Monday July 1st was Jill’s birthday and we were still in Rochester, and after some quick birthday wishes and farewells to Mom and David, we got on the highway. We checked the border crossing times at a rest area before Buffalo, and kept the original plan to cross into Canada at the Lewistonâ€“Queenston Bridge. After a 10 minute wait, we were north of the border. We stopped at Dillon’s Distillery and tasted and bought some spirits (I knew the official alcohol stores were closed for Canada Day). We had a quick stop at a Panera later for a bathroom break, but soon pulled up to the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. I was happy to leave the car there, and we checked in and relaxed.
We got hungry for lunch and went across the street to the Union Summer market popup. Nina had guacamole and chips from El Catrin and a fried chicken sandwich from Union Chicken, while Jill and I got sausages from Wvrst. We even got concert #21 with our great lunch: Jordan Hart & Emily Schultz.
When we found out we couldn’t see the fireworks from the nearby waterfront, we decided to go to the Toronto Islands. We bought ferry tickets and headed over, getting there around 4. What we did not know before going was the Toronto Islands had been flooding. It didn’t affect us too much – Nina got to ride some rides at the Centreville Amusement Park, then we walked over to Toronto Island BBQ & Beer Co. for dinner. It was the best option for eating on the island and was pretty crowded, but we got our food and drinks without too many issues.
We had been told we could see the fireworks from the beach at Ward’s Island, so we started the hike (at least a mile, with a small child complaining for the entire second half). Unfortunately when we got there, 3/4 of the beach was flooded and the mosquitoes were everywhere, so we gave up and went over to the ferry there, where we could see some of the fireworks far off in the distance. My original plan had been to see both the fireworks and the free concert by Broken Social Scene at Harbourfront Centre. I realized we got back in time to see some, so the girls went to BeaverTails while I hurried over to catch the last 1.5 songs, so it counted as concert #22.
Tuesday we slept in, then walked over to SOCO Kitchen + Bar for a nice early lunch, then went across the street to Ripley’s Aquarium. It was super crowded but we took our time and went through all the exhibits. Later we took the streetcar up to Kensington Market. Jill’s must was Yarns Untangled, and Nina and I went next door to a coffee shop while she browsed. We’d planned on eating tacos at Seven Lives as they were recommended, but they didn’t have anything Nina would eat so ended up at El Trompo Taco Bar, which was a nice sit down place with great tacos.
I was planning on going to Sonic Boom Records, and had checked their website that morning to see it said “We’re open 364 days a year”. Apparently I was supposed to check their social media as well, as they closed for the day to film a TV show. The day was saved by our trip to Cool N2 Ice Cream. Nina got Mr. Brownie which comes with two scoops of chocolate ice cream with brownie bits, two roasted marshmallows on a stick, a syringe with chocolate syrup and half of a Two Bite Brownie, while I got Dragon’s Breath: Cheese curls are placed in a cup and then liquid nitrogen is poured on top, then smoke comes out with each bite. We got off the streetcar near Rogers Centre and let Nina run around for a while outside of the Toronto Railway Museum.
We got back to the hotel around 8 and were planning bedtime, but found out Nina’s friend who lived there (granddaughter of our next door neighbors) was possibly only available that night. So we too the subway to Yorkville and the girls got to run around on the Yorkville Rock. We were told that nearby Summer’s Ice Cream had the best ice cream in Toronto, so we made the great sacrifice to have a second dessert. We were also told we had to see the Casa Loma castle, so we drove over there and took the subway back after.
Wednesday we slept in a bit, then checked out. We managed to stop for breakfast at the very same Panera we’d stopped at Monday, then were soon at the African Lion Safari. It turned out Nina’s friend was heading there as well, so we toured the safari in our car, then met up at the waterpark. They played there for a while, then went to an Elephants & Friends presentation. It was hot, so the girls got Dippin’ Dots to cool down. Next we drove into Hamilton and stopped at The Coop for chicken, then I got my record store make up at Dr. Disc that had 3 CDs for a dollar in the basement. We’d been hearing good things about Tim Hortons, so we stopped so I could get an iced tea and Jill could get a latte – that was a mistake, they had no idea what an iced tea was (gave me a giant cup of hot tea and small cup of ice) and Jill took one drink of hers and tossed it in the trash.
