Philadelphia

Oh my, I am so far behind in posts.  Since the end of September we have visited Philadelphia, road tripped to Maine, attended local Halloween activities and spent two and a half weeks on the West coast visiting family (along with an adult only trip to Vegas).  When I arrived home, I had an awful head cold.  Along with working full time and trying to feel better, writing blog posts have taken a back seat.  I decided to finally finish a post about our trip to Philadelphia over a month after I started writing it.

At the end of September we headed North to Philadelphia for a weekend.  Neither of us had ever been and with all the history there it was always on our list to go.  We left on a Friday, late morning and took Amtrak from Union Station to 30th Street Station.  The trip was about 2 hours and it was very nice and relaxing.  Eilam watched videos and looked outside while I read and Brian played games on his phone or tablet.

 

We found hotel prices in the Downtown/City Center to be very expensive so we ended up staying at the Embassy Suites City Center.  It was under $200 and we knew it provided free breakfast and happy hour.  It was an older hotel in a decent location.  It was a one bedroom with hide-a-bed.

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View from our hotel.  You can see the Franklin Institute with the columns to the left and the building at the end of the long road in the distance is the Museum of Art.

Friday afternoon after checking in, we walked to the Terminal Square Market.  What a busy, bustling place.  It reminded us of Pike Place Market in Seattle.  It was fun to walk through and look at all the different booths and stands.  We saw the various Amish made goods and food.  We stopped and got some ice cream for Eilam and milkshakes for Brian and I.  After exploring the Market we walked over to Franklin Square as it had a carousel and playground.  I would probably skip this as we were not really impressed by either.

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Due to a late lunch and then big milkshake, we really weren’t hungry for dinner.  I ended up buying tickets to go up to One Liberty Observation deck.  It was a nice view to look out at all the city lights.  Benjamin Franklin’s shoes are on the ground floor with his head on the 57th floor.  As you walk by the shoes lightning strikes, which really scared Eilam.  I bought our tickets online beforehand to save money.  There is a shopping center right there as well with a Bloomingdale’s Outlet.  We had never been to one and we could have spent a LONG time there.

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The next day we woke to the fire alarm going off.  After getting dressed and grabbing my purse, we walked the 20 flights of stairs down to the ground level.  Multiple fire trucks and ambulances came.  After about 10 minutes we just decided to go find a Starbucks and start our day.  So after a quick breakfast we walked down to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.  We got in on the 9:30 tour of Independence Hall which was very informative.  Between March and December timed tickets are required and can be picked up at the Independence Visitor Center.  After the tour, we got in line for the Liberty Bell (no tickets required).  While the line looked long, it moved fairly quickly and was only for security to get into the building.  After checking the Bell out, we were ready to head back to the hotel to shower and get ready for the day.  We bought a day pass for the PHLASH bus.  So for $5 we could ride this bus around town which stops at most of the tourist destinations and our hotel was at a stop.  It was convenient and cut down on some walking.

After showering and getting into clean clothes we walked over to the Franklin Institute.   It was a fun museum.  There were a lot of interactive science and technology exhibits.  Eilam was a little young but he still enjoyed our time there.  After over an hour exploring the museum, we were getting hungry and you can’t go to Philadelphia without having a cheese-steak.  We walked over to Cleaver’s.  Brian got the 1 pound Cleaver and I went with the Effin Hot Steak.  Eilam got the chicken fingers and we also got the loaded fries.  HOLY TOO MUCH FOOD (but really good).  Then back to the hotel for a quick nap.

After nap, we took the PHLASH bus up the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Eilam and I ran up the stairs.  We passed on standing in line to get our picture taken with Rocky though.  It was a beautiful day and there were a lot of people out and about and a lot of traffic.  So we had to wait a while for the next bus.  When it arrived we took it down to the Old Town/Waterfront area.  The bus has business type hours, so we did have to walk back to the hotel when we were done.  Dinner was at a random place we walked by going back to the Embassy Suites.  It attracted our attention though because it served breakfast all day and Eilam loves his pancakes.

Sunday we took a taxi to Mixto for brunch.  A few years ago Brian and I hiked the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu and one of the other hikers in our group lives in Philadelphia.  After a nice meal and visit, he dropped us off at the train station for our midday train back to D.C.

Philadelphia was a great city to visit for the weekend.  There were plenty of kid friendly activities and it was a very easy city to get around in.  Overall, it was a very nice weekend getaway.

