry cost is $11.50 for each person. Option 3 is to take an Uber or Lyft to the SMART train station in San Rafael.

Uber from San Francisco to San Rafael SMART station
Uber from San Francisco to San Rafael SMART station Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Considering we needed to get from our hotel on Nob Hill to the ferry terminal or bus station and each had a large roller bag, we would have needed a Uber or Lyft to get that far, so we decided on option 3 for simplicity. The Uber to the San Rafael SMART train station cost $45 + tip. We then caught the SMART train to Santa Rosa for $9.50 per person using the mobile app. The train is about an hour ride from San Rafael to Santa Rosa. The train was clean, with plenty storage areas for luggage and bikes. Some seats on the train have tables, others are airline style.

Riding on the Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) near Petaluma
Riding on the Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) near Petaluma Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The train was packed – standing room only. While I tried to get a bit of work done on the ride, we had seatmates at our table and the train was very loud, so it was a bit challenging. I’m not sure if it is some sort of acoustic issue or we just had a car of extremely loud talkers, but we’ve ridden trains in 10 countries this year and I’ve yet to experience so much noise on a train. The kid behind me screamed most of the way and kicked my chair while his father stood in the aisle playing with a yo-yo. In the end, we got to Santa Rosa and it was fairly inexpensive, but not what I’d call a relaxing experience.

Lyft and Uber in wine country

Drinking a Larsen Projekt grenache rosé in Santa Rosa
Drinking a Larsen Projekt grenache rosé in Santa Rosa Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Once we arrived at the Santa Rosa airport train platform, we called a Lyft. Our wait time was only 3 minutes and the fare to our hotel was $10 + tip. We were a bit worried that ride share may not be plentiful in Sonoma Country but we used Uber the entire time during our three-day stay and typically only waited 5-10 minutes for the car to arrive.

Sonoma County wine tasting
Sonoma County wine tasting Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

That is good  – no, great news. If ever there was a place to not drive, it is in wine country. Uber provides the flexibility to craft your own tasting agenda – you pick the wineries, you chose the amount of time spent at each location, and everyone can sample the wines and safely return to their hotels without driving.

Fountaingrove Round Barn, Santa Rosa
Fountaingrove Round Barn, Santa Rosa Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Queen Street West, Toronto

Toronto: Bargains, baseball and blue skies

Cover: West Queen Street West, Toronto
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


We originally planned to spend the month of September in Toronto and had booked and paid for a fabulous apartment between Queen Street West and King Street West back in January for our September stay.

Triad by Ted Bieler, Front Street West, Toronto
Triad by Ted Bieler, Front Street West, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

September is a popular month to visit Toronto, with comfortable temperatures and bright blue skies in abundance. September is also when Toronto hosts one of the world’s most attended film festivals, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It would have been great – but the owner of the Airbnb canceled our booking in July and there were no good Airbnb options available for re-booking for the entire month of September, so we shortened our time in Montreal by a few days and opted for five days in Toronto.

Old City Hall inToronto on a fabulous late summer day
Old City Hall in Toronto on a fabulous late summer day Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We’d been to Toronto multiple times in the past – mostly in winter – so, what to do in Toronto for our abbreviated five days in late August? Shopping, baseball and enjoying the perfect weather!

Boats at Toronto Harbourfront
Toronto Harbourfront Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Bargains in Toronto

We seemed to find bargains everywhere we turned in Toronto during our stay.  Soon after checking into our Airbnb at the corner of Spadina and Front Street, we walked a few blocks over to King Street West, where we found the first of our bargains.

King Street West

Kings West Street, Toronto
Kings West Street, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of the oldest streets in Toronto, King Street dates back to Toronto’s beginnings and today is home to boutiques, large retailers, home goods and décor stores, restaurants, theatres, bars, and hotels. On our early evening stroll down Kings Street West, we happened upon The Red Tomato Bar, a basement level bar with a killer happy hour deal.

