The final chapter of our road trip journey consists of visiting with friends in Wheaton, Toronto, and Buffalo before reaching our final destination in our 2007 Saturn Ion: We said goodbye to our car (which we were pleased did so well on this cross-country expedition!) in Marcellus at my parents-in-law’s house before driving their car to Poconos Pines for a week-long, extended family get-together in Pennsylvania. Once we arrived in Wheaton, we began the part of our trip where we stayed with friends for 2-3 nights at a time, which happened until we arrived in Marcellus; much of our time was spent soaking up quality time with them and not as much on sight-seeing (although that happened a bit, too). This post covers 4 U.S. states and 1 Canadian province, three of which I visited for the first time on this road trip: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ontario (Canada), and New York.
After enduring the Chicago suburb traffic (yes, this is a thing), we were greeted by our sweet, dear friend Rachel, whom we haven’t seen in nearly 3 years since she and her husband, Jake, moved back to the Mid-West from California for his job to be closer to their families. We’ve all missed each other so much and were very much looking forward to this special, dedicated, extended weekend together! After Jake got home from work with Landon, their almost-two-year-old son, whom we met for the first time, we enjoyed catching up over a Chicago-style deep dish pizza and drinks. After Landon went to bed, the four of us sat around their fire pit and talked until we were too tired to keep our eyes open much longer (well, Rachel and I went to bed much sooner than Jake and Aaron). It truly felt like hardly any time had passed since we were last together, which we all agree is telling of good, solid friendships!
Basically, for 3 nights and 2 full days we were spoiled by Rachel and Jake with grilled steak and corn-on-the cob, brats, wine, cheese, etc. We “grilled out” as they call it! Rachel and I and Jake and Aaron each had our own time together, which was really nice. Rachel showed me Downtown Wheaton, including a Saturday morning Farmers’ Market (where we bought some awesome pretzel bread!) and some of hers and Jake’s local favorites, we went for a couple of walks, and we took a Barre class at her favorite fitness studio, The Dailey Method (see my separate blog post about this and other group fitness class experiences I had while traveling throughout the U.S. here). Overall, they seem to be fitting in really well into their neighborhood and community and we’re really happy for them (we just wish we all lived closer to one another)! It was neat to see first-hand what their lives are like now and how much has changed since they moved, and we are looking forward to our next visit with them when we return to the U.S.!
Labor Day morning started with a solo workout for me in the backyard; it was my first dedicated workout (with HIIT intervals and using my resistance band and tubing) in an outdoor, humid environment (and there were lots of bugs I battled, even this early in the day, LOL). Labor Day was a travel day for us, and a long one; we drove from Wheaton through the upper, left corner of Indiana and Michigan to cross the border into Canada to stay with our friends, Rian and Monika, in Toronto. Aaron and Rian met when they studied abroad together in Australia years ago and have stayed friends and traveled together quite a bit since then. This day of driving covered about 550 miles and took over 9 hours total. We stopped at Starbucks and Panera (which is rare for us) in Indiana and I was a DJ playing trance music from our laptop for a chunk of our drive. We ate at Sitara Indian Cuisine for dinner once we crossed to border in Sarnia (the owner was very friendly and welcoming; he even came outside to say goodbye, wish us well, and let us know there are places we can stop for coffee or tea along our route to Toronto as we walked out to our car!) and arrived around 11:00 p.m.; I went straight to bed and left Rian and Aaron to their guy time to catch up with one another into the early hours of the morning (drinking on the rooftop of the building).
We had the pleasure of spending the following day with Rian, who was quite the tour guide! Our only request was that we do something active, since we had spent most of the day prior in the car driving to Toronto, and he delivered! We rented bikes from the City and took the ferry to Toronto Island, where we biked for a few hours and picnicked. There were some great views of the Downtown Toronto skyline from the ferry and the island, and the ride itself featured some great views, too! After getting back to the condo, we all got cleaned up and walked around in the muggy heat before meeting Monika after she got off of work for dinner at a local Thai restaurant, Pai; I passed up my usual Pad Thai to try something new, and I’m glad I did! Their Sangria was also very good!
The next day, Aaron and I were on our own before leaving to drive to Niagara Falls on the Canadian side, which was my first time experiencing it altogether; I was told the Canadian side is the best side to see the falls from (and I agree)! We walked to St. Lawrence Market and spent a good part of the morning there. We ended up purchasing various fare to take with us to eat on the road, including some marinated seafood and artichoke, dolmas, a sandwich, and I daringly tried an exotic rabbit pate (it was just okay, duck mousse or chicken liver pate is my absolute favorite and hard to beat on my list)! We also walked to a local coffee shop, Rooster Coffee House, and sat outside on a bench facing the street while enjoying our latte and coffee.
While it was hot, sunny, and muggy, it was totally worth enduring to experience the mist and splendor of Niagara Falls! To this day, it’s the most spectacular, naturally captivating and beautiful sight I’ve seen in our travels! Bonus: A double rainbow appeared and lingered during our visit! The BEST part, which I was initially a bit uncertain and apprehensive about, was taking the tour boat out to the falls and getting sprayed underneath one of the falls while barely being able to clearly see anything!
Afterwards, we drove to Downtown Buffalo and feasted on a Wednesday wings special (only 50 cents each, and they were awesome!) and shared a salad at Local Kitchen and Beer Bar before heading over to Lou’s and Melinda’s house. Lou, Melinda, and Aaron were friends in college and have continued to stay in touch regularly in the years to follow. We both enjoyed showers to clean up from our outdoor experience at Niagra Falls and we chatted until bedtime. Lou and Melinda were so gracious and gave up their own bedroom for us while we stayed with them, as they have two young daughters and thought it would be easiest. We had the pleasure of spending the next day with Lou, Sam (1 1/2 years old), and Parker (3 1/2 years old); they were shy around us at first but slowly warmed up and we had a blast playing with them! We watched the movie, Cars, played with their toys, had lunch, and rested while they took naps (we were worn out after a few hours)! We went on a couple of walks in the neighborhood and had dinner at Duffs, which is an Aaron and Lou-famous place for wings in Buffalo that they’ve frequented for years, though it’s been awhile for them both. I tried my first Dairy Queen soft serve, which was a chocolate and vanilla twist dipped in chocolate that hardened as a shell that Aaron and I shared during our evening walk.
After a morning workout in the backyard (Sam did so well with some of the exercises she joined in on!), we got cleaned up, packed, said our goodbyes, and hit the road for Marcellus for a loving greeting from Joyce and Tom and to prep for leaving our car and some personal belongings behind and get ready for The Poconos! At this point in our travels, we were ready to take a slower pace and stay in one place for a full week and visit with family.
Until next time,