We did manage to leave in the afternoon as planned, so things were looking up for the beginning of the Grand Adventure. We arrived in Lexington at my Aunt and Uncle's home at about 9 pm. Aunt Mattie and Uncle Frank live on a horse farm where they breed and board Thoroughbred horses. (This is not something they've always done, but that's a story for some other time.) We all love going there; it's a mini-vacation in itself just to visit! They were unable to be there for this visit, so we had their huge house to ourselves. They left lots of junk food for the kids to snack on, along with lots of goodies for breakfast. Although we were disappointed to miss Mattie and Frank, it was a fun way to begin the trip!
Wednesday May 17- Niagara Falls, Ontario
We headed north toward Niagara Falls. The internet directions said to go around Cleveland, but John said he had never been to Cleveland and he was determined to go. He called a family member to see if she could find a neat place to eat on the internet. After a good bit of research (this is Cleveland, after all) she said there was a great historic place downtown called the Arcade that was built by Rockefeller and had shops and restaurants, etc. As we drove into Cleveland, we saw people swatting at bugs, millions and millions of these little mosquito-looking things. And lots of boarded up buildings. We asked several people where the Arcade was, and everyone gave different directions. We finally found it, parked and tramped through the front door at 3:50... 10 minutes before it closed. We did have a choice of restaurants- Arthur Treacher's (fast food seafood), fast food Chinese, and a fast food sub place. Sigh. We ate subs. The good news? It was double punch day and we received a free Philly Cheesesteak. Bugs, boards and very fast Fast Food... The consensus is that Cleveland deserves its reputation as the armpit of the universe.
The weather was beautiful all day and the van only made unhappy sounds occasionally. We tried not to worry about it. As we reached Canada around dusk, the rain began. There are two parts to Niagara Falls- the ritzy expensive area with gorgeous botanical gardens and fabulous views of the Falls, and the cheesy touristy area a la Gatlinburg. Guess where we stayed? We were just a short jaunt to the Falls, so we put the kids in ponchos and walked down to see them (they light them up with colored lights at night) before we went to play at an Arcade (a real arcade). We ate a really late supper at an exorbitantly expensive Ruby Tuesday, went back to the hotel and crashed.
Thursday May 18- Albany, NY
Still rainy. But the plan for the morning was to get wet anyway, so it didn't matter. We were on the first boat out to the Falls, the Maid of the Mist, where they give you ponchos and take you right up to them. The American Falls are nice, but the Canadian Falls are incredible and it is truly an awesome experience to be surrounded on three sides by walls of roaring, rushing water. After we got back, Nathanael said, "But I wanted the boat to go under the falls!" Can't please everyone, I guess. After warm showers, we stopped for souvenirs and waffle cones before heading on our journey.
It rained all the way to Albany, but it was neat to follow the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany. We got to Albany in enough time to let the kids play in a park-like area behind the hotel and for Becca to take a slide through dog poop. We cleaned up and went to eat at Buca di Beppo, a family style Italian restaurant, where you order the food in family-size platters and the decor is the shmaltziest Italian you've ever seen. The kids loved it! The van continued to freak out occasionally, but always returned to normal. We continued to hope for the best.
Friday May 19- Framingham, MA
Today was supposed to be a quick drive to Boston, just 2 1/2 hours, but there was an accident on the Massachusetts Turnpike involving a methane truck, and our quick trip became a day-long ordeal. And the transmission on the van finally gave out. What a day. Ok, there was good news... We had to get off the Turnpike several exits early and take alternate routes through the most picturesque towns you've ever seen. And we didn't lose all of our transmission (yet), just third gear, causing us to all hold our breath every time we had to climb one of the frequent hills in the area. We were feeling thankful that we made it all the way to Framingham, our destination just outside of Boston. We arrived at 5:00, just enough time to frantically try on tuxes for the wedding tomorrow and dress for the rehearsal dinner at 7:00. What a day.
Saturday May 20- The Wedding
We are staying at a Residence Inn and are happy for the space, the indoor pool and the hot breakfast. After breakfast, Aunt Laurie and I took the kids and their cousin Hannah to the pool while we did laundry, and John and Uncle Mike found a transmission shop for the van and a rental vehicle. We were thankful to at least have made it to Boston, where we were planning on staying for a few days anyway, and where there are multiple options for our fix-it needs.
The city of Framingham is beautiful, with huge water reservoirs everywhere and quaint colonial churches and saltbox homes. It's enough to make you want to take up painting even if you are not an artist! John finally figured out why the Massachusetts Turnpike is so pretty too: no billboards. Just miles of trees, reservoirs and rolling hills. Just gorgeous.
Philip and Ben are Ringbearers in Uncle David's wedding and John is a groomsman, so they had to head over to the Country Club at 3 pm. Laurie and I took the other kids and Great Grandma and Grandpa an hour later, where we sat around waiting for pictures until the wedding at 6:30. The wedding was beautiful and lots of fun. We ate and danced all night. Somewhere deep within the recesses of our gene pool, the kids all found The Dance Gene. Becca is a dancing machine! She is lots of fun to watch. Philip has some fantastically fancy footwork; Ben has rhythm and cool moves; and Nathanael just likes to spin around. John Mark will only line dance, or occasionally walk across the dance floor like an Egyptian. The party ended at midnight and we were all glad to flop into bed. I got some great pictures, which I'll try to post some time.
Sunday May 21
Grandma and Grandpa came over for breakfast and then we went swimming and took naps. It feels like we have been traveling for weeks already! We ate a late lunch with Grandma and Grandpa at Union Oyster House in Boston, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the country. It was a really neat place and the seafood was yummy!
Across from the restaurant, there was a memorial plaza dedicated to the millions of people who died in the Holocaust. There were six tall glass monuments, each with four sides that you could walk through, and each monument represented of one of the Nazi concentration camps. Each monument was about five stories high and each glass wall was etched from top to bottom with millions of the numbers that had been tattooed onto the prisoners. As you walked through each monument, steam rose from gratings in the ground, representing the gas chambers. It was definitely a somber experience, akin to what I felt when we visited Ground Zero in NYC.
Grandma and Grandpa are off to other parts of the country now and we are free of family obligations and are on our own again. Tomorrow John has to go back to the transmission place to talk to the mechanic before he begins work (and hopefully they will be able to tell exactly what is wrong with it) and also exchange this rental car, a Pacifica which is woefully inadequate for our family, for a larger vehicle. We are moving to a hotel in Cambridge tomorrow night so we can get to the attractions in Boston a little easier, and then we are heading to Plymouth for two nights. We are praying that the van can be fixed by the time we need to leave Plymouth, since it is only an hour away. This is definitely becoming a trip to remember!