BRING BACK SLIDE NIGHTS

It’s funny how the post-holiday blues manifest.

Yesterday I found myself on the treadmill, reluctantly reacquainting myself with my fitness regime, and genuinely lamenting the death of the post-holiday slide night.

Where you’d invite all of your mates around, serve toothpicks of tasty cheese and Cabanossi, plunge the room into complete darkness and subject them to a literal slideshow of your travels.

This is me at the Statue of Liberty

Unfortunately, it’s not a thing that we do anymore.

I know that actual slide technology has been superseded a thousand times over, but surely the desire to bang on about one’s travels is as timeless as travel itself? In fact, isn’t the existence of this very blog a living testament to that?

This is me nerding out over cereal

I mean, of all the quirks of history that we’ve let fade into oblivion – phonebooks, floppy disks, fixing stuff, corsets (wait a minute…), Macaulay Culkin, grammar – why oh why did we allow the humble slide night to join this list?

Because it’s largely self-serving and narcissistic? So is Instragram and its parent company has a market value of over $US500billion.

At least at a slide night you get smallgoods on tiny sticks. Instead of just the self-loathing and hospital grade FOMO you get on Instagram.

This is me nerding out over the guy on the $US10 note. And the guy who wrote a hip hop musical about him.

Or is the rise of one thing directly related to the death of the other? Has Instagram and its associated platforms replaced the humble slide show night?

And could it be that instead of stunting our social development with social media, we’ve actually evolved to allow our friends the privilege of consuming our self-absorbed holiday output in the comfort of their own homes, where they can yawn, roll their eyes and otherwise disengage without causing offence?

This is me at Niagara Falls

Personally, I’m not convinced the two vehicles of over-sharing are mutually exclusive. Moving forward, I intend to not only blog and post my way around my travels, but I’m bringing back the post-holiday slide night too.

And I’ll expect there to be not only enthusiastic consumption of my mini vol-au-vents, but oohs, aahs, and earnestly crafted follow-up questions too. Also there will be a quiz.

This is me made out of pumpkins

Anything to stave off the post-holiday blues. Anything to distract from that underlying feeling of a general dissatisfaction with day-to-day life that takes a few days, weeks, months, (I’ll keep you posted), to wear off. It’s a feeling that seems to become a little more intense with each and every holiday. I really think having something post-holiday but holiday-related to look forward to would help.

Either that or I’ll just accept the inevitabilities of life. Maybe I’ll put some genuine mental effort into being present in whatever circumstances I find myself. Maybe I’ll use the break to approach my unavoidable adulthood and responsibilities with renewed zeal and gratitude for the position of privilege that afforded me these travel experiences in the first place.

This is me shirking my day-to-day adult responsibilities

Nah. Where’s the fun and canapés in that?

Invitations are in the mail. BYO.

COCKTAILS AND BUTT-SITTING

I’m writing this post as I sit in an Urgent Care Clinic in Brooklyn, the day before we head home, waiting for a doctor to see the Boy Child.

It’s actually our second visit to an Urgent Care Clinic in as many days, so as well as doing the US tour of rest stop bathrooms, particularly those within ten minutes of our point of departure, we seem to be specialising in US walk-in medical facilities too.

Both kids have needed medical attention this trip. Nothing major, just major enough that we’ve been afraid to stick them on a 24-hour international flight without arming ourselves with all the knowledge and medication.

That said, these visits have been brief detours in the overall frivolity that has been this trip. Really just a blip on the radar of holiday fun.

One of my dearest friends made me laugh the other day when she messaged and said we looked like we were having an epic holiday. “When I travel, I literally sit on my ass all day and drink cocktails,” she wrote.

It got me to thinking – this particular brand of holiday, the long haul travel, the constant sightseeing, the driving of unfamiliar roads and sides of roads, the multiple – shared – hotel rooms, the packing and repacking, the washing, the mere presence of our offspring – none of it makes for a particularly restful holiday.

And it didn’t come easy in the first place either. There’s epic planning, hours of research, the cost, of course, and then the subsequent, perhaps inevitable heartache over the reasonableness of the cost.

I’m absolutely not complaining. I love travelling, as a departure from lying by a pool or on the beach.

