Location: San Antonio, USA
WE ARE BACK!
Sum up entry coming soon.
Location: Ohio to Missouri then to TX!!, USA
Yee haw, we're back in Texas and are currently enjoying the home of Mike's brother, David, and his family in Highland Village (outside of Ft. Worth). It is SO nice to not be in a hotel.
Yesterday we left Columbus and headed west to St. Louis. Mike was channelling his inner "Clark Griswald" and his original plan was for us to just stop for a few minutes at the Gateway Arch so we could take a few pictures & then move on. Braden & I made it clear that we wanted to go up, but were (grudgingly) going along with Clark's plan :-) Betty (GPS) tried to get us to the arch, but we had to keep turning around as the road she really wanted us to go on was still flooded! For those unfamiliar with the geography, St. Louis sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, & the Gateway Arch is literally just over 100 yards from the river. Anyhoo, we had to mute Betty and find our own way to the arch & we all went into the visitor's center (potty break) and by the time the kids & I came out into the lobby, Mike had surprised us by buying tickets to take the tram to the top of the arch. Yippee! I had been when I was in the 9th grade & was so excited for the kids to experience it as I clearly remember that visit to this day! Mike and Charlotte opted out of the trip to the top & chose to take pics and view the Westward Expansion Museum instead. You ride to the top of the arch in this little tiny pod-like thing that seats five. It's not for the claustrophobic! Braden & Mallory were both super excited and really enjoyed the view from the top! If you look at the pics that Mike posted, you'll see one of the kids with a sign behind it indicating that we were 630 feet up! It was amazing :-) If you're ever in the St. Louis area, you really need to go. The whole thing is a National Monument (go park rangers!) which means the fees are quite low. It was only $10 for me and $3 for each of the kids. Braden's comment was, "wow, this is cheaper than a movie and way better!" It was quite something to see just how swollen the Mississippi still is, yikes. In one of the pics from the top of the arch you can see where the river is still covering a road (the one Betty wanted us to take!) and there are men down there using fire hoses to spray off the mud from the bits of road that had become visible.
Mike was a road warrior yesterday and we didn't stop for the night until we got to Springfield, Missouri. Pretty town (actually, the 3rd largest city in Missouri) in the Ozarks. I didn't realize that they are the oldest mountain range in the U.S.!
Today we had lots of rain as we drove through Oklahoma. We made it to David & Suzanna's around 4:00 this afternoon. It has been great for the kids as they've been able to play with their cousin, Julia, and just burn off some energy!
We're looking forward to returning home tomorrow! This has been a great adventure and we know that it has been a trip that we will all cherish and remember! Family bonding, ahh, nothing like it :-)
See you soon!
Location: Grove City, Ohio, USA
Tonight marks our 17th night away from home! Wowsers!
We left Toronto without any problems yesterday morning (read: I remembered the passports) and enjoyed our final drive through Canada as we headed towards Buffalo, NY. If you remember from my description of our journey into Quebec, Canada, we had only one car in front of us & there was only one customs agent on duty (it was in the middle of nowhere!). Well, no such luck yesterday! We crossed the Friendship Bridge, which is on the southeastern tip of Ontario (by Lake Erie). There were probably 10-12 lanes open, but even with that it took upwards of 45 minutes to get through! Our customs / border agents are very diligent in their duties as a few of the vehicles in front of us were subjected to pretty thorough inspections. You'll be glad to know that we had no problems getting through :-)
Our destination yesterday was Grove City, Ohio, which is a suburb just south of Columbus. We made it by early evening and had only been in the hotel parking lot for a few minutes when our good friend, Bryce, showed up with her beautiful 17-month old daughter, Brenna, and 3 of her 4 nephews. What a special welcome party!! We had a great time catching up with Bryce (we worked with her at that camp in New York during college & she was one of my bridesmaids) last night.
Today we slept in (yippee) as Bryce had to work until 11:30. Once we were able to hook up, we went to this cool ice-cream factory called Graeters. We're talking old-school methods of ice cream making here! They even pack the pints by hand, and they use the "French Pot Process" to make the ice cream. Basically, when new refrigeration techniques came into play, most manufacturers took advantage of these new techniques that allowed them to make more ice cream at a time (and whip more air into the mix) and freeze it at a faster rate. Not Graeters though, they make only 2 gallons at a time and boy is it creamy! We got to see the whole process and Braden read all of the signs to us. I was afraid Mike was going to start licking the windows since he wouldn't be able to actually eat the ice cream (that unfortunate dairy allergy, sigh), but he kept himself together and was delighted to find that they had a variety of non-dairy, fruit sorbets! We had a great time there & the kids enjoyed playing in the kid area after our ice cream :-) Be sure to check out the pics! Here's the website for Graeters, maybe you can find it in your area (and for all of the Bluebell loyalists out there, I'd have to say this was creamier!).
