Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Flying Vacation 2017 - Stop 3

Last week, I posted an overview of my recent flying vacation and recapped the first two stops of the trip.  Today, I'm continuing on by recapping the third stop of our trip - which also happened to be our first international private flight!

Saturday, August 5th - Depart Mackinac Island Airport, Mackinac Island MI
                                     Arrive John C. Murno Airport, Hamilton ON Canada
                                     Flight time - about 2 hours
                                     Hotel for 2 nights, Hampton Inn Brantford
                                     Rental car secured for ease of local transport

Let's see ... last we talked, my son and I were snoozing in the back seat of the plane, totally missing our chance to sing "Oh Canada" in a round as we crossed the international border.

Yep, sounds right.

Thanks to naps all around (well, not my husband of course), our flight from Mackinac Island into Canada was uneventful and passed relatively quickly.  Before I knew it, we were on the ground in Hamilton, Ontario.  Of course, we weren't OUT of the plane yet ... but that's another story.

By the way, I know customs has to be pretty dry so as to keep an air of professionalism but ... man.  When people are traveling with a kid and it's the kid's first international trip, which the parents are obviously excited about, btw ... show a little bit of personality, eh?

Yes, I said eh.  We're talking Canada now, eh?  We're supposed to use that word.

With customs officially cleared, we were finally able to get out of the plane and stretch our legs, which despite all the walking we did earlier in the day at Mackinac ... stretching and standing again felt amazingly good.

After unloading the plane again, my husband journeyed out to pick up our rental car while my son and I toddled around the airport lounge wasting time.  Oh!  I guess I should mention, about a week before this trip my son finally started walking - hooray!

Not too long after going to get the car, my husband was back, and we loaded up to take the car to our hotel.  Which I should mention, our hotel was located in the beautifully aesthetic town of Brantford.  (That's sarcasm, folks).

At least we were just down the road from the Ferrero plant.  So there's that.

If only they offered public tours.  Or a factory store.  Or a chance to swim in their vat of nutella. 

Yes, I grew up watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Can you tell?

With our hotel room ready, we checked in and dropped off our luggage ... and promptly realized we had little to nothing on the agenda for the rest of the day.  I don't recall exactly what we did to help burn off an evening, but I think part of it included getting some snacks and other refreshments for our hotel room and driving on a really awesome road.

Since our hotel was marvelously located in the middle of nowhere, and was therefore very quiet, it resulted in a fantastic night's sleep for all of us that evening.  That meant after enjoying our hot breakfast included with our room the next morning, we were well rested and ready for our first BIG adventure of our trip: Niagara Falls.

I guess it was a little windy that day, eh?

Since we had a rental car, and our "natural alarm clock" had my husband and I up nice and early, the three of us took off driving to Niagara around 8 in the morning.  This had us arriving at around 9 in the morning - right around the time that most tourists are still waking up at their hotels and having their first coffee of the day.  While there was a small crowd of Asian tourists at the main viewing park of the falls (basically the street level access point on the Canadian side), my husband and I quickly realized most of the crowd present was not interested or possibly not able to exit Canada ... which meant amazingly beautiful viewing of the falls, tourist free, on the walking trail headed towards the Rainbow Bridge - which is the pedestrian bridge servicing the US/Canadian border.

Overall, I'd estimate we walked maybe 1.5 miles or so from where we parked our car (in what I'll call the tourist trap surface lot on the Canadian side) and were already at the US border.  That's how easy it is to go between the US and Canada at Niagara.  Here's a little map to demonstrate where we parked, and our walking route.

FYI - there's actually a pedestrian foot path that takes you past a Canadian duty free liquor shop, and right up to the walkway on the bridge.  Just be sure that you have your passport with you before you exit the doors on the Canadian side ... and bring yourself fifty cents to pay the exit fee (yes, the US wants to collect two quarters from every person who walks onto "their side" of the bridge ... sigh ... Canada didn't ask for that in return ... ).

Loose change aside, I highly recommend taking this walk - for two reasons, really. 

First of all, you get spectacular views of the falls from the bridge.  And with fairly few tourists coming and going, you are pretty much guaranteed a clean portrait in front of the falls if you desire it.