We’re lucky enough to have family on the Sunshine Coast where we visit regularly and so we get our fill of idyllic beach time (plus more than a few cocktails) there. I think this is why we haven’t felt the need to do the the beachy/resort thing in a little while now.

But.

As I sit here trying to explain to person after person that I don’t have medical insurance, nor do I have a preferred pharmacy, nor a local residential address and actually, we do birth dates backwards to you guys, I find myself wondering whether we might have erred in pushing ourselves (and the kids) so hard this holiday.

We have a huge few months of life and work ahead of us, what if cocktails and butt-sitting was exactly what we needed?

Nah.

The thought is gone almost as soon as it arrived.

This trip has been incredible and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. And to share it with my family…. There are barely words.

Even if the kids don’t remember it in any real detail, hopefully they’ll remember a few abstract notions.

If not where we went specifically, then maybe what it’s like to emerge from the darkness of a subway station to the streets of the Manhattan for the first time, the overwhelming, slightly terrifying chaos of somewhere new and different.

If not what we saw on Broadway, then maybe the thrill of the lights dimming and the first few notes of an overture.

If not the specifics of Amish life, then maybe the fact that there are whole communities, countries around the world, living a fundamentally different experience to their own.

If not the names of each of the Niagara Falls, then hopefully the incredulity of their mum and dad signing them up for a boat trip where they got totally soaked, fully-clothed, on a mild Canadian autumn day.

If not the regional specialities tried and tasted, then hopefully the surprise and joy in the understanding that mum and dad take a holiday from meal rules too.

Which is fine for a while, but eventually evolves into dinner discussions about which home cooked meal we’d like to eat first when we get home.

Which then evolves into a conversation about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’s protagonist, Ichabod Crane, and how perhaps if the headless horseman would have piffed mum’s pumpkin risotto at him in that dark, instead of a whole Jack O’ Lantern, then maybe he wouldn’t have been so scared.

Or maybe they’ll just recall how mum and dad were there, for the most part, all day, every day, and every night, and we how we did it all together.

Often annoying the crap out of each other but mainly just enjoying living, learning, loving and being together, without distraction.

If I’m honest, that would be enough.*

*Yes, this is a Hamilton reference. As ever – not sorry.

THE TRUE HORROR OF HALLOWEEN

I’ve written about Halloween before. If you missed it, it’s here.

But if you’re already so riveted by this incredible piece of literature and can’t be arsed navigating away, I can summarise:

I can take it or leave Halloween. But I just wish that we as Aussies would pick a side.

So we’re doing this? Great. I have a section of scrapbooked Woolies magazine recipes and ideas for five years worth of whole-family-themed costumes ready to go. Bring it.

Or is it ex-nay on the alloween-hay? Great. Hurray for the fight against childhood obesity.

The thing is, the upward pressure is definitely there from those under 5 feet tall.

But when push comes to 31 October shove, lobbing up to your neighbour’s doorstep and demanding confectionary is easier said than done, given our current antipodean indifference.

And until this year, this is what I’ve always tried to explain to our children/use as an out: not everyone in Australia celebrates Halloween.

So when we decided to take a trip to the States this year, the kids cottoned on pretty fast.

Are we going to be in America for Halloween?

Yes.

And everyone in American celebrates Halloween?!

…Yes.

SO CAN WE GET DRESSED UP AND GO TRICK OR TREATING IN AMERICA ON HALLOWEEN?!?!?!?!?

….oh my, what have I done…yes…?

What I didn’t count on, though, was that Halloween in the US as an Aussie interloper is fraught with as much doubt as it is at home.

We planned to be in Sleepy Hollow, NY, for the big night because it was in the path of our general homeward trajectory and also because what’s spookier than a Headless Horseman?

So once we were en route and the kids’ feverish anticipation for trick or treating threatened to boil over, I thought I’d better do some research.

And the results, fittingly, were horrifying.

If Halloween falls on a weekday, some towns actually do their Halloween festivities on the Saturday prior, which we’d missed.

What’s more, apparently there’s a nation-wide push to move Halloween from 31 October to the last Saturday in October. #therealissues

Also, there are timing guidelines from town-to-town so that householders aren’t expected to sit by their doors with a bowl of lollies until all hours of the morning – and – those general timing guidelines are designed to be cross-referenced with the weather forecast of the evening for maximum rain avoiding.

