After leaving Bartlesville, OK, we began our journey back to the homestead. The drive home is always bittersweet – you’re sad to see your trip coming to an end, but happy to be heading back to the comforts of home. Day one of the return trip saw us do the only backtracking of the entire trip. We followed the same route from Bartlesville until close to St. Louis, where we bypassed the city and headed towards Louisville, KY The rest of the entire trip found us following entirely different routes, which was very nice.
The most striking memory that I have of this day was somewhere on the road that morning. I can’t recall if we were still in Oklahoma or had crossed into Missouri, but we came to an overpass with a person standing on it. As we approached, I realized it wasn’t someone walking across, but just standing there. The closer we got, the clearer the image – a large, bushy-bearded middle-aged man dressed in what you’d expect someone like that to be wearing (just use your imagination… you’re probably right). And in his hand was a large confederate flag. He was just standing there holding the flag over the highway beneath him. Very odd. Very southern.
For our summer vacation, my wife and I opted to take a road trip. The end-point of our drive would be Bartlesville, Oklahoma, but more on that later. It worked out to be a 67 hour drive, round-trip. We left on August 13th and headed first to Gatineau, QC. This was the longest day of the entire 11 day trip, with about 11 hours of driving scheduled to get us to Gatineau. We were okay with that as we would be spending two days at our first destination.
Gatineau is where Isabelle’s 2 year old goddaughter, Elise, lives. We spent two nights at the Mallet residence, which consists of mom, dad, Elise, and two newborn twins. Following the birth of the twins earlier this year, we knew that the family wouldn’t be coming back home during the summer, so we opted to go to them instead. It was a fun, but eye-opening experience. I cannot fathom having three children that age – pure chaos. But somehow, Joline and JF make it work. I have to say that I truly admire their ability to manage through all of this.
While in Gatineau, we visited the MosaïCanadaexposition. It was a series of botanical sculptures representing all of the Canadian provinces and territories in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary. Some stunning pieces, to say the least! (click on the images below to expand)
Our next stop was Niagara Falls. This was Isabelle’s first time visiting the Falls. I had been once before when I was around 7-8, but in reality, I didn’t recall much. The only memory I have is talking my 2-3 year old brother out of taking a ride in the giant Ferris wheel, telling him that he’d be too scared. So he stayed on the ground with my aunt, and the rest of the family went up.
We opted for a slightly cheaper hotel, which also meant that it was a bit further out from the Falls themselves. After checking in, it turned out that we were a 45-minute walk away from the downtown core. Rather than drive and pay for parking, we opted to walk. The distance was nothing, but the neighbourhoods were a tad on the sketchy side; until you fell into the entertainment district. It was like night and day. Suddenly, everything was touristy and beautiful. Though I’ve never been, I would liken this block or two to the Vegas strip. Colourful neon lights, crazy signs and buildings, and gift shops/tourist traps galore! We strolled around for a bit, and then headed to the Rainforest Café for supper. We had been to the restaurant before while in Disney World last summer, so it was a little touch of Disney for us.
Frankenstein like BK
Nighttime in Clifton Hills
Following dinner, we made our way to the Falls. What a sight to behold. Both the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls were breathtaking. We reveled in the natural beauty that is the falls for a while, and then headed for the Niagara SkyWheel, the Ferris wheel that I previously mentioned. The timing was nearly perfect. As we got in our gondola and started to rise, the nightly fireworks display over the Falls began. Our view was partly obstructed by the condensation all over the windows of our gondola. The A/C was cranking and it was quite warm out… a perfect combination for foggy windows. Despite this, we still managed to see some of the fireworks show. The night ended with a nice 45-minute walk back to our hotel.