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Maryland Renaissance Festival

Last fall, a good friend introduced us to the Maryland Renaissance Festival.  We had such a fun time we knew we would be heading back this year.  The Festival is currently in its 40th year and it runs every weekend from the end of August to the end of October.  It is located outside of Annapolis and takes about 45 minutes to get there from the D.C. area.  You can buy tickets online and skip the ticket lines there.

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The Festival is huge and has numerous artisans, food and drink vendors, activities, demonstrations and plays.  There are a lot of fun activities for kids and those under 6 are free.  Inside there is face painting, a big potato sack slide, pony rides, a reptile house, etc, etc.  The food is really good too, lots of greasy festival food, plus turkey legs, chowders, crab salads, and lots of desserts and sweets.  To top it all off they have mead, ciders and numerous beers for purchase.  With all the entertainment and shows it really is a great time.

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Planning for Disney World

Taking a family vacation to Disney World takes a lot of planning and organizing.  I did not realize how much until we had decided to go.  I am not even talking about deciding on a hotel or booking flights, but how each park will be attacked, what Fast Passes to use where and when, what dining reservations to make, shows to see, etc, etc.  The following is a brief overview of what we did and how it worked for us.

Magic Bands

One of the first decisions to make after booking a trip to Disney, is the customization of the Magic Bands.  This involves picking colors and naming them.  Eilam was excited to get his favorite color green.  Magic Bands acted as our room key, park ticket and credit card.  Each adult picked a pin number to enter when using them to buy meals or souvenirs.  They also scan your finger print when entering the park to match the person to the band.  Any time an official park photo (ride, character, etc) is taken, the Magic Band can be scanned and then sent to your Disney account to access later.

Park Tickets

We bought a five day park pass.  We opted not for the park hopper option as we really weren’t sure about how well Eilam would do going all day, every day and the distance between parks.  The plan was a park each day and visiting the Magic Kingdom two days.  It worked out pretty well.  Each day we would be at the parks when they opened for their extra Magic Hours and then take a couple hour break during the afternoon and then go back after nap.

Dining

The only dining reservations we made prior to arrival was for the character breakfast at the Tusker House in Animal Kingdom.  On our Hollywood Studios day, we ended up back at Disney Springs for dinner.  It was really difficult to find a place that wasn’t all booked up for dinner that night.  So we ended up at more of a quick service place, but still good food.  The day we arrived we went to Disney Springs and didn’t have any trouble for dinner.  Every time we ate inside the parks we ate at a quick service restaurant.  At Magic Kingdom we ate at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in FrontierLand.  We liked it so much the first night that we ate there again on our second day.  They had delicious fajita plates.  We did make reservations once we got there for the Boma, the African buffet at Animal Kingdom Lodge, which was delicious.  We made this reservation for our Animal Kingdom day as the park closed at 6pm, so we knew we would be back at the hotel.  Again, not knowing how well our 3 year old would do was the main reason we did not want to have set dining plans.

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Tusker House character breakfast

Memory Maker

Disney offers Memory Maker, a Disney Photo Pass option for $149 advance purchase.  It includes unlimited digital downloads of all photos taken in the park.  These include your ride photos, dining photos, character meet photos, and all those photos from the people that line up and down Main Street, in front of Cinderella’s castle and throughout each park.  Since we were going to be there 5 days, we decided to purchase this.  You can link everyone in your group too.  We took our GoPro and our phones for cameras, so we planned on stopping at a lot of people to get our pictures.  Overall, they were really great and we feel like we got our money’s worth.  Some of them didn’t turn out great, but were helped with a little editing.

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Family picture using Photo Pass and Memory Maker

What We Packed Around the Park

Our son really doesn’t use his stroller any more and is a really great walker.  However, with the extra long days and hot sun, we knew he would want to be carried.  Luckily,  my husband really doesn’t mind putting him on his shoulders and carrying him that way.  So we did the five days sans stroller.  It was great to not have to pack the stroller for the plane, the bus transportation, and worry about it at the park.  I bought an inexpensive Jansport two pocket backpack to carry all of the things we would need for the day.  This worked out really well.  It carried an extra pair of clothes for Eilam, my wallet, both Brian’s and mine sunglasses cases, GoPro camera, water bottle, sunscreen, a few snacks and Eilam’s favorite small stuffed animal Bei Bei the panda.  This left room for anything that we bought during the day.