The Red Tomato Bar is downstairs below Fred’s Not Here. While the bar is located in the basement, the front of the building is open the upstairs and the street, allowing plenty of light and openness into the bar area. The reward for sitting at the bar – Tomato Hour prices. We each enjoyed Cosmopolitans from the $5 (2oz) martini options and a $5 personal (6″) mushroom pizza. The pizza was topped with King Oyster, Enoki, Shataki and Crimini mushrooms, caramelized onions, Fior di Latte (cheese) and truffle essence. The pizza was good, the drinks tasty, and our 4 martinis and 2 pizzas came with a price tag of $30 CAD, the equivalent of only about $24 USD. What a deal!

The Red Tomato on King Street West, Toronto
The Red Tomato on King Street West, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After dinner, we did a bit of browsing in the stores along King Street and stopped in an outdoor retailer with a “Retiring/Going out of Business” sale. The entire store was 40% off – everything included, with no exclusions.  It was at this spot we were also reminded that Toronto has 13% sales tax, so purchasing decisions took on a bit of a math exercise. In other words… take the price of the item, calculate the price with the discount, add on the anticipated tax, calculate the exchange rate, and then evaluate if a better deal could possibly be had in the U.S. or Europe. Since some outdoor brands and/or items are rarely discounted, we found a few items we felt made the conversion rate+tax cut and were worth the limited space in our bags.

Retiring/Going out of business sale, King St West, Toronto
Retiring/Going out of business sale, King St West, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The next evening we once again found ourselves on King Street West for happy hour and this time found a martini deal at the swanky Luma on the 2nd floor of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Luma holds Magic Hour every day (we were there on a Saturday) from 4 pm to 9 pm with $6 martinis and Manhattans (2 oz). We opted for a couple of classic martinis each and shared chips and dip and mixed nuts for $5 each for munching. Total: $34 CAD or about $27 USD.

Martinis at Luma, TIFF Bell Lightbox‎, Toronto
Martinis at Luma, TIFF Bell Lightbox‎, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Queen Street West

Queen Street West, Toronto
Queen Street West, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Queen Street West is a trendy district filled with boutiques, galleries, restaurants, bars and a fabulous spot to spend an afternoon. On our visit to the neighborhood, we stopped for lunch in b.good, which sources local, fresh ingredients for its offerings. We opted for the house-made veggie burger with mushrooms, caramelized onions, smoked gouda, and bbq sauce and a power bowl, with kale marinated in lemon, canola oil and Kosher salt, carrots, brussel sprouts, roasted chickpeas, pepitas and topped with tomato vinaigrette and a local egg.  Both were delicious and the flavors in the power bowl were amazing – great food and it didn’t break the bank.

b.good on Queen Street West, Toronto
b.good on Queen Street West, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After lunch, we shopped Queen Street West down to Trinity Bellwoods Park, then looped back the other side to Spadina. Along the way in the West Queen Street West section, we found an incredible sale in a clever little boutique named Logan & Finley. Already discounted items had an additional 20% off and we picked up Prana and Woolrich items at deep discounts – one of the Woolrich tops had a regular price of $45 and we got it for $8 CAD.

Logan & Finley, Queen Street West, Toronto
Logan & Finley, West Queen Street West, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Uptown Yonge

Uptown Yonge, Toronto
Uptown Yonge, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While we’d found some great bargains, we were still in search of a good deal on a couple of waterproof shells. A bit of research turned up Sporting Life in the Uptown Yonge district that looked like they had a good selection of outdoor apparel. We hailed an Uber and headed north.

Sporting Life, Toronto
Sporting Life, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A good selection of outdoor equipment was an understatement and the best bargains of the trip were quickly uncovered. We picked up a Canada Goose black label waterproof shell and a Fjällräven waterproof shell, each for 50% off.

Bargains purchased, we strolled back towards downtown reveling in our good finds until we reached Terroni at Yonge and Price in Rosedale and decided we’d saved enough with our bargains to splurge a little. Terroni had been recommended to us by a friend so we headed in for a couple of Aperol spritz and some appetizers. Great bar, excellent food and they have a rooftop patio with views of downtown Toronto.

Aperol Spritz at Terroni, Toronto
Aperol Spritz at Terroni, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

And, now for some baseball. Bluejays vs. Redsox

Our apartment was about a block from Rogers Centre, making it extremely convenient for catching a ballgame – and we caught two while the Redsox were in town.