After that it was nap time for the girls (Mallory and Brenna), so we went back to the hotel while Bryce headed home. Mallory had fallen asleep on the way back so I had great hopes for a nap of my own once we got back! However, Mallory was apparently refreshed after a 10-minute power nap in the car and was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by the time we got up to the hotel room. Drats.
One more great dinner with Bryce & Brenna with lots of great conversation and reminiscing about the good ole' days! It sure is great to reconnect with old friends :-) Good friends are such blessings in our lives!!
We head out early tomorrow and plan to make a quick stop in St. Louis to see the arch. Not sure where we'll stop for the night, but it'll be somewhere between St. Louis and Ft. Worth as we'll stay with Mike's brother there on Wednesday night.
Looking forward to seeing all of our San Antonio friends & family soon!
Location: Toronto, Canada
Ahh, our last full day in Canada! Bummer, eh?
Today was a bit on the lazy side as we all slept in and took our time getting ready. Our trip to Niagara Falls wore us all out! We walked down to the harbor today and enjoyed a nice stroll along the boardwalk, followed by a boat cruise of the harbor and some of the small islands just off of the coastline. Apparently there are a slew of islands in Lake Ontario! The boat ride was nice and we got to see some really beautiful views of Toronto and of course the lake itself. Lots of fancy shmancy yachts about today :-) Unfortunately, you guys won't be able to see any of those views until tomorrow, hopefully, as Mike forgot the memory card for the camera today & doesn't have the cable to upload directly from the camera itself. Stay tuned for those as he'll upload from his mom's camera tomorrow :-)
We had wanted to go to the top of the CN Tower today (taller than the Space Needle in Seattle), but the wait was 2 hours! Crazy. I had a fleeting image of what it would be like to wait with an already tired 4-yr-old, and I quickly said, "no thanks!" It was a pretty day, so we enjoyed the area for a bit more and then Mallory, Charlotte & I took a cab back to the hotel while Mike and Braden walked around for a bit more.
Lazy afternoon of naps & hanging out, followed by dinner at this great restaurant (we ate there last night too). We sat at their sidewalk "cafe" type seating area, very nice :-) Toronto really is a beautiful city and it seems so clean, not any of the mysterious and sometimes choking smells that go along with other big cities!
Tomorrow we head to Columbus, Ohio, to see another friend from our Camp Jened days.
Location: Niagara Falls, Canada
Before I tell you about our day in Niagara Falls, let me share a bit about our trip from Montreal to Toronto. This will be a long one, so feel free to get up and stretch as needed :-)
Have you ever had one of those mornings where you woke up and knew that there was something you were supposed to do that day that was important, but couldn't quite put your finger on it? Well, I had that feeling on Thursday morning as we were packing & getting ready to leave. I suppose I was a bit cocky in that I was SURE I would remember whatever it was so I didn't bother to ask Mike if I was forgetting something. Mike got us loaded up (luckily in the underground garage as it was pouring) and we gave good ole' Betty (GPS) our coordinates & off we went. We had decided to skip Ottawa as it was raining, so the plan was to just get to Toronto. As we were leaving Montreal I remembered what it was that had been lingering on the surface of my consciousness..."don't forget to get the passports out of the hotel safe!" Oops. Luckily we were only about 15 minutes away from the hotel (bright side, right?), rather than all the way to Toronto! Sigh. As we headed back to the hotel, Mallory kept saying, "we've been here already," gee, thanks for making that oh-so-clear Mals!!! Nothing like a 4-yr-old to keep you in your place :-)
We made it to Toronto without further incidents & shortly after arriving Mike suggested that we take a bus tour to Niagara rather than drive ourselves. Good idea! The tour bus picked us up at our hotel and we had about an hour & a half drive to Niagara Falls. Our driver/guide was great & talked a lot about the different things we saw along the way.
Our tour included a buffet lunch at the Falls View Restaurant (13th floor of the Sheraton, glorious views), a boat ride on the Maid of the Mist, a stop at Tabletop Rock, then the Whirpool, and finally a winery.
The lunch was great & we sat with Ian, a gentleman from Australia who was on a long "walk-about." He has been traveling through the western U.S. & Canada for the past few weeks. Very interesting guy! The buffet had all sorts of fancy stuff, including a really good crab salad (yes Mom, I ate some), and lots of fruits & great deserts. That restaurant apparently serves 600 buffets during the lunch hours, crazy!
