Friday, July 30, 2004

Chicago, Il July 29-31

I put in a bunch of links to photos in previous entries today. Go back and follow the links for shots from DC, Disney and other places.

Thanks Mike for the storage space.

We're currently in Chicago and had a great day at Navy Pier today. I'll write more about it later.

(Ed - 8-3-04, Chicago Experience)

This was my first proper visit to Chicago. We really enjoyed the city, There's a lot of fun stuff to do for both kids and adults. Our hotel was downtown, right next to the John Hancock Tower. We were 2 blocks away from the magnificent mile (high end shopping) and about a 15 minute walk from Navy Pier where most of the kid related tourist activities are located. Since the size of our family makes it tough to go anywhere by taxi we stayed within walking distance of the hotel. There was more than enough to keep us busy for the 3 days in walking range.

The first day we spent entirely at Navy Pier. We walked the pier, the older girls and Betsy went into the fun house, we took a 30 minute inner harbor cruise, went on the Ferris wheel, got free packs of disgusting strawberry chocolates gum, ate lunch at the "Cheezeborger, no fries, chips" place made famous on a Saturday night Live skit during the Belushi era and finished off with a few hours in the Children's museum. All in all an exhausting but fun filled day. After a free trolley ride that took us part way home, and a quick walk we ate dinner outside, then took a quick dip in the poll located inside the hotel, 30 floors above the ground.

The second day we cruised the magnificent mile. We made detours into the American Girl place and a Virgin Megestore to pick up some cheap DVD's for the car. We tried to eat at the original Pizzeria Uno's but the wait was over an hour and I was getting cranky for food. After lunch Kelly and I headed back to the hotel to nap while the big kids went with Betsy to an American Girl play. I predict that American Girl place will need to expand very soon. It was cool to see all the girls walking the streets of Chicago with their dolls. It's definitely a big destination event for the 6-13 age bracket.

After a nice nap we headed out, first to the 94 floor of the Hancock building to the observatory and then back to the pier. July 31 was Venetian Night in Chicago. There was a boat parade (which we didn't see) and some extraordinary fireworks that night. The fireworks were some of the best I've ever seen. They lasted at least 20 minutes and were timed to a great sound track that was blasted the length of the pier.

Betsy and I both agree that we could take a 4 day weekend in Chicago and fill it up very nicely with adult activities. Some of the areas we missed were the art museums, restaurants and theater. Frankly I'd rank Chicago higher than New York on my list of tourist cities. We'll definitely be back, even if it is only to catch a Cubs game at Wrigley field.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Louisville, KY July 28

(Ed 8-3-04)

The trip from Charleston WV to Louisville was uneventful. We stopped in Lexington hoping to visit the University of Kentucky. We imagined it as a quaint campus where the kids could stretch their legs, we could get a bite to eat and everyone could unwind. Color us disappointed. UK is a land grant university which means it really has no central campus. Lexington appeared to be a gigantic strip mall. We took the opportunity to stop at Target (Target of all places?) to stock up on some snacks and get some pillows and thermarest mattress pads to augment the lousy sofa beds we're encountering.

Louisville was much better. We took the morning to visit the Churchill Downs museum and learn all the history surrounding the Kentucky Derby. We even got a tour of the track. The girls were excited to take a look at a thoroughbred horse and his mini friend. I didn't realize that Louisville University was so large. Since all I ever heard about the state of Kentucky was associated with either the derby or UK basketball I didn't realize that Louisville was as large as it was.

Charleston, WV

We finally started making tracks westward after leaving DC early afternoon on Tuesday.  Charleston WV is the capital of West Virginia where coal is still king. The theme from Deliverance kept running through my head. We tarried very little in WV opting to get on the road early to get as fast as we could out of Dodge.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Washington DC

