Sunday, 20 July 2014

Niagara Falls

The drive from Cortland to Niagara Falls was less than 3 hours, so we did it all in one hit.  This was another time we were grateful for our EZ pass, as a lot of the roads through New York State are toll roads.  

This is the view as you drive towards the falls.

We had checked out the restaurant at the falls, and already decided to eat there.  We got to the restaurant about 1pm, and it was heaving, so we decided to go for a little wander and get our first look.

Absolutely breathtaking.  But our tummies were rumbling.  We headed back to the restaurant which had quietened down enough to make our wait for a table only 10 minutes.  We were even able to sit outside on the balcony.  It took a bit of time for our server to come and take our drinks order, paul and I went with a beer each, our first choice they didn't have, so we both had Bud lites.  Oliver and Isaac went with milk, and Seb had an apple juice.  The boys drinks came quickly and we ordered our food.  Oliver had a pizza, and Isaac and Seb both had grilled cheese sandwiches.  Paul and I both went with cheeseburgers.  We sat and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the waterfalls.  The food came before Paul and I had received our beers!!!!  The food was ok, nothing out of this world, but we were hungry.

Top of The Falls Restaurant on Urbanspoon

We finished up and headed back to the Falls.   

Everything we did here is within Niagara Falls state park, Americas oldest national park.  It cost us $10 to park, not too bad. 

There is a trolley that runs between the areas in the park, though we chose not to use it.

Our first stop was Cave of the Winds.  The queue was not too long.  It cost $11 each for paul and I, $8 for Oliver, and Seb and Isaac were free (we discovered that kids under 6 are free in a lot of place). We entered a building to collect our sandals and ponchos, modeled beautifully by the boys.

We went and joined the queue for the elevator, again not to bad, dumping the buggy on the way.  We went down about 10 stories in an elevator, the headed down a tunnel to the bottom of the falls.  First thing that struck me was the smell of the seagulls.  There are tones of them, and it is nesting season, so there wer young everywhere.  Yuck!!!  We got our ponchos on, and Isaac stated freaking out that he didn't want to do it.  We managed to persuade him.  

As you can see, Cave of the Winds is a wooden walkway around the bottom of the falls.  You get wet, hence the shoes and poncho.  The water is cold.  I was exceptionally grateful it was a stupidly hot day.  Isaac freaked a bit more, bu he did enjoy it.

It was very loud and the spray from the falls certainly helped cool us down.  Other than the seagulls this was amazing.  We joined the queue to go back up in the elevator.  We discovered from the guide running the elevator that the tunnel and elevator shaft was carved by hand.  We also found out that the water company restrict the flow of water over the falls to 60%!!!  I can't imagine how loud it would be if it was anymore.  It would probably wash away the wooden structure.

From Cave of the Winds we took a 20 minute walk to where Maid of the Mist was.  The park was a bit busier now, as this is the area the Discovery Centre and Aquarium are.  We purchased our tickets, and headed down the elevator towards the boat.  Again we did not have to wait very long to get on the boat, probably about 15 minutes.  The Maid of the Mist boats have been running for over 100 years.

The boat was fairly empty, and we got a good spot at the top.  We first travelled past the falls we had walked around.  So epic to see them from the base.

We then headed down to horshoe falls, you can see people by the top of them in the photo below.  That's were we started our day.

When you get to the middle of horse shoe falls it is amazing.  There is just walls of falling water all around you.  You get soaked from the spray, and the noise is incredible.

We sat at the base of the falls for probably about 10 minutes,  so amazing.  The whole trip took about 25 minutes in total, well worth the 40 odd bucks it cost.  We got back to the top of the falls and got the boys some ice cream.  It was really hot!!!

We headed back to the car, ready to go to Buffalo to our hotel.  I wanted to try and find the place in town where Buffalo wings were invented, but we were all pretty tired, and Buffalo is not the nicest looking city.

We got to the Staybridge Suites about 6.30, to discover they were doing a nacho and potato skins complimentary buffet.  We quickly chucked our stuff in the room and went back to reception.  Staybridge do this a lot mid week.  The boys munched out on nachos and salad (only Oliver and me on that one).  A perfect snacky dinner that I had to do very little about.  They even had complimentary drinks, which made the boys happy, and complimentary beer which made Paul and I ecstatic!   We kicked around reception till about 8pm, then went upstairs and got our swim gear on.

The boys love hot tubs...

And they had a great time playing in the pool, the perfect thing to tire them out.

We had a double room here, so Oliver and Isaac took one bed, Paul and I the other, and Seb had a crib.  As the boys get older, Paul and I are going to spend a lot of time sleeping on sleeper sofas!!!

