Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Oh, Canada! (and some other places)

Family vacations are like childbirth.

In the middle of it, you wonder what you were thinking, how painful it can possibly be and if you can just fast-forward to the end. Afterward, you're all, "It was magical!" and "Were there any bad parts? I can't remember!"

With that intro, I'll launch into our family vacation recap! We covered a lot of ground, so stick with me. (It's mostly photos. You're gonna do great!)

First, we drove straight from Columbus, Ohio to Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario. If you don't know this little gem of a town, look. it. up. We LOVE it! The quaint downtown is akin to our hometown of Worthington or our old college town in Granville. And the flowers! Incredible.

We found kid utopia: an ice cream shop with walls of games and puzzles!

And then, there's the wine.

So very happy to selfie (a verb? sure.) in front of a pile of wine barrels...

I mean, even the tasting bars are pretty!

Napa Valley is not always practical, but THIS? A short drive from Ohio?? We'll take it!

Day 2 started with misery, a driving rain. What to do? Why not head to the Falls right then?? It was a genius move that allowed us to basically walk onto the boat ride (which I'll forever call Maid of the Mist, even though it seems to be called Hornblower now).

Five-person selfies are hard. Do we really need everyone's head??

Luckily, a kind tourist took pity on us and offered to take a few steps back for this shot--

You'd never guess it by that photo, but James was wholly unsure of "Angry Falls," as he calls them. When we first told him about going on this boat ride, he offered to stay home while we went. With a lot of reassurance, he agreed and did great!

Here are our super-convincingly happy campers, enjoying the short wait in the rain--

For the life of me, I *cannot* understand the people who take their cameras out on the boat. (You get pretty dang drenched while you head closer-than-seems-safe to Niagara Falls...) So, here we are--survivors!--just after the boat returned to the dock!

On the walk back to the car, we passed Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Why no, I had no desire to pay their admission price, BUT the tallest man and his chair were right there, outside the ticket counter! How could we NOT do a quick comparison?? (Also, does Patrick think tall equals old???)

Although there are 3,000 additional tourist traps to be discovered on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, we decided we were all set. We headed to Toronto!

We stayed right by the airport, so watching the planes take off and land was an activity all on its own! So was the red wine at breakfast...

We tried and tried to figure out the best way to explore the city with kids, and guess what. Toronto's subway is magical! We parked for free and then paid $12 for an all-day family subway pass! Smiles all around!

Like good tourists, we made our very first stop the CN Tower. Then, I looked at wait times and cost, and I tried to talk everyone out of it. It half-worked.

James and Patrick were DYING to ride the glass elevators and look out over the impressive city expanse. So, Pete took one for the team, making the ascent to "an idiot's height," as I believe he measured it. (Wikipedia says it's a 1,815.4 ft concrete communications and observation tower. I think Pete said the same thing in fewer words.)

Poor Pedro hates heights... So, while he tried not to puke and was unable to take photos..., I got to take Elliott into the awesome aquarium right next door!

How cool was this moving walkway that carved a tunnel underneath the giant tank?!?

"Elliott! Sharks! Look *a little bit* scared!" Done. (He's so accommodating!)

Some kids' climb-through thing that looked cool for small, non-claustrophobic people--

Nemo! We found Nemo! (I know it looks like we're standing in front of TV, but this was a cylinder we climbed into, so we're technically in the middle of this tank!)

I still feel kinda bad about how we divvied up. Elliott and I totally won!

When the five of us reconvened, it was time to explore the city further. We decided Chinatown for lunch was a must! Off we set--excited, speed-walking, appreciating a cool city where old and new blend effortlessly...

...until we got to block #3. We don't make walkers, apparently. "Show me City Exhaustion!"

We stopped to rehydrate and check out this "living wall." A whole wall of plants filtering the air and tied directly into the HVAC system! Cool, right? Look how impressed they were--

Figh. Nuh. Lee.

We ate at some hole in the wall. I couldn't tell you the name, and we'd never find it again. I was so excited that everyone was doing so well and was trying new foods that I snapped a quick photo of my giant index finger and our meals. So! Take my word for it.

Next up, the Art Gallery of Ontario!

"Look, boys! Look at this woman in this famous painting and make her face!"

That's it.

The entrance to AGO has the most amazing swirling ramp. The boys ran up and down it an obnoxious number of times. (Just LOOK at this enthusiasm!)