DC pictures
We're currently in Washington DC. Actually we've changed hotels from inside DC to just outside the city in Chevy Chase MD. Tomorrow we head out westward to Charleston WV with a stop at Monticello. I'll enter more DC info once I get a chance to write it up. DC has been a lot of fun. We spent the first few days doing the monuments (Washington from the outside, WW II, Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean) and then several Smithsonian buldings ( US History, Natural History, Space and Flight). We also made a side trip to Ford's Theater and the house where Lincoln died. Today we head off to the International Spy Museum and the National Archives and then visit Arlington National Cemetary this afternoon.
ok we never made it to Monticello. We did do the Spy museum and the National Archives on Monday. The Spy museum was intersting and hokey at the same time. It's a private site and it isn't cheap ($13 for adults) but they do a decent job explaining espionage throughout the years. Since I just finished Cryptonomicon I would have liked to see more on code breaking but it was covered along with a lot on the cold war.
We hit arlington national cemetary on the way out. We saw the JFK burial site as well as the tomb of the unknowns and watched a changing of the guard. Then we made a quick visit to the Marine (Iowa Jima) memorial. Is it true that there are 13 hands in that sculpture even though only 6 soldiers are portrayed?
Washington DC is great. I encourage everyone, especially those that grew up on the West coast where large chunks of US history are easily ignored, to take a week and spend it in DC. They've got a great metro system and most everything is free to visit. If you've got kids aged 10 - 16 they'll be facinated.

Baltimore MD

Baltimore Photo

Baltimore was in ways very cool and other ways slightly disappointing. We hooked up with Randy, Sue and the boys at our hotel which was only a block away from Camden Yards. We walked down to the inner harbor area for dinner on Thursday night.

Friday we started early with a trip to Camden Yards to check it out during the day. I didn't know that the O's were in town. We were tempted to buy tickets for the night. Luckily we didn't because the evening was quite rainy and we weren't equipped for standing in the rain. I did get some good photos of the park, walking through an open gate that wasn't supposed to be open (as I was later informed).

We then walked to inner harbor and got on a water taxi to take us to Fells Point. It's a district that is currently being slowly renovated. Judging from the dress codes prominently displayed on the entrance to every bar it appears that Fells point has a gang problem they are addressing. After lunch in a park there we walked around and then hopped on another water taxi to Fort McHenry. Things started getting interesting now.

Fort McHenry is where the American forces withstood a 25 hour bombardment from the British during the War of 1812. Francis Scott Key wrote the words to the star spangled banner on board a American ship stationed behind the bombarding British fleet after negotiating the freedom of an American prisoner. The fort then went on to have a colorful history serving as a prison during the Civil War and as a Hospital during WW I. It is the only place designated both a national landmark and a historic site.

All of the rangers were thorough in their knowledge of fort history and one of the older gentlemen has personally met 6 US Presidents because they often come to the fort on Flag day.

Then we grabbed a quick bite to eat before caravaning down to Washington DC.

Hershey PA, Gettysburg PA

Hershey Picture

We were going to spend a day at the amusement park in Hershey PA and then drive down to Baltimore to meet Sue's husband Randy who was already there on business. Instead we decied to skip the amusement park, make a short stop at Chocolate World in Hershey and then visit Gettysburg before continuing to Baltimore.

The drive to Hershey was less then enjoyable. So far route 81 from Scranton to Harrisburgh gets my vote for worst road and worst drivers. It's a 2 lane road in horrible condition, combined with the biggest truck to car ratio I've ever experienced. I'd say there was 3 semi trucks to every 2 cars. The truck are allowed to use the left lane and they do so without any regard for the car population. They attempt to pass uphill without any thought to speed ratio, hogging the left hand lane. We really needed a chocolate fix after that 2@ 1/2 hours. The direct quote from Holly when we parked was "move it people, this is important". Chocolate world was set up by the folks at hershey when their factory tour requests became overwhelming. There are a few free rides that explain how chocolate is made, some enlightening history about Milton Hershey and his wife, opportunities to watch a 3d movie or take a tour of the company town a decent food court and several enormous gift shops full of various size confections in every shape and size along with an enormous amount of merchandise that makes a Hershey's kiss rival Mickey Mouse in popularity. It was a pleasent way to spend a few hours. The amusement park looks cool also. It seems to have at least 6 roller coasters.