The American Falls
The next morning, we hit the road and made our way into the US. After a full day of driving, we stopped to sleep in Terre Haute, IN and were again on the road the next morning. Our first way-point was a short stop in St. Louis, MS to visit the Gateway Arch. As many times as I’ve seen images of the arch, they do not do it justice. You don’t quite realize the size and magnificence of it until you see it in person. The ride up is also something to experience. Tiny little 4′-high elevator cars that get righted by gyros systematically as you ascend the arch. Once at the top, you can look out onto the downtown core on one side, and the Mississippi River on the other. A beautiful vantage point.
View from the top
View from the top
Getting back on the road, we started noticing billboards at regular intervals on the highway that would catch our eye. The first one said something about the Uranus Fudge Factory. A few miles down the road, another billboard stating that “we’re having tons of fun in Uranus.” And another few miles down the road, the boast of “the best fudge comes from Uranus!” By this point, I needed to stop. It didn’t matter how horrible this place was, it was designed by people like me.
And stop we did. This cute little roadside destination following the old Route 66; the pure definition of tourist trap. But oh so fun! Thelocation consisted of a few interconnected buildings – a bar/grill, a tattoo parlor, a gun shop and the Fudge Factory & General Store. The inside of the Fudge Factory was something right out of a PT Barnum tent.
Saloon and grill in Uranus
Uranus Fudge Factory
“The Best Fudge Comes from Uranus”
We got back on track and eventually came across another roadside stop – Redmon’s Candy Factory and the World’s Biggest Gift Shop. The Candy Factory was littered with lines of baskets of candy of all sorts. A diabetic’s dream. While we didn’t buy anything here, we did take a peek at the World’s Biggest Gift Shop out of sheer curiosity. Inside we found row upon row upon row of gifts of all shapes, sizes, and configuration. Clothing, toys, books, decorative items… you name it, they probably have it. My only purchase in the end was a Route 66 t-shirt and a couple of Golden Girls Funko Pop figurines.
HUGE gift shop
Finally, we arrived in Oklahoma. The drive to Bartlesville was almost complete. We checked into our home for the next two days, the Hilton Garden Inn Bartlesville, and then proceeded to walk around the downtown to grab some supper. Despite the fact that it was around 6:30PM on a Thursday night, there was no one around. The downtown was empty, with the exception of a few restaurants and bars. We settled on a place called Frank & Lola’s. It was jam-packed! We ended up waiting a good 20 minutes for a table to free up, but it was worth it. The food was delicious and the service friendly.
We then headed back to the hotel and called it an early night, as we were excited for tomorrow… the real reason we had driven all this way. Tomorrow, we were visiting The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile!
Later this summer, my wife and I will be embarking on a glorious road trip. We had been debating what to do for my vacation this summer. We tossed around a few ideas, but nothing seemed to be sticking. One idea that we had floated around was to drive to Pawhuska, OK. This one kept coming back up, even though we kept on dismissing it initially. No matter what else we considered this one kept coming back into our mind, so we decided to look into it.
“Now why Pawhuska, OK?” you might ask. Or maybe more likely you’re saying “where?”
My wife is a big fan of Ree Drummond, better known as The Pioneer Woman. Her blog,cookbooks and TV series all revolve around her life on the ranch. Okay, to be fair, I’m a big fan of Ree as well. We’ve often made use of her recipes in our home, and everything has been delicious. To date, I think my ultimate favourite recipe of hers is her Burgundy Mushrooms. Sooo tasty! They may take 9 hours (yes, 9 hours!) to cook, but the house will smell amazing and the taste is exquisite.
Ree and family live near a small town in Oklahoma called Pawhuska. Over the past year, she and her husband have renovated and opened an old mercantile store. The Pioneer Woman Mercantile has a bakery, a deli and a general store. All things Ree can be found here. So this was our final destination. (Look out Ree, we’re coming!) Given that the town of Pawhuska is relatively tiny, we opted to book a hotel in Bartlesville, about 30-miles away.
To make the trip that much more fun, we’re heading off to Gatineau, QC first to spend a couple of days with Isabelle’s goddaughter, Elise and the family (including newborn twins). From there, we’ll continue on to Niagara Falls and spend a night there. This will be Isabelle’s first visit to Niagara Falls, my second. I was 7 or 8 the last time I went, so not much recollection. This is where we’ll cross over into the US and make our way to Oklahoma, driving through St. Louis on the way.