Second, it is actually quite interesting to see the falls from both the Canadian and US sides.  While the Canadian side offers the panoramic viewing of the falls (as per my two photos above), you are actually in a pretty non descript park that is packed with tourists and, sad to say, the area surrounding is somewhat dumpy.  Whereas, on the US side you don't get to see the falls as well, but the area surrounding the falls has a beautiful park area and visitor's center, and it's actually kind of cool to see the rapids building up to the falls and the spray that forms ... with accompanying rainbows, of course.

I'm sure some people will wonder if I took the boat ride to the bottom of the falls, or if I saw the falls backlit a night.


The answer to both of these questions, unfortunately, is no.  Having a young child and not staying nearby the falls themselves, we knew going into this visit that it would be a daytime walking trip only. 

I suppose we could have explored the boating option, but at $30 or something per person, and not knowing how patient my son would be for the duration of the charter ... it didn't seem worth the investment.  Regardless, I don't feel short changed by skipping the boat experience, as I felt I saw plenty of the falls by visiting both sides via foot.

After spending our morning walking the falls and surrounding parks/trails/bridge, we headed back into the tourist area on the Canadian side of the falls and had some lunch.  Since my son has never been to a Rainforest CafĂ©, as exotic as that is (ahem, chain store, ahem), we decided to let him try that restaurant out.  Despite the fact that Rainforest isn't exactly known for good food, I didn't really feel bad eating there, since all the options we passed on our way to and from the car were chains with relatively unhealthy or unappealing options anyway.  No to mention, my son loved the experience of eating there, and couldn't stop dancing to all the Caribbean style music. 

We just won't talk about his response to the twice hourly "thunder storms" ... the second of which didn't go so well once a girl at a nearby table started to cry.  Oh well!  At least my son recovered quickly.

After lunch, we took the 45 minute or so car drive back to our hotel and settled our son in for a nap.  And since our hotel had a pool, we took advantage of that as an afternoon play activity before dinner.

Since Brantford didn't have a lot of interesting dinner options, and being that our hotel room was surprisingly upgraded to a kitchenette suite, we opted to spend our evening cooking a meal in our room.  Which basically wrapped up for first full day in Canada, and brings us into day two - Toronto.

When originally started thinking about a potential trip to Niagara, we didn't realize that August 7th was a national holiday in Canada.  And a pretty big one at that, since it's like the Canadian equivalent of July 4th in the US.  So, on the second full day of our visit to Canada, we weren't quite sure what to expect, especially in a bigger city like Toronto.  Would shops be closed?  Would most tourist type activities be unavailable?

Hedging our bets, we decided to plan our visit to Toronto a little differently by avoiding traditional touristy type activities, and also opted for an early start into the city to hopefully beat the holiday rush / increased automobile traffic. 

This plan worked great, as we were one of the only cars parked in the lot when we arrived, and the lot was in a fantastically central location to our chosen activity of the day - Toronto Island Park.

I will warn you, the parking we chose wasn't cheap at around $20 Canadian per car.  But what big city ever has cheap parking downtown?  None that I know, that's for sure!

From the lot where we parked to the ferry, it was about a 1-2 block walk.  Super convenient!  Within minutes of parking, we had already paid our $7 Canadian per adult to board the ferry, and were off on our adventure to Toronto Island Park.

For those of you unfamiliar with Toronto Island Park, a brief overview of the park goes like this:

(1) The park is only accessible by boat, with public ferry being the easiest method of transport.  If you ride the ferry, there are three points of entry to the park - Centre, Hanlan's and Ward's.

(2) The islands are all connected, and if you walk from one end to the other of the entire park it's about a 5K distance. 

(3) Once inside, there are asphalt paved trails throughout the entire park suitable for running / walking / strollers / bikes / etc. 

(4) The park is largely green space with a handful of beaches scattered throughout.  Centre Island does feature some additional amenities, including options for food, a small amusement park, a well manicured garden area, and a large pier looking away from downtown Toronto (the view is out over the lake, which feels like an ocean due to it's vastness).

Since we had no preference as to where to start on the island, and no plan of what we wanted to do, we took the first ferry available which dropped us at Hanlan's Point.  This was actually kind of a fun place to start, since Hanlan's is near the airport, and while we were on the ferry we could watch all the activity on the Toronto Harbor and also see air traffic at the airport as well.