The swimming had really tired the boys out, and Oliver didn't wake till 8.30.  

We went down for our complimentary breakfast, which the boys really enjoyed, and packed up the car ready for our next destination.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Douglas, Massachusetts

Thanks to the boys being so tired from their adventures the day before, they did not arise till 8 am.  We took a slow drive along the coast on our way to Massachusetts.  We stopped in Niantic in Connecticut for some lunch.  The great thing about being on the road with modern technology, is that we were able to find interesting place to break up our trip.  We did this a lot.

I had already scoped out The Black Sheep while travelling, so we gave it a shot.  This is an Irish pub/restaurant, which is part of a small local chain. We were offered inside or outside seating, we went inside.  Paul ordered a Harp, while I stuck with diet coke, as did the boys.  We looked at the menu, and i decided on fish and chips, until the server came to take our order, and we were told it was not on the lunch menu.  D'oh.  I went with the whiskey ketchup burger and Paul had the daily special, a cajun chicken sandwich with bacon.  Oliver ordered a cheese burger, and the other 2 went with grilled cheese sandwiches.  
The restaurant had a nice atmosphere and was not too busy, considering it was a Sunday lunch time. 
The food came promptly. Oliver loved his cheese burger, and all 3 boys cleared their plates.  My burger was delicious, though I did not add in much of the whiskey sauce.  Paul nabbed that for his pulled pork.  We were well fed.  The server was very nice and chatty, but not over imposing, just the type we like.  After a couple of bathroom stops we decided to have a little look at the Main Street and see if we could find the beach 

The Black Sheep on Urbanspoon

Niantic is a nice little town, and on the servers guidance to where the beach was we found it, just behind another restaurant off Main Street.  Thing is, the guy in the booth wanted $10 just to step foot on the beach.  That left a bad taste, so we headed back to the car to continue our drive. 

Niantic Main Street
   It took about 2 more hours to get to our place, after a stop at Walmart to get supplies (beer).  This Walmart did not sell beer.  No beer. No beer.....  I asked where we could get it, and we were directed to a nearby discount liquor store.  Phewwwwww.....

We eventually arrived at the cabin.  The owners let us in, and spoke with Paul about the way certain things work.  After the craziness of city life, it was nice to be out in the countryside, right by a lake.                             

What was not so nice was the state of the cabin.  There were cobwebs everywhere, the place smelt and it just felt old and worn.  My VRBO luck finally ran out.  After debating if it was worth staying or not, we decided to give it a go, after Paul gave it a good hoover and dust. We also decided, that after a few crazy days we would not be going to Boston.  Although it was only an hour away, we thought the boys had spent enough time in the car.  Plus Boston is fairly easy to fly to.   Whist hoovering we discovered dead ants on the back of the sofa and a mouse trap under it.  Luckily this was empty.  

The boys had a toast dinner, while we cracked on with the beer.  We got them down fairly early, and tried to relax.  We also went to bed early.  

Good job too, as the boys were up at 6am. Possibly because it was so cold!  60 degrees, we are not used to that!!! Paul had to get jumpers out of the car, and came back to tell us how beautiful the lake looked.  So we all trundled out in our pajamas to take a look.  It was beautiful.


As we had been up so early, we decided to go on a mini hike up to Wallis Pond, just the other side of the reservoir.  The owner had told us there was a beaver dam and quite a nice forest, so off we trundled.  It wasn't too hot, but that didn't stop the bugs.  We found the dam quite easily, just off Wallis Street.  And decided to explore the woods.  It was nice to give the boys free run, but this scared off most animals.


I am not afraid to say we got lost.  Totally lost.  Must remember next time to get a proper map.  Eventually we found our way back to the pond, and were able to head out of the woods.  Not before bumping into some dog walkers who spotted a snake, and managed to keep their eyes on it in the undergrowth so our boys could get a good look.  Thanks guys!

We headed back to the cabin, and gave the boys some computer time, while we decided what to do for lunch.  Luckily the cabin had wifi, even if it was a little patchy.  Turns out there is not much in Douglas.  We settled on The Picket Fence, as the other decent looking place was closed on a Monday, so off we headed. 

