For those of you just joining us, this is the second part (even though the title says “Part I” — the real first part was “The Prologue”) of my nine-day staycation tale! Don’t worry, what I mean to say is that the staycation was nine days in duration and not that it will take you nine days to read this post. It is, however, a fairly lengthy post so you might want to take a sick day off work on Monday if you don’t make it all the way through this weekend.
In a nutshell, my wife’s sister, her sister’s husband, and their granddaughter came from Korea and stay with us for five days. There… you’re pretty much up to speed but should you want to get completely up-to-date, check out “What I Did on My Staycation: The Prologue“, a fairly quick read.
While I am generally pretty bad at meeting objectives, I am amazed that I actually ticked off a bunch of things from my vacation to-do list. I did get some rest, have some fun, and hang out with the in-laws and show them a good time in exotic Canada. I am under the impression that I managed not to offend my wife’s family or embarrass myself too badly, but it sometimes takes a while for accusations of such transgressions to make it back to hosts.
Failed Mission Objectives
- We did show them around the Niagara area and took trips to The Falls, Port Dalhousie (whatever’s left of it, that is), Niagara-on-the-Lake, and the Welland Canal, but we never did get around to going to Toronto (where my wife wanted to visit The CN Tower and I wanted to buy some Vegemite), Fort Erie, or “Mosquito Park”. I’m not counting these missed trips as failures because The Visitors semi-witnessed a rare and special occurrence on Day III that more than made up for these omissions from the itinerary.
- Our visitors didn’t eat much in the way of real Canadian fare, like tourtiere, smoked meat, bacon, donuts, or pemmican. I had at least one meal planned per day and wanted to take Alice the Grandniece out for burgers twice (to Harvey’s and A&W), but my plans were abandoned when my wife made some traditional Korean favourites. Because Korean cuts of meat (and meat byproducts) are not in high demand here, you can buy some ingredients at bargain prices so when we served them barbecued short ribs in biblical portions, they thought we had mortgaged our kidneys to the Chinese black market. They were also very, very impressed with my wife’s “bone soup”, which is made by boiling cows’ hooves and ox tails for several days until the broth becomes gelatinous when cooled. Hooves and tails can be had at modest prices here in Canada so the soup was much richer than any they had ever had before. They also sampled some fiddleheads.
Met Mission Objectives
- We took lots of pictures in five days — 760 just between my wife and me — and I have no idea how many my brother-in-law or Alice the Grandniece took. In case you didn’t know this already, Koreans are prolific snapshot photographers. Whenever they travel more than about 10 miles from home, they have to take photos of everyone in the travelling party standing in front of everything they encounter, including trees, buildings, water, open fields, cars, flowers, bushes, fences, and air. Every pose must be photographed by everyone in turn and failure to join in and photograph every pose signals to everyone else that you don’t care about them anymore, and possibly never did. The Sun could be splitting in two and pterodactyls are carrying off everyone at the beach but you cannot run for cover until you’ve posed for everyone’s photos in front of a sailboat and taken you own photo.
- I exposed the visitors to the finest in Canadian culture, which involves watching American movies and pointing out every cast member who was born in Canada. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Marx Brothers’ films, and select Three Stooges’ shorts were big hits. [I lied and said Harpo, Curly, and Chevy Chase were Canadians]
- Alice the Grandniece now sees English as a living language instead of as just another subject at school. Not only did she answer all the Canadian Border Lady’s questions, she also acted as translator for her grandparents on their trip to California (which involved a stopover in Cleveland). Her experiences here really boosted her confidence!
- Between the tub of cotton candy, the ice cream, the spaghetti, my introducing her to A&W root beer (in a can and not “draft” in an actual A&W burgertorium, unfortunately), the glow-in-the-dark bracelets, and my vast collection of Three Stooges DVDs, I am now Alice the Grandniece’s most favourite relative ever so I expect that she’ll support me in my old age. Mrs. HoaiPhai also scored major points for giving her teddy bears and lots of clothes. The several cookie baking sessions didn’t hurt, either.
What We Did
- Mrs. HoaiPhai and I head off to pick them up at Buffalo International Airport, which is not in Canada. I don’t think I’ve been to The United States since 9/11 so I was a bit worried that the interview by the American Border Guys would be so invasive that it would make an alien probing seem like a peck on the cheek. I was wrong… just a couple of questions and we were in!
- We found our visitors right away and they were just picking up their last bag as we approached. We were exiting the parking lot within 20 minutes of entering, but we still had to pay $4 for a full hour’s worth of parking. Except for the couple of bucks we lost in that whole integral-hour parking pricing scam, this had to have been the smoothest, least painful airport pick-up I have ever been involved in.
- When crossing The Peace Bridge, the guests are thrilled by technically crossing the border into Canada mid-bridge before going through any sort of checkpoint. South Korea has only one land border and that’s with North Korea — you cannot even get near the DMZ without going through a military checkpoint and signing a waiver.
- The Canadian Border Lady asked a bunch of questions concerning Alice and whether her parents gave permission for her to come to Canada. She also asks Alice a couple of questions directly and Alice understood and answered in English!
- Got home and explained that I have an old government public information film that alerts travellers to the way con men and pickpockets operate here in Canada. I then played the opening train station scene from The Marx Brothers’ Go West.
- We went to Happy Rolph’s, a local petting zoo where the emphasis is placed on feeding the animals, not actually petting them. I’ve always wondered what it is about farm animals that makes Rolph so happy. Maybe someone should look into it.
- Mrs. HoaiPhai and Alice made a huge load of pizzelles, an Italian cookie you make in a long-handled waffle iron type of thing. What wasn’t consumed on-site were sent on Day V with the in-laws to California with some slated for subsequent travel to our visitors’ home in Seoul.
- While her grandparents eat bone soup and leftover short ribs for breakfast once again, Alice gets a taste of Canadian cuisine. Mrs. HoaiPhai told me she would take care of breakfast and made only pancakes for Alice. Due to the popularity of the short ribs and bone soup, I never got a chance to make an authentic Canadian breakfast involving each of the hazardous food groups. Just once I wanted to make a “lumberjack breakfast” involving fried eggs (cholesterol), home fries (carbohydrates, fats, and salt), pancakes with syrup (carbohydrates out the wazoo), and back bacon (cholesterol, salt, and nitrosamines). In Canada toast with jam counts as health food.
- We spent the day checking out some of the local points of interest. We first went to the Welland Canal to see a ship go by and watch how a lift bridge operates.
- We then drove to beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake where we couldn’t find parking because the rest of the world surprised us by stealing our idea to visit NOTL on a Victoria Day long weekend Sunday afternoon. So instead of walking around and shopping, we headed off to the pier behind Navy Hall where I explained that NOTL was once the capital of The Province of Canada and its involvement in The War of 1812. Responding like true, life-long Canadians, our overseas visitors pretended to be interested.
- We then drove down the Niagara Parkway for the obligatory photo session at The Floral Clock.
- On to The Butterfly Conservatory! We arrived with less than an hour before closing time and so we had to take dozens of photos before entering. Once inside, we had a great time watching the butterflies eat fruit and play tag. By the time we left my camera was the only one with a charge remaining in its battery, giving me the upper hand at determining the pace of the rest of the afternoon.
- In spite of us all being sweaty, tired, thirsty, and hungry, there was a unanimous (if “unanimous” means “only my sister-in-law wanted to do it”) decision to walk around the Horticultural Garden in the hot sun for over an hour.
- Arriving home, we ate Buffalo chicken wings for dinner in honour of the airport that brought our visitors to us. I explained that real Buffalo chicken wings are barbecued in airplanes’ jet wash on long titanium sticks held by chefs in total-body asbestos suits. We compromised and baked them in the oven.
- More Three Stooges and Marx Brothers.
- Mrs. HoaiPhai took everyone (except for me because I was up very late the previous night playing with my latest toy and subject of a future post) to Niagara Falls for an up-close look at how a lot of water interacts with even more gravity. While the spectacle is, er, spectacular, the crowd got a little more than they bargained for. It seems some idiot decided to take a little swim just upstream from The Falls and learned the hard way that it’s hard to argue with 64,750 cubic feet per minute of rushing water. The guy went over The Falls, ended up at the bottom, swam to shore, and supposedly even made it onto the bank by himself. My family saw the rescue workers and evacuation helicopter but didn’t know why they were there. The guy was the fourth in history to survive such a plunge without any protection but he didn’t walk away unscathed… his injuries included a collapsed lung, a severe chest injury, and numerous gashes.
- I had asked Alice if there was any western food that she liked or wanted to try during her visit and the only thing that she could think of was spaghetti, so while they were witnessing the rescue without any batteries in their cameras and me with a fully charged camera and some honking long lenses with which I could have taken some photos the news services might have picked up and financed my next bit of camera equipment, [take a breath here] I was at home making meat sauce with peppers. On the bright side, everyone, including my brother-in-law who was eating bone soup at every meal, really enjoyed it.
- Mrs. HoaiPhai and Alice bake more cookies and eat ice cream sundaes to celebrate the event.
- Mrs. HoaiPhai and Alice bake even more cookies, this time the kind you decorate with colored sugar! Alice gets right into it and designs a cookie that looks like her brother Marino and one that looks like her new Canadian teddy bear Popo.
- We take a drive to Port Dalhousie where we all drool over the boats and walk to the end of the pier. It’s a gorgeous day so there is a lot of duck and goose poop all over the walkways. The geese were brazenly panhandling for food right under a sign warning of fines for anyone who feeds them. I have a funny feeling the whole thing was some kind of police sting operation but I cannot prove anything.
- After getting gas, we head on to The Kissing Rock at the top of the flight locks in Thorold. Legend has it that once upon a time a young sailor had a sweetheart in Thorold. Because his work took him away from dry land for long stretches of time, whenever he passed through the locks there he’d get off the ship and meet his girl at The Kissing Rock. We didn’t do a whole lot of kissing there but we watched one large ship leave the lock and hung around long enough to watch another enter from the opposite direction. Mrs. HoaiPhai and Alice occupied themselves with a rousing rock-paper-scissors tournament, the young upstart being the victor by one point.
- I spent several hours prepping the 351 photos I took of my visitors’ vacation and burning them onto a DVD for my guests to take home as a memento. I have my whole colour-managed digital imaging workflow set up for printing, so I had to make adjustments to each image individually to make them look OK on-screen and convert the whole bunch to JPEGs. I have an ancient computer so just the bulk format conversion took the better part of an hour.
- With our guests’ flight leaving in the early afternoon, everyone’s in a tizzy to get all the cookies, toys, and clothes for the grandnieces and grandnephews into the valises. Surprisingly, all the passports, visas, and airplane tickets were right where everyone expected them to be.
- Alice doesn’t want to leave in spite of the fact that she didn’t see a single skunk or raccoon during her visit. The blue jays and grackles had been very friendly, however. She doesn’t want to go to California to visit her aunt even though the last time she went she was taken to Disneyland, spent a few days in the mountains, went to Vegas, and has a cousin around her own age to play with. And she really doesn’t want to go back to Korea where school and tutors await her return. When asked why she doesn’t want to leave, all she says is “Canada is a good country”. I cannot argue with that.
- On the way to the airport, Alice keeps instructing me to drive slower. I was driving at the de facto official Canadian speed limit (the posted speed plus the provincial and federal sales tax rates) — Alice just wanted to extend her visit a bit.
- It was a bit harder finding a parking space at the airport than when we picked them up at 11 p.m. a few days earlier. Alice keeps saying, “No parking. Go home!” in a sweet, non-bratty way.
- Arriving at the airport, Alice expresses disappointment that the American Border Guy didn’t ask her any questions because she was going to give false answers so she could stay at our house a while longer.
- There’s a little bit of a problem as they pass through the Governmental Security Fondling Checkpoint in the airport. A TSA agent discovers some hand cream in my sister-in-law’s carry-on bag. Apparently having smooth moist skin would play into the terrorists’ plan for world domination and the destruction of our Western lifestyle.
- They arrive safely (but with chapped skin) in Los Angeles. We get reports that Alice had acted as her grandparents’ guide, reading all the signs and guiding them to where they needed to go through both the Cleveland and L.A. airports.
Final Tally for Phase I of My Staycation
All in all, Phase I was a success. I’m especially proud of the fact that I managed to indoctrinate Alice into the ranks of rabid canuckophiles.
Please check back in a few days to read about how the sans-visitor part of my staycation went.
- Enjoy a “Staycation” This Memorial Day Weekend (redenvelope.com)
- Saving money in 2012: the year of the staycation (moneysaversdirect.com)
- My Travel Hound Satiating Staycation (aiminglow.com)
- Staycation, naycation, or simplification? (steinermp.wordpress.com)
- How To Have a Fantastic Memorial Day Staycation (mynewplace.com)
- Staycationing receives a boost in 2012 (savesmart.co.uk)