Road Trip to Niagara Falls

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We love road trips and we take them as often as possible. On a recent long weekend getaway, we headed to Niagara Falls. We drove from Southern New Jersey through New York and into Canada.

On the way, we stopped at Skaneateles Lake. A quaint, manicured town in the Finger Lakes, Skaneateles exudes classic Americana charm. Beautiful mansions straddle the shores, crystal clear water, lush landscapes and plenty of ice cream shops make this town a nice stop for the whole family. There are also some great restaurants with lots Finger Lake’s wines. Blue Water Grill, overlooking the picturesque lake is a great option for the whole family.

We spent the night at the Del Lago Resort and Casino near Rochester. While kids are not allowed in the casino, the hotel is beautiful, brand new, clean and centrally located. From here is took us about two hours to get to Niagara Falls.

Our first stop was the Niagara Falls State Park in New York. The town surrounding the park is not the nicest, but the park is beautiful. There are lots of trails to hike, an observation tower that overlooks the falls and the Maid of the Mist Boat Ride – you definitely should do this! Nature’s sheer power and force literally moves mountains and to see it actually happening is awesome!!

After you get your fill of the falls, cross the border to the Canadian side. We stayed at the Marriot which overlooks the falls. This was the view from our room…

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Be prepared the whole Niagara region, is very touristy! The Canadian side is clean, filled with family entertainment, and lots to do. Monday through Friday there are fireworks over the falls at 10 p.m. This kids will also love the unending assortment of arcades, haunted houses, mini golf, mirror mazes and more.

However, knowing what I know now, I would probably have stopped for one night in Niagara Falls (for the little ones and make sure that it’s a Monday through Friday for the fireworks) then kept going to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a small town on Lake Ontario. It’s filled with seemingly perfect historical buildings, flowers for days, great boutiques, galleries, ice cream shops, toy stores and cafes. Jake bought his first piece of art and met the artist too at the Edward Spera Gallery.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is also in the heart of Canada’s Niagara wine region. We stopped at two great wineries. The very touristy Peller Estate where you can take tours and do a tasting.

But our favorite winery was Frog’s Pond Farm, an organic, family-run winery. We sat at a picnic table surrounded by farm life, drank delicious wine, ate cheese and just talked.

True to any great road trip on the way home through Buffalo, New York we sought out the best buffalo wings we could and found ourselves at Duff’s Famous Wings – definitely worth it.

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Island Hopping in Greece

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If there is a perfect place, the Greek Islands may just be it! From the crystal clear, turquoise-hued water to the utterly unblemished, white plaster architecture everything is so beautiful and so perfect that it barely seems real. However, beyond the idyllic surface, Greece is incredibly rich with history, culture, art, dining, shopping and more.

 

 

We started and finished our trip in Athens. As a big city Athens is not as picturesque as the islands, but it more than makes up for it with history. It is amazing to see a modern city that has built up around some of antiquity’s masterpieces.

A highlight for us was seeing a traditional Greek music and dance show in the ancient theater, Odeon of Herodes, at The Acropolis.

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From Athens we boarded the M/Y O’ceanos and were swept away.

 

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The first stop in our weeklong dream was the Temple of Poseidon  in Sounion. Built in the 5th century B.C. this ancient sacred structure overlooks the azure sea on three sides. Poseidon’s Temple is one of those places that makes your heart skip a beat. It’s incredible to stand on the stones that were put in place by the hands of man thousands of years ago while gazing into the same sea that the great leader, Pericles, looked upon.

 

That night we docked at the island of Poros, with streets of marble.

 

Each morning we would set sail early, dock at a swimming spot and then head to an island…

Swimming in the Aegean…

Swimming off of a yacht may have been one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. We jumped off the top deck and dropped about 30 feet into the crystal clear water. We flew down the inflatable water slide. We swam through caves in Melos. We snorkeled. We ate fresh sea urchins. And we PLAYED!

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That water though…

 

Caves…

 

Playing…

 

FRESH Sea Urchins…

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The Islands…

Mykonos: hip, beautiful, great restaurants, great shopping and lots of parties…

 

 

Paros: Beautiful fishing village, picturesque, and great shopping. This might have been my favorite island. It was so quaint and lovely…

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Santorini: beautiful, crowded, well-known and a great place to  watch a sunset. In Santorini you can’t help but feel like you may have stumbled upon the lost city of Atlantis (but it seems like 1/2 of the world might’ve too). We opted to drive up to Fira rather than take a donkey or fight the cruise ship crowds for the cable car…

 

 

 

Milos: The port area is lovely, but you will definitely want grab a taxi and head up to the city center. Small windy streets give way to lovely churches and breathtaking vistas. We spent most of our time in Milos swimming in caves, which you should definitely do if you’re there (there are plenty of day trips from the surrounding islands). Swimming through these caves is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, it was eerie and amazing. Part of me expected Cyclops or the Sirens to appear at any minute…

 

 

Hydrea: There are no cars or bikes allowed in Hydrea. Transportation is either by donkey or walking.