Soon we were in Niagara Falls, where the rest of Jill’s family had arrived and checked in at the Best Western. We drove over to Clifton Hill and parked, then walked over to the Hard Rock Cafe (it was Tiernan’s birthday choice). Unfortunately Jill noticed Nina getting hives on her face and we didn’t pack Benadryl, so I walked over to the nearest drug store and back (she had them again a bit the next day, but we washed her all over and her shoes and it was gone after that). We all went down to check out the falls after dinner and watch the fireworks, then called it a night.
Thursday the 4th we all gathered at The Flying Saucer for breakfast, then slowly made our way to parking near the Table Rock Welcome Centre. We couldn’t get tickets for the Journey Behind the Falls until eveyone was got there, so we explored the gift shops and went outside to check out the falls. We went down in an elevator, and found the ponchos they had passed out were very necessary.
We took Tiernan back with us, and he wanted Popeyes for lunch, which Nina was definitely down for. Jill had been interested in a hot dog at Table Rock but we were leaving, so she looked them up and found the best was next door at The Flying Saucer. We ate our bounty by the pool in the hotel, then Nina went in the pool for a while. Melissa watched Nina while Sue, Dave, Maddy, Jill and I took a tour of the Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery, where we got wine, beer and liquor. We got the family together again for dinner at Napoli Ristorante, where everyone had a delicious Italian meal (antipasto for me). Later Dominic, Melissa, Maddy, Jake and Tiernan joined Jill and I on the Falls Fireworks Cruise. They took two boats out and we got good looks at all the falls lit up before the fireworks went off above us. Meanwhile Sue and Dave took Nina and Ava to Clifton Hill to do what Nina really wanted to do, take selfies with Taylor Swift at Movieland.
Friday we got a late start and managed to show up at Niagara Helicopters with two tour groups in front of us. But soon they went from 2 helicopters to 4 and the wait wasn’t too bad. Nina sat in the front with me and gripped my leg tightly for the whole ride, but she enjoyed it. For lunch Nina wanted McDonalds (right next to the hotel), while Jill wanted poutine from Potato Heads – I got regular fries and very good fish sandwich.
In the afternoon, I dropped off Jill, Melissa and the girls at the waterpark and found a UPS Store I could rent a PC to reprint my car registration (left it at home) and back up all my photos. Realizing I had nothing I needed to do, I went record store searching. The nearest good one was Mindbomb in St Catharines, but while they had a nice vinyl selection, the CDs were sparse. Then I went to the nearby Sunrise Records which I didn’t realized until I got there was in the Pen Centre mall. No used stuff there, but they did have a David’s Tea so I was able to have a real iced tea. Plus on the way out I spied a Goodwill store, went in and totally scored. I got back to the hotel just in time to leave again to pick up the ladies.
We got back and everyone got ready for dinner, this time at The Blind Pig, a gastropub in walking distance (I had the small plates of pork belly and Korean fried chicken). After talking up BeaverTails, everyone wanted some so Jill, Melissa, Maddy, and Ava went to get those while I played with Nina in the arcade area at the hotel. After bedtime I went down to Doc Magilligan’s, the hotel restaurant and bar and enjoyed a 7 year old Irish whiskey. Apparently I missed the band “Widow Maker”, but I wasn’t torn up about it.
The bad thing about coming home on Saturday was the long line at the border crossing (45 minutes at the Peace Bridge) and the showers and storms that followed us home literally all day. At least we got delicious meals at two great out of the way places, Ashford Junction Diner (in Ellicottville, NY) and Dolce Pizza Gourmet & Eastern European Restaurant (in Hagerstown, MD).
Monday the 8th Nina started art camp. Thursday Jill picked her up and she once again had hives, but gave her a Benadryl. She was soon better, and that meant we didn’t have to cancel our plans. We all went to East Falls Church Metro, but Jill left us at Rosslyn to head to La Fromagerie in Old Town Alexandria for a wine tasting & dinner with Franklin Habit. Nina and I went to Gallery Place to again have dinner at Nando’s, spend some time at IT’SUGAR before heading into the Capital One Arena for concert #23: Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra with Dhani Harrison. It was Nina’s mandatory classic rock show for the year, but she enjoyed herself. Her favorite song was “Last Train To London”, but mine was a fantastic version of The Traveling Wilburys “Handle With Care” as Dhani joined them to sing George’s part.
