**Warning - this blog post is a behind-the-scenes look of our vacation. While we did enjoy many touristy activities, landmarks, and sightseeing, you will not read much about those here. These are the nitty gritty, imperfect, non-photographed, memorable moments that made this vacation special. For the bright and sunny touristy pictures, visit my facebook page, or check back later ;o)
We just got back from our first official family vacation. By official, I mean it didn't involve going to stay with family or friends, or attending one of Brian's ophthalmology conferences. We are all completely exhausted, but made a lot of memories! While we hit several bumps along the way, I think those mishaps are what make this trip memorable. We flew into Buffalo, and the three hours on the plane went by pretty quickly and easily. When we got to our Kia Soul rental car, we took one look at it and thought there was no way it was going to work. But, two suitcases, 3 bags, 2 carseats, a double stroller, and 4 people later, everything fit and we were off to Niagara Falls! Both kids were so excited to see the falls. When we got close, Caroline practically leaped out of the stroller trying to point to them and Matthew kept shouting "the falls, the falls!"
Brian and I were pretty pumped about our hotel in Niagara, because we were in the Embassy Suites and could put the kids in a separate room. Knowing that we were going to be together 24/7 for the next 7 days, this was going to be a treat. It was great until about 1:30am when Matthew threw up all over his bed. After changing his clothes and calming him down, I had him sleep in one of the queen beds with me. Then at 4:30am he woke up and threw up all over that bed. So, that meant three of us in the other queen bed. Miraculously Caroline slept through everything, but none of the rest of us got much sleep!
Thankfully Matthew rallied and felt much better the next morning, so we went on the Maid of the Mist and did Journey Behind the Falls. Let me explain to you Matthew's philosophy on wearing the ponchos they give you for these attractions. Maid of the Mist - absolutely did not want anything to do with the poncho. Screamed, cried, threw a complete fit to the point where one of the workers came up and helpfully informed us that most kids under 4 don't enjoy the ponchos. We took that as our cue to give everyone around us relief from the screaming and took it off him. Now, you may be wondering why we even bothered messing with the poncho to start with. Well, Matthew is very particular and really dislikes getting his clothes wet. Fast forward to when we get close to the falls and everyone is getting wet. Matthew, of course, does not like this and decides that the best place for him is underneath my poncho gripping onto my legs and crying. Perfect. (Picture is on the Maid of the Mist. He's still mad about the poncho.) Now we like to think that we learn from previous experience, so when we got the Journey Behind the Falls we didn't even bother with Matthew's poncho. Turns out this was the wrong answer! As soon as we started getting close to the water again, he wanted his poncho. And then he didn't want to take it off! He wore it out of the falls, into the stroller, and we basically had to pry it off of him. Ah, the mind of a 3-year-old.
This whole day, Brian wasn't really feeling that great so after the kids took naps he decided to stay in the hotel and rest for a bit. I thought it would be a great idea to take the kids by myself up in the Skylon Tower. We set out in the stroller, and I got quite the leg workout pushing them up and down the hilly streets. We finally arrive at the ticket counter and I'm a sweaty mess at this point. The girl sells us our tickets, and then very sweetly apologizes and says that the elevator is out. Of course it is. But not to worry, we can hike up the hill and follow the road around to the entrance of the tower. Awesome. The kids did enjoy the tower though, so it was worth the hassle! Matthew is still talking about the yellow elevators.
Thankfully Friday was rather uneventful. Well, except for Brian throwing up that morning. At this point I just assumed that sickness was going to plague us the entire trip. So we traveled to Rochester for my cousin Shannon's wedding. The hotel was great - we were able to check in early, and they already had a crib for Caroline set up and ready in the room. Matthew was the ring bearer in the wedding, so I took him to the rehearsal that evening where he got to meet Payton, the flower girl. They immediately hit it off and he kept referring to her as his best friend. I was very excited about this development, because I thought he'd be more likely to walk down the aisle with her. Then Brian and Caroline joined us for the rehearsal dinner. Matthew and Caroline spent almost the entire time running around and escaping to the walkway outside and running around there. But hey, at least they were happy!
The wedding and the events leading up to it were great. Matthew was an exceptional ring bearer (no bias here) and made it all the way down the aisle all by himself! I left him with the bridesmaids and Payton and told him that he had to walk down the aisle with her, and when he got to me he'd get Skittles. Apparently after I left him he was repeating my instructions to himself "I walk with Payton, I get Skittles". When it was time to walk, Payton said "Let's go Matthew" and took off. I guess she was a little too fast for him because he started running after her saying "Wait for me!" It's a good thing the aisle was quite long and started around the corner, because none of us could see what happened. (I got my info from Shannon.) After the ceremony we took the kids back to the hotel where Shannon had arranged a babysitter for us. A kid-free night, woohoo! Of course Caroline decided to quite literally throw herself on the floor and scream bloody murder. I think I apologized to the sitter like 4 times, then walked out while she was still screaming. Although apparently she stopped about 2 seconds after we left. We had a blast dancing at the reception, and at one point Brian even danced on a chair (see photo evidence). That's right, no kids and we get crazy. Actually, it was part of a game and about 10 other people had to do it too. But it sounds way cooler if I make it sound like he did it voluntarily.
Sunday we made our way back to Canada. We had planned to leave after lunch so the kids would nap in the car. This worked great until we hit the border and had to wait in the customs line for 20 minutes. They both woke up, and quickly reached meltdown levels. We thought it would get better when we started driving again, but no such luck, so we decided to take a quick break and ended up in Grimsby, Canada. There's not much in Grimsby. However, there is a discount grocery store. We happened upon it while we were walking down main street, and decided to go in and get some icecream. Of course we had no spoons or bowls so we bought a box of the Canadian version of drumsticks. Brian thought it would be best if he went back to get the car and picked us up, so Matthew and I sat on the curb outside the grocery store eating our ice cream. We got quite a few strange looks. I'm not sure if people thought we were homeless or just crazy, but we didn't care!
We finally made it to Toronto in time for dinner. We looked up a few restaurants nearby, packed up the kids in the stroller, and walked outside... into a rainstorm. The thought of spending more time in our hotel really didn't sound appealing, so we decided to just go anyway and get a little wet. Caroline and I shared the umbrella, Matthew used the shade on the stroller, and Brian was just manly and got wet. Or as Matthew says, "soaky wet". Thankfully the rain stopped for our walk home. At this point I'm thinking that maybe we're done being sick on this trip since no one had puked or felt sick for two whole days. But, leave it to Caroline. She was up on and off all night crying because she had a fever and was all congested. Finally Brian put her in the bed with him and she slept a few hours.
The Toronto Zoo was on our agenda for our second day in the city. When I asked Matthew what animals he wanted to see, he spouted off about 12, which included the basic giraffe, lion, etc., but he also threw in a random kangaroo and polar bear. Thankfully the Toronto Zoo is huge and actually has both of these animals! It's so fun to go to the zoo with Matthew. He gets ridiculously excited about every animal, and will repeatedly say "let's go find some more animals" when he's ready to move on. Caroline is at the age where she enjoys them too. She points and laughs, and if left up to her own devices would climb right into the exhibits with them! It was kind of chilly when we got there, so Matthew wanted his jacket. Then as the day went on it got warmer, so he requested his sunglasses but didn't want to lose the jacket. He was running all over the discovery center, sweating in his fleece and sunglasses!
Tuesday being our last full day in the city, we decided to forgoe naptime and take our boat tour instead. The boat tour is included with the bus tour, and the boats leave every hour and 15 min. This meant that we had a little over an hour to get from the zoo to the harbour before the next departure. Sounds easy, except the zoo is 30 min outside the city! After missing our turn to get to the harbour, we decided to just park at our hotel and walk. We power walked down to the harbour, and arrived 2 minutes after the boat left! But, turns out another boat company honored our ticket and their next boat left in 15 minutes. Plus, they actually stop at the islands and let you get off for a bit, which was something we had wanted to do but didn't think we'd have time for. It couldn't have worked out better - so thankful God works in the details! We managed to make it to the island without losing any toys, shoes, pacifiers, or children out the window. While the nude beach probably would have been an interesting excursion, we opted for the amusement park with rides for little kids. Matthew was in heaven! He got to ride a train with Daddy, a car with Mommy, and drive a little fire truck all by himself. The whole time he was on the fire truck ride he kept yelling "I'm driving all by myself!"
Our final morning in Toronto was spent at Casa Loma. Casa Loma is a castle that used to be someone's home and is now run as a museum. There were tons of movies filmed there, which I now need to go back and watch again. We were a little concerned about how this was going to go when both kids were running and being pretty loud after 5 minutes. Brian had the genius idea to give Matthew his audio guide. He was completely occupied pushing the buttons and holding it up to his ear. Then we could take turns preventing Caroline from wandering past the barriers into the restricted parts of the rooms - not an easy task! The gardens outside were gorgeous, and Matthew and Caroline were able to get some energy out running around. There may have been a few flower casualties, but I don't think anyone will notice. We ate a picnic lunch there, and headed off to the Buffalo airport with time to spare.
At this point Brian is now feeling feverish and congested, so we really just want to get home. Just for the record: Brian 2 illnesses, Matthew and Caroline 1 illness each, Erika 0. Glad I'm healthy, but it's no fun taking care of all the sickies! So we left Toronto at noon, our flight was at 4:45, it's a 2 1/2 hour drive, plenty of time. Except we stopped to get gas, drove by the falls again, got in the slowest line ever at customs, stopped to get groceries for dinner at the plane, stopped for gas again, and arrived at the airport only an hour before our flight! And of course, there was a line. And for some reason they wouldn't give me a boarding pass until I got to the gate, which of course had another line. But, we made it on our flight, and thankfully the kids did great. I was sure that both kids would fall asleep on the drive home, but only Caroline did. We put Matthew to bed, and at 9:45 I collapsed on the couch. Now I know why people only take vacations once a year!