Summer 2018 Travelblog
When I was a kid our parents took us on a driving trip every summer for two to three weeks. Mom and Dad looked forward to it immensely. Dad saved all his money from his middle-class salary from Kemper Insurance, and saved up all his sick days and vacation days earned throughout the calendar year and blew them all on our annual trip. He loved the freedom, the driving on the open road through our nation’s interstate system. He wanted to see the world, have some nice expensive dinners, and visit America. He also dug jamming that trunk with all the suitcases, just making it barely fit each and every day. Dad also loved pounding martinis the minute we checked into the hotel. Who could blame him? Having to listen to me talk all day in a small car? Good grief.
So now I continue the Wiersema family tradition by taking our family on the same vacations (more or less). However, I’m not a martini guy. I’m a beer guy and we have a Honda Odyssey van rather than a two-door Buick Regal. Anyways, the luggage fits nicely rather than snugly (vans > two-door cars) but the arguing and fighting increases with each and every bozo driver that doesn’t have their headlights on in the dark. I know! Another difference is the texting and driving has become so rampant that it’s a modern epidemic. Black plague anyone? No thank you, I’ll have some texting and driving instead…… something needs to be done. (*PS This sounds like a future rant column.)
This year we drove from our home in Mundelein, Illinois to Boston, Massachusetts by way of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. We also stopped at Niagara Falls and Cooperstown, New York as well as several other stops. Here’s a rundown of our trip(s) along with photos.
2014 : Texas; via Route 66
2015 : St. Louis and Hannibal, Missouri; via the Mississippi River Valley
2016 : Upper Peninsula Michigan; we drove all the way around Lake Michigan
2017 : Tennessee & the Smoky Mountains
2018 : Toronto, Niagara Falls, Boston, & Cooperstown
Day 1 (Friday, July 6, 2018) : Mundelein, IL > Sarnia, Ontario, Canada
The first day of a driving trip is always very exciting. You rush around packing the car and making sure nobody forgets anything. “Do we have the contact solution, the sunglasses, the hats, the pillows, my extra pair of underpants?” Once you get rolling, the excitement settles into a dull, melodic rhythm of “Are we there yet?” noises heard from the backseat.
Then you realize it’s already time to get out the extra underpants. The first day is always a long drive. This year we ended up just over the Canadian border. Deborah (my beautiful wife) booked us a hotel in Sarnia. We went out to eat at a restaurant on the water called Stoke’s Bay Grill & Bar. It was really Canadian right away. I loved it! CFL (Canadian Football League) was on the TV’s, some weird items on the menu like fried clams (I just totally invented that, like a fiction writer would do), and a really friendly waiter who loved hockey and the Toronto MapleLeaves (inside joke) and Chicago Blackhawks. Then confusion! He asked us a really strange question. Oh no! Cultural differences. How will we ever survive? When we asked for the bill, he replied with “You need the machine?” While my wife stared at him, my mind wandered into “Rage Against the Machine” territory. As I was jamming out in my brain to some hard-core metal, my wife politely asked, “Wait, what?” He exclaimed that if we were going to use a credit card that we would need to scan our card on a credit card machine at our table. Oh, right! We told him we don’t do that in America. Rather, we give the card to them so that they can steal our credit card number behind our backs. No worries. We were full-fledged Canadians on our first night. I dug it the most!
Day 2 (Saturday, July 7) : Sarnia, Ontario, Canada > Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The second day of a trip is really exciting too, except you start running into little problems getting adjusted. For instance, you have four people in one hotel room trying to use one bathroom and one shower. So while you’re trying to get your body adjusted to sitting in a car, sometimes all day, you also have to deal with everybody’s unique sleep schedule. As most of you know, I’m a late riser. This can cause problems. Oh well, I’m in charge as the man of the house, er the hotel room, right? Right guys? Is anybody listening? Sometimes I get the feeling that everybody is talking but nobody is really listening. Do I need to repeat it?
Anyway, we drove from Sarnia to Toronto. We stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott in downtown Toronto. It was pretty sweet! The only problems we had were minor. A strange skater dude skateboarded into our van at an intersection as we waited for pedestrians to cross. The weird part was he seemed to infer that it was our fault. It was confusing. I was kind of mad and then lost it with just a tinge of road rage, but don’t tell anyone. The guy skated into our van, then threw me double fingers (I think.) It was all very confusing because it was a Saturday around 4 pm and there were a ton of people on the streets. Our kids are screwing around in the back seat and I’m driving this monster soccer-mom van. Then boom! So I looked in the rearview and saw this guy giving me double “buzz-off” signs. I’m ready to get out of the car but
luckily he zoomed off into the abyss. I was ready to fight…..and I would’ve won let me tell ya.