The building itself was established in 1860, and was used as a private club, the Elmwood Club for many years.  Baseball greats such as Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio once graced the building with their presence.  As baseballs popularity waned in the fifties, the building was used for other purposes, before being purchased by its current owners in 1982 who have preserved many of its architectural features, while making it a hub of the community. This is like a diner, I think.  You seat yourself, and the waitress comes to take your order.  I went with the Cape Codder sandwich, consisting of homemade crab cake with cajun coleslaw dressing.  Paul ordered the grilled chicken sandwich, chicken breast with cheese and bacon.  Seb and Oliver opted for the cheese pizza, while Isaac had the grilled cheese. All with fries. Around the building are photos and memorabilia from the buildings past.  Very cool to see. Our food came quickly, my crab cake was huge, in fact I think there was two in there.  Proper home made, you could really taste the crab, though the cajun coleslaw dressing helped this.  Oliver enjoyed his pizza, but Seb didn't touch his.  Isaac cleared his plate. This place was really nice, a real American feel.

The Picket Fence Restaurant on Urbanspoon

We went back to the cabin, and played a bit outside.  We even had some friendly ducks come to visit us.  It was nice to give them a snack!

Its such a shame this place wasn't better maintained.  It could be really lovely with some work.  I spoke to the owner before we left, and he was very apologetic about the issues.  He even gave me back our deposit check straight away, usually he would post it after inspecting the property.  I have since had an email from him thanking us for leaving it in such good condition!


We were slightly relieved to be leaving the next morning, but I think Seb will always remember the lighthouse (he's a little obsessed....) 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

New York City baby!!!

We began the day nice and early thanks to the boys.  This enabled us to be out of the apartment and walking to the station by 8.30am.  We decided to conquer our fear of public transport with the boys, as the owner of the apartment advised parking and traffic would be a nightmare.  Plus he gave us a great map to use to get around the 'hood'.


We got our metro tickets, easy, and the kids rode free.  The buggy was a pain but needed.  We had already decided to head to the Empire State Building first.  We purchased some tickets en route, which gave us access to the 108th floor and the Skyride.


The queues weren't too bad at 10 am in the morning.  The kids really enjoyed the Skyride, a simulator narrated by Kevin Bacon, of a ride around New York in a helicopter  Pretty cool.

From there we got in 2 different lifts to take is to the 86th floor.  It was busy up there, but the views were amazing.  All the skylines you see on tv and in movies look so much better in the flesh.


You get given a really good map which enables you to pick out buildings in the skyline 


The money shot


The Empire State Building was amazing, and took up most of the morning.  After debating whether to have fast food, just for convenience sake, we stumbled across The Heartland Brewery  On the same block.  This was a restaurant/brewery combined.  It was quiet as it had just opened.  We were seated quickly and able to watch the world by through the windows.  

I had a Indiana Pale Ale, and Paul indulged in a snakebite.  The boys were more than happy with their sodas.  


Oliver ordered cheeseburger, Isaac and Seb had grilled cheese sandwiches.  Paul and I went with the New York strip steak. We had to really....  The service was pretty prompt, and it wasn't long before we were digging in.  The food was really tasty, and clear plates all round.  The restrooms in this place were on the basement, which had another huge seating area, plus the brewery, which was very cool to see.  A good restaurant, not overly expensive for its location.

Heartland Brewery & Rotisserie on Urbanspoon

With full bellies, we walked up to Times Square.  Given it was Saturday, the place was heaving, but so cool to see.  One of those places you see on tv all the time (especially living here), but you don't really get a sense of it till you get there.


We walked through Times Square to Central Park.  Well, the corner where the zoo is anyway.  Again, typical Saturday crowds.


Really not the best zoo.  I understand they have limited space, but the picture below is the sea lion enclosure, in full sun.  It was really hot, and I felt for the animals a bit.  Funnily enough the desert enclosure is really good!


And you just had to look up to be reminded that you are in the middle of a huge city.  

I got my way, and we went on a carriage ride through Central Park. This was really cool, and nice and relaxing after the zoo

The boys loved it, even if it was a bit crazy with the traffic!


They even got to feed the horse afterwards.


My neighbor had advised a trip to FAO Schwarz, one of the best toy shops in NYC.  Isaac will never forgive me for this photo when he is older


The only thing out boys really wanted were hot wheels cars!!!

By now we were all starting to wilt, but I managed to persuade everyone that they wanted to go on the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.  Unfortunately there was a lot of work on the subway, so it took a bit of time to get to the ferry terminal.  Most of the people on the ferry seemed to have the same idea as us.

Despite being stuck on Staten Island for 30 minutes, as the ferries were starting to  minimize their service for the evening, it was totally worth dragging everyone there to see Lady Liberty (Paul will disagree with me on this). I would like to go back and dothe islands more thoroughly next time. We ran into more subway issues on the way home, which made it a very long day.  We got back to the apartment about 8.30, very weary, but having had a very good day.