“The Audience” sculpture at Rogers Centre, Toronto
“The Audience” sculpture at Rogers Centre, Toronto
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Originally named the Sky Dome, the Rogers Centre is located in downtown Toronto near the northern shore of Lake Ontario and next to the CN Tower. It has been the home of the Toronto Bluejays since June 5, 1989, and was the first stadium with a fully retractable roof. The roof is closed if the temperature is forecasted to be below 10° C/50° F, if the wind is predicted to be in excess of 64 km/hr, or if the risk of rain at start time is 75% or greater.

Game 1 was on a Monday evening. Monday was the one day out of five that was cloudy most of the day and, even though rain wasn’t in the forecast, I must confess I was hoping a few showers might come through so we could see the roof close. Didn’t happen.

Redsox vs Bluejays, August 28, 2017, Redsox win 6-5, Rogers Centre, Toronto
Redsox vs Bluejays, August 28, 2017, Redsox win 6-5, Rogers Centre, Toronto
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

The Redsox had been in a bit of a slump before arriving in Toronto having lost their last four games. The pitching matchup was Pomeranz for Boston and Stroman for Toronto and the over 35,000 fans showed up to cheer on their teams (ok, it was almost all Toronto fans, so team). The game went down to the wire, but in the end, Boston was victorious, winning 6-5.

Nick Cafardo, National baseball writer
Nick Cafardo, National baseball writer for The Boston Globe. NESN and MLB Network at Rogers Centre, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On Tuesday, Sale took the mound for the Redsox and Anderon for the Bluejays. The Redsox once again took the win 3-0. It once again was a great game on a beautiful evening and Greg Hull evening walked a way with a souvenir.

Redsox win again and a souvenir for Greg Hull, Rogers Centre, Toronto
Redsox win again and a souvenir for Greg Hull, Rogers Centre, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Toronto in late summer: Know before you go

Canoes stacked at Toronto Harbourfront
Canoes stacked at Toronto Harbourfront Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Temperature. The average high temperature in Toronto in August is 75°F / 24°C and in September is 72°F / 22°C.  Bring a sweater or a jacket and dress in layers in the evening as the average low in August is 63°F / 17°C and in September is 55°F / 13°C.

Rainfall. Rainfall in August and September averages 40mm-50mm, compared to the rainiest month of July at 60mm.

Bring the sunscreen. Toronto averages 9 hours of sunshine per day in August and 8 hours in September.

Getting to Toronto. Toronto has two airports – Toronto Pearson International Airport and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. If arriving by train, Union Station is conveniently located in the middle of downtown.

Union Station, Toronto
Union Station, Toronto Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Boutiques, galleries, bars, and restaurants along Rue Crescent, Montreal, Quebec

Eating (and drinking) in Montreal

Cover: Boutiques, bars, and restaurants along Rue Crescent, Montreal, Quebec
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


During our month long visit to Montreal in August, we sampled our way through quite a few dining and drinking establishments around the city. From quick and simple to celebratory fare, we found Montreal’s dining scene to be tasty and satisfying, with some excellent patio options. Here are a few are our favorites…

L’Avenue

L’Avenue Montreal Eggs Benedict, Montreal, Quebec
L’Avenue Montreal Eggs Benedict, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The first time we walked by L’Avenue we thought the long line out front was waiting for a bus (it was mid-week and there’s a bus stop there, so it was plausible.) Nope. It was the for the awesome food in this quirky eatery with a great staff. They bring skewers of fruit to munch on while you wait for your food to arrive and the Eggs Benedict is worth the wait.

L’Avenue
Time of day visited: Brunch
Location: The Plateau, 922 Mont-Royal Ave E

L’Avenue Montreal fruit skewers
L’Avenue Montreal fruit skewer, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Vegetarian/Vegan

General Copper Bowl at Copper Branch, Montreal, Quebec
General Copper Bowl at Copper Branch, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

It seems like hipsters and vegans/vegetarians seem to have a relationship that falls somewhere between dislike and hate, so the amount of vegan/vegetarian restaurants we found in the Plateau and Mile End was a pleasant surprise. We eat 70%-80% plant-based, so we gave quite a few in the neighborhood a try. Two of our faves – Copper Branch for quick, tasty options and Aux Vivres for a great selection of creative dishes.