Being it was so early on a holiday, our 9am ferry was fairly empty as was the park itself.  Aside from a handful of teen girls who quickly departed from the ferry, and a few occasional bikers, we didn't see much of anyone on our first mile or so of exploring the island.  Though we did see one particularly entertaining sight:

The majority of our first mile or so of walking (or around 2K, for you Canadian folks), was largely just lake views and green space.

Finally around the 1 or 1.5 mile mark we found a little park area and took a break from our walk.

Since the play equipment at the park wasn't exactly toddler friendly (it was intended for slightly older and more mobile children), after a brief visit we continued on.  It wasn't long until we reached the Centre Pier and nearby gardens.

At this point, after literally taking baby steps on the first half of the island, and after viewing the area around the pier, it was already 11am.  Knowing we were on a limited timeline until our son needed to eat, we opted to skip the remaining walk to the far end of the island and started heading in towards the Centre ferry point.

Along the way we passed the Centre Island amusement park, where I particularly liked the landscaping around the log ride.

I also liked these very interesting tulip sculptures, that were actually chairs.  If you look closely at the far right, you can see someone sitting in one.

Finally, after taking a non direct route to the ferry pier in order to see the entire amusement park and garden areas, we made it to the ferry. 

Since our ticket purchased earlier in the morning included round trip service, we simply boarded and were off.  And of course, it goes without saying, the views on the ride back were spectacular.

As you might guess, based on the slightly overcast look of most of the photos I'm posting from Toronto Island Park, shortly after we departed the ferry it began to rain.  That was pretty unfortunate for us, since we had a bit of a walk to get to our chosen lunch spot of the day - The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro.  At least the rain was manageable, despite our lack of umbrella.  And we saw an interesting sight along the way to lift our dampened spirits.

I don't know.  Don't ask.  But did you notice ... the dogs are all "howling" to a golden bone at the top of the fountain? 

Anyway, our walk in the rain was worth it.  The Works had excellent food and a great assortment of locally brewed taps.  Plus, I got to eat my first authentic Canadian poutine - which I would guess must be fairly authentic given Toronto's proximity to Montreal, and the fact that we had some non English speaking Quebecers at the table behind us.

Yeah, it was good.  I don't care what you think.  (Click on that link, btw, it's worth it)

After lunch, we tried without success to find a Canadian trinket shop to bring home some souvenirs.  I guess due to the holiday they must have mostly been closed.  Oh well, as you can see - we survived.

Being that it was nearing nap time once again, and wanting to avoid holiday traffic leaving Toronto, after lunch we packed up shop and headed back to the hotel again.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Flying Vacation 2017 - Stops 1 & 2

Earlier this week, I posted an overview of my recent flying vacation.  Today, I'm going to start my recap by talking about the first two stops on our trip.

Friday, August 4th - Depart Flying Cloud Airport, Eden Prairie MN
                                 Arrive Delta County Airport, Escanaba MI
                                 Flight time - about 2 hours 30 minutes
                                 Hotel for 1 night, Quality Inn on Lincoln Road

Being that it was a slow day at work on Friday for me, and with vacation on the horizon, I was chomping at the bit to get outta Dodge Eden Prairie.  So, as early as I could on Friday I cut out of the office and headed to daycare to pick up my little boy.

I should add here, by the way, that having a kid and wanting to get out on vacation ASAP after work forces you to be a VERY organized mom.  The night before, I had all our items for the trip neatly stacked just off our kitchen (where the garage entrance is) so my husband could quickly grab everything and go as soon as he was done with work the next day.  This plan worked beautifully; as I was heading out of daycare and to the airport, my husband was already there and beginning to load Bubba up for our trip.

Before we knew it, the plane was fully checked and ready to go!  Bon Voyage!

