Day 1 We fly to Syracuse and then drive an hour to Ithaca to attend Mark’s 20th college reunion at Cornell; it’s the kids’ and my first time there. Mark chose our Air-BnB for Ithaca, while I was in charge of choosing them for the rest of the trip. Let’s just say at least MINE had certain things like LINENS. (We had to bring an entire suitcase of towels and bedding just to furnish our Ithaca apartment.) It only got better - we also arrived to a note saying the toilet was clogged. It never got fixed our entire stay but thankfully there was another bathroom. Mark thought the clogged toilet would be easily fixed with the plunger, but according to him it turned out to be like aggravating a hornet’s nest.
|Julia with Bunny (hanging on for dear life)|
|James wants a bite of bagel.|
|Doggy wears a bagel hat.|
|James and Julia sleep in the car on the hour drive to Ithaca. It was a long day and surprisingly no one fell asleep on the plane.|
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We explore the Cornell campus, which is pretty much located on the side of a hill. (Good thinking, Ezra Cornell.) When it’s time to walk back to our car near the summit with two tired kids in tow, Mark asks, “Who thinks they can run up the big hill and who’s scared?” Both kids run. Diabolical.
|James loves photobombing, even when he's meant to be in the picture.|
|Superman learns about the facts of life. (I'm just guessing.)|
Julia complains all day (something that becomes a daily occurrence on the trip), whining, “Why do we ALWAYS go to Ithaca?” I have to point out to her that it’s her first time in Ithaca and she’s been here less than a day. She continues, “All we do there is eat food and play piano.” Those are two things, by the way, that she LOVES. She changes her tune that evening when she meets the kids of Mark’s college friends. Several are girls a few years older so she is in heaven, and they all play tag outside for close to two hours.
|Julia during a game of tag with the big kids.|
|College roomies Mark and Chris|
The kids look up stuff on the tablet, mostly by yelling. We hear, “NEWEST TOYS AT TOYS R US” as well as “BEST BED FOR JULIA ELIZABETH PILLOFF.”
We explore the Cornell campus again, this time witnessing a (LOUD) concert inside the clocktower. And the only way up? 160 stairs. Julia and James are surprisingly fine with that and the clocktower is a big hit. We get to practice pushing the giant wooden keys without actually hitting any bells.
|Julia and James in the clocktower. You know it’s a serious picture when it’s in black and white.|
|Jumping in front of the clock tower|
James arranges some folding chairs into a car sculpture. Before we leave he tells it “I love you” and breaks it to the sculpture that he probably won’t see it again but he *does* have a picture. James says the car told him it took a picture of him it’ll put in a frame.
|Mark’s a lucky guy.|
Kathy lifts both kids at once.
We drive 8 ½ hours to Quebec City. Just before crossing the border into Canada, Mark tells the kids sternly that he’ll be doing the talking. He makes Canada seem like a police state.
|Julia + Tim Horton’s rest stop|
We stay in a hundred year old nicely appointed flat in Quebec City that is very French. Also very French is the charming landlady who reminds us of Stephen Hawking. She does not speak English and communicates with us through a translate program on her tablet.
|Our flat in Quebec City|
|There are steep staircases just to get out of our neighborhood.|
Julia loves telling locals that she can say bonjour, merci, and sortie (French for exit). Well, really she makes *me* tell them, then she says her three words, and next she gets overcome with shyness when they compliment her French.
With its cobblestone streets in the old city and French history and language, Quebec City really is the closest to being in Europe without leaving the continent. We begin our day and almost every day in the province with French pastries.
We visit the Old City, and I have an itinerary in mind, but the kids see cannons and it’s all over. They end up climbing those and then ascend the stairs to the fortifications of the city for so long we run out of time for the things I’ve planned. Julia announces that she hates Quebec AND Canada. “Why do we always do what YOU want to do and not what I want to do?” (Ah yes, because all I wanted to do was climb cannons.) So I ask, “What do you want to do?” Her answer: “Do art projects in the apartment and drink water.”
|Watch out! That's just what James wants you to do!|
|Stairway to the fortifications|
|No caption needed.|
|James thought the mannequin looked like me so I tried to emulate her expression.|
We discover Uber which gets us around for $5-$7 per trip and beats making the kids walk to our destinations (and then be tired of walking once there). We explore Quebec City’s most famous landmark, the Chateau Frontenac -“the “most photographed hotel in the world.” Julia declares that one day she wants to clean rooms there.
|James and Julia in front of the Chateau Frontenac. I can’t resist putting a beret on Julia in Quebec.|
In the lower section of the Old City the kids climb on cannons. Again. James: “Is that why it’s called Canada? Because of the cannons?” We take a funicular ride and have a maple-flavored gelato, and realize we’ve had six foods so far in Quebec involving maple.
|Yay. More cannons.|
|And even more.|
|The Quebecois money shot: cobblestone streets of Lower Quebec, the funicular, and Chateau Frontenac.|
We spend time on the Plains of Abraham, an 18th century battlefield, but there is little reflection on that. Instead there is much excitement over finding a looney ($1 Canadian coin) in the grass and letting ladybugs crawl on our hands.
|Julia and her friend, Lady Bug.|
|Entrance to Old Quebec|
|At the entrance to Old Quebec|
The kids write their own postcards to their grandparents. James’s focus is on the drive. My parents get “I drove all day yesterday. Love, James.” while Bubby gets “I drove to Canada. Love, James.” Julia will not be getting a job with Quebec’s tourist bureau any time soon. She writes the same exact thing on three: “We’re in Quebec. It’s OK. Love, Julia.” Julia wants to write worse but tries to spare Bubby’s feelings since she grew up in Canada. However, my mom gets the truth: “We’re in Quebec. I don’t like it. Love, Julia.”
|James’s postcard to Papa and Gaga|
|Julia’s postcard to Gaga|
The kids now ask for the Cornell alma mater as their lullaby every night and they learn all the verses. (Oddly enough it has the same tune as “Kellerman’s Theme” from Dirty Dancing.) When we get home James sounds it out on his kiddie keyboard and on a kiddie Peruvian flute.