Next was the Maid on the Mist boat ride, which takes you right up to the Horseshoe Falls (Canadian side). The line was forever long as the 4th of July weekend is apparently the busiest all year! Our tour guide had told us to stand on the right side of the boat as we'd get the best view of the Horseshoe Falls when the boat turned to the left to turn around. Got it. We got on the boat, rushed up to the top deck (only two decks), found a spot by the rail & donned our blue "Maid of the Mist" ponchos. As we passed the American Falls, we felt a bit of the mist, but nothing much. Then came the left turn so that we were facing the Horseshoe Falls. Holy moly! Our guide had told us it would be more like a garden hose than a mist, but it was more like a fire hose! We got soaked! It seemed like the boat just sat there in idle mode as we kept getting sprayed, and sprayed, and sprayed! Mike said he could hear me laughing the whole time, along with the guy who was standing on the other side of him. It was just a never ending deluge of water! Thank goodness for the ponchos, but even with those we all had wet hair, wet faces & wet feet :-) It was great!
Next it was to Tabletop Rock which is a huge area next to the top of the Horseshoe Falls. Some great views from there & more of the mist! That area was packed & of course there were loads of tourist shops. After that we went to an area down river from the falls known as the Whirlpool. It's where the rapids about 100 feet (a gradual slope, not a steep drop) and then there is a bend in the gorge and the rapids create this huge whirlpool. That was just a short 15 minute stop to look down at the whirlpool. They have a walking tour that takes you down by the rapids and even a crazy boat ride (no thanks), but those were for folks with more time to kill. Not sure I would want to walk near those rapids with young kids!
Mallory fell asleep after that stop so she missed our drive through the charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake & the final stop at the winery. The winery (can't think of the name), is well known for its ice wine & Mike said it was delicious. Very sweet & definitely a dessert type! He bought a bottle so I will look forward to trying it when we get home.
We got back to the hotel at about 8:00 and walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. We sat outside & enjoyed a great meal and wonderful views of the city. Charlotte really fell in love with downtown Toronto during our meal as the atmosphere is quite charming!
Okay, that's it (finally, I know!)
Location: Toronto, Canada
Moving day to Toronto today. We were all tired from long days in Montreal, walking, and staying up late at the Jazz Fest., so we just stayed in and relax. Mike took an hour walk shooting pictures in Toronto, check out the "Art Pictures," some nice shots there!
Tomorrow on the 4th of July, we are going on a tour of (for John Hill) some nearby waterfall....something called Niagara! Lots of pictures to follow.
Location: Montreal, day 2, Canada
Have I mentioned that I am not a fan of laptops? They are too touchy, one false tap and zap, everything you just typed for the last 30 minutes disappears like that! Good thing Mike is asleep or I'd be getting a brief lecture on the "awesomeness" of this MacBook Pro & how I just need to practice! Blah, blah. I miss our nice, big, friendly iMac at home with it's separate keyboard & mouse. Sigh.
Okay, so, aside from some technical difficulties, Montreal has been great. I really did just spend about 30 minutes telling you guys about our day yesterday & now those words are floating somewhere in cyberspace. So, rather than retype everything I will give you a summary! Here it is:
*** Never mind! It turns out that the entry floated around a while but ultimately posted, which is strange as I never clicked the "post entry" button. Sigh.***
Now for today. We all awoke to a strange beeping noise a little after 8 a.m. I thought it was Charlotte's alarm & wondered why it wouldn't shut off. Turns out it was the fire alarm. Ugh. We had to evacuate the building!! No kidding. Ever wonder what you would grab in an emergency? Mallory grabbed Ellie (no surprise), Braden grabbed Oxford (his bear), Charlotte & I both grabbed our purses & I also grabbed Mallory's bag-o-medicine & Mike grabbed his flip flops. The firefighters were there already when we got outside & all of the other guests seemed relatively calm as there didn't appear to be any smoke. Turns out it was a false alarm! Phew. What a way to start the day. You can be sure we'll always check the evacuation plan when we get into a hotel from now on!
We went back down to Old Montreal this morning and visited the "Basilique Notre-Dame." Wow. I had been before in the early 90's but had forgotten how truly beautiful that place is. Be sure to look at the pictures Mike posted. The attention to detail was breathtaking. Every little nook & cranny was crafted with care and beauty. With all of the leaps & bounds we've made ("progress" that is), it seems that as we rush to get things done we have forgotten how to make things beautiful. Sigh.
A couple of subway rides later, we ended up at Olympic Park, the site of the '76 Olympics (summer). We spent the afternoon at the Biodome, which consists of 4 different ecosystems. Wow! It was amazing. Everyone had a great time there & Mike & Charlotte both were constantly snapping pictures. Check out the website, http://www.biodome.qc.ca/
Tomorrow we head to Ottawa & then on to Toronto.