Then, Google led me down a path of demographic trick or treating justification, for example: if we simply wandered out of our hotel and started knocking on doors, it’d be a while before we reached anything other than a petrol station, Dominos or a car yard.

But apparently the town two towns over has a population in which 1 in 4 residents is under the age of fourteen, so surely a hotbed of neighbourhood trick or treating activity?!

Or not? I’m so lost.

And then, the straw that just about broke the haunted camel’s back, the Google search yielded a guide to known sex offender’s homes in your area, to keep your kids safe on Halloween.

Nooooope. I’m out. Too hard basket.

And yet… the kids were so excited. And they’d put up with a whole holiday completely devoid of any theme park action. We’d even stopped at a Walmart to pick out costumes – Cinderella and a Minecraft Creeper.

How could I let them down?

And this is the real horror of Halloween – meeting your kids’ lofty expectations. It was hands down the most stressful part of our trip to date.

In the end, it wasn’t a white knight (or headless horseman) that came galloping to the rescue, it was Hoff.

Apparently (in a fit of genius) he searched “trick or treating near me” and up popped a local mall, whose retailers were getting into the spirit by handing out lollies to all and sundry.

So we headed to the (gigantic) mall, marveled at all the brilliant costumes, and happily enjoyed the trick or treating experience whilst safe, dry and secure in the knowledge that we were perfectly welcome until 8pm, or until the lollies ran out.

And fortunately, night two in Sleepy Hollow was dedicated to the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze, should trick or treating turn out to be a major fizzer.

Simply put, it was 7,000 carved pumpkins, on the grounds of a nearby historical manor (the Van Cortlandt Manor), arranged into all manner of whimsy, from a fully functioning skeleton horse carousel, to the pumpkin Statue of Liberty.

It was glorious.

As I stood and watched a maniacal jack (o’lantern) in a box, spring from it’s box (made entirely of carved pumpkins), it reminded me of the true spirit of Halloween – the frivolous spooking of ourselves for no other reason than to raise the heart rate and have a bit of a giggle. With a sprinkling of harvest folklore and imagery thrown in for good measure.

And further, everywhere we’ve been in the last couple of days, there’s been people – shop assistants, hotel staff, medical receptionists (long story) – falling over themselves to ply the kids with lollies and engage in a conversation about their Halloween experiences, which the kids have loved and has been truly touching on the whole, I must say.

So Australia, when you’re ready to take a vote – I’m in. Let’s do this. Vote 1 Halloween. I’m ready.

Niagara Falls: Here’s what you need to know

And by that I mean, if you’re going there with a six- and four-year old. Not about the Falls themselves, so much. I’m still not exactly super-knowledgeable on those. I couldn’t hear a thing on our boat tour over the tonnes of roaring water and flapping ponchos.

(Side note: The Flapping Ponchos would be an excellent name for a Mariachi band, should I ever be in a position to name one.)

A room with a view

If you can get a room with a view, do it.

Because when you’re travelling with kids, there are so many things that you have to do with them in your hotel room every day – bathe them, feed them, answer their multitude of questions, ignore their multitude of questions during hotel room happy hour…

If you can do this in a room with a view, you can not only pass these mundane experiences off as something new and exciting – “hey kids, who wants to have a bath – with a view!?”, but you can maybe even do them in lieu of the plethora of alternative (overpriced) kids’ experiences, to which you will be subjected at Niagara Falls. More on that later.

Suck up the surcharges

Dining options in the Falls are plentiful but expensive. That said, don’t think you can cheat the system like I did.

I’d heard tell of a kitschy Flying Saucer themed restaurant a mere 3km walk from our hotel and a vastly better value breakfast than what seemed to be nearby. Given our kids had managed up to 14km walking a day in NYC, I figured the whole exercise would be a walk in the park, so to speak.

It was not a walk in the park. At all. It was a long walk on empty tummies, which took us past many a pawn, gun and adult shop in the process.

And the kids whined so much that we ended up taking a cab back to our hotel anyway, so kind of a false economy in the end.

Niagara Falls are kind of wet

I’ve seen many a pop culture reference to Niagara Falls and in particular to the Maid of the Mist boat trip and its Canadian counterpart – the Hornblower Journey to the Falls.

