Illinois Trip, Part 2

We arrived in Chicago and got settled into our next Airbnb. This time we had a room with two beds and shared the bathroom, kitchen, and living and dining rooms with the other guests. Not as nice as our first rental, but it worked out well in the end.

Wednesday we took the L (metro) and a bus to the Shedd Aquarium. We especially liked the show that had Beluga whales, dolphins, and a sea lion. The displays on the Amazon rainforest were pretty cool as well.

After that, we walked down to the Adler Planetarium. Our admission included two shows, so we saw one that covered the stars in the Chicago night sky and another one about the search for a new ninth planet. Joe liked the first show better, and Michael looked the second. I thought they were equally good in different ways.

Next we walked down to the Field Museum. We only had about 90 minutes left before they closed, but we wanted to see it while we were there. My favorite section is the hall of gemstones so we made sure to go there. We also saw a special exhibit on wildlife photography that was really good.

One bus and a train later, we made it back to our room. Just in time for a thunderstorm to roll in actually!

Thursday morning we headed back into the city to the Museum of Science and Industry. The special exhibit Wired to Wear was pretty neat – it was all about different wearable technology. Lots of cool stuff! Joe also took a special tour inside a WWII submarine.

I attempted to splurge on an overpriced sweatshirt but their network was down and I couldn’t use my credit card. Instead we splurged on a taxi ride to our next location instead of taking two different buses to get there. It was so worth it and only half the cost!

Our second stop was Skydeck, which is the top floor of the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. Although I am not fond of heights, I didn’t mind being up there. I did not, however, take a turn out on the ledge.

Having used up our CityPass, we took the train back to our room and just chilled the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Friday we drove from Chicago home to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was a long day as we stopped for meals and other breaks, but we wanted to get home and have the weekend still to enjoy.

We are thinking next time we go to the Quad-Cities that we will make our side trip be St. Louis. Neither Joe nor Michael has ever been there, and it seems like there are lots of neat things to see and do. But that’s probably going to be another four years, so we’ve got lots of time to think about it!

What fun places are you visiting this year?

Illinois Trip, Part 1

It’s been four years since we made the trip out to Illinois, where both of my parents live. The last time we came Joe and I were engaged and Michael was only 13 and certainly didn’t have facial hair! So it was high time to make the trip.

We decided to leave on a Friday and take two days for the drive. We also decided to take the stick shift, which meant I had to brush up on my driving skills. I’m pretty sure it had been 15 years since I had driven a manual transmission. (It did come back to me for the most part, although I’m still not great at pulling out in first gear.)

The drive itself wasn’t too bad except for a few construction slowdowns and a fair amount of congestion around the Chicago area. It was long enough to make us start thinking of adding a budget category to save up for plane tickets for next time though!

We arrived in the Quad-Cities on Saturday and checked into our Airbnb. It was a cute upstairs apartment in an old house near the Mississippi River. The only problem was it had very few electrical outlets and we kept tripping the circuit in the living room. But it was nice to have a bedroom for me & Joe as well as a kitchen.

Saturday night we met my mom for dinner at the Iowa Machine Shed. Then Sunday we met my dad and his wife for lunch at the Village Inn. It was good to see everyone. I hadn’t seen my mom since that last trip in 2015. My dad and his wife had visited us in Pennsylvania in 2016 for our wedding reception, but that was still a while ago.

My Mom Kathy
My Dad Dean and his wife Carolyn

Sunday we also went to see Godzilla: King of the Monsters and then got ice cream at Whitey’s. The movie was better than I thought it would be, and the chocolate marshmallow malt was just as good as I remember it.

Monday we took a trip to the Amana Colonies and enjoyed walking around to the various shops they have there. We got treats at the chocolate shop as well as gifts for both our parents. I also got a new candle to burn while I’m working.

Monday night we saw my mom again and then we stopped by my dad’s Tuesday morning before leaving for the Chicago area. All in all, a good first leg.

Stay tuned for Part 2, the Chicago leg of the trip!

Boston Trip Wrap-Up

As much as we enjoyed the historical sites we visited in Boston, we also enjoyed some other aspects of our trip.