We’ll spend a couple of days visiting the area around Pawhuska and Bartlesville, spending lots of time (I’m sure) at the Mercantile, soaking it all up. I may need to hide my darling wife’s credit card once we get there…
The road home sees us stop in Louisville, KY and then heading on towards Wrentham, MA to do a bit of outlet shopping. We’ll be leaving Wrentham on my birthday. Rather than drive all the way home and have a boring kind of birthday, we opted to spend another night on the road. We’ll be heading through to Kittery, ME so that I can get me some Bob’s Clam Hut and then one last night at a hotel in Portland, ME before heading home.
All said and done, we’re looking at a little under 7,100 km (4,400 mi for my US readers) and about 67 hours of drive time. The longest road trip that I’ve ever taken was when I visited my friend Heather in Ohio some years back. That was about a 20 hour drive each way on my own. This time, at least I’ll be sharing the task.
One of the other fun parts of this drive is that we’ll be able to check off a number of US states from our list. After my grandmother passed away a few years ago, I was looking through her photo albums. My grandparents had traveled quite a bit in their later years. One of the finds in the albums was a handwritten list of all the states they had visited. I made a copy of the list and Isabelle and I will endeavor to check them all off, and then some!
I’m sure that there will be further posts detailing this trip later this summer. Stay tuned!
It’s been a good summer thus far, despite the fact that my wife had her gallbladder removed following a second visit to the ER in two weeks. While she’s doing phenomenally well, and is recovering nicely, it forced us to be a little low key for a few weeks. When I wasn’t working, we spent our nights and weekends bingeing Netflix series. Even now, two weeks out of the surgery, she’s getting out of the house a bit more, but we’re still keeping things quiet. And I must say that I’ve enjoyed the summer because of it. It’s allowing us to enjoy the little things. As much as we used to sit and binge TV shows periodically, I truly enjoyed the experience this time. Even our outings are small scale, but fun. This past weekend, we opted to do a stay-cation.
We headed off to Place 1604 in Dieppe, a whopping 2 minute drive from our house. We hadn’t yet been to see the new sculpture unveiled on Canada Day, so we strolled through the property, soaking in the beauty that is our city centre.
Then we crossed the street and headed to Café Archibald for lunch. As it was such a beautiful day, we lucked out and got the last free table on the patio. Lunch was delicious as always. Over the last few visits, I’ve had the same menu item and it has quickly become one of my favourites in town. Flatbread topped with goat cheese, figs and balsamic reduction. So. Good. I opted to have some dessert as well and went for the dessert of the week – a Nanaimo Bar crêpe. They’ve had the same dessert a few times in the past. We had the privilege of having it when they first made it a few years ago and it had actual chunks of Nanaimo bar in the crêpe. It was to die for. While this version didn’t have pieced of Nanaimo bar in it, it did have the right flavour profile. Not as good as the original, but tasty nonetheless.
Following lunch, we did a bit of touristy browsing of local boutiques. We stopped by Carte Blanche, Maddie & Sofia, and Gifts Galore. We also did the rounds of some of the spiritual/New Age shops in town – Boutique Mystral, Mystic Moons and Le Passage. While at Le Passage, I made a couple of purchases. I’ve long had an obsession with ancient Egypt. I’ve been fascinated by pyramids since I was a child. So I opted to buy a beautiful dark blue energy pyramid. Over the past year or two, I’ve also become interested in learning more about Archangels. The one that I’ve “connected” with (for lack of better terms) is Uriel. Lo and behold, they had a beautiful 8-inch statue. Two more fine additions to our meditation room.
