Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer Days.... Drifting Away!

I always dread the week after 4th of July.  For some reason, passing that "milestone" of summer and landing in mid-July seems to make the days go by faster as we barrel towards August and getting back to the normal daily grind that the school year brings with it.  

We can't stop summer from slowing down, so we're living it up.  

Life lately and some of my favorite pictures from the past few weeks...

Day #25 of summer - Free slurpies on 7-11 day!

Day #27 - My little rock star getting her teeth cleaned and assisting the hygienist!

On Day #30 of our summer vacation, Mimi arrived for a weekend visit.  Within minutes, she was already being bossed around by the princess of the house...

Mimi being forced to run laps around the main level of the house while Georgia times her on Mimi's iPhone!

Since Mimi was in town, Nick and I took advantage and booked ourselves several date nights for the weekend! 

Several years ago, we took a couples cooking class at L'Academie de Cuisine and loved every minute of it.  Nick surprised me with another class for our anniversary this year and he booked it for the weekend my mom would be visiting.

Ready to cook!

Our menu for the night

Rolling out a little dough for our tart

Chopping up our tomatoes and marinating them in basal/garlic/olive oil/salt/pepper

This tart was absolutely amazing - we went home and recreated it the following night.  It's BETTER than pizza!

Our eats from the night!
Top L - Clams casino
Top R - Hangar steak with chimichurri sauce
Bottom L - Roasted new potatoes
Bottom R - Citrus flan

After our class ended, we wandered around downtown Bethesda since it was still 80+ degrees out and a beautiful evening to stroll.

The following morning, Nick headed out for an early tee time/golf date with his buddies while Mimi, Georgia and I hit up a local farm, East Rivendell, to check out their fresh produce.  We love visiting and supporting our local farms...

Georgia riding the tire swing at the farm

On Saturday evening, we headed to the Urbana Carnival for some crazy rides, yummy food and great live music!

There was a special on Saturday evening that included $5 off your tickets if you donated 5 canned goods.  We dug through the pantry and Georgia gladly handed over her cans.  The lady working at the table asked if she could take her picture and asked her name.  It was a few days later that I spotted Georgia's picture on the Greater Urbana Food Bank facebook page...

Our little daredevil wanted to ride ALL the big rides.  Nick took her on her first "adult" ride...

Georgia spotted the roller coaster from across the field.  Unfortunately, she wasn't tall enough to go on alone, but she could ride with an adult.  I attempted to squeeze my legs into the small seat with her and fit uncomfortably.  So Mimi volunteered to squeeze herself in there.  Only one problem.... Mimi doesn't do rides... until now!  My poor mother gets dizzy when she stands up quick, so this was a first for her.  Her quote - "A Mimi has to do what a Mimi has to do!"


My poor mother!  She said the best part was Georgia screaming, "Isn't this fun, Mimi???" the entire time!  Just a warm-up for Disney...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Niagara Falls - Day 2/3...

Day #2 in Niagara Falls was our only scheduled full day in Canada, so we knew that we were going to have to pack in a lot to get everything done before heading home the following day.

As much as we loved our hotel, the breakfast buffet was absolute chaos, as was the elevator situation in the hotel.  Thankfully we were on a lower floor (16) and had access to a separate elevator for floors L-18.  We heard rumors of 30+ minute waits to get an elevator in the morning from the upper floors.  When we arrived at breakfast, the line was wrapped around the entire floor.  Luckily, it moved at a fairly rapid rate.  We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out to the bus stop in front of the hotel.  Georgia loved riding the WEGO bus to our first stop of the day... Hornblower cruises!

I highly recommend hitting up the cruises around mid-morning because there was absolutely no line.  We grabbed our ponchos and jumped on the next boat that pulled up.

Getting ready to head up river!

Waving hello to our American friends across the river touring the American falls

Dry to wet in just a matter of minutes

I can't say that I saw much once we got up close and personal with the Canadian falls.  We were soaked and you could barely talk to the person standing next to you over the roar of the falls.  I did my best to keep Georgia standing and pretty much smothered her with her poncho to keep the hood on her!  In short... we had a blast!  The boat ride is over pretty fast - 20 minutes later and you are back on dry land.

I forgot to mention that Tops the Dino not only made the trip to NY, but this little guy went international with us!!