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Eilams’ mode of transportation

Fast Pass+

This was the most difficult part of the planning for our trip was determining the time and rides for our three Fast Passes.  You can make these reservations 60 days prior if staying at a Disney Hotel or 30 days otherwise.  We changed these a lot, even once we got there.  We always tried to have 3 rides in the morning.  Once the 3 rides were up, we were constantly checking for other rides.  This worked out well for us at Hollywood Studios as we went on Toy Story Mania in the mid-morning and when I was checking the app during nap time, Toy Story Mania popped up as open in the early evening.  So we went back to that park just for that one ride and skipped the hour plus wait.  If you don’t want to use the Disney app there are Fast Pass kiosks throughout the park but having the app made it so you could make changes and constantly add them throughout the day.  We selected Fast Passes for roller coasters too and one of us would just go on them twice using Eilam’s band because they all have to be used before you can select another.  Since we utilized the extra Magic Hours there were some popular rides that we hurried to get on during this time instead of using a Fast Pass (Safari ride at Animal Kingdom, Mission: SPACE at Epcot, 7 Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kindgom, Rock’N’Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios).  This worked out well for us each morning.  The Safari was great as it was early in the day and the wait was as long as it takes you to walk through the waiting area maze, same with Mission: SPACE.  We didn’t even need to utilize rider swap there.  Rock’N’Roller we utilized rider swap but there was a small line.  The Mine Train had the longest line but  it was about 15-20 minutes.

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Expedition Everest-Brian’s first time, he went twice taking Eilam’s band for the 2nd ride

 

 

 

 

 

National Air and Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum located on the National Mall is our favorite museum to visit with our son.  Like most young children he loves all airplanes and space ships and rockets and helicopters and, well, anything that can fly.  There are actually two Smithsonian Air and Space Museums, one in Chantilly (the Udvar-Hazy Center) and one on the National Mall.  The National Mall location is easy to get to and has a lot of great exhibits.  The Udvar-Hazy Center is AMAZING.  If you can make it out there, I highly suggest it.  The place is just massive, I mean it has to be when you have the Space Shuttle there (and literally 100’s of other planes).  Both museums are free, however the Udvar-Hazy does charge $15 for parking.

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Eilam liked the museums last year but they are much more fun with a 3 & 1/2 year old then a 2 year old.  He is interested in learning about some of the exhibits and talks about what we are looking at.  The museum in DC has both a Planetarium and an IMAX theater.  The 10:30 showings at the Planetarium are free.  On Fridays the show is One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure.  This was a great show featuring Big Bird, Elmo and another one of Elmo’s friends.  Eilam loved learning about the sky and stars and landing on the moon.  This last visit we were there a little over an hour.  If you have never been before, be ready to spend a couple hours.

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Having way too much fun at the Air and Space Museum

The Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly (about 30-40 minutes from DC depending on traffic) is an absolute massive complex housing the Space Shuttle Discovery, a Concorde, the Enola Gay, an SR-71 Blackbird, a replica of an air traffic control tower and much, much more.  We have barely touched the surface of this museum and we have been twice.  If visiting the area and you can swing a visit, I highly suggest it.

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National Air and Space Museum

Where:  Independence Avenue at 6th Ave SW, Washington, D.C.

How to Get There:  L’Enfant Plaza metro (orange, blue, silver, yellow, green) exit the 7th and Maryland, walk one block towards the National Mall, cross Independence Ave and the building will be to your right.  There is an entrance along Independence and along Jefferson facing the National Mall.

Hours:  10am-5:30pm (7:30pm during summer months)

Cost:  FREE

Steven Udar-Hazy Center

Where:  14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly VA 20151

How to Get There:  Since it’s not in DC please check out their website for directions.

Hours:  10-5:30pm (extended to 6:30 during summer months)

Cost:  FREE admission ($15 for parking)

National Portrait Gallery

The other day I read in the Washington Post that there was a new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery with pictures and memorabilia about Babe Ruth.  I hadn’t been to that museum since we had moved to the area so yesterday I spent an hour walking around the museum and checking out the exhibitions.  I had forgotten how beautiful the inside of the building in.  There is a large indoor courtyard on the first floor that is just breathtaking.  On the third floor is the Great Hall where President Lincoln celebrated his second inauguration.

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While this is an art and portrait gallery it probably isn’t the most exciting place for young children.  So this was an afternoon for me to enjoy a quiet museum.  On the second floor is the American Presidents exhibit with Presidential Portraits.  There is also an interesting modern art exhibit on the third floor.

The Babe Ruth exhibit was small yet interesting.  It mainly concentrated on his baseball life and his influence on the game.  It runs through May of 2017.

