A week of overseas discoveries comes to an end as we head into the domestic half of the “S-canada-navia Tour.” More on where that name comes from and the moron who inspired it later.
We touch down in Philadelphia around 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon at the end of an uneventful flight from Oslo. I got an incredible deal on the tickets – $89 each way from Philadelphia to Oslo. But, flights from our home in Charlotte, NC to Philadelphia were more costly than the overseas flight! (See my post Tweet and Fly Like A Bird) So Mr. & Mrs. Cheapskate decide to drive and then leave the car at the Philly airport.
We park at Expresspark’s south lot. After some research, this seems the best option. The airport’s long term lot costs $11 per day. But, with a coupon printed from Expresspark’s website, the charge is less than $50 for 7 days. The rave reviews on Trip Advisor are true. It is super simple. The drivers are courteous and I spot our car as we land so I’m reassured it was safe while we were gone.
Since we are traveling with time-saving carry-ons only, from the gate we call the 800 number for pick-up just as the battery dies on my phone. We walk through the airport and out the terminal door to see the van waiting for us. I paid online ahead of time for one day so, I show them the receipt and give them the coupon. We pay the balance as we are dropped off two rows away from our car. A quick change into clean clothes that we have stored in the car and, only minutes after landing from an international vacation, we are on the road.
Instead of heading south towards Charlotte, we turn north towards Buffalo. This is the first stop on the second half of this whacked out itinerary. Is there anything quite like waking up at the equivalent of two o’clock in the morning, flying over an ocean and then hitting the road starting the first 400 mile leg of a 1300 mile road trip? Ah, traveling!
First order of business is to plug in my dead iPhone. As soon as it gets some juice and comes back to life I am in the perfect mood to talk to a supervisor at AT&T. I want to squeal on Amber, the international rep who made my phone inoperable for any WiFi connections or phone use. I knew I was in trouble when she asked if Scandinavia was in Canada. The supervisor gives me a credit of $59, equal to a month’s service, which I thought was more than fair. I also found out that there was a possibility of racking up international charges by hitting Canadian cell towers just by being near the border. I’m definitely keeping an eye out for any weird charges on the next bill.
As it starts to get late, and with no better prospects in sight, we eat a gross dinner at a rest stop along the I-476 Pennsylvania Turnpike NE Extension. By the time we hit the interchange of the Turnpike with I-80 in White Haven PA., we are loosing steam like a rusted-out teapot. First stop is at the Comfort Inn and, from the outside, looks to be anything but comforting. There are signs explaining it’s under renovation. And it needs it. The lobby is dark and depressing. Surfaces are scraped and scratched. Don’t ask about the carpet. We insist on seeing the $80 accommodations before committing and are given a key for a room on the 3rd floor. For $80 it’s horrible. For free, it’s horrible. Thanks, but no thanks. Back on the smelly elevator I press the down button. The elevator doesn’t move. Fully gripped by exhaustion, I start to freak out a little. Hitchcock’s Psycho scenes dance through my head. We must escape this Bates Motel NOW! There is no sign and, inexplicably, the lobby is up, not down! (Cue the Psycho music.) We drop off the key and rush back to the car. Phew.
We dash across the interchange to a new-looking, well-lit Holiday Inn Express. Inside, it’s a bright, clean, new hotel. Holiday Inns are going through makeovers and rebranding and I am sold. For $100 (worth every penny on this night) we have a brand new room with gleaming granite countertops in the bathroom, and a comfy bed. The rate includes a pretty good breakfast too.
Well rested, we need to cover 300 miles before lunch so we get an early start. My cousin, Debbee and her family live in a suburb of Buffalo. We’ve been trying to swing through Buffalo for years and haven’t been able to get there so why not now?
We arrive at midday so the greeting party consists of my cousin and the family dog. Everybody else is at work or school. Debbee’s plan is to have lunch at the outside tables of the Clarence Corner Café in Clarence Center. This rustic restaurant/coffee shop is in a building with creaky wood floors and tables inside and out. It’s a lovely fall day and after spending the previous day in planes, trains and automobiles, it’s nice to sit at a stationary table and soak up the sun. Our food arrives and so do the bees. We retreat inside and catch up with each other’s lives.