Part of my advance packing Thursday night included arranging a handful of snacks, cups of milk, and dinner in a mini cooler.  While obviously us adults could deal with a slightly late dinner after landing in Escanaba, for a 15 month old that is a bit hard to do, particularly when your dinner time is usually 4:30 ... or 5pm at the very latest.  I actually didn't mind having to haul along a cooler since eating is easily a 20-30 minute endeavor for my little boy, and equates to a significant amount of mid flight entertainment.  #killingthismomthing

Aside from dinner on board, I was a little challenged with keeping my son happy on this first leg of our trip due to the extended duration of our flight and the general timing (at the half way point of our flight, it was bedtime for him).  I had hoped that maybe he would doze for the second half of the trip and leave me with some time to unwind, but no dice.  Instead, I ended up with a somewhat cranky toddler that I was trying desperately to keep entertained for the last hour of our flight. 

While I had anticipated needing some mid flight diversions, and had packed plenty of toys and books, trying to subdue a tired toddler wasn't something I had anticipated.  Then, add to that some minor turbulence for the last 45 minutes of the flight due to some surrounding inclement weather.

I mean ... it looked cool to see it rain from a distance mid-air, but it was bumpy to go by, unfortunately. 

End result: I'm not proud to admit that after turning sideways for too long trying to keep my son happy, rather than facing forward to best manage my sea sickness during minor turbulence, I became too sick and had to throw in the towel.  For the last 20 minutes of our flight all I could do was hold my son's hand, take deep breaths, and lay back with my eyes closed.

He cried some, but at least I didn't puke.  WINNING!

Once on the ground, and our luggage unloaded, we were all exponentially happier.  To add to our improved situation, the airport had a courtesy car we could borrow for local transport (rather than trying to hail a taxi in a small town ... which doesn't always end up working out).  Plus, there was a Wendy's nearby.  So, shortly after landing we had food in hand and were on our way to our hotel for the night.

Which, I should mention, the hotel was clean and had friendly staff ... but man was it a blast from the past.

Also, I have to admit, I was a little taken aback when the staff greeted us at check in by asking us how many bags of Moose Poop we wanted.

I'm sorry, what?

Apparently, in the UP, Moose Poop is this:

Ok, ok  - dark chocolate over pecans IS pretty tasty but ... maybe not the best opening line for tourists passing through your town, visiting your hotel for the first time.  LOL!

After we checked into the hotel, our evening in Escanaba essentially entailed eating our Wendy's and Moose Poop in our room and calling it a night.  Since the time change caused us to lose an hour, it was almost 9pm by the time we got to our room, and we were all wiped from traveling too.  Our next morning was equally uneventful, as we simply ate the free provided hot breakfast that was included with our room, and then we took off back to the airport.

Oh, wait.  We did make one stop to gas up the courtesy car before we left.

Me "Jesus, we need gas.  Christ, I mean Krist, fill our tank."
My friend, after being texted this photo "Jesus take the wheel!"

I know.  I'm a nerd.  But you have to admit it was pretty funny.

Saturday, August 5th - Depart Delta County Airport, Escanaba MI
                                     Arrive Mackinac Island Airport, Mackinac Island MI
                                     Flight time - about 30 minutes

Flying early in the morning has its benefits.  While the trade off is you have to get up on a Saturday at 6am, the plus is that the air is typically very smooth. 

Having my own natural alarm clock these days (thanks little dude), I don't have much choice on what time I wake up anymore ... so may as well benefit from being up and ready to go!  Around 8am, with full bellies thanks to the hotel breakfast, and a full tank of gas thanks to Jesus Krist, we packed up Bubba and were off again. 

With Escanaba in the UP of MI, our flight this time was very short.  I think it was about 20-30 minutes total.  Soon enough, we were here:

Mackinac Island, by the way, was a totally new experience for me.  And to be honest, I had no idea it existed.  When I learned more about it, I was curious to see what an island that outlawed cars over 100 years ago looked like ... and I was quite surprised.

Um .. horse drawn taxis?  OK, I guess if you outlaw cars you need some sort of transport!  LOL!

Despite the novelty of a horse drawn taxi service, since it was still early in the morning and we figured there wasn't much open on the island yet, we opted to walk into the "downtown" area.  Bonus: we saved the $7 or so per person for the ride. 

The walk from the airport to downtown rang in at a little over a mile, was beautifully green, and also amazingly peaceful.  Sometimes it felt like you were in a fairy tale.

As you neared closer to town, it was even more beautiful.