Dino spotting in Canada

Even though we weren't booked for our White Water Walk until later in the afternoon, we decided to start heading that way in the hopes that we might score an earlier elevator time.  Again, the WEGO buses are fabulous - we jumped on the next bus and headed north.  Upon our arrival, they easily swapped our time and we got into the line to head down.  Amazingly enough, the tiny little elevator was hidden inside a small store along the river's edge.  I can see why they assign you times since only 10 or so people can fit in at a given time.  As old as that elevator appeared, the boardwalk seemed brand new and had an amazing view of the rapids once we emerged below.

We had packed some snacks and lunch for Georgia, so we decided to enjoy the views and have a little picnic riverside before heading back up.  As we waited for the elevators to head back up, we read all about the crazy stunts completed on the river back in the day - people swimming across, walking across on tightropes, people in barrels, etc.  You couldn't pay me to jump into that wild water!!

Although our Adventure Pass didn't include the Whirlpool Aero Car, we decided to check it out since it was just one more bus stop north of our location at the White Water Walk and we were making great time.  Again, we hopped on the bus and headed north and once again we managed to time everything perfectly and minutes later, we were zipping across the river... literally!  Due to a bend in the river, we never left Canada even though it appeared as though we crossed to the other side of the river.

We were so happy we took this little side excursion because it was an amazing way to see the river and the whirlpool below us.  The tour guide commented that the early afternoon was a good time to see the whirlpool because the water level is higher.  Apparently in the morning, water is diverted to the power plant and the water level drops significantly.

Frankly, I couldn't tell how high we were over the river until we returned back to the cliff and watched the next aero car head out on the line.  AHHHH!

We had one last excursion on our Adventure Pass, so we headed back to the Table Rock Centre to watch/experience "Niagara's Fury."  It's difficult to explain - part movie and part interactive experience.  Georgia was very into the cute animated movie, but was not the biggest fan of the second part, which included lots of loud noises, special effects, water spraying at us, etc.  She was also in desperate need of a nap!  So, we headed back to the hotel and we all relaxed for a few hours.  

We woke up to head to our dinner reservations at the Skylon Tower, a revolving restaurant with some fairly amazing views.  Unfortunately, the food was just okay and the wait for our food was quite lengthy (including Georgia's plain pasta noodles).  The price tags were also lengthy, including Georgia's plain pasta noodles.  I will say that the restaurant was receptive and did email me an apology when I emailed them a recap of our experience, including being charged full-price for Georgia's 3 course fixed meal which only included plain pasta noodles since the appetizer and dessert were not allergy safe and no alternatives were offered to us!  Heck, I would have eaten her salad and dessert for the price tag on it.

Thank goodness I had Tops in my purse because he entertained Georgia for the 30+ minutes we waited for her noodles

Since it was a gorgeous night, we took the long way back to the hotel and wandered around Niagara a bit.  We stumbled upon the casino and the gorgeous fountain out front.

My favorite picture from the trip!

Niagara casino
And with that, it was the end of another long day in Canada!  We really loved the city - it's gorgeous.  The weather was perfect for our little trip north - I can't imagine doing all these water/poncho experiences in the cold.  We already started making plans to return with other family who have never had the chance to visit.

Hotel lobby

We were up bright and early the next morning to grab breakfast again before packing up the car and saying goodbye to our hotel.

Finally grabbed a picture of the beautiful lobby ceiling on the way out of the hotel

Before our long drive back to Maryland, we took a short detour to Niagara on the Lake and immediately decided that we needed to return to visit that adorable little town.  We didn't even get out of the car, but I passed enough wineries to know that a return visit is absolutely needed!  If we had another day in Canada, we would have spent it here.

The longest part of our drive home was getting across the border.  We're not quite sure what happened to all the cars in front of us because we were fully prepared for a strip search of the car and ourselves.  However, we were waived through with barely a glance at our passports.  

Back to the USA

Unfortunately, the long drive through Pennsylvania took most of the day, but we arrived home safe and sound later that evening!  

It's always good to be home after a trip.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Niagara Falls - Day 1

After a great few days at the lake in New York, we packed up the car again and headed for the Canadian border for the second segment of our vacation.

After a quick 2-hour drive from Keuka Lake, we reached the border!  OH CANADA....