Here's where I'll tell you we didn't even go through the incredible gallery that features more than 80,000 pieces. (Stooopid kids.) But! The gift shop gave me tons to take in and this lovely sentiment--

To be fair, I should say: my man, Patrick, just might end up in some kind of visual arts. He likes to take photos and notice the things others walk right by. Case-in-point: a perfect sky reflected in a mirror-walled building! Awesome.

Know what else? An infusion of sugar is sometimes the only way to appease exhausted kids.

Time to get back on the subway, you say?? Hoo-ray! And just LOOK at our stop!

We tried to make the most of our adventures in rotating hotels. That meant different things to different people. To James, who insisted I take this photo because he liked the first one so much, it meant wine with every meal.

Hotel pool time was more fun than Annoying Mom Asking for Uh-nother Photo.

It was good we let the children get some energy out at the pool because we set out for Niagara just after this swim. Our 55-minute drive ended up taking more than three hours! When we finally pulled off the QEW to avoid minivan peepee accidents, we learned the reason for the nutso traffic. Ready?

"Cherries," the nice old lady at Tim Hortons explained.

"Are you serious?"

She insisted she was, and then we started noticing a crazy number of Pick Your Own Cherries signs lining the roads. Say what?! Canadians are weird and need more hobbies.  

Anyway, on our way back to Niagara-on-the-Lake (it was basically on the way home!), we stopped at more wineries! Zippity-do!

Turns out Elliott was none to pleased we were back at our winery hangouts. He protested by finding a bench and reading. (THAT'll teach us!) So, two lucky boys got to go wine tasting with us!

...but smiles only last so long when you're not imbibing...

Sorry, boys. Totally leaving soon.

But! Before we did, we had a bucket list item to check off for Elliott. Our middle-aged 11-year-old wanted one thing: a gourmet dinner!

We emailed ahead and found a place that was OK with 1. kids and 2. the possibility that two kids would want nothing to do with the gourmet fare. Here, Patrick and James work on stickers and eat cheese pizza and noodles-- 

On the other end of the spectrum, Elliott tried things like quail and shrimp ceviche and bison short ribs. Amazing! He didn't love it all, but he did try it all, and that's really why we were there. (The tapas presentation was perfect because we could all sample a bunch of wildly different things without huge commitments. Such fun!)

When we stepped into the lobby to get a family photo to mark the occasion, I had to check Elliott's shoes for lifts. (I'm 5'8", people, and I keep looking shorter and shorter in these family portraits. It's RUDE, right?)

The next morning, we said farewell to our Canadian fun, crossed the border and set out for a stop in Jamestown, New York. I took not a single photo..., but we stopped at Pete's great-aunt and uncle's place. Mary Lou and Jim opened their home to us and made a ridiculous spread for our lunch. (They either heard we were eaters or thought we have 300 kids, I think.) We got to meet some family for the first time and enjoy stories from all our varied lives. It was such a lovely stop!

To further break up the drive, guess where we stopped next. A little place called Erie, PA!

We checked into our hotel and hit Waldameer, an awesome little amusement park that's like stepping back in time.

 The Ferris Wheel overlooks Lake Erie! (Shocking information.)

James was a hilarious mashup of super excited and paralyzed with fear. We kept trying to talk him out of screaming and crying, assuring him the ride was almost over, and that he'd be OK.

All Patrick really wanted to do was this coaster, the Ravine Flyer II, which crosses over a road. Twice. Who thinks of these things? Erie people be crazy!

He's shooting. And SO happy. Kiddie Land was his speed!

I MUST go back and find the photo we have of Elliott and Patrick, right around this same age, on this very boat ride. It was surreal to see James recreate it!

Maybe the best part was that Pete's cousin, Erin, (and her kid guides, Kyla and Owen) joined us to make the evening complete. We had SO much fun with our Waldameer guides!

Oh, and THIS ride was definitely one where James yelled, "I DON'T LIKE THIS ANYMORE" right in the middle. Ha!

Remember when I said we made the most of our hotel stays? Well, when the tub is large enough to fit multiples, you get 'em in there together! (I only briefly tried to convince Elliott to get in there, too.) I mean, it wasn't like anyone was even sweaty or ice cream-covered enough to justify getting clean, but it was fun all the same.

In the end, we all got to go home! To our own glorious beds! And our own rooms! Yaaaaaaay for family vacations!