We take the ferry across the river from Quebec City to Levis, and climb the 135 stairs up the side of the hill to well, nothing really. On the way back I think the ferry is about to leave so I run through the doors of the ferry building like a madwoman, yelling thank you because they opened the doors for me, and… people just then start disembarking. Glad I didn’t make a scene or anything.
|It’s “Where’s Waldo?” but with James and Julia.|
|Madame Kathy and Mademoiselle Julia|
We try Quebecois food at a fancy restaurant. Even the questionable-sounding flounder aspic is delicious. At Chute Montmorency - a waterfall higher than Niagara - we ascend 478 steps to the top. Surprisingly the kids beat us there. We walk across a suspension bridge at the top and then climb up and down another 90 steps to a viewpoint.
|The stairs to the top of the waterfall|
|Mark and the kids on the stairs in front of the waterfall.|
We drive two hours to Montreal and stay in an Air-BnB in the center of a neighborhood we’re probably not hip enough for. We walk to afternoon tea at one of the best tea places ever. Julia declares that one day she wants to work there. “As a cook?” “No, I want to be a server.” For those keeping track, so far this trip she wants to be a hotel maid and a waitress.
|Kathy at tea|
|Mark and his pretty mango on a stick.|
We walk down the city’s oldest cobblestone street. Julia declares, “I HATE old,” and she either walks slowly or refuses to walk. We take the Metro to a neighborhood called “Gay Village” (pretty apt really) and we eat Burmese food. Mark and I are obsessed with Burmese food (the kids like it too) and we’ve been to over 20 Burmese restaurants in the Bay Area. This was our first time finding it somewhere else.
|Montreal’s Notre Dame Cathedral (site of Celine Dion’s wedding). It’s as beautiful as I remember it being in 1989.|
|Lines of pink balls decorate the Gay Village.|
|Julia and James inside a sculpture|
We get our inner American Ninja Warrior on and complete obstacle courses 35 feet off the ground while harnessed to zip lines. It is easily the kids’ favorite part of the trip. It’s their first time on ziplines and Daredevil Julia asks if she can do it upside down. (No.) She settles for no hands.
|Ready to do some climbing!|
|Kathy shows how tough she is.|
|The course 35 feet off the ground. Those are people up there.|
While everyone else in the family collectively yawns, I make them check out Habitat 67, a revolutionary housing complex made for Expo 67 on Montreal’s waterfront. But when we arrive we discover people carrying surfboards (“that’s odd,” we think), and follow them to discover that they are surfing in the St. Lawrence River. The strange part is that they’re able to surf in place for ten minutes at a time. (It’s really unusual to see. Here’s a link.) We feel like we have found a little known subculture, and the surfers offer us cherries as our kids play in the water.
|Canadian surfers. They stayed just like that with the water moving past them for ten minutes at a time!|
For Father’s Day Julia gives Mark a picture of me she’s made with her new Fashion Plates toy. Julia tells me, “It’s a fashion plate of you so if you die Daddy can look at it and remember what you look like.” Me: “Um, thanks?” Julia: “Whaaaat? Is it the dying?”
Outside the Metro station James suddenly announces, “My tooth isn’t wiggly anymore!” Sure enough he’s lost (and probably swallowed) his second tooth. (This means I get to leave James the money he discovered when he accused me of being the Tooth Fairy. See story here.)
At Eaton Center Julia rides the escalator by herself and we lose her for a few minutes, which understandably rattles her. At McGill University we stop in the physics building briefly and James asks about the bust of Ernest Rutherford. “Why is it only a head?” Mark tells James that Rutherford only had a head and no body so they just moved him around in a wheelbarrow.
|James points out the Tim Horton’s on the Google Map in the lobby of the Montreal Google office.|
|Julia pretends her napkin is a purse so we can match.|
Julia skins her knee outside our dinner restaurant and we have a mile walk back to our apartment. She cries nonstop. I promise her one of her favorite “Annoying Orange” videos at the halfway point to our apartment and of course when she gets there she stops crying immediately… and on cue begins again in time for the rest of the walk right as the video ends.
We walk the aisles of Marche Jean-Talon, basically a big farmer’s market from the 1930s in Petit Italie. Later while snacking on amazing Portuguese egg tarts near our apartment, we see a food tour group come inside and eat what we’re eating. Guess Mark picked the right place. We fly home.
|Superman babushka James|
|One last tantrum for the road.|
The next day I ask James if he prefers vacation or home. James: “Vacation is fun because you get to explore but home is nice because you get to relax. Do you understand?” Perfectly, James. Perfectly.