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Posts Tagged ‘travel’


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San Francisco: The city of hills..

05 Sep

As I mentioned, a couple of weeks ago I was in San Francisco. I was there to do a training course before my company’s big conference. Along with me were about 4 other colleagues. One in particular, D, is a cigar aficionado. He tends to travel internationally more than me (him being a bachelor and all) but when we do get together we do share a smoke or two. For this trip I checked into the Hilton San Francisco Financial District. It’s right beside Chinatown and the Financial District of San Fran. And it’s about a 10 min walk to the Pier. But what made this more important was that it still had smoking rooms! And nice rooms. If you have to stay in the City and can afford it (rates can start as low as $99 and go up from there — I think I got it at the $160 range), it may be worthwhile. The beds were incredibly soft and it is Hilton Hotel good quality. Being near Chinatown and the Pier means

Cigar Bar and Grill: 850 Montgomery Street

Cigar Bar and Grill: 850 Montgomery Street

lots of food options. And the infamous Alfred‘s Steakhouse is around the corner. (BTW, the salmon is a bit dry). There is also a tiny cigarette/cigar shop about a block away if you really need to find something but if you’re going to have a smoke you really should hit the Cigar Bar and Grill.

I would recommend getting there early, especially on a Friday night (cover of $7 applies after a certain hour and it’s PACKED!) But it is a great atmosphere. While there D and I got to talk with other people (we had just met them there) and compare discussions on life, cigars and other things. It was pretty sweet. Additionally, they usually will have a live band if you want to dance or to watch others dance. The atmosphere is jovial and the humidor, while a small one, has enough variety to meet any taste and budget. This isn’t a cheap place but neither is it overly expensive. Expect $25-50 per person (cigar and drink price) depending on drink and cigar.

 

Cigar Store Reviews: A lone beacon of hope in Canada’s Capital

25 Apr
Centennial Flame in front of Parliament

Centennial Flame in front of Parliament

This past week I got to go home again, in more ways than one. It had been 20 years+ since I had been in Ottawa. I grew up there, playing hockey, going trick-er-treating with a snowsuit under my costume and discovering politics. I left Ottawa in 1992 after my mom’s death and it was interesting to come back as an adult. One of the things that was interesting was the number of cigarette smokers (I saw more there than I do in NYC) but the stiffness of the laws in Ontario makes it hard for a cigar aficionado to enjoy the variety of cigars out there. Ontario, as a province, has some of the stiffest tobacco laws I’ve ever seen (e.g., cigars cannot be out on display, tobacconists must get the cigar for you, no cigar lounges/bars, etc.). And this makes it hard to enjoy. But I did find a couple of glimmers for those that might be traveling to Ottawa at some point.

First, I will point out that Canada has no issue with Cuban cigars. Now, as a Canadian, that means I can legally enjoy them while in Canada but just not bring them back. Even if I could and with such a good exchange rate, I wouldn’t. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy but rather the provincial tax makes it almost absurd to do so (two little Romeo Y Julieta Short Churchills run at about $45 USD). If you are an American and you do enjoy a Cuban, keep in mind that you are technically breaking the law (I can honestly say that most Canadians probably wouldn’t care much but ya never know who’s lurking there in the background..).

Even if you could you really have no where to enjoy it unless you go in the summer, when the weather is warmer (ave runs about 65-75F but can be hotter) and  you can enjoy outside. I did discover that the Crowne Plaza Hotel on 101 Lyon Street still has smoking rooms on their Club Floor (that also gets you a free continental breakie and hors d’ouveres in the evening). Although the hotel is 30+ years old and some parts show it’s age, it’s still a decent hotel. I got treated well with complimentary snacks, extremely friendly and helpful staff and it’s location downtown is close enough for action without being too close. I even had a great view of the Ottawa River, which, let me tell ya, looks amazing during the sunset.