Once we arrived in downtown Moncton, we took a little stroll through Festival Inspire. They had set up a little space along Downing Street with kiosks, vendors and a stage for some musical performances. One of the big pieces of the festival is the creation of murals around the city. This was the main reason we headed downtown, so we could see the turtle. The turtle was created by an artist based out of Portugal named Bordalo II, using pieces of plastic garbage from around the city and from the recycle centre. It’s a stunning piece to see in person, emerging in three-dimensions from the side of the building.
All in all, a beautiful day! I enjoyed strolling around the city enjoying things that we don’t usually take the time to appreciate. You have to enjoy the little moments in life. They are what make up the bulk of your life. Soak them all up and live your life to the fullest.
Although this was our third trip to Disney World for my birthday, this was the first year where our dates worked out so that Isabelle would celebrate hers as well. Isabelle and I are born 5 days apart (well, 1 year and 5 days). I’m the 22nd of August, she’s the 27th. As a teacher, and due to her return to work at the end of August, we haven’t been able to arrange the trips to allow her to experience the joys of a Disney World birthday. This year; however, the calendar worked with us. She only had to go back to school on the 29th, so we were able to shift the dates a bit to get both of our birthdays in. Continue reading “Day 7 – Happy Birthday Isabelle! (aka The End)”→
Day 6 marked our second visit to Hollywood Studios. But before heading there, we decided to journey back to Disney Springs in order to have breakfast at Wolfgang Puck Express again. I talked about it on day 4 – we absolutely love this spot! Best value for your dining plan, by far. Continue reading “Day 6 – Hollywood Studios Redux”→
Following our day off, our next stop was Animal Kingdom. Before leaving for the park, I finally got to try something that I’d heard about. We were staying at Pop Century, as we always do, and there was a new addition to the menu… The Pop Tart Breakfast Sandwich. This item had apparently been available in the past when people requested it, but never on their published menu. But that had changed. What more could one ask for in a breakfast? Eggs, bacon and cheese sandwiched between two strawberry Pop Tarts. While I wouldn’t eat this daily, it did make for a fun experience. Plus, it gives me a great story to tell people.
One thing we do on every visit to Disney World is to schedule an “off day” mid-visit. This allows us to rest up a bit and just relax since the other days are what you could call loaded. We typically leave the hotel around 8AM and often return around/after midnight. So we need a little downtime to recharge and get ready for the second half.
Epcot was the next stop on our trip. This was a break from our usual pattern as we typically would visit Epcot on our first day. It was also a chance for us to continue with the new adventures. Earlier this year, the Norway pavillion’s Maelstrom ride was re-purposed into a Frozen ride. Knowing that this was one of the busiest rides in all four parks, we opted to make a bee-line directly to the ride on our arrival first thing in the morning. Despite the fact that we arrived very shortly after the park opened, we arrived to find the line snaking all the way around the little courtyard. In all, we ended up waiting in line for over an hour for this ride, but it was well worth it. You get to immerse yourself in the world of Arendelle, with all of the characters from the movie.
After the ride, I was able to try something I’d wanted to try for some time, but had never taken the time – School Bread. The Kringla Bakerei at the Norway pavilion sells these delicious, coconutty and custardy items. I’ll talk more about them some other time when I focus on the food at Disney World.
We always enjoy walking around the World Showcase. Visiting the 11 pavilions. It’s the day we walk the most, by far. I could stroll through the park all day long. In the span of a few hours, you get to visit Mexico, England, Norway, Japan, China, France, Italy and more.
Apart from the World Showcase, we had a chance to do a character encounter with Baymax from Big Hero 6. He winked at Isabelle. Our night ended with supper at the Japan pavilion, eating at Teppan Edo. Since it’s a hibachi restaurant with tableside grills, we were seated with some other people, including a non-verbal Down Syndrome child at the opposite side of the grill. He loved shrimp. And I mean LOVED shrimp. It was adorably cute.
Once the meal was over, we strolled through the pavilions yet again as they have a whole other feel to them in the evening. We found a nice spot around the World Showcase Lagoon from which to watch the Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. This is one of the best fireworks displays in Disney World, and definitely a must-do for anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity.