Tuesday 27 May 2008

what i did on my springtime vacation

We've just returned from Toronto and Montreal after a very busy (but good) 2 week vacation. One of those "I need a vacation to recover from my vacation" type of things. It had been over two years since I'd been home and there were lots of people to see. Lots. So most of our time was spent visiting people, eating while visiting people, shopping before visiting people, and seeing a film after we'd visited people. Jack had no shortage of little friends to play with and our suitcases returned home bulging with gifts from those we saw.

Our journey (because everyone goes on a journey these days) began with our flight which went very well. In fact, it went too well to know if the hypnotherapy accomplished anything because we had no turbulence. Not that I'm complaining. Our flight was full, mostly with one 300-member extended family that apparently didn't believe in checking any luggage in. You can hardly blame them, what with all the Terminal 5 lost luggage hubbub (some of which is reportedly still somewhere in suitcase limbo), but my word...I never knew the overheard storage could contain such enormous items. Amongst the "carry on" was, I kid you not, an artificial Christmas tree. How that managed to fit in the little wire carry on example frame when you check in is beyond me. The 300-strong family laughed and waved their festive luggage at us as we stood bleary-eyed at the conveyor belt waiting for our suitcases to tumble down. Next time I may consider putting all of our possessions in Tesco carrier bags to take them on board with us. Or wearing 15 layers of clothing.

The kids were fantastic on the long flight; Jack was thrilled to have his very own television. British Airways now do a video on demand type service, which meant that Jack could watch Bob the Builder on a continuous loop for 8 hours. When we landed, he said "Oh, we're back at the airport." We explained that we were in Canada, so now he thinks that Canada is a large airport.

BBQ sauce face I have a few "must eat at" restaurants whenever I visit North America (some for the quality of the food, others for nostalgia), and The Baton Rouge is one of them. We went to one near my parents' house and were seated immediately by a chirpy hostess. And we waited...and waited...and waited until we flagged someone down to ask if they had a children's menu. It was odd that they didn't give us one when we first arrived, but surely they must have one. It's very rare that we get seated at a North American restaurant without being handed crayons, colouring-book-cum-menus, balloons, and tableside entertainment provided by a clown telling amusing knock-knock jokes. "We have a children's menu, but we don't have it written down. We just tell you what's on it and then you choose something," the waitress informed us. We chose something from The Menu That Shall Not Be Written Lest Someone Steal Our Idea Of Serving Toddlers Chicken Nuggets and ordered off the big person's menu for ourselves. As is evident by the photo, Jack thoroughly enjoyed drinking an entire pot of barbecue sauce and devoured his chicken fingers. I had a so-so plate of chicken and ribs, and Paul had a burger that was cleverly disguised as a piece of charcoal, which may have been a humorous homage to their down home grillin' theme. We think not.

Play centre We did a lot of kid-oriented stuff, which was great. Having children gives you a wonderful excuse to do fun things that would make you look more than a little bit odd if you did them on your own. We went to a fantastic place called Small Wonders Discovery Centre which had vast rooms of toys and playground equipment. One area had a huge play kitchen (depressingly slightly larger than ours at home) complete with a "grocery store" where Jack shopped for his dinner ingredients. We feasted on plastic potatoes, rolls, lettuce, and a nice cup of imaginary tea.

Toronto Zoo We visited the Toronto Zoo, a place I haven't been to since I was about 7 years old. It was a glorious day, sunny and warm. As it was a weekday during the school term it was practically deserted, save for a few foreign tourists like us. I mean, foreigners like my children and husband. I'm still Canadian because I'm too cheap and lazy to get my British citizenship.

ROM We went to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and looked at dinosaur bones. "They're not real dinosaurs," my son sagely informed me. "They're just skeletons." He gazed at the bones, watched a CGI clip about the t-rex, and touched a dinosaur tooth. The highlight for him was a small "discovery area" with plastic dinosaurs that made excellent participants in his sister-eating game.

Biodome In Montreal, we visited the Biodome, which is sort of like the Eden Project with small animals. When I told Jack we were going to Montreal he asked, "Does it have animals?" and indeed it did. Jack very likely thought that Montreal was a big farm of some sort as that's the sort of thing we tend to visit when we're in the UK, so the Biodome was right up his alley.

At Aidan's house We saw lots of friends, and met a few new little ones. We spent a day with Jen, Mark, and Aidan (pictured here with Jack) which started with a much missed and needed Canadian breakfast, followed by a trip to the fantastic Maman Bebe en Cafe (a small play area, cafe, and boutique all in one) to meet up with Susan, Patrick, and their little girl Sofia, and ending with a delicious takeaway sushi dinner. The next morning we met up with Dina and Maggie with their crew for another great breakfast.
Dim Sum, Montreal
For dinner, we met up with a huge group of old friends and their kiddies from previous jobs and university. Some I hadn't seen in over 13 years but incredibly, it was like no time had passed. We gobbled down delicious plates of steaming dim sum and side dishes at Ruby Rouge, a restaurant in the heart of Chinatown with waitresses that make a huge fuss over babies. Lovely.

When we returned to Toronto, Paul and I decided to go on a dinner date at a place called Ruth's Chris Steak House. It's a chain, but it shouldn't be something that puts you off trying it out - the price of a meal will likely do that on its own. The food was divine and the service impeccable, but paying $300 (including a generous tip) for two people to eat and have a couple of glasses of wine at a chain steak house seems a bit rich. Of course we also need to factor in the dinnertime entertainment provided by a geriatric gentleman and his 40something totty in a micro mini and stilettos. They sat on the same side of the booth and shared a steak, as we mused that they needed to share a meal so that she could cut it up and chew it for him. They ordered a very expensive bottle of wine and had the undivided attention of all the wait staff as well as servers from surrounding restaurants, hoping that a nicely folded napkin and water top up might warrant a crisp ten dollar bill.

We took advantage of our parental babysitters a second time to see a film, something that we haven't done since we snuck out to see "Casino Royale" two Christmases ago. We decided to see "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian", which was quite exciting for me as I'm a fan of the books and the first film. In retrospect, we probably should have hit the malls instead. I spent most of the film with my head in my hands either in boredom or attempting to hide my eyes. Horrifyingly cringeworthy dialogue and "jokes", terrifically awful acting, and far too many liberties with the plot that must have Lewis spinning in his grave. The four children from the first film return, spending the entire film looking as if they're on the verge of tears (understandably.) It is never a good sign when the opening credits roll and as each name passes by you wonder to yourself, "Who the hell is that?" In brief, that was two hours of my life I will never get back again.

Our visit conveniently coincided with Mother's Day (spent mostly on the sofa as I suffered from some hideous virus) and my dad's birthday (spent eating tiny sandwiches and cakes at a high tea.) We shopped and discovered that most things aren't cheaper in Canada anymore, and ate and discovered that Canadian beef tastes a million times better than what we generally get in the UK. I bought half of Loblaws grocery store and put it in Paul's suitcase, and we went on our merry way. Again, my hypnotherapy went untested as we only had a tiny bit of turbulence on the way home. The flight was uneventful, our luggage came tumbling down within minutes of arriving, and I learned that if I take one (or both) of our British children with me through passport control, I can go through the privileged EU queue rather than the Unwashed Others queue I normally stand in by myself.

Exhausted but happy, we drove along the motorway and headed home. Going in the opposite direction along the shoulder was an old lady pootling along on a motorized old lady scooter, followed shortly by a police car with lights flashing. "You did see that too, didn't you?" I asked Paul.

It's nice to be home.

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