Second to that, Ottawa only seems to have one tobacconist left: Ottawa Cigar Emporium in the ByWard Market. While you still can’t feel the cigars, you can at least look at them. I did see many favourites along with some I had never seen before. I got a RyJ Short Churchill and a Cuaba Distinguidos (they didn’t last that long that night). This lonely establishment is the last of its kind in Ottawa where you can really talk cigars with someone who knows and understands. It does have hours later than most other places in Ottawa (most of Ottawa will close around 4-5pm in the downtown core with exception of the Rideau Center and the ByWard Market). I’ve generally not enjoyed Cuban cigars but this time I got to. It’s a reflection of how well the Emporium looks after and maintains their stock. If you go, definitely put them on your list of places to visit. Although all the humidors are wall ones, it does have a decent stock to choose from that are usuals elsewhere (at least in comparison to the US). I will say that if Obama does life the Embargo, I’ll be getting a box of the RyJ Short Churchills. That was a nice, sweet little cigar while working on paper work and the like. It’s mild with a nice sweetness to it (for some reason, a tinge of honey came to mind — not sure why) that almost melted in my mouth as I went through it.

The only other place that has a decent selection is Comerford’s Cigar Store. This place has existed as long as I can remember. The hours, 4:30am until 4pm match that of civil servants (except for the 4:30am part) that make the bulk of Ottawa’s workforce. This store has, historically, specialized in cigars and pipe tobacco but because of it’s design the cigars and tobacco is being frosted glass (as per law). Comerford’s existed when I lived there so many years ago and even before me, given it’s 50+ year history. They have seen many changes of Prime Minister’s and such and they still forge forward. Whether it will continue with the present anti-smoking law in place is hard to say. It certainly has business beyond cigars and pipes but it’d be a shame to see that industry die and with it a piece of history. It’d be interesting to see if a change of provincial government might loosen some of those laws a bit. I certainly understand some of it but this is a bit far while yet encouraging kids to gorge on soft drinks and fast foods in an overly polluted environment.

I think the next time I go to Ottawa it will be to visit a friend and enjoy a cigar with him and his wife on their balcony along with a bottle of Jim Beam or a Forty Creek while we reminisce about our life before we became adults. Now that is truly the way to enjoy a cigar.

 

A Sunday in NYC’s Little Chinatown/Little Italy

16 Mar

So this weekend I’m on my own as my girlfriend is out of town. I started last night by enjoying a sweet Ashton Aged Maduro #10. I got to enjoy a Forty Creek Barrel Select over the rocks with a splash of cranberry and watched some pretty cheesy ’80s action movies, including the RoboCop trilogy. Apparently, they are doing a remark to be released in 2010. It was a definitely an enjoyable, relaxing evening. As I flipped through the movies, I decided that today I would venture out to downtown Manhattan’s Canal area (Chinatown/Little Italy) to find two cigar shops: Three Little Indians and Mulberry Street Cigars. Turned out that Mulberry was closed today, a bit disappointing and discouraging. As I peered into the dark windows I could see a variety of cigar history filling the windows and displays.

Sigh.

Three Little Indians and Florio's

Three Little Indians and Florio's

A visit for another day but definitely one that should be visited. Instead, I ventured a little further towards Three Little Indians. As I walked down Grand Street, I could the various discussions, some in Italian and some in the flavour of New Yorker English. With the milder weather, the street was a mosaic of people perusing various restaurants and their fare. As I walked into the shop/restaurant, I got a sense and flavour of old New York. The long wooden bar showed it ages but has obviously been well looked after. I could hear faint discussions as I walked around, looking around at the various cigars in the displays. I ended up getting a couple of LX2s and a couple of Short Stories. When I went to pay, I noticed a display beside the cash register of cigars that had no bands. They were various barbershop Toro type (6 x 56) and no two were alike. The owner, Larry, informed me that they are made by a gentleman in Florida. I added that to my purchase and went off to find the subway station to take the J train home.

Once I got home, I put the brand-name cigars into my humidor for later enjoyment and smelled this new find. A sweet, earthy scent came off the cigar as I held it. It was heavenly. It took a little bit to get the foot toasted but once I got it going, it was hard to put it down. Although I realized I forgot to ask what tobaccos made up the cigar, it didn’t really matter. The taste was a wonderful blend of sweet, earth and mild creamy leather with an occasional twinge of pepper to spice things up. The ash burned a solid white, speckled with lines of grey and black. If I had to guess, the wrappers were likely a mix of natural (sun-grown?) and maduro (Connecticut broadleaf?) around, what I suspect, is rich Dominican long fillers. When I go back — and I will — I’ll have to ask Larry about more of the history of these cigars and the man who creates them for him; I’ll also have to ask him to pass on my kudos and thanks for making a good cigar. It’s not cheap at nearly $13 per cigar but well worth it. This cigar will easily last 60-90 minutes, depending how deep of conversation your in with friends and family.