After lunch, we head back to Debbee’s house. It’s on a golf course. Mike has been suffering from golf withdrawals for the first half of the trip. As the girls chat, he and the dog stare out the window and dream of a long walk that will never be. The visit is over much too quickly. But, there are still 270 miles of southern Canada between us and our next destination in Michigan. Debbee sends us off with a loaf of incredible homemade pumpkin bread (made from fresh pumpkins) which is sliced for easy snacking. She thinks of everything!
We cross the border near Niagara Falls into the province of Ontario, Canada. Toronto is not far to the east, but we are westbound and in a traffic jam on Ontario’s Highway 401. This road will take us to Windsor which is just over the river from Detroit. We choose the border crossing at the tunnel instead of the crossing the Ambassador Bridge because we’ll end up closer to tonight’s destination east of downtown. The seemingly endless drive finally terminates at Karen and Tim’s house around 8:00pm. We are greeted with pizza, beer and great company. There’s no better way to end a long day of traveling.
The next morning we walk a few blocks to downtown Grosse Pointe for coffee and breakfast. In this part of Michigan many of the squirrels are black. We spend some time trying to take pictures of the elusive beasts. They are not cooperative. We finally get our best shot and it’s time to drive to our penultimate destination for the North American leg of our trip. We are spending two days with Mike’s family. It’s been way too long and I am excited to see them. Our base is at sister Mary’s house in Royal Oak. Plans include a big family get-together on Friday night.
While in Michigan, one mission of mine is to fulfill my co-worker’s request for Sanders Toppings. I introduced them to this Michigan delight and promised to fulfill orders while I’m there in an effort to save shipping costs. From the first time I poured this on ice cream, I never gave Hershey’s Syrup another glance.
My office mates are crazy for this. I wind up spending $150 on various flavors of topping which include milk chocolate, dark chocolate, caramel apple and cinnamon pear caramel. I cleared shelves in 3 stores! To prevent temptation, only 2 of those jars are allowed in my house.
I encourage Mike to tend to his golf needs. Seconds later, he has a tee time and bolts out the door to a nearby course. I spend the day with a few of his sibs shopping for food and drinks for the family gathering tomorrow. Seven of the eight siblings will be there along with kids, cousins and an aunt and uncle. That night we enjoy take-out from Thai on Main in downtown Royal Oak. With a craving for Thai food, this version is good. Not hit-the-ball-out-of-the-park great, but a good option. The company and conversation are much better.
Friday morning I banish Mike to another golf course. I know it’s painful for him but he complies. With all the party preps taken care of, Mary graciously agrees to put aside her shopping repulsion and indulge my addiction to the Nordstrom Rack. Years ago when I was a Vice President/Regional Director of Operations for Westwood One, Detroit was one of the cities I traveled to every couple of months. The deals at the Nordstrom Crack, as I call it, were addictive. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been in one and this visit does not disappoint. A pair of jeans that usually sell for $130 are marked down to $45! In 2011 a new Nordstrom Rack will open in Charlotte. Contrary to my husband’s perception, I am not a die-hard shopper but I am excited about this new store.
After we score deals, we refuel at the Café Muse in downtown Royal Oak. I can’t decide which of the daily soups to have so I order a cup of each one. Very satisfying. It’s late afternoon by the time we finished. A few last minute details and soon the clan is gathered, the de-caf coffee flows, and a good time is had by all.
Saturday morning Mike and I get up early. We want to be on the road at 7:00am and we only miss the mark by a half hour. We have to cover almost 650 miles today. For this leg, it’s 216 miles to our first stop in Columbus to have lunch with the missing sib, brother Tom and his daughter Nicole. As much as we want to linger there are 425 miles left on this journey so we hit the road.
One more stop is for take out from Copper, my favorite Indian restaurant in Charlotte. It was a busy night there and, a rarity for this regular, they screwed up my order. We are so close to home so it seems like forever before we are on our way again. We finally pull into our driveway around 9:30 pm. Our furry boys meet us at the door, eager to greet us and inspect our luggage. They are rewarded with countless foreign smells as we unpack. Tired and happy, we crawl into our luxurious Tempur-Pedic bed and back into our lives.