Our hotel, Embassy Suites, was just a few minutes away from the border and very easy to find.  We selected that hotel due to its location/accessibility to the areas we wanted to explore, the option to have a 2nd room so that Georgia could sleep in her own area, free breakfast, and great reviews on lots of different websites (especially for families).  Upon check-in, we were offered an upgrade to a Presidential Suites (aka - a corner unit) for a very small fee and we jumped at the chance to upgrade our view.  I'd say it was fairly worth it...

The view from Room 1611

It was official... we were never leaving!!!  The view was beyond incredible.  Our room overlooked the Horseshoe Falls (the Canadian/bigger falls) and we could also see the American falls in the distance.  

After a quick change of clothes, we headed out to explore!

First stop.... a closer look at those amazing falls!  Since our hotel was above the falls, we had to take the Incline Railway down to the Table Rock Centre to access the falls.

Photo Courtesy of: St. Catharine's Standard

Fairly certain Georgia would have just ridden the railway all day long and been happy!

The noise is just incredible - you can truly FEEL the power of the falls just walking around the area.

Georgia's favorite part was the perpetual rainbow that always seemed to appear in the mist...

The Table Rock Centre is beautiful and looks brand new (I read that it had an extensive update in 2008).  It has lots of little shops, a food court, and serves as the main welcoming center to the "attractions."

We decided to buy the Adventure Pass (children under the age of 6 are free), which granted us access/tickets to the 4 main attractions:

  • Hornblower Niagara Cruises (Canadian version of Maid of the Mist)
  • Journey Behind the Falls
  • White Water Walk
  • Niagara's Fury
It also gave us a two day pass to the WEGO/bus transportation system, which was highly organized and a great way to get around the city! 

I give the Canadians major props for their organization - everything is a well-oiled machine!  When we bought our tickets, they booked us times for the tour behind the falls, the Fury experience, and the walking tour since they all require elevator times to get to certain parts of the falls.  If we showed up early, they were easily able to swap us into an earlier time slot without any trouble.

Since we had a few hours of daylight left, we decided to knock off one attraction and do the Journey Behind the Falls.  

Looking like a little tourist and ready for some action!

Niagara Falls is very Disney-esque in their lines/queue system.  At our designated time, we waited above in the visitor's center until we were brought into a different section to wait for a few minutes.  At this point, we were all given bright yellow ponchos and entered into another long line that constantly inched forward.  BUT, we weren't quite there yet, as we still had to wait for our elevator to take us down behind the falls.  Georgia loved wearing her "trash bag" and she waited patiently (as patient as a 4 year-old can be!).

Once the elevators opened down below, the sound and the vibrations were amazing.  

It's so cool to be down on the level of the falls to be able to see how BIG they really are and how much water is coming over the falls every second!

Checking out the falls and the American Maid of the Mist boat approaching the falls

After coming back up to street level, we decided to walk to the Clifton Hill neighborhood of Niagara Falls for dinner.  It was about a 1/2 mile walk along the main Niagara Parkway and we had great views of the falls the entire time.  We were thankful that we remembered to pack our small umbrella stroller so that we could just push Georgia since it was a decent walk and partially uphill.

Views from our walk

The Clifton Hill neighborhood has a real tourist/beach feel to it - tons of restaurants, ice cream/fudge stores, fun museums, mini-golf, etc.  We decided to grab a bite at the Rainforest Cafe knowing that they are fairly good with food allergies and I had NO desire to visit the ER in Canada!!  We quickly learned that the Canadians take food allergies VERY seriously.  I'm not sure whether it was reassuring or has just made me more worried about eating out in America.  At first, the only safe thing for Georgia to eat was a plain hamburger (no bun, since they couldn't guarantee it was safe).  But I was able to request some french fries, since she is okay with baked diary.  

Georgia requested a ride on the Skywheel!

Great views of the falls from the top of the very, very, very high ferris wheel.  Georgia loved it - I was a tad apprehensive!

We also had a great view of the neighboring mini-golf course and their gigantic volcano during our spin on the wheel!

We also found Tops the Dino's long lost relatives...

Since it was a long day, we decided to head back to our hotel to crash and prep for another long day exploring the falls.  I was so impressed with the landscaping in the city - beautiful gardens and flowers everywhere...

As we were walking back, the lights that illuminate the falls were firing up for the night...

Whew - what a first day and we had only been in Niagara Falls for an afternoon and evening!  We made our way back to the Table Rock Centre and took up the railway incline to get back to our hotel.  From our room, we had a great view of the falls at night...

American falls to the left; Canadian falls to the center/right