Saturday, July 31, 2004

Niagara Falls Travelogue

As promised, here is the post on our trip to Niagara Falls. As I said, overall it was a wonderful trip, but we probably could have come home on Thursday - I think we were all ready - but, lesson learned. Here's the day-by-day play-by-play:

Sunday, July 18

We hit the road around 9am, but we couldn't seem to get in a good road trip rhythm. We hit the McDonald's drive-thru before breakfast ended at 10:30am, then a bathroom break for M. somewhere else along the way. We had just cruised through Williamsport around 1pm when H. started getting fussy. Thinking she was getting hungry for lunch, we started looking for a place to stop when - blah! - carsickness! Our poor little H. We had to pull over on the side of the road in the rain and change all of her clothes. The carseat was also affected, so I took the pillowcase off my pillow and used it as a cover for it. She was fine for the rest of the ride after that incident, but I think my new-car smell is gone. H. was actually fine for most of the time in the car, thanks to the portable TV/VCR we borrowed from my parents. It was six hours of Barney, with a little Teletubbies thrown in for good measure, and she was occupied.

Just before getting on I-90 outside of Buffalo, M. decides maybe we should ride by the dragway that's in the area, "just to see what it looks like." After some scrambling with the map, I got us there via a detour through the Buffalo suburbs. I think this was the long way, but the last-minuteness of it all threw me off. We did a drive-by and there wasn't much to see. It was kind of a run-down track and they don't race on Sundays. So we finally got on I-90, only to get stuck in a traffic jam to pay a 15-cent toll on the NY Thruway. We burned way more than 15 cents worth of gas waiting in line for a half hour! We crossed the border into Canada without any problems, then proceeded to get stuck in another traffic jam trying to drive the two miles to the hotel. As we found out later, the directions from the hotel website take you the long way. The other problem was that the hotel was in the heart of the tourist district and there were fireworks over the falls Sunday night, so the placed was packed. The only thing I can think to compare it to is the Ocean City (MD) boardwalk on a Saturday night. But we finally made it to the Quality Inn Clifton Hill and checked in. We unloaded the car, then went to get our first unobstructed view of Niagara Falls, just as they were being illuminated for the evening. Very impressive! Then we dined at the Hard Rock Cafe, which may not have been the best choice after our long day. H. was a little overstimulated by all the music and people and barely ate any dinner. That was the first and last night we bought her her own meal from the children's menu - another lesson learned. She ate off of my plate the rest of the trip.

Monday, July 19

Monday dawned a little gray, but not raining, so after a hearty buffet breakfast at the Golden Griddle (which was part of the hotel complex), we walked down to ride the Maid of the Mist. (Our hotel was in a great location - we could walk to most of the major attractions and restaurants.) I had been to Niagara Falls when I was ten years old and one of the few things I remember about the trip was riding the Maid of the Mist and having to wear these smelly rubber raincoats that I'm sure thousands of people had worn before me. Well, welcome to the modern age. Twenty-two years later, visitors are now provided with disposable plastic raincoats. There was even a child size for H. The boat ride was very fun. We laughed the whole time and got soaked. H. wasn't afraid at all, even when the boat was rocking back and forth right next to the falls. She just kept saying, "It's raining, it's raining."

After drying off, we caught the PeopleMover shuttle to go a few miles north to the Botanical Gardens and Butterfly Conservatory. We thought H. would enjoy this, since she loves insects of any kind. But we had to keep her in the stroller most of the time while in the Conservatory because she would try to catch the butterflies (and maim them in the process).

We ate lunch there, too, then headed back to the hotel. After a nap (for all of us), we went to the swimming pool, which I think was H's favorite part of the trip. The outdoor pool was nice, with a big pool and a kiddie pool, both with cool dragon slides. H. got right on the baby slide without even blinking and went down it about a hundred times while we were there.

Dinner Monday night was at the Rainforest Cafe, which I thought H. would like more than she did. She liked the snake in the gift shop, of all things, but not the elephants or gorillas. And thunder is another new word she's added to her vocabulary.

We pretty much followed this schedule for the rest of the week. We would leave the hotel around 9am for activities or sightseeing, then return after lunch for a nap, then a swim in the pool and dinner out. It worked well for trying to keep H. on some kind of schedule.