Somewhere around what I estimated to be the halfway point of our walk (last photo above), we came upon the iconic Grand Hotel.  Not knowing that the side street leading past the hotel was private, we tried to walk through to take in the views of what appeared to be a nearby park.  Whoops.  By simply turning towards this street, not even setting foot on it, we immediately realized this was not allowed.

Two staff members, who were incredibly kind and well spoken, graciously asked us if we were staying at the hotel.  Since obviously we were not, they continued on stating that we were welcome to tour the grounds on foot ourselves ... for a meager $10 fee per person.

Um ... $30 for the three of us to walk down a single city block?  No thanks.  LOL!

But, the staff was kind enough to offer (without our asking) to take a family photo, and allowed me to take a few photos from the sidewalk as well. 



I particularly liked their dress code sign, if you couldn't tell.

By the way, after spending some time downtown later that day, I can't blame the Grand Hotel for trying to keep the tourists out of their private property.  I was amazed by the flood of tourists that came in on the ferry ... it seemed like non stop, and it was literally droves of folks.  So I can understand wanting to avoid that volume of traffic at a resort where people are residing (even if it is temporarily). 

I guess what I'm saying is ... I don't mind the ban from the property ... heh.

Once we passed the Grand Hotel, we began to enter into the "neighborhood" of Mackinac Island, which was filled with beautiful Victorian style homes with immaculate gardening.  Seriously, every house we passed was like a page out of Better Homes & Gardens.  I was amazed.

The things that impress you in your mid to late 30s.  Heh.  #gettingtobeagrandma

Not much beyond the houses, we finally hit the true downtown area, which included a quaint shopping district, a marina, and stunning lake views (of course).


Since we didn't have any kind of agenda, and being somewhat limited having a kid in a stroller, while in downtown Mackinac we spent our time window shopping, buying fudge, and roaming about in public green spaces like you see in the last photo above.  My son was particularly upset just after taking that picture, by the way, because we wouldn't let him swim.  In an area with rolling tides.  On a very rocky shoreline.  With what appeared to be a deep drop off.  In zero degree temperature water.  And where a large sign was posted reading "DANGER: NO SWIMMING".

Yeah, seems like a safe place for toddlers to swim.  *sarcasm*  Good thing I'm the one in charge here.

By the time 11 o'clock was rolling around, it was obvious our son was hungry ... as were literally hundreds of tourists who were filling every possible brunch hot spot in the entire downtown area.  After trying and striking out at a few interesting looking options, we finally settled on a non-descript place that had just opened for lunch service and was still entirely empty.  I don't recall the name of the place, and we only had simple lunch stuff (salads, sandwiches), so I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it anyway.  But the service was good.  By the way, I have a feeling any restaurant you choose in that area would be fine, so I wouldn't fret over where to eat if you visit.

With lunch winding down, my husband and I hit a bit of an impasse: nap time was nearing for our son, and we had no hotel secured until our next stop later that day (Canada).  We debated renting some bikes and a burly stroller to ride the 8 mile trial that circumferences the island, in hopes that our son might nap during the ride.  But, in balancing that against the growing swarm of tourists who were taking over the island as each ferry arrived, we decided that we didn't want to battle the crowds as they continued to grow ... and we had likely seen the highlights of the island, anyway.  Figuring we could always come back another time, and knowing we had a long afternoon ahead of us with our flight into Canada / possible customs inspection, we decided to head back to the airport and prepare to depart.

Once back at the airport, my husband and I were shocked to see how many planes had arrived since we went downtown.  In particular, we were amazed by the ... type ... of planes on the runway.  Let's just say, no one who had arrived was hurting for money.  You know it's impressive when even some of the other pilots are drooling over the planes parked.  One guy in particular wouldn't let his group leave until he saw a particularly fancy jet take off - LOL!

In fact, I think it was that same guy who later, after watching the jet leave, was talking about staying at the Grand Hotel.  His quote was something to the effect of "Yeah, we could stay there again.  It was nice.  But then you have to dress up and that's such a pain in the ass."

I was trying to hold back my snickers so hard that I almost snorted at that one. 

Anyway!  Finally our customs paperwork and flight plan were in order, so we loaded up in the plane Canada bound. 

