This is less a blog post than a record, because we just got back from a two-week road trip to southern Ontario and we’re already sort of stunned at how much we did (and how easily we’re forgetting things! we are old).
So! This will be painfully boring, likely, unless you’re planning a trip to the same area anytime soon, and are looking for tips.
We left Halifax super-early. 5AM early. Our first rest-stop goal was Salisbury, NB, for breakfast at the Irving Big Stop. We made it with minimal complaining from the back seat, with the promise that after breakfast we’d crank up the portable dual-screen DVD player and let the kids watch movies all day.
Got back on the road after breakfast, attempted to turn on the DVD player. AND NOTHING HAPPENED. There may have been some swearing. (There was definitely some swearing.) The damn thing was just… dead.
Side trip to Fredericton, to buy a new one! Helpful staff at the Best Buy got us re-equipped and back on the road.
Our aim for day’s end was to stop somewhere between Lévis and Drummondville for the night. We didn’t book ahead because we weren’t sure how far we’d get before mutiny broke out in the back seat. Turns out that was a monumental miscalculation. Every hotel, good, bad, or indifferent, was full… or else radically-overcharging for a bed. (I’m looking at you, Drummondville Best Western. $260 + tax for a night is criminal, especially since your website advertised a price of $107. And no, “it’s just really busy” is not actually justification for more than doubling your prices, jerks.
Anyway, we made it all the way to Cornwall, ON before we found a smoking room with two double beds. It was gross. GROSS. And we were en route for 17+ hours. Put us ahead of schedule for day 2, mind you.
Drove from Cornwall to Jordan Station (just outside St. Catharines). Checked into the Ramada Jordan Station – we had reserved back in April, and so got a very good rate for a lakeside room with a balcony. We had supper with Michael’s sister, now relocated to St. Catharines, and had a swim in the hotel pool.
Morning brunch and visit with one of Michael’s cousins, and his family. Then we met up with Michael’s sister again and took the kids to Niagara Falls for the afternoon. We went to Ripley’s Museum as per the kids’ request (dreadful; it’s expensive, crowded, and frankly pretty dumb) and then on the boat tour of the Falls (worth every penny, despite the short trip).
We saw lots of people carrying umbrellas to shade them from the burning sun. SMART. It was almost unbearably hot that day. Between the six of us we drank at least a dozen bottles of water.
In the morning we had breakfast at the quirky BlueLine Diner. Are you a hockey fan? You should go. The business is owned by Marcel Dionne, and he in fact served us breakfast, praised our kids, gave them each a toy hockey player, and was basically totally wasted on my baseball-mad family. The food, though! The food was so good. The chef is Marcel’s daughter and she is passionate about what she serves. She bakes her own bread, offers freshly-squeezed orange juice, and makes cheerful suggestions about her favourite choices on the menu. Very affordable, too! Worth a visit.
Then we hit up The Book Outlet, gave the kids a shopping cart, and vowed not to cringe at the cash register. We walked out with a large box of books at big discounts, and also heatstroke – the place is massive, and stuffed with new books, but has no air conditioning.
On to Toronto! Well, Mississauga. We checked into our rental condo and after a short rest, headed into downtown to meet friends at Medieval Times. Yes, it’s silly, and expensive, and cheesy, but it’s also a ton of fun if you check your brain at the door, and we had a great time. George in particular was entranced with the knights on horseback galloping by while he ate.
Harry’s 10th birthday. We had a grocery-store cake and candles for breakfast, then headed for the Ontario Science Centre. We all agreed this stop was a bust. The place was wall-to-wall people, including at least a dozen out-of-control daycamp groups, and it was just too much. The traffic flow through the exhibits was not sensible or intuitive – we kept running into dead-ends and needing to backtrack through pushy crowds – and the acoustics of the building don’t make any sense, there being a lack of sound baffles that amplifies noise.