On Wednesday, we went to the New England Aquarium and then went on a whale watching cruise.  We arrived at the aquarium just as it was opening and got to watch the feeding of the penguins.  They also had fur seals and sea lions as well as a variety of other exhibits.  It wasn’t a large place but it was interesting and I got some good pictures.

20180627_132950The whale watching cruise was pretty neat.  We went about 90 minutes away from Boston, out to a plateau where the whales like to feed.  I wish we had gone up to the deck a little bit earlier to get a better spot, as it was kind of hard to see for a lot of the time.  Later on, some people moved around and we were able to get to the front, although a lot of the activity was still off to one side of the boat so we didn’t see as much as we would have liked.  We did have several sightings of a mom and her calf as they surfaced several times.  I’m sharing the best picture we got; it’s just of a tail unfortunately.

20180628_172535On Thursday afternoon, we went to a chocolate factory in Somerville, the town where we were staying.  It was called Taza Chocolate, and they produce stone ground chocolate.  They have a tour which includes a video and a peek into the factory where they make the chocolate, as well as all the samples you could want.  Their original product is a Mexican style chocolate disc which has a somewhat gritty texture due to the way the sugar is ground, but they also make chocolate bars which are ground more finely and are closer to what we are used to.  We enjoyed visiting the factory and sampling the various chocolates.

The other fun part of our trip was the food.  We went to two pubs, as well as a seafood restaurant and an Italian restaurant.  I had seafood at one of the the pubs and a burger at the other; both were good.  The seafood restaurant had good fish but the lobster topping was very chewy – either it was badly prepared or I just don’t like lobster, I’m not sure which!  The Italian restaurant was my favorite; it was also in Somerville and was called Vinny’s. Perhaps I was just really hungry after walking around in the rain all morning, but I quite enjoyed my pasta and meatball, and they had excellent bread.

All in all, our trip to Boston was a really good one and I’m glad we went there.  I’m looking forward to our next adventure, wherever that will be!

Boston Trip Historical Sites

Our main purpose in going to Boston was to experience as much of the history of the town as we could.  We started out on Tuesday by taking guided tours of the Freedom Trail, which is a collection of various American Revolutionary historical sites.  We did the first part in the morning and the North End in the afternoon.  The guides were costumed in period clothes and were both quite good.  I enjoyed the afternoon tour a little more because that guide talked a lot about the daily life of people around the time of the Revolution – what they wore and what they ate, stuff like that.

Our favorite part of the morning tour was the Granary Burying Ground.  It was a peaceful spot in the midst of a busy city.  The highlights of the North End tour were the Old North Church and the Paul Revere House.  Both of these sites were also available to tour inside.  By the time we finished the North End tour, I needed a little break so I rested while Joe toured the Old North Church.  Then we walked back to the Paul Revere House and toured that.  I found it interesting that they chose to restore the Paul Revere House to the original condition rather than the way it was while Paul Revere’s family lived there, given that he was the one who made it famous.

We weren’t planning to visit any historical sites on Wednesday, but the people we met on the whale watching tour recommended the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.  We had time after the cruise, so we headed over there and went through the tour.  I had two thoughts during the experience – cheesy and hokey.  It was the most expensive historical thing we did and it was seriously overrated.  Definitely not recommended!

On Thursday, we headed over to the Charlestown area and visited the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill.  The USS Constitution has a nice little museum and then you can walk around the ship itself.  It was raining so we mainly saw the area below decks.  Bunker Hill also had a small museum as well as the monument that you could climb up inside.  It was almost 300 steps so I let Joe do it while I waited in the museum.

I would highly recommend Boston as a good destination for history lovers.  It was very walkable and offered a lot of interesting sites to see.  As I mentioned in my first Boston post, it was also easy to get around using the subway and buses, which is good because no one I talked to recommended driving or trying to find parking in the city.

Orchard HouseBefore we headed home on Friday, we decided to make our way over to Concord to visit Orchard House.  This is where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women.  It was a fascinating tour.  We saw a short video about Louisa and then walked through the house and saw how it was set up while their family lived there.  All of the paintings in the house except for the portraits were done by her sister May (Amy in the book) so we got to see a lot of her work as well as seeing the Civil War era furnishings and decorations.