New York is so vast, we barely scratched the surface, but I am pleased with the amount we managed to do in a day.  The boys were absolute stars, so proud of them for their behavior and ability to listen (for once!!!)

We all slept well that night, and I don't think a anyone was up before 8 the next morning.  Except Paul and I.  A big thanks to the gentleman who was checking the bins down the street for empty bottles at 6.30am.  Cheers!


This was such an unusual apartment.  2nd floor of an old brownstone with proper rickety stairs and creaky doors/ floorboards.  But full of character with a very nice refurbished bathroom.


On our drive out of Brooklyn we saw some sights!  I hope the area manages to rejuvenate itself a little, but not too much.  It should not lose its character....


Onwards to Douglas, Massachusetts! 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Norfolk Naval base and Washington, D.C. begins

The boys awoke about 6.30 the next morning, so we were able to go for breakfast by 7.30.  The dining room was fairly small,but we were able to get enough food to make everyone happy.  We went back to the room and packed up, while I went back to the breakfast room to get  coffee.  It was really busy by now!

I had looked up in advance about doing a tour round Norfolk Naval Base.  We were there in plenty of time for the 10am tour.  These tours run year round, you can check here for times.  The naval base was erected in its current site after the Jamestown Exposition of 1907, though building did not begin until 1917.  The member of services leading our tour was very thorough, and knew her stuff. We were given so much info, I wish I could remember it all!  For a more thorough history check out the wikipedia page.

The tour lasted 50 minutes in total.  Here are 3 of the big aircraft carriers currently stationed there.  We were not allowed to take photos from right in front of them, but were ok to from a distance.  We are pretty sure that 2 of them were the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Harry S. Truman 

As I said earlier, Norfolk Naval base was originally the site of the Jamestown Exposition of 1907.  High ranking officials agreed it was the perfect spot to built a naval base.  The Jamestown Exposition commemorated 300 years since the founding of Jamestown.

There were many awesome houses to look at, if you look closely at the photos you can see which state they represent.  

There are many memorials around the base to commemorate servicemen and women who have lost their lives

All around the base there are helicopters and aircraft.  So awesome for the boys to see.  Below is a F14 tomcat, the Top Gun plane

The tour took about an hour.  It was really well narrated and lasted the right amount of time for the boys. Good value for money.

Then it was onwards and upwards to Washington, D.C. It was about 3 hours from Norfolk 

Out hotel was pretty central.

Seb was actually quite happy to be back in a cot

We took an afternoon swim on the rooftop pool.  It was soooooo hot!!!!!

Paul had found a famous restaurant to go to, The Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington's oldest saloon  so we walked over, passing the Washington Post on the way.  The boys were a bit taken aback by the old style printing press displayed outside.

Typically the place Paul had found was heaving busy, so we walked around in the blazing heat looking for somewhere else to eat.  A couple of blocks away we found MXDC - Cocina Mexicana.  I went in and asked if there were tables, luckily there were.  We were seated in the lower area of the restaurant.  MXDC is a Mexican restaurant specializing in Mexican food with a modern touch.  The place wasn't too busy, and the service very attentive.  Paul and I went with typical mexican beer, while we perused the menu.  We decided on the Kabra quesadillas for the boys.  These contained 3 different types of cheese, with a chili aioli which we asked for on the side, plus plenty of tortilla chips and dips.  I went with the Grilled Terres Major+, a 10oz steak with chipolte corn on cob and grilled avocado.  Paul also went with a steak, but after looking at the menu since being home, it is not on there anymore!!!

I must say, the food at MXDC was delicious, and although Isaac only ate the chips, the other boys finished theirs off.  It is always nice to go out to eat when the kids finish their meals!!! This is not the most family friendly restaurant, but I don't think the time of day helped that (it was about 6.30 when we went in).  It does not have a kids menu, but our server was happy to recommend food that was kid suitable.  

MXDC on Urbanspoon

After dinner we took a walk around Washington.  The restaurant was about 10 minutes away from the Washington Monument and the White house.  

I was glad we were there midweek, when nothing was happening.  It was busy, but not a bust your balls, I can't move busy.  We were able to get good photos of the White House.

When we were at the pool in the afternoon, we had noticed this house from the roof. I don't know its historical nature, but it must mean something, as the building to the right was very new, and built around the old red brick house.  I know its the nations capital, so they are probably pretty hot on preservation, but is is nice to see it in action.

We headed back to the hotel, weary from our days adventure.  Day 2 of the holiday and we had seen one of the largest naval bases, driven to the nations capital, swam in a roof top pool, eaten at a very nice restaurant and seen the White House.

What will the next day bring????