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I also had to check out the Presidential portrait of Frank Underwood.  It is on the first floor not in the Presidential Portrait gallery, thank goodness.

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National Portrait Gallery

Where:  8th and F Street NW

How to Get There:  Chinatown/Gallery Place Metro (Red, Green, Yellow) exit toward Galleries or 7th/F Street

Hours:  11:30am-7pm

Cost:  FREE

Blackberry Pie Bars

Ah blackberries…..   I have a love hate relationship with the fruit.  Sounds weird, right?  I love, love, love eating blackberries and blackberry desserts.  However, I absolutely HATE picking them.  My childhood was spent visiting grandparents who lived on the Oregon coast.  My family eventually relocated from rural Idaho to the Oregon coast and I went to junior high and high school there.  When we moved to Oregon my parents bought my grandparents house which is in the country with about 10 acres of land.  Blackberries grow like weeds in this area.  They just take over other plants and grasses.  It is a never ending job keeping them back from the road, orchard, horse pasture, etc.  My mom would try and get my sister and I to pick blackberries down along our fields, however, we were terrible at it.  She would get quite frustrated with us, rightly so.  There were usually spiders and bees and the bushes are very pokey.  We had no trouble eating the delicious pies that she would make around the holidays though.

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Last week, our local grocery store had blackberries on sale.  I jumped at the chance to buy these and quickly scourged Pinterest for ideas.  While I love baking, I did not get my mother’s pie making ability.  I found the perfect recipe, Blackberry Pie Bars from The Novice Chef.  Oh my, these were delicious and super easy to make.  Sorry for the not so great pictures.  I just got a new lens that I was playing with and my food photography skills are lacking.  Check out the link for great pictures.  Also, really load the bar up with fruit.  I didn’t have quite enough to evenly spread out the blackberries.  This also would be good with all kinds of fruit.  The original recipe called for it to be mixed in a food processor but I found the volume was too much for mine so I mixed by hand with a pastry mixer.  This was a big, big hit in our house.

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Seriously, load up with berries.  I didn’t actually measure mine out but I used all that I bought.

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Monticello and Charlottesville

My current company offers a pretty healthy vacation plan and for the first part of the year I was working a lot, which has left me quite a few days to take off before the fiscal year starts over at the end of September.  So currently I am in the midst of an eight day staycation.  We didn’t really want to go on an overnight trip so we checked our list out for a day trip and decided to trek down to Charlottesville and visit Monticello.

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Monticello is located in Charlottesville, Virginia about 2 and 1/2 hours south of D.C.  We had a slightly longer pit stop on the way down then expected (some one had his first car sickness experience).  We arrived around 11am and got our tickets.  $25 per adult, kids under 5 are free.  They have a museum, cafe, and gift shop at the bottom of the hill where you buy tickets and the parking lots are.  It is about 0.6 mile walk up to the top of the hill where the house and gardens sit.  There are shuttle buses that take you up as well.  It is a timed tour of the house, our time was at 12:45.  So we had an hour and a half to explore.

The basement had various cellars and an interactive exhibit where kids could pick up old cast irons, ring a bell, use a dumb waiter and open a door with a skeleton key.  Eilam loved this part and kept calling the house a castle.  We walked around the gardens and property.  It was a beautiful setting on top of a hill.

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The details of a blooming artichoke.

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After a snack of kettle corn and root beer it was time for our guided house tour.  The entire tour took about 40 minutes.  The tour guide was very informative and knowledgeable.  It was a little long for Eilam, especially at that time of day.  The house was beautiful and we commented that Thomas Jefferson was just a tad wealthy.  No photography allowed inside unfortunately.  We walked down the hill after the tour past his grave and the cemetery.

Back at the car everyone was ready for some lunch, so we headed into Charlottesville and ate at South Street Brewery.  It was a really neat setting in a remodeled warehouse.  The food and beer was really good.  They had a great kids menu and Eilam devoured his lunch.  After lunch, we headed to the University of Virginia campus to walk around.  Thomas Jefferson founded the University in 1819.  It is a beautiful, historic campus with brick buildings and while columns.

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After exploring the campus we started to head home.  We took a slight detour to visit Prince Michel winery.  It was on top of a hill overlooking the whole Charlottesville area.  There was also a little gift shop and fruit and vegetable stand.  The setting was beautiful, the wine was ok.  It took us almost 3 hours to get home that evening but it was a great day of getting out of the city and exploring a place we have never been.