Three Little Indians Barberpole Toro

Three Little Indians Barberpole Toro

I sat back this evening watching my four favourite Sunday evening shows — The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy and American Dad — and quietly enjoyed my smoke while the fat tailless cat, Bobcat, sat beside me. She regarded my cigar for a minute, realized that it wasn’t food and went back to her Olympic training, marathon cat sleeping (she’s up to 20 hours these days). I laughed to the various silly antics and was mesmerized momentarily by the twin white/blue smoke coming from the end of the cigar. I’d give it a quick rating of about a 9.1 out of 10. Definitely worth a go if you do visit.

Anyways, the day ended on a wonderful note and I’m set for this week to start. It’s interesting that this week I go back to Edison, NJ to teach. A year ago, I went there to teach and it was there that I walked into Smoker’s Haven to buy my first cigars, Davidoff’s Winston Churchill. Since this week will have St. Patty’s day, they will be having an event to celebrate. And I’ll get to enjoy it since I won’t have anything specific to do on Friday. I have to say that I do enjoy smaller towns sometimes, especially when they have local cigar shops. There’s a more personal flavour to it. As much as there is great variety of things and places to do in NYC itself, sometimes smaller can be better.

 

Cigar Review: Sometimes a good cigar can fool a tastebud

11 Dec

Don Tomas Cameroon

Cigar Name: Don Tomas Cameroon Robusto (5 1/2 x 52)

Cigar Description: Honduran cigar with Cameroon wrapper around Dominican, Brazilian and Mexican long fillers, aged over 4 years.

Cigar Strength: Medium

Review of the Cigar itself: A nice cigar that I had gotten a little while ago and nearly had forgotten about. I brought it along with a 601 Black and an Olivia V but figured I’d try this. Since I had no choice but to smoke outside. Thankfully, today the Kansas City weather had improved and reached a nice toasty 45 degrees F that going outside to smoke wouldn’t result in toes turning blue. I have to admit it did make me more appreciative that I have the luxury of smoking at home. The delicious Cameroon wrapper was a nice rich chocolate brown with a few veins in it but nothing that would detract from the ultimate flavour of the cigar. The tobacco had a rich earthy smell to it that balanced nicely against the brisk wind that swirled around. The cut was a little mangled as the cigar was a bit dry from airline travel over the last week or so but the wrapper still held together. talk about the cut and vanilla aroma It was this cooler weather with it’s playful wind that did make it somewhat of a challenge to light but I eventually got the foot nice and toasted, first the filler and then the wrapper. It’s interesting that both are burning at even rates.dontomas1

The gentle blue smoke that wafted through the wind had a nice cedar aroma to and was gentle on the nose. The cigar itself was a combination of nut, earthy and cedar tones that made it enjoyable while I watched the world traverse by on the busy highway near the hotel. The wind continued to flit around me and I got whiffs of vanilla and other sweeter scents from the cigar. I sipped the deep, rich cedar flavours as I basked in the brightness of the sun. I leaned back on the bench and contemplated what how the year was and what it will bring. As I continued more into the stick, the leather flavours were more and more pronounced with a hidden touch of dark mocha in the background. At times, there even was a touch of pepper in the background to tickle the tastebuds.

The ash was almost a pure white speckled with darker grays. It held on and fell off on it’s own accord when the wind touched it. As much as I often enjoy Camerooon cigars, this one didn’t quite appease my palate as it was too leathery with too deep of an earthy taste to it. The leathery taste was rather creamy and almost tasted like a worn glove. For some this may be an appealing taste but for me, it’s too sharp and pronounced. But to me, a cigar is far than just the taste. It is the aroma that the smoke envelopes, the heat from the cigar as it burns and the relaxed feeling it brings while smoking it. This wasn’t a cigar I’d throw away as it still had flavour but just a bit too much for my wimpy taste buds.

Enjoyed with: Water

Smoke time: approximately 75 minutes

Final Review Rating: 7.8/10

 
 

Quick post: traveling with cigars

26 Oct

I’m on the road this week and was smart enough to get a smoking room. I’m all the way out at the Charleston (SC) airport so no where near downtown but at least I’m in a suite. I’m bringing about 15 cigars or so to have a selection to choose from when I feel the desire to smoke some. And if I do, I’ll probably do some reviews on a few of them. Friday I should have some time to go into Charleston itself and visit TinderBox, a place that was recommended by a few BOTLs. And since my flight doesn’t leave until Saturday morning, that should work out well. :)

See ya on the flip side.

 

Mooooooooo — or the joys of traveling.

14 Sep

It’s a wonder I don’t respond to questions with “mooooo” these days.

I spend a better portion of my month on the road because of requirements of work. I teach courses about my company’s software products and I have a specialty for one product. In fact, I’m one of 3 instructors that teach it. As a result, it’s not unusual for me to spend a fair amount of time on the road. And, even more time, it seems, in the air. So I’ve begun to learn how to benefit from that travel but there is still some things I have no control over it — specifically, the life of being cattle in the economy class. For example, if the planes packed, get an aisle seat or, if you want window stick with ones where there are only two seats in the row. Three across can be annoying, more so when you’re in the middle seat.

I mean, who gets the arm rest if you’re in the middle?? But to make it even more fun is the challenge of the size of seats. The average seat for most airlines, for their economy class, is about 17-17.2 inches (as per Seat Guru). The average “seat” for most adults these days is about 35-39 inches. That means one needs a seat of 17-20 inches. So either you just fit or you “overflow”. And a lot of us, myself included, kinda “overflow”.  It’s neat trying to fight with the arm rest while it pinches the nerves in your upper hip.

Then there is the challenge of leg room, or rather, the lack thereof. The only way you can stretch your legs effectively and keep them from completely falling asleep is to walk in the aisle. But with the “pleasant weather” of late, pilots are keeping seat belt signs on more often (for obvious safety reasons). The downside of this, especially on a 5+ hour flight is that it really can hurt the back. Worse when it’s a “moo plane”. I always try to prepare for this before getting on the plane by taking advantage of walking around the airport.

I actually enjoy it — except for the 50lb laptop bag. That’s never fun but at least I can use it to strengthen my shoulders, neck and arms (biceps and triceps). I usually have to anyways because of a lack of vegan food on the plane (chips really aren’t it). Looking for a salad, soup or other simple foods is really hard sometimes. Apparently everything must include dead flesh in it, even something as simple as a salad. Ya know, veggies and fruits aren’t that bad — especially raw? So I usually find some nuts, sunflower seeds or something like that with some water to enjoy on the plane and wait until after checking in at the hotel to find something more substantial, like pasta and tomato sauce.

So the recent trip to Vegas, at times, felt like this. Although I did get in more walking than I had anticiapted since I was able to enjoy it with friends but it was all good. In fact, it was kinda needed. We ate at some pretty nice restaurants and ate well. One of the best was Delmonico, an Emile Lagasse restaurant. The staff went out of their way to ensure that all the food I ate was vegan. They warned me about the bread having butter in it and that the roasted potatoes were done in duck fat. They had encouraged my carniverous friends to have side dishes (that were shared by all) were vegan (steamed asparagus and oil-sauteed mushrooms). I ended having a pasta dish with smoked tomato sauce and grilled veggies. Very good indeed. And worth every penny.

Afterwords, we enjoyed some fine cigars at Case Fuentes, one of the premiere cigar manufacturers. I finally got to experience an Opus X Fuentes Fuentes. I enjoyed it with a nice mojito and great conversation. It allowed me to stop mooing for a bit and enjoy the trip some.
And that truly is the trick: get outside the plane, the hotel and walkabout. That will stave off those feelings of mooing. Oh, and if that fails, remember this: you’re not alone in it and might as well enjoy the ride — such as it is.

Moooooooo…

 
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