After lunch we went to the CN Tower and a Blue Jays game. We all got new ballcaps and had a blast at the game. George, being a good Little League kid, was concerned about the lack of batting helmets during pre-game batting practice. The Jays Ambassadors came by our section during the 7th inning and led everyone in singing “Happy Birthday” to Harry.
Royal Ontario Museum day! And we did indeed spend the entire day at the ROM (and still didn’t see everything). The dinosaurs were of course a high point, but the kids also really liked the ancient Greek & Egyptian stuff, and the different displays of arms & armour.
Toronto Zoo, boasting 700 acres and 5000 animals. Hotter than blazes, but we persevered, and had a wonderful day. The gorilla enclosure was a high point, as were the giraffes (did you know their tongues are black to prevent sunburn?) and the orangutan.
Drove to Cobourg from Mississauga on the Saturday of a summer long weekend. The last time I was in a traffic jam like that, it was leaving the Washington, D.C. area during the sniper attacks. This is a not a joke; that’s literally the last time I saw anything like it. Bumper to bumper, moving at a crawl, for hours. We drove alongside a woman for a while who put her car on cruise control at 25kph and dangled her left leg out the driver’s side window, that’s how slow it was.
It was worth it though when we finally arrived. Cobourg is a sweet little town, and we were all charmed. We stayed overnight with another of Michael’s cousins and his young family, and we all went together to an outdoor movie on Cobourg beach that night… the moonrise was incredible, and then after the movie were fireworks. It was a magical night.
Drove to Ottawa for the second and less-hectic week of the trip. We stayed with friends of Michael’s late father; a lovely older couple who genuinely care for us like family and honestly don’t mind the chaos that comes with three boys.
We tried to go to the Museum of
Man Civilization History (pick a name, folks!) in Hull Gatineau (seriously, what up?) but on a rainy holiday Monday it appeared that everyone in the Ottawa region had the same idea. The museum parking lot and all surrounding lots were full. Change of plans! We went to the Aviation and Space Museum instead. I was bored silly with the “aviation” bit, but the kids and Michael enjoyed it, and the space section was very cool.
Dinner with yet another of Michael’s cousins and their two younger kids, boys aged 13 and 11. A neighbour kid also invited himself over and the six boys proceeded to terrorize the neighbourhood for a few hours while the grownups sat on the porch with Irish coffees. Not bad.
The National Gallery of Canada, and for once it was me who got to be the expert. Ron loved it as I knew he would, but Harry was surprisingly into it as well. Michael wrangled George so the older boys & I could explore.
More visits in the afternoon, and then dinner with Allison and her family in the evening. That was a RIOT. I want to buy a house next door to them and look after their dog and pay her daughter vast sums of money to babysit my kids.
The kids begged for a day off, so I drove myself across Ottawa with hardly any panicking to spend a morning with Not Mary P. Quiet afternoon of laundry & packing. In the evening we went to see the Ottawa Champions minor league ball team and that, my friends, is a fun and inexpensive evening out. If you live anywhere in the Ottawa area I highly recommend it.
Up and doing early. Met an old friend from university for breakfast, then started the drive to Quebec City. The trip was uneventful and we arrived in QC at 2:30, just in time for a quick visit to the Aquarium du Quebec. We played with the walruses and petted the stingrays and marveled over the giant Pacific octopus. Then we headed to our hotel in Lévis (booked ahead this time!) and settled in at L’Oiseliere.
Spent the day in Old Quebec City, just prowling and exploring. I parallel-parked on a one-way street and immediately needed to buy a glass of wine from a street vendor because that’s an option in Old Quebec during les Fetes de la Nouvelle-France!
We rode the Funiculaire from Lower to Upper Town, and toured through the National Historic Site under the Upper Town boardwalk. We popped into a few small art galleries, too.
We all agreed that next time, we’ll plan to stay longer and do more.
Home again. Drove straight through from Lévis to Halifax.
Raining all day here in Halifax. Unpacking, being slothful, bracing ourselves for the return to work tomorrow.
I think I remembered everything. I think.
No wonder I’m sleepy today.