Tuesday, July 20

On Tuesday we went over the state park on the New York side of the falls, which I thought would be full of trash, graffitti and god knows what else, based on the "the Canadian side is much better than the US side" adage we heard from everyone and from things I had read, too. But the state park area was very nice. It was clean and safe and there was quite a bit to see there. We went to the visitor's center, then walked to both Prospect Point and Goat Island for up-close views of the falls.

We saw plenty of rangers and other park personnel throughout the park and I was rather impressed with it all. I think the US side has made a lot of changes over the years, but hasn't been able to shake the reputation yet. Plus, my overall observation was that there wasn't much to do on the US side in terms of entertainment. We saw plenty of hotels near the falls and the casino, but very few restaurants or shopping choices. Those were definitely all in Clifton Hill.

After the park, we went to the Power Vista Power Plant a little ways up the river for a tour. This was one of the things I picked to do because I thought M. would like it, but I really liked it, too. We practically had the whole place to ourselves and it was very informative. And there was plenty of room for H. to run around instead of being stuck in the stroller.

We were stuck in the indoor pool in the afternoon because of thunder, althought it never actually rained, then we went to dinner at Applebee's, which was uncrowded (yeah!). Afterwards, I went to exchange money at the casino (I had read that they gave a good exchange rate) and the guard at the door made my night. M. stayed outside with H. while I went in and before entering the casino floor, the guard asked, "Age, please?" I said 32 and he said, "Really?" I laughed and said, "Yes, but thank you for asking!"

Wednesday, July 21

On Wednesday we went back and forth across the border several times. We drove to the Buffalo suburbs to visit the Fisher-Price Toystore, based on Wendy's recommendation. I was in heaven! I bought H. a bunch of Christmas presents, plus a new toy for her to play with now. I could have stayed there for hours. There's a toy museum next door, with exhibits featuring the old version of the Little People (oh, how I wish I still had them!), along with other old wooden toys and classic Barbies. I bought two Raggedy Ann items in the gift shop (they were on sale).

In keeping with the children's theme of the day, we went to Explore and More, which H. absolutely loved, of course. She could have spent all day there! But we stayed for a couple of hours, enough time for her to try all of the stations. And I found out from my sister Ness that there's one in Gettysburg, so we'll definitely have to make a trip to that one (and it's inexpensive, too!).

We came back across the border for nap and pool time, then went across again in the evening to the towns of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, which straddle the Erie Canal. They were having their annual CanalFest the week we were there and on Wednesday night there was a car show.

It was a beautiful area, with all these boats out on the canal, but let me tell you. I have been to a lot of festivals and carnivals in my day and I have never seen anything this crowded (the picture doesn't begin to show how crowded it was out on the closed streets). It was wall-to-wall people, which made it somewhat less enjoyable. But we got some dinner and looked at all the cars, then sat by the canal for awhile to watch the boats and listen to music.

Thursday, July 22

As I said earlier, I think we were all ready to go home on Thursday, so it was a quiet day. We drove up to Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is north of Niagara Falls, right where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario.

It was beautiful! Lots of Victorian B&Bs and quaint shops, bike and walking paths along the river and spectacular scenery. I told M. I'd like to go back there some day for a long weekend, just the two of us. We didn't visit either of the historic forts in the area, just drove by them, but just the drive was pretty enough.

One last visit to the pool, then we just ordered pizza to eat in our room while packing up.

Friday, July 23

Home Sweet Home. We left around 8am and made it home by 3:30pm. An uneventful ride home, thank goodness. H. couldn't wait to visit her little friend, Jenna, up the street, and we gave her the Nemo fish hat we had bought for her. And we gave Jenna's mom a little thank you gift for watering our hanging baskets (although she said she only had to water them twice - it rained every other day while we were gone).

So it was a great first family vacation for the three of us. I'm already looking forward to planning the next one. Where can we go next year??

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

"Lite," Adult Contemporary, Easy Listening, Whatever You Want to Call It...

I've been listening to the local "lite" station on the radio while at work this week. It seems the radio on my desk will only tune in to few stations now (was someone messing with it while I was on vacation?) and this one was the most tolerable. However, by the third day, it's getting a little stale. The general rotation each hour appears to be:
  • Celine Dion
  • Elton John
  • Whitney Houston
  • Elton John
  • Movie soundtrack theme song
  • Elton John
  • Billy Joel
  • Elton John
  • something from the '70s
  • Elton John
  • Journey (which I've actually enjoyed. I need to break out my Journey Greatest Hits CD.)
  • Elton John
  • Lionel Ritchie
  • Elton John
  • Country cross-over ballad
  • Elton John
  • Gloria Estefan

I think you get the picture. I'll be purchasing a new radio for my desk over the weekend.

