After 28 days away on our North American tour, we are back on our tropical island.
Loved it. British Columbia reminded us of just how drop dead gorgeous Canada is. Victoria was lovely and Tofino? Well, Tofino is one of natures amazing gifts to our country. The fact it has a Relais & Chateau, several simply stunning restaurants like ‘Wolf in the Fog’ and pristine beaches miles long without a single plastic bottle or piece of garbage makes it even more perfect. Whale watching was nice on a clear and sunny day but Ellen didn’t see a bear and left disappointed they weren’t wandering the streets.
On our 5-hour drive to Tofino from Victoria we stopped about halfway at the little village of Coomb’s. We had been told we had to see the store called ‘Goats on the Roof ‘…actually kind of an upscale grocery/hardware store selling a bit of everything. Its claim to fame is a grass roof where a small herd of goats live. They eat the roof! The lovely little complex it’s in has fruit and veg stores, pottery shops, galleries and a smart Italian restaurant called ‘Cuckoo ‘…very nice patio with great food and famous for their pastas and pizza.
Toronto was fine if a bit predictable. From an outsiders POV it really doesn’t change much year to year. Perhaps the sheer pace of development in Asia makes it seem like that. Lovely highlight was a dinner with Gail Johnson and new husband Neil with a Scaramouche dinner adding in Marlene Hore and Bill McLauglin the next night. Henry Fiorillo’s magical Caledon farm and incredible hospitality just took our breath away. Thanks to Rachel Connell and Nancy Melcher for a great catch up Thai dinner. Thanks to Carol Chow for organising the big family dinner. We saw A LOT of people in a short time. The old Porsche held up nicely piling up 850KM’s in 7days. The downtown airBnB excellent and Moe Pancer’s still make a pastrami on rye better than anything in New York. Lovely that I got to have one with John Baird.
Ah, New York. Food was surprisingly disappointing. Katz’s Deli more for tourists than for food. Chewy pastrami after the melt in your mouth Pancer’s version. Danny Myer’s ‘Blue Smoke’ not nearly as good BBQ as I can make and I actually sent a steak back at the well reviewed ‘Greenwich Steakhouse‘. Not for another one, it was beyond hope. Food highlights were Saigon Market off Washington Square. Better Pho than we've had in Vietnam. And, a hole in the wall called ‘Meatball Express’ on 6th Avenue. Amazing how good a meatball slider can be. There was one lovely upscale dinner, both food and company, at Avena on 57th Street with pals Joanne Davis, Bruce, Jim and Matt. We stayed with Lizelle Salvador at her fab place on lower 5th Avenue after a few days at The Surrey in the Upper East. Imagine a NY condo with a fireplace and terrace looking right at the World Trade Centre Memorial Freedom Tower - very nice. Daughter gorgeous if dangerously skillful at maneuvering her parents at 5 . We saw Jane Francisco, Colin and son Gray at Soho House for their amazing Sunday buffet. We picked up where we left off...like no time had passed at all.
We noticed that everyone in Lower Manhattan is in sneakers and tights, mostly from the ubiquitous Lululemon (buy the stock). Everybody in Upper Manhattan still dressed to kill. One exception was a sighting of Woody Allen on Madison Sunday morning wearing Khakis and a dress shirt about 5 sizes too big. He looked like Yoda.
We loved haunting the fabulous one-off drugstores like Zitomers, Clydes and Bigelow’s. Amazing stuff with rare brands you never see anywhere else.
But, once you get past the amazing retail the American infrastructure is just shockingly bad. We did Newark Airport to Vancouver Airport same day - the difference just painful. Vancouver Airport is gorgeous, effective, efficient and almost a destination in and of itself. Newark departure crammed 1,000 people for AC and Southwest in an ancient terminal for 500 with one bathroom and one crappy food outlet. Ground fog delayed arrivals and we were lucky to get out before it got more ugly as people kept pouring into the already packed space. The Newark women's bathroom line-up was 30 deep and growing when we left. We know La Guardia is as bad or worse. JFK is thesame. Frightening to think of the billions required to get these basic transportation needs up to world class standards. Hey, maybe just 3rd world standards. I used to think Asia was ‘3rd world', not any more.
We didn’t find the real estate investment we were looking for in Victoria although we saw four places. The very sexy one being built in the old Customs House on the harbour is priced at Toronto levels and the rest were just urban condos. Now we have an agent and will keep looking. It was great to see Hugh Ruthven and wife Michelle and the dinner they arranged at Deep Cove Chalet may have been the best one of the trip. The wonderful food only topped by the incredible sunset view. We both loved the harbour to harbour seaplane ride there and back. Ellen’s eyes were the size of desert plates on take off but she got over that by the time we were soaring over the Lions Gate Bridge.
There was a bit of a real estate scare on landing in New York. The Mexican buyers of our condo had their lawyer advise us the new owners assets had been ravaged by the Mexico City earthquake and they could make the condo closing payment but not our profit, asking us to take a six month mortgage at 5%. We were very suspicious of that and lawyer’s letters started flying back and forth. Our very good agent actually found them financing that they used. We could have put them in default, kept the down payment, evicted them and re-sold but our lawyer advised we would be in court at least a year or more. I’m sympathetic that they lost assets in the earthquake but their lawyer took a tone of us being the bad guys as we made so much money on the deal. I replied we took the risk, tied up our cash and were delayed 7 times over 17 months, and, whatever profit we made is none of their damn business. Gave me an anxious night. Actually, several. It wasn’t resolved that day, it took a second extension, but it finally got done. Lesson learned. The highest offer isn’t always the best offer.
Nice to be home. 11 cities, 10 different accommodations, 38 restaurants and we saw over 35 people. Thanks to everybody for making this such a great trip.
On to Africa for New Years.
Jim & Ellen
Restaurants we'd recommend
Cuckoo in Coombs
Wolf in the fog in Tofino
Saigon Market in New York City