Time of day visited: Lunch
Locations:
Copper Branch, multiple locations around Montreal
Aux Vivres: Mile End, 4631 St Laurent Blvd

Ikanos

Greg Hull, Ikanos, Montreal, QuebecWhen looking for a place to celebrate Greg Hull’s birthday, we chose Ikanos and were extremely pleased. Great service, comfortable atmosphere, and superb Greek seafood cuisine. We went early and had a couple of martinis at the bar, then moved to the dining room for dinner. Excellent flavors and the best grilled Octopus we’ve ever had.

Ikanos
Time of day visited: Evening
Location: Old Montreal, 112 Rue McGill #1

Pikolo Espresso Bar

Pikolo Espresso Bar, Montreal
Pikolo Espresso Bar, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Montreal has no shortage of coffee shops and we sampled our fair share of espressos and cappuccinos throughout the month. Our favorite was recommended by a friend that had been in Montreal just before us – Pikolo Espresso Bar. Small, pleasant and unique.

Pikolo Espresso Bar
Time of day visited: Afternoon
Location: Just off Sherbrooke West at Park Avenue, 3418b Park Ave

Les 3 Brasseurs

Beers at Les 3 Brasseurs, Montreal, Quebec
Beers at Les 3 Brasseurs, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We came across one of the four Les 3 Brasseurs at St Catherine and Crescent on a Sunday afternoon and stopped for a beer (we eventually found all four Montreal locations). The last time we’d been to a Les 3 Brasseurs was almost 20 years ago in Tahiti, so it was a bit nostalgic. We didn’t eat, but it has a nice patio to enjoy a beer or two.

Les 3 Brasseurs
Time of day visited: Afternoon
Location: 1356 St Catherine West

Sea Salt and Ceviche Bar

SeaSalt & Ceviche Bar, Montreal, Quebec
SeaSalt & Ceviche Bar, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We had a very late lunch at Sea Salt and Ceviche Bar, which is located just across from Alexandra Pier in Old Montreal. Great patio with comfortable teak furniture and a nice view. After cocktails – they only serve Grey Goose vodka, so that simplified things in the vodka selection process – we started with ceviche. We were a bit surprised at the limited ceviche offerings given the restaurant name, but it was quite good. Next, we both had the Citrus Salad which consists of kale, spinach, Mujol dates, Kalamata & Cerignola olives, grapefruit, oranges & toasted black rice. Spectacular! We whiled away the rest of the afternoon with a bottle of rosé wine, which made for a pretty nice finish to a relaxing, enjoyable lunch.

SeaSalt & Ceviche Bar
Time of day visited: Late afternoon
Location: Old Montreal, 351 Place Royale

Dirty Pizza

Dirty Pizza on Mont-Royal, The Plateau, Montreal, Quebec
Dirty Pizza on Mont-Royal, The Plateau, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Our apartment was located directly across from Dirty Pizza on Mont-Royal and after watching the sheer volume of people that frequent the place, we decided we needed to indulge in a pie. We were pleased to find creative combinations and opted for the Angry Goat which is topped with goat cheese, roasted red peppers, pesto sauce, a balsamic reduction. Great crust and super tasty pizza.

Dirty Pizza
Time of day visited: Late evening
Location: Plateau-Mile End, 25 Mont-Royal Ave E

Taverne Gaspar

Taverne Gaspar, Auberge du Vieux-Port, Montreal
Taverne Gaspar, Auberge du Vieux-Port, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Located at Auberge du Vieux-Port, Taverne Gaspar is casual, comfortable and has a great patio in Old Montreal. We had cocktails and dinner on the patio and then moved inside to the bar for after dinner drinks. Service was good both inside and out, the food was ok, but it’s a really great spot to meet for drinks.

Taverne Gaspar
Time of day visited: Evening
Location: Old Montreal at Auberge du Vieux-Port, 97 de la Commune St E

Mange Moi

Cocktails in the Plateau, Montreal, Quebec
Cocktails in the Plateau, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Mange Moi was the first place we visited after arriving in Montreal. Great patio for martinis. Inside is very nice and rustic, with lots of wood. The nachos are good and abundant. The place is continually busy.

Mange Moi
Time of day visited: Late afternoon
Location: Plateau-Mile End, 35 Mont-Royal Ave E


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.