Note the dry hair

(Jim and Pam’s nuptials in The Office anyone? Sorry, spoiler alert.)

And on each and every fictional occasion, everyone ended up soaked.

Yet despite this, I was shocked at how soggy we all actually got in the end and I wished we were better prepared. I mean, the ponchos are lovely, but I should’ve put the kids in wetsuits.

And as far as capturing this beautiful, exhilarating moment we shared as a family? Water and iPhones famously don’t mix, so it depends how bad you want it. Time over, I would’ve brought a Go Pro, or at least a clear snap lock bag.

Fortunately we weren’t staying far from the boat drop-off point so it was straight to the hotel for warm showers and a fun game of – hey kids, how many things can we use in the hotel room as a clothesline?

Come for the view, and stay for the….view?

Niagara Falls are beautiful. And sailing directly into that foaming mist, barely able to hear myself think over the thunderous water will forever stick in my mind as a true highlight of our trip.

So if you’ve not had the pleasure, I highly recommend it.

Go there. Go on the boat. Or stand on the land and appreciate the view, soak it all in.

Just…don’t turn around.

As beautiful as the Falls are, the town (on the Canadian side where we stayed at least) is not.

I had read that the place has become a bit ‘Disneyfied’ which I think is generous at best and a bit of an insult to Walt and his kin at worst.

Think of every dodgy tourist trap you’ve ever seen and it’s all there, right behind the falls. It’s like a glittering who’s who of everything you never wanted to do. With a side dish of trying to explain to your kids why you’re not going to spend your time near one of the most beautiful places in the US inside a Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

That said, if you’re feeling really creative, you can pass the boat trip off as a water-themed roller coaster complete with matching costumes like we did. Everyone’s a winner.

PASSING THROUGH

We ended up in Rochester, NY, via Nashville, TN.

Kinda.

On our trip last year, Hoff and I visited Nashville. We arrived in town, dropped our bags and jumped in a cab to go to the meeting point for our ‘Nash Trash’ tour.

“Wow, that tour’s supposed to be fantastic,” our cab driver said. “You need to book tickets months in advance.”

I looked at him blankly. “Is there any other way to plan holiday activities?”

On the tour, only one other couple and us appeared to be under the age of fifty. As such, the four of us were quite the targets for our hosts, Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay.

Particularly the boys, the horny old cougars.

The other couple was Bryan and Julie, from Rochester, NY, and we chatted during a tour stop. They were (and still are) driving their RV around the US and Canada (www.cruisinwiththecareys.com) and they were kind enough to give us their contact details.

So when we decided to drive from NYC to Niagara Falls this year with the kids, I reached out to see if they had any advice, and they enthusiastically recommended their hometown for a visit.

Rochester is not a place I knew much about – only that the founder of the Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith, – and indeed the church itself – were born there.

(I’m not a religious scholar, by the way, I’m a musical theatre fan. If you’ve seen The Book of Mormon then you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, I’ll ask you again, what are you doing with your life?)

So, as we needed a stop to keep our driving time to kid-friendly maximums, we thought we’d give it a go.

And we’re so glad we did.

What a picturesque, friendly, unassuming place.

I mean…

We had a beautiful dinner that involved actual real-life vegetables.

We walked tree-lined streets with leaves of shades of orange and red that I didn’t even know existed outside a 72 set of Derwents.

We saw beautifully preserved historical buildings.

We went to the The Strong Museum of Play and visited the Toy Hall of Fame.

We had breakfast at a dedicated cereal and comic book shop, and had an exchange with Malcolm, who worked there, that went like this:

Me: Can I try the Reeses Puffs please?

Malcolm: What do you mean ‘try’? You’ve never had them before?

Me: No, we don’t have most of these cereals back home. Also, I’m 36.

Malcolm: (Incredulous) I mean…  I know you guys were a prison colony once, but I thought those days had passed?

You know those Instragram posts with exposed bricks and aesthetically pleasing coffee cup stains which spout earnest #inspo like, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”?

I hate those.

But I hate them even more when they’re right.

Rochester was never meant to be a destination, more so a necessary stopover on our journey to Niagara Falls.

But it was such a beautiful antidote to the mild stress of fighting the tourist masses to catch that elusive glimpse of something a little higher profile, that we left feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and also pretty darn chuffed that we’d given it a go.