Saturday we went over to Barnes & Noble as they were giving away Lego Golden Snitchs (and since I bought the Night Bus, I think they came out ok). Then we drove over to Cactus Cantina for a late lunch/early dinner before going to the the Kennedy Center for show #24: Mo Willems & the Storytime All-Stars present: Donâ€™t Let the Pigeon Do Storytime! Anthony Anderson, Yvette Nicole Brown, Tony Hale, Tom Lennon & Natalie Morales were all hilarious. Plus we got to see Rachel Dratch before the show looking for directions (“No, I’m in the show!”) and Nina got a picture with director Bobcat Goldthwait.
Sunday the 14th Jill had worked the night before so I took Nina over to the Springfield Dave & Busters because I got a Groupon for all day video games. We had a great time and a good lunch at Chuy’s, but after I showed Nina where my record store used to be, I felt my blood pressure go up – and stay up. We got home and we did chores and I was making dinner, but sat down and told Jill it was up and felt high. We had a blood pressure cuff and I was at 210/110. So off we went to the hospital. They admitted me and ruled out anything really scary but kept me for observation overnight. I got to sleep at home Monday and was feeling better Tuesday, but didn’t go back to work until Wednesday.
I was cleared for concert duty after a 2.5km walk Tuesday morning, so took Nina to concert #25: “Weird Al” Yankovic with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap. Nina had a blast, and loved the videos she hadn’t seen (“Word Crimes” and “Weasel Stomping Day”) and got her current favorite: “The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota”. Plus we got to see Lorna! This review is spot on.
Friday as we’re leaving the house: “I’m not hot because I don’t have underwear on.” Follow up: “It’s a long story. I lost them at the pool.” (spoiler alert: we turned around and corrected matters). Friday was way too hot (heat index over 100), but it was a good choice to use our Encore Circle pass for their fans and ice water. We were hot at concert #26: JoJo Siwa with The Belles at Wolf Trap, but the folks on stage gave it their all. Not the worst show (though everything except vocals were prerecorded) but Nina loved it. Plus she got to play tag afterwards, thanks to seeing our friend Monica and her daughter. We also made the smart move to give up the Dave Matthews Band tickets we had for Saturday when it was even hotter (we hid indoors and packed for vacation while Nina played with neighbors just back from vacation on Saturday, while we built Legos on Sunday). We did get to see the new art on the lake.
Wednesday the 24th I was off to DC for concert #27: Our Native Daughters at the National Museum of African American History & Culture. The unforecasted rain meant I got soaked walking over, but light refreshments (popcorn and lemonade) were nice after I finished drying my hair with the hand dryer. The show was good, and I’d been wanting to see Rhiannon Giddens for a while. At home, Jill had a “Baby great blue heron sighting in the backyard”. Thursday I was amazed when the seemingly canceled Woodstock 50 festival was now suggested to happen at Merriweather.
Saturday the 27th I took Nina an hour away to a mall in Waldorf, MD, so she could do Descendants crafts. She was one of only two cosplayers, but she didn’t mind. Afterwards I got to go to Justice for the first time, and it being her favorite store made perfect sense. Meanwhile Jill was “Done! My first handspun laceweight shawl. This was such a rewarding project.” Sunday Jill started working at 3, so we worked on vacation playlists, making dancing and lip syncing videos, and building a hotel.
Tuesday Queen + Adam Lambert wasn’t a must earlier, but “One Vision” is one of my favorite songs and they haven’t done it on an American tour before. Plus a full “’39”! Then they dropped “One Vision” and I was still excited, but an ultrasound on Monday revealed a blood clot in my left calf. My doctor wasn’t super worried, but Jill wasn’t comfortable with just Nina and I going, so I didn’t get tickets (and I’m now on blood thinners). But I knew it must be getting close to Falcon Ridge time if I’m making jellyfish umbrellas at night. The next night a centipede crawled out of the camping gear and on to my shirt. I don’t think I’ve ever moved that fast. After work and camp Wednesday, we left on vacation, staying in Edison, NJ for the night (someone had to get her White Castle on).