After Hershey we took a short diversion to Gettysburg. I remember going there as a kid during a reenactment week and being amazed. One of the reasons we took this trip we to expose our kids to some US history we feel is missing on the west coast and we thought Gettysburg was a good place to start. The visitors center exposed the kids to the background of the civil war and the importance of the battle of Gettysburg. I tried to fill in the gaps with my rememberances of the civil war up to that point in time. We toured the cemetary and latched on to a ranger tour who explained the battle and the aftermath and the creation of the cemetary. She also explained the importance of the Gettysburg address. How the North finally had a victory to quell the people who were ready to give in to the south and the enormouse size of the battle. We went into a building called the Cyclorama which houses a 360 degree painting of the battle, recreated after the war. It tooka team of 6 people 11 months to create and it told the entire story of the battle of Picket's charge in 1 painting. A 10 minute naration by Richard Dryfuss, combined with automated spotlight enhancement explained the painting. Lucky for us, we went now, the painting is scheduled for restoration this fall and the exhibit will be closed for several years. We got caught in a huge rainstorm as we left the building which prevented any future exploration of the battlefields but we'd already had a full day and needed to head on down to Baltimore to our hotel.

Pompton Lakes, PA

From Cooperstown we drove a couple more hours to the Milford PA area to spend some time with  Betsy's sister Sue and her two boys Ryan and Kyle. Since the boys were in 1/2 day camp we took the opportunity to stock up on some supplies in the morning and visit a really cool site called Child's Place near Dingman's Ferry. Child's place is walk through the woods along a river that has 5 or so small waterfalls. The walk is mostly dirt path and boardwalk going over several bridges and many sets of stairs. The kids enjoyed getting a chance to stretch their legs out (not knowing how much stretching they would be doing in DC in the days ahead). Then we spent an afternoon enjoying Gold Key Lake. We swam and took out the paddle boats then spent some time on the playground. That night we celebrated Kyle's 4th birthday with a cookout and some cake. 

Cooperstown, NY

Cooperstown Photo

Drove from Wilbraham to Cooperstown to visit the baseball hall of fame. I'd never bene through the farmlands of upstate new york before. I was amazed at the low population density in the area. We went a back route to cooperstown and the last 20 miles was rolling hills of family farms, then poof, you reach cooperstown which is a fantastic old community. There are lots of old mansions that surround a 1940's style main street. Most of the businesses on main street live off the hall of fame. They either sell baseball memoribilia or they sell custom made bats or souveneirs. The town borders a pretty large lake that looks like it may have been quite the tourist destination spot in the 40's and 50's. We'd like to do some research on the town because both Betsy and I were befuddled on why a mini newport, RI community would spring up in Cooperstown NY.

The hall of fame itself was excellent. It was chock full of equipment used by the actual players in accomplishing various records. It also gave a history of the game through the world series winners from the eary 1900's onward. There was a special exhibition of Sports Illustrated covers throughout the years, several of them brought back memories. I used to devour each SI as it arrived at our house. They were eyeball onto the world of sports to a kid growing up in Western Mass. We showed up a week before Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersly were innagurated so the place was hopping. The plaque room was outstanding and I spent an hour there with the big girls reading names and the hilarious nicknames for many players and some history. Up the street you can watch some little league games at Doubleday Field where Abner Doubleday "invented" baseball. It's also where the annual Hall of Fame game is played each year.

There are lots of baseball camps in the area, the largest accepts applications from teams all over the country to play a weeklong tournament each week at the Dream Field complex. This keeps the merchants pretty well set with fresh consumers of memoribilia each week. All in all it was a great visit to a place I've always wanted to see. The town was equally facinating. The older girls really enjoyed themselves and the younger two had fun in the kids room and pushing buttons on any interactive exhibit they could find.

disney world

Disney Photos

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Phases 1 & 2 Complete

We're back from Disney World which completes phases 1 and 2 of the "big vacation". We spent 2 weeks at Cape Cod and then jetted down to Wally world for 5 days of fun filled adventures with Mickey and the gang. I'll try and post more details tonight and then some pictures once we land in a hotel with high speed internet.
Today we're off to Wilbraham for a last visit with my folks (we're currently in South Windsor Ct, undergoing the same ritual with Betsy's parents). Then on Monday we start the big road trip with the first leg being Cooperstown NY to visit the Baseball hall of fame and Howe's Caverns.