Luckily for me, my little boy was so exhausted from his morning that he immediately fell asleep.  And ... maybe I did for a minute or two, too.

Which explains why I didn't get to sing "Oh CANADA!!!" as we flew over the international boundary.  Damn it.

More to come on Canada soon!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Flying Vacation 2017 - Overview

Well, well.  It appears that I haven't forgotten about this blog, eh?

Eh?  EH?  That's a little something I picked up in Canada.  You like it, eh?  (More on this later).

So here's the scoop.  The last month or two I've been doing a whole lotta not working out, which means I've been doing a whole lotta nothing worth blogging about.  But since I occasionally use this blog to recap my non-fitness adventures, and since I have nothing else to talk about these days, I thought I might instead post a recap about my most recent summer vacation.  I'm going to call it Flying Vacation 2017.  For obvious reasons:

To back up for a minute - you may recall that my husband has his private pilot's license and we own an (older) Cessna.  That Cessna would be a small four seater plane that we affectionately call Bubba, due to his previous residence in Houston, TX prior to our ownership. 

Yep.  Bubba is a small plane that looks like this:

I know, I know - it's pretty small.  Some people get weirded out by small planes, but honestly, it's not a big deal.

Anyway, ever since Bubba joined our family, my husband has been reading other flight blogs about guys who fly their families around on adventurous vacations. 

And let me tell you ... he has been inspired, ya'll.

I guess that's why I could so easily sell him on doing the South Dakota Volksmarch last October, huh?  I mean, why else would he agree to a 10K hike through the woods for no reason?

So a couple of months ago, we decided to go for it and both submitted time off requests at work (plus a week off at daycare for my little boy), and started "planning".  We didn't have a real exact plan of what we wanted to do on this trip, but our general inspiration was to get to Niagara Falls, since neither of us have been there. 

I say "planning" because small plane flying makes you fair weather reliant.  Therefore, we didn't really start planning any major details of the trip until almost the week prior, when we had a general feel for how weather might shake out.  Eeek - for those of you who know me and my planner nature, this was a little bit scary for me.  And even scarier because neither my husband nor I thought about it being peak tourist season for outdoor/summer vacations.

Oops.  Finding hotel options ... and affordable ones at that, was ... interesting, to say the least. 

Given our last minute situation, and knowing we just had to roll with it, our net result was as follows:

For those of you who aren't cartographers, and for anyone who might want to know our general schedule, the above map lays out as:

Friday, August 4th - Depart Flying Cloud Airport, Eden Prairie MN
                                 Arrive Delta County Airport, Escanaba MI
                                 Flight time - about 2 hours 30 minutes
                                 Hotel for 1 night, Quality Inn on Lincoln Road

Saturday, August 5th - Depart Delta County Airport, Escanaba MI
                                     Arrive Mackinac Island Airport, Mackinac Island MI
                                     Flight time - about 30 minutes

                                     ** Read about August 4-5th here **

Saturday, August 5th - Depart Mackinac Island Airport, Mackinac Island MI
                                     Arrive John C. Murno Airport, Hamilton ON Canada
                                     Flight time - about 2 hours
                                     Hotel for 2 nights, Hampton Inn Brantford
                                     Rental car secured for ease of local transport

Tuesday, August 8th - Depart John C. Murno Airport, Hamilton ON Canada
                                    Waypoint for air navigation purposes Erie PA
                                    Arrive Dayton International Airport, Dayton OH
                                    Flight time - about 2 hours 15 minutes
                                    Hotel for 2 nights, Hampton Inn Vandalia
                                    Rental car secured for ease of local transport

Thursday, August 10th - Depart Dayton International Airport, Dayton OH
                                        Arrive Dane County Airport, Madison WI
                                        Flight time - about 2 hours 15 minutes
                                        Hotel for 2 nights, Hampton Inn off State Street

Saturday, August 12th - Depart Dane County Airport, Madison WI
                                       Arrive Flying Cloud Airport, Eden Prairie MN
                                       Flight time - about 2 hours

So there you have it - a general over view of our trip.  Stay tuned in the next few days for detailed recaps of each stop, and of course, plenty of photos and good stories too.