The first thing we saw in Toronto was a mansion called Casa Loma. It was pretty cool. The place is gigantic and there were a ton of visitors. It’s not as big as Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina but it’s similar. Many movies have been filmed in the rooms of Casa Loma including “Cocktail”, “Extreme Measures”, and “Maximum Risk”.
Moving on, we loved Toronto! We went out to eat at Amsterdam BrewHouse on the shores of Lake Ontario. It was awesome. Great food, atmosphere, and beer. I would highly recommend Amsterdam to anyone in Toronto. If I lived near this place, I’d be there nearly everyday.
Day 3 (Sunday, July 8) : Toronto
My son and I went to Rogers Centre, formerly known as SkyDome, for a Blue Jays game. The New York Yankees were in town and it was a Sunday afternoon ballgame. The weather was fantastic.
As luck would have it, the first big-leaguer from our hometown high school (Mundelein High School) was scheduled to start for the Blue Jays. His name is Ryan Borucki and he made his 3rd career start. He pitched fantastic but unfortunately he didn’t bag his first major league win because Toronto’s offense couldn’t support him…… “No sticks man”.
After seven excellent innings allowing only one run, he left the game at the 7th inning stretch. The Jays had men on in the bottom of the 7th but couldn’t push it across so Borucki was saddled with another no-decision, leaving a 1-1 game that the Yankees eventually won in extras, 2-1 in 10 innings. Nonetheless, it was an amazing stadium and beautiful day for a ballgame. I highly recommend SkyDome!
Day 4 (Monday, July 9) : Toronto > Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Trev and I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame! It was awesome, even better than I imagined. It’s an underrated Hall. It’s very interactive which is great for kids of all ages. Trev loved playing video games (EA Sports NHL ’18) and shooting pucks with a real-life stick at a video board goalie. He beat me. Boo for Dad.
The greatest part of the Hockey Hall was definitely the collection of famous trophies including the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy, the Hart Trophy, the Vezina Trophy, and the Art Ross Trophy. They have a vault where they store the original Stanley Cup which is obviously irreplaceable. Wow, the history in this Hall was incredible. A special place for all hockey fans. Go there!
After the Hockey Hall we were on our way to Niagara Falls. What can we say about this fantastic part of God’s creation? I’m speechless, which is hard for me. We went on the boat ride which was more than amazing. Great memories for our family. Let’s let the pictures do the talking.
Day 5 (Tuesday, July 10) : Niagara Falls > Lake Placid, NY, U.S.A
Who loves a sports town with a Hall of Fame? I do! I do! Sign me up! Lake Placid is a hidden gem of a town in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Lake Placid is the site of two Winter Olympic Games, 1932 and 1980. In case you forgot, the 1980 Winter Olympics is one of the most famous Olympics ever because of the miraculous upset of the Soviet Union’s men’s hockey team, consisted mostly of professional players, by the teenage and college kids that made up the United States men’s team. It’s known as the “Miracle on Ice”. There’s even a movie called “Miracle” which I can’t believe I haven’t seen yet. I know. What am I waiting for? Nothing. Sign me up for that too.
Day 6 (Wednesday, July 11) : Lake Placid, NY > White River Junction, Vermont
On Wednesday we left Lake Placid and drove to Vermont. We stopped and saw Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York in the afternoon. Fort Ticonderoga has a unique history, having been a part of several wars while being in possession of many different countries. There’s some cool things to check out, especially for people who like learning about different types of cannons and guns. Trev really enjoyed it. Check him out pretending to shoot the cannon! He loves this stuff. They also have some excellent monuments to fallen heroes of yesteryear.
Day 7 (Thursday, July 12) : White River Junction, VT > Boston, Massachusetts
On Thursday we left Vermont and headed further east to our final destination, Boston Massachusetts. What a city! Boston is really cool. If it wasn’t for all the people, I’d love living there. Haha! We stayed at a Homewood Suites in Needham, MA which is a suburb of Boston. It was a new hotel and our suite had two rooms and a kitchen which was nice for us so that we could make ourselves at home. We were nervous about our decision to stay outside of downtown because we knew that we’d need to drive into the busy downtown bustle all three days and we had heard about the awful Boston traffic. Truth was, the traffic wasn’t bad at all. At least not nearly as bad as Chicago and the Chicago suburbs. Boston was a breeze compared to what we’ve been living with for decades.