If you’re interested in this time period or in Louisa May Alcott, there are several other sites in the Concord area to see.  We needed to get on the road, so we just went to the Orchard House and then headed home.

We did a few other things in Boston that were not historical, so I plan to write another post about those places.  Look for that in a couple of days!

Boston Trip Overview

Joe and I recently went to Boston for a few days for our summer vacation. Michael went and stayed with his dad during our trip since we didn’t think he would appreciate all the walking and the historical sites we were planning to visit.

20180624_1354098674857650037859414.jpgIt was a really nice trip despite the fact that my car got totaled the day before we left. Throughout the week, I was on the phone with different people to get that taken care of, including the police to follow up on the insurance card the other driver provided that turned out to be fake.

We stayed in a room in a house in a close suburb of Boston and got around via the subway and bus. I was quite nervous ahead of time wondering how this would go, but it turned out to be pretty easy.  It was about a ten minute walk from the place we stayed to the nearest station, and we were able to find stops close to the places we wanted to go as well.

img_20180628_142639_1777193417146913380400.jpgThe weather was beautiful most of the week, although we did have rain on Thursday. We still went ahead with our plans though. Luckily we had bought sweatshirts the day before for our whale watching tour, so we wore those to deal with the rain. I made a note to bring ponchos on our next vacation!

I plan to write a couple more posts about our trip, one covering the historical sites we saw and another for the other stuff we did, so those will be coming up in the next few days.

New York City Bus Trip

On Saturday, Joe & I took a bus trip from our church to New York City.  Since Sunday was our one year anniversary, we figured this would serve as a nice quick getaway to celebrate.

Our main event of the day was the Southern Welcome Tour in Central Park.  The bus dropped us off at Bryant Park, so we decided to walk the 19 blocks to where the tour would begin.  We had two very friendly and knowledgeable tour guides who took us around to several important park landmarks between 59th and 65th Streets.  They also gave a lot of history on how the park came to be.  The picture at the top of this post is of the Gapstow Bridge, which was part of our tour.  It is popular for weddings, and we did in fact see a bridal couple getting pictures taken there.

After the tour, we spent a bit of time climbing on the rock outcroppings and enjoying the views in the park.  Then we made our way back down to the theater district. (I told Joe that next time we should plan to see a show – I think that would be a lot of fun!)  It was 1 o’clock by this point so we went to get lunch.

homecarminesnew3We ate at Carmine’s, which is an Italian restaurant that was recommended by Joe’s sister.  Fun fact: Joe’s dad’s name is Carmine.  The food was amazing, although there was way too much of it for us to possibly eat.  They serve their dishes family style, with what they say is enough for 2-3 people.  I am convinced we could have fed 5-6 from the huge platter they brought us!  We had rigatoni with meatballs, and it was really wonderful.

After lunch, we decided just to wander around and do some shopping.  We went in a few stores, but ended up spending most of our time people watching.  There was an event that day in Bryant Park, so that was all cordoned off and we couldn’t hang out there, but we found some other places to sit and take everything in.

All in all, it was a very nice day.  We could have planned at least one more specific thing to do to fill more of the time, but it turned out okay anyway.  We also spent some time catching Pokemon, so that was fun too.  (My son doesn’t have a smartphone so he has a game on my phone and I try to catch some on weekends that he is away with his dad.)

For those of you who have been to NYC, what are your favorite places to visit?  We will probably go back again, so we are always looking for ideas.

Places I Want to Visit

This post is going to be updated as I come across new places or make it to somewhere on the list.  Some of them will be more realistic than others, but I am hopeful that eventually I will make it to all of them.

  1. Pennsylvania Grand Canyon/Wellsboro
  2. Bushkill Falls
  3. Colonial Williamsburg
  4. Walt Disney World
  5. Niagara Falls
  6. National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial (we have already visited the World Trade Center and Flight 93 memorials)

I am totally open to suggestions, so please feel free to leave me a comment with your ideas of where I should go.