 

 

Sailing back to Athens…

 

Thanks to the amazing crew this trip was perfection…

 

Stay tuned for the video.

 

The Paris Opera House

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There are some places in the world that are so beautiful that it almost defies logic. We always speak of the places in nature where God’s hand or Mother Nature’s work simply takes your breath away, but then there are places where the talent of another human seems nearly impossible.

The Paris Opera House is one of those places, a place that has collected the incredible talent of so many for more than a century.

The gilded walls of the Opera House are filled with the ghosts of passion, art and creativity. Like an electric current that uses your heart as a conduit, the history here is palpable.

We toured the Opera House on a whim while we were spending a couple hours in Paris, before heading out to the French countryside. We were able to peek in on the performers rehearsing that evening’s show, then take in the beauty and history of the building.

Even though Jake and Zac are so young, I welcome the opportunity to show them such beauty. The passion, creativity and talent of others has always sparked connections between my mind, my soul and my heart and I hope it does the same for my little guys.

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Maquoketa Caves State Park

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Every once in a while we stumble upon an unexpected adventure and Maquoketa Caves in Iowa is one of those places. Nestled between emerald green rolling hills that are dotted with grazing cattle and golden fields of grain, Mother Earth has twisted herself into a wondrous system of tunnels and cliffs. Oozing with adventure, the trails at Maquoketa Caves take you up and down, in and out and through some of nature’s most fun scenery.

If I had told Jake and Zac we were going hiking, they would have complained all the way there. They don’t like walking around for the sake of walking around, but they will walk for hours in search of something… So we don’t go hiking we go hunting for dinosaur bones, fairies, elves, gnomes, smurfs and anything else that strikes their imagination.

I wish I could claim this parenting hack as my own, but as anyone that has ever ventured out in nature knows – it’s simply filled with a sense of magic. The valleys and peaks of Maquoketa Caves seemingly captures this magic, and it took less than five minutes for Jake and Zac to spot a possible gnome village carved out of a fallen tree nearly lost in the tiny white flowers that covered the forest floor.

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There is also a sense of danger that precariously balances on each tree and boulder dangling on the edge of every rocky outcropping. Some of the tunnels get very tight and you have to crawl to get through. Consequently, you will want to bring head lamps and a possible change of clothes if you plan to go that deep into the caves. We were not able to venture that deep into the caves because it was too rainy and wet when we were there, so we stuck to the larger caves.

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Maquoketa Caves is filled with a sense of magic that kids will love! It’s also brimming with the adrenaline-inciting sense of danger that grown-kids adore!

The “Getting There”

We love to travel, but let’s be honest getting there sucks. What I’ve learned is that you have to leave your expectations at home. On those long-haul international flights that you expect a TV, ya won’t get one… but on that 1 1/2 hour flight, you will have a TV and charging station.

I also learned that having a child that was easily lulled to sleep by the simple start of jet engines, doesn’t mean they all are. There are kids (ZAC) that could be exhausted and almost asleep walking onto the plane only to kick into hyper-speed the moment those engines purr.

So what do I do… 1. Don’t EXPECT anything and 2. Bring everything that you can carry and not an ounce more!

Below is my carryon packing list:

  1. At least one pair of headphones per person, then a backup.
  2. Portable DVD player with a few movies.
  3. IPAD
  4. Computer
  5. Phone *I’ve been on flights that stream entertainment via free, but limited wifi so have the Gogo Entertainment App ready to use. Then be ready to hand your phone to your toddler the entire flight while you watch the Spongebob movie on the portable dvd player.
  6. Snacks, obviously or so you’d think. Silly me assumed that we could just buy food at the airport until I had a showdown on the candy aisle with an angry two-year-old. Let me just tell you, one of us left crying and it wasn’t him. (Thank goodness for in-flight beverages).
  7. A sense of humor. Don’t even bother packing your sanity, cause you’re going to loose it but if you can step back an laugh when the flight attendant suggest Benadryl next time – you’ll be fine.

With that said, I always try to be considerate of the others on the plane. I let Jake and Zac torture me, but I stop them from being loud, bouncing around and kicking the seats in front of them… Or at least I try (we can all have goals).

Getting there may not be the best but being there is.