On this first day in Boston, we drove to Lexington and Concord. This is where the Revolutionary War started in 1775. In a way, this was a microcosm of what our trip was all about. We wanted to learn and teach our kids about the important history of the United States of America. How did it start? What happened? What were the important events? Where did they happen and who made them happen? As we learned, it all started in Boston and the surrounding areas. Lexington and Concord does a great job with their bus tours. They had a narrator on the tour bus that explained it all and told interesting stories. Then we would get off the bus and view the sacred grounds of these events. It was fascinating. I had been on the same trip, more or less, in the 1980s and I still remembered many things. The Minuteman statue? I recall standing there 30 years ago. The Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, Bunker Hill, etc. I remembered most of it. It’s amazing what the brain can recall.
Day 8 (Friday, July 13) : Boston
Adversity struck on Friday the 13th. The plan was to go downtown and get on another tour bus that would drive us around all the main sites along the Freedom Trail. We had paid about $120 for four tickets. You’re supposed to be able to hop on and off the bus all day. The problem was the tour bus was always too crowded to board. There were no empty seats on any of the buses all day long! We actually never got on a bus. It was ridiculous. Needless to say, we were all hot, tired, and exhausted after walking everywhere instead of riding. We even took a few cabs but it was disastrous in a sense. On the other hand, it was awesome anyway. Don’t worry, we ended up getting a refund. Surprisingly, we even received a personalized letter from the CEO of the bus company too, apologizing for their mistakes and our trouble. He included free passes for any bus another time. They are set up in several American cities. Not bad.
Despite the change of plans, we saw several amazing places: the Mapparium, Old North Church, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere’s house, the Swan Boats in Boston Common, and Cheers! We even sat at the famous bench where Robin Williams counsels Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting”. It was spectacular. A great day filled with sweat, ice cream, history, and an annoying old man who told me to take my hat off in Old North Church…..”Son, remove your hat. This is a church for Godsakes!” I’m kidding about the “Godsakes” part but the rest is a true story. I quickly removed my hat thinking I was a bad person. Then I looked around at about a dozen others wearing hats of all sorts. Hey old man, this one’s for you. Buzz off!
Day 9 (Saturday, July 14) : Boston
I finally saw Fenway Park. All these years I’ve wanted to go there to see the Red Sox and their historic park. This was a definite “bucket list” item for me. The ballpark, and the game, didn’t disappoint. I absolutely loved it. Fenway Park is now #1 on my list of favorite ballparks I’ve attended a game at in person. It ousts my previous #1 Giants Park/AT&T Park/SBC Park/Pac-Bell Park in San Francisco. We went to San Fran in 2001 so that ranking held for 17 years! Sorry San Fran, you’ve fallen to #2. Beautiful weather, a spectacular crowd with friendly BoSox fans, the hot dogs!, and a finish unrivaled in my entire 100+ baseball games I’ve ever seen! That’s right. How do you see the best game ever? When it goes extra innings and the home team wins on a walk off grand slam!!! Xander Bogaerts hit it just barely over the Center Field wall to earn the victory. What a day! Unforgettable.
Day 10 (Sunday, July 15) : Boston
Because of the disastrous trolley situation on Friday, we decided to try it again on Sunday except with a different trolley bus company. It turned out well. This time we were able to hop on and off the trolley all day. We saw most of the Freedom Trail, especially the parts we hadn’t already seen on Friday. On this day, we saw Bunker Hill, “Old Ironsides” (the U.S.S. Constitution), the Tea Party Museum, Boston’s “Little Italy” neighborhood, Harvard, and MIT.
Day 11 (Monday, July 16) : Boston, MA > Warwick, Rhode Island
On our way out of Boston, we hit Plymouth Rock and drove out on Cape Cod. We created a song that the whole family enjoyed immensely (Must be sung with a Boston accent, i.e. “Cape Cawd”): “Cape Cape Cod, together we will see, Cape Cape Cod, fun for you and me, Cape Cape Cod, surrounded by the sea, Cape Cape Cod, lobsters we will eat”. Sometimes these little things become great memories. A super fun family day that ended with mini-golf and then dinner at the “Lobster Boat”. Yeah you guessed it….one must pronounce it with a Boston accent, i.e. “Lawbstuh Boat”.