Back from Beyond

No, I didn't drop off the face of the Earth. We were on our first family vacation last week and I'm still recovering. M. and I took H. to Niagara Falls from Sunday through Friday and overall it was a wonderful trip. I'm currently in the middle of writing a massive entry about it, which I hope to have posted by Friday, with pictures (which are the hold-up, of course). So things should return to normal around here soon!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Operation Gatorbait

Large quantities of bread and marshmallows were seized as evidence.

Via the NPS Morning Report

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Happy Fourth (On the Sixth)

Yet another busy weekend! Is it time for vacation yet? We had a wedding to go to on Sunday night, believe it or not, so Sunday during the day was kind of a wasted day. M. and I were going to take H. swimming at her Mimi's house, but it was overcast and cloudy all day and we thought it was going to rain at any minute. Well, it never really rained, then it was time to get ready for the wedding, a "black tie optional" affair at 6:15 in the evening.

The wedding was beautiful, once of the best ones we've ever been to. It was a traditional Jewish wedding, but very personal to the bride and groom. The bride was Na's older sister and her groom was someone she knew from her days as a camp counselor who suddenly became more than a friend. The wedding party was small and included a groom's maid. I know this is more common nowadays, but this was the first wedding we had been to that had one. Na and Henry both looked wonderful in their formal attire and everyone was beaming.

At the beginning of the reception, they showed a slide show/video with baby pictures of both the bride and groom, then included video of Alicia getting ready that morning, as well as footage from the actual ceremony. Too cool! When the groom works for IBM, you have connections.

We didn't get home until after midnight, a late night for us. Mimi watched H. for us, but we brought her home with us instead of having her spend the night. I don't know why we didn't, because M. went back to his mom's the next day to take H. swimming. He was the babysitter for the afternoon while I went to the Orioles' game.

I had won the company tickets at work for the day. There were four tickets, but M. didn't want to go. (I believe his exact words were, "I'd rather go to the Wiggles concert than sit through a baseball game.") He likes all sports except for baseball. Na was still busy with wedding activities (an after-wedding brunch before the couple left on their honeymoon), so Wendy & Shane & I went. The seats were awesome - box seats just past first base, about ten rows back from the field. The only bad thing was the heat - game time temp was 94 degrees. But it was a good game - the O's actually won - and we enjoyed some Boog's pit beef sandwiches and stuck it out until the end of the game. It had been several years since I had gone to a game, probably the longest dry spell of my life, so it was nice to go back and enjoy a game. (The dry spell is a long story, but for those of you who don't know it, I used to be a huge Orioles' fan, went to tons of games every year, and worked at Oriole Park while I was in college. Then came the MLB strike of 1994 and I was one of the fans they lost and never really regained.) It felt good to get excited about baseball again and it felt good to hang out with my friends for awhile and it felt good to do the wave with 30,000 other people. All in all, a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Mike Krzyzewski has decided to stay. And in doing so, Coach K has proved himself to be a class act once again. Just read these comments about why he chose to stay at Duke instead of being lured away to the NBA. Most coaches would just have seen the dollar signs and not looked at anything else. He's one of the main reasons I've been a Duke fan for over 15 years.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Movie Meme

Passing along this meme from Natalie. Bold the titles you've seen, add an underline if you own it, then add three more titles that aren't listed at the end. Let it be said that I do not own a lot of movies and the ones I have bought recently have been kid videos or DVDs. And thanks to the vagaries of cable, there are quite a few movies on this list that I've seen good portions of, but have not actually seen the whole movie. So I was being honest when I didn't bold "The American President," "Die Hard" and others.

01. Trainspotting
02. Shrek
03. M
04. Dogma
05. Strictly Ballroom
06. The Princess Bride
07. Love Actually
08. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings
09. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
10. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
11. Reservoir Dogs
12. Desperado
13. Swordfish
14. Kill Bill Vol. 1
15. Donnie Darko
16. Spirited Away
17. Better Than Sex
18. Sleepy Hollow
19. Pirates of the Caribbean
20. The Eye
21. Requiem for a Dream
22. Dawn of the Dead The original.
23. The Pillow Book
24. The Italian Job
25. The Goonies
26. Basketball
27. The Spice Girls Movie (Spice World)
28. Army of Darkness
29. The Color Purple
30. The Safety of Objects
31. Can't Hardly Wait
32. Mystic Pizza

33. Finding Nemo (Yes, I own this, but have not actually seen it.)
34. Monsters Inc.
35. Circle of Friends
36. Mary Poppins

37. The Bourne Identity
38. Forrest Gump
39. A Clockwork Orange
40. Kindergarten Cop
41. On The Line
42. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
43. Final Destination
44. Sorority Boys
45. Urban Legend
46. Cheaper by the Dozen The original.
47. Fierce Creatures
48. Dude, Where's My Car
49. Ladyhawke
50. Ghostbusters
51. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

52. Back to the Future
53. An Affair To Remember
54. Somewhere In Time
55. North By Northwest
56. Moulin Rouge
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
58. The Wizard of Oz
59. Zoolander
60. A Walk to Remember
61. Chicago (It's on my wishlist)
62. Vanilla Sky
63. The Sweetest Thing
64. Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead
65. The Nightmare Before Christmas
66. Chasing Amy
67. Edward Scissorhands
68. Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert
69. Muriel's Wedding
70. Croupier
71. Blade Runner
72. Cruel Intentions
73. Ocean's Eleven (the remake, since it didn’t specify)
74. Magnolia
75. Fight Club
76. Beauty and The Beast

77. Much Ado About Nothing
78. Dirty Dancing
79. Gladiator
80. Ever After
81. Braveheart
82. What Lies Beneath
83. Regarding Henry
(My least favorite Harrison Ford movie, in case you were wondering.)
84. The Dark Crystal
85. Star Wars
86. The Birds
87. Beaches

88. Cujo
89. Maid In Manhattan
90. Labyrinth
91. Thoroughly Modern Millie
92. His Girl Friday
93. Chocolat
94. Independence Day
95. Singing in the Rain
96. Big Fish
97. The Thomas Crown Affair (the remake)
98. The Matrix
99. Stargate
100. A Hard Day's Night
101. About A Boy
102. Jurassic Park
103. Life of Brian
104. Dune
105. Help!
106. Grease
107. Newsies
108. Gone With The Wind
109. School of Rock

110. TOMMY
111. Yellow Submarine
112. From Hell
113. Benny & Joon
114. Amelie
115. Bridget Jones' Diary
116. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
117. Heavenly Creatures
118. All About Eve
119. The Outsiders
120. Airplane!

121. The Sorcerer
122. The Crying Game
123. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
124. Slap Her, She's French
125. Amadeus
126. Tommy Boy
127. Aladdin
128. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

129. Snatch
130. American History X
131. Jack and Sarah
132. Monkey Bone
133. Rocky Horror Picture Show
134. Kate and Leopold
135. Interview with the Vampire
136. Underworld
137. Truly, Madly, Deeply
138. Tank Girl
139. Boondock Saints
140. Blow Dry
141. Titanic
142. Good Morning Vietnam
143. Save the Last Dance
144. Lost in Translation
145. Willow
146. Legend
147. Van Helsing
148. Troy
149. Nine Girls and a Ghost
150. A Knight's Tale
151. Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
152. Beetlejuice
153. E.T. (My very first DVD)
154. Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone
155. Spaceballs
156. Young Frankenstein
157. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
158. American President
159. Bad Boys (Which one? Will Smith or Sean Penn? I’ve seen both.)
160. Pecker
161. Pink Floyd: The Wall
161. X-Men
162. Sidewalks of New York
163. The Children of Dune
164. Beyond Borders
165. Life Is Beautiful
166. Good Will Hunting
167. Run Lola Run
168. Blazing Saddles
169. Caligula
170. The Transporter
171. Better Off Dead
172. The Abyss
173. Almost Famous
174. The Red Violin
175. Contact
176. Stand and Deliver
177. Clueless

178. William Shakespeare's Romeo+Juliet
179. Dangerous Liaisons
180. I Am Sam
181. The Usual Suspects
182. U-571
183. Capricorn One
184. The Little Shop of Horrors (the one with Jack Nicholson)
185. Die Hard
186. The Flamingo Kid
187. Night of the Comet
188. Point Break
189. Chatterbox
190. Secretary
191. Breakfast at Tiffany's
192. American Beauty
193. Pulp Fiction
194. What About Bob

My additions:
195. Sixteen Candles
196. Under the Tuscan Sun
197. The Parent Trap (the original)