Day 12 (Tuesday, July 17) : Warwick, RI > Cooperstown, New York
Driving from Warwick, Rhode Island to Cooperstown, New York was outstanding. The scenery was breath-taking. It’s kind of like going back in time to a world long since left behind. It’s all small country roads to get to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s quite an experience just getting there. And then when you do……wow. We did almost the exact same drive thirty years ago and it was memorable. It remained so three decades later.
Day 13 (Wednesday, July 18) : Cooperstown, NY
Is there anything more fun in the world than going into a sports Hall of Fame? I think not. The Baseball Hall was easily the greatest Hall of Fame I’ve ever seen. Did it seem familiar to what I remembered as a 10-year-old boy? No, not really. Not at all. Memories from thirty-three years ago can be hazy. This is one of them. I’m actually shocked that I have little memory of the Hall. I think my dad was in a hurry to get out-of-town that day. I don’t know for sure. I remember the Babe Ruth statue. I remember a gift shop that I was rushed to make decisions. As a kid I got a “I (heart) baseball” button, a mini pennant, and a mini wood baseball bat. That’s all. I always regretted that. This time, I left no room for regrets.
I went crazy! I spent everything my wife had on pennants, banners, a Chipper Jones HOF jersey, a snow globe (I started a small collection a couple of years ago), magazines, two t-shirts, etc. My wife says I can’t buy anything for a long time. That’s fine. I agree. I’m not sure I’ve had more fun in years!
As for the Hall itself, it is outstanding. There is so much to look at you would need to go back several times just to get a full view of everything. If you wanted to study a particular era, you could spend hours doing just that.
Since we were there about a week before the 2018 Inductions, there were displays of all the new inductees. That made it very special for me because I love this year’s class. The six inductees this year were Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Trevor Hoffman, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, and Chipper Jones. You could argue that Thome, Vlad, and Chipper are three of my all-time favorite players. For sure, Vlad and Chipper are two of my faves while Chipper is definitely in my top five favorite players ever along with Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lenny Dykstra, Frank Thomas, and Ichiro. Well, that’s six. OK. Let’s throw in Pedro Martinez, Mark Buehrle, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper for our Top Ten.
At the end of our big day in Cooperstown, we headed over to the famous Otesaga Resort Hotel on Otsego Lake. It is truly magnificent. All the Hall of Famers hang out here on Induction Weekend each and every year. I can see why they like it. You can sit on the veranda in a rocking chair and take in the beautiful sights of God’s green Earth. Peace abounds. We ate on the porch and heard some stories from the waiter. He said Frank Thomas is one of the nicest guys and best tippers he’s met in his couple years working there. Next time I visit Cooperstown I plan on staying at the Otesaga. It is truly a special place.
Day 14 (Thursday, July 19) : Cooperstown, NY > Elyria, Ohio
Two weeks in a car and hotels can really get you thinking. During this year’s trip, I had plenty of time to reminisce, think about life, and best of all hang out with my family. I am beyond blessed. God has shown his grace and mercy to me in abundance. I shall never forget this year’s vacation. The memories are endless. I shall remember our experiences in Toronto, Niagara Falls, Lake Placid, Boston, Cape Cod, and Cooperstown with great joy and humility. A fantastic vacation that I would obviously highly recommend.
Day 15 (Friday, July 20) : Elyria, OH > Wiersema’s Maplewood Estate, Mundelein, IL
After another super long day of driving, we made it back home to Maplewood. Thank God we made it home safely. It was a magnificent trip that we’ll all remember forever. Two weeks of driving, eating, drinking beers, seeing Halls of Fame, going to baseball games, visiting historic National Parks including America’s Freedom Trail…..it doesn’t get much better. An outstanding trip.
Next year…….Yellowstone Park, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Montana, Wyoming, the Rocky Mountains, and Custer’s National Monument, site of Custer’s Last Stand. I already can’t wait! Pack the car. Let’s go right now. Why wait for 2019? Oh yeah, we better save up the money and the vacation days. Get your tour books, your cowboy boots, and your National Park Passport books ready. July ’19 is right around the corner!