Travel Progeny

By 2g1c2 girls 1 cup

Archive for the 'ESD GXKD and Me' Category

26 February
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A train to Chicago

I had to go to Chicago this sum­mer to work so I thought I’d take the kids along and make it a long week­end.  Like most lit­tle boys G loves trains.   I’d been want­ing to take the kids up on the train and this was the per­fect opportunity.

View from Nike Town, ChicagoThe Train ride:

It’s about 5 1/2 hours on Amtrak from St. Louis to Chicago’s Union Sta­tion by train– about the same as dri­ving.  Plus, you can’t beat the price– some­times no more than $23 bucks and 1/2 that for each child!  (That is less than the gas it takes or a cab fare from the air­port if you fly.)  Even with­out kids I like to take the 4:35am train that arrives into Chicago around 10.  I thought that would be a good choice with the kids. I envi­sioned them going back to sleep as soon as the train started mov­ing but they were so excited they didn’t go back to sleep until about 45 min­utes before we pulled into Chicago. What a ter­ri­ble mis­cal­cu­la­tion!  They each had their back­pack packed with a blan­ket, bob­ble­heads or cars, note­book, crayons, water bot­tle and snacks. That stuff, games like I spy and the chang­ing view from the win­dows kept them enter­tained.  The best deci­sion I made though was to sit in a car with a hand­i­cap acces­si­ble restroom. It was huge!  Big enough for us all to fit and not touch any­thing unnec­es­sary. What I appre­ci­ate most about the train is that the kids didn’t have to be strapped into a car seat for hours on end and could even get up move around.  They enjoyed their train ride and often ask to do it again.  My father wants to take them on an overnight train adven­ture.  I think they’d love it.

Our time in Chicago:

We stayed at the W– Lakeshore. The loca­tion was great as were the views.  We had wanted a suite but that didn’t work out so we just had a typ­i­cal king room. Turns out that worked per­fectly because of the big daybed by the win­dow. The house­keeper gave me sheets and pil­lows and we turned it into a bed for the kids.  House­keep­ing even made it up every­day when they cleaned the room. Ser­vice was great.  My only com­plaint was that we were charged full price for a 3 and 5 year old for Brunch on Sun­day– ridicu­lous in my opin­ion con­sid­er­ing what they ate.  The other annoy­ance was the loca­tion of the ele­va­tor.  It’s right by the front door and although there are plenty of cars, the hall­way to access them is so nar­row that there always seemed to be a bot­tle­neck with peo­ple get­ting on and off.

The hotel is almost right across the street from the Ohio Street Beach. The kids could see it from the win­dow and that is all that they wanted to do. We went the first day and I couldn’t get them to leave.  It turned out that was good because it became rainy and unsea­son­able cold later in the weekend.  I wasn’t expect­ing to spend so much time there– I wish I had brought some sand toys. Luck­ily they met some local kids who were will­ing to share.  The water was a bit chilly but the kids didn’t care.  There was a bit too much trash and bro­ken glass on the beach for my taste so while the kids played and dug holes with their new friends I col­lected bro­ken pieces.  I was not alone. Many other par­ents were doing the same thing, so after awhile I felt a bit more con­fi­dent that my chil­dren were safe bare­foot.  Dur­ing our stay we came back a cou­ple more times for shorter stretches.

Also in walk­ing dis­tance was Chicago’s Navy Pier.  We could have spent most of a day here tak­ing boat rides, going to shows, eat­ing at dif­fer­ent restau­rants or going on rides at the mini amuse­ment park. Instead we just walked around a bit, did some peo­ple watch­ing and ate.

Rainforest Cafe, ChicagoWe ate at a cou­ple ran­dom lit­tle restau­rants but the kid’s favorite was the Rain­for­est Cafe.  It’s full of auto­mated ani­mals hang­ing from the ceil­ing and tucked into the walls in their “habi­tats” com­plete with sound.  There are also big fish tanks all over the place.  The kids were delighted to sit next to the ele­phant fam­ily and cheered every time they snorted.  Food is typ­i­cal: burg­ers, sal­ads, chicken ten­ders, etc…

There are two other places we ate that I would recommend:

Big Bowl:  60 E Ontario, Chi­nese and Thai.  It was good, but it was also rea­son­able, really fast and kid friendly.

Kame­hachi:  240 E Ontario, Sushi.  Although we did not eat in one, they do have lit­tle pri­vate rooms that can be a life­saver with kids.  It is cer­tainly a more adult place but they do have high­chairs and our wait­ress was happy to ban­ter with the kids. There were other fam­i­lies there with small chil­dren but the major­ity we cou­ples or groups of friends.  I’m not a sushi lover but I was with some­one who is and he really enjoyed his meal.

Pitchfork FestivalOne of the cold days we went to Pitch­fork Music Fes­ti­val at Union Park.  It took quite awhile to get though the gates so once we were in the kids were kind of over it.  They were momen­tar­ily revived when they found an inflat­able ball, a dusty field and new lit­tle girl to get dirty with.  That gave us a chance to lis­ten to some music.  It also gave us a chance to get a restau­rant rec­om­men­da­tion from the lit­tle girls par­ents.  After walk­ing around the rest of the grounds we walked to Wish­bone (1001 W. Wash­ing­ton) to eat. It’s “south­ern recon­struc­tion” and very kid friendly– a good choice.

Museum of Science and Industry, ChicagoAnother day we did get a chance to meet an Aunt at the Museum of Sci­ence and Indus­try. They had gone to see the Harry Pot­ter exhibit. We opted out of that but had fun explor­ing every­thing else.  G and ES were excited by all of the choices and had fun wan­der­ing through the many exhibits.  We spent a long time watch­ing the model trains weave through their lit­tle cities, and watch­ing the lit­tle chicks hatch from their shells.  ES and G enjoyed every moment.  They were pro­pelled though the place by the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the next room.  It was fun to see. Thirty-five dol­lars well spent.

We had a great week­end. We’ll def­i­nitely do it again.

25 February
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Destin and the Panhandle

Just before school started this fall we headed down to Des­tin, FL for one last bit of fun.  We drove to New Orleans first and from there to Des­tin– Ten hours to New Orleans, overnight there, and then four more Des­tin.  It was worth the drive!  Des­tin is the per­fect choice for kids who are fear­less but not great swim­mers.  Every­thing is close and the beaches are clean and beautiful.

Our Town HouseWe stayed in a friend’s rental prop­erty.  It was in a lit­tle gated com­mu­nity just off the main street and walk­ing dis­tance to the mall and the beach–even for a 3 and 5 year old.  The sell­ing point for the kids though was the pool that was just out­side our front door.  The town house itself was huge– 5 bed­rooms, 4 full baths and two sit­ting rooms.  We were just four plus two dogs but the condo could have eas­ily slept at least 10.   We were there for 9 days so I was espe­cially thank­ful to be in a place with a kitchen and a washer/dryer.  Hav­ing such a great place to stay made the trip so much more enjoyable.

It was the begin­ning of hur­ri­cane sea­son so we did have days with rain, but for the most part those days also included quite a bit of time of sun. On those rainy days we hung out in our house, headed to the Out­let Mall to do some back-to-school shop­ping or to the mall to catch a movie.  I never felt like I didn’t have options.

The beaches got crowded later in the day but never so packed that I felt like my space was being encroached upon.  The beach is per­fect!  The sand is beau­ti­ful and the beach clean. The water is shal­low for quite a dis­tance and the waves for­giv­ing so the kids never felt appre­hen­sive about get­ting in.  Mostly the beach was pop­u­lated with fam­i­lies but also a fair num­ber of solo teens and adults.

wavesG at DestinThe 3 of us
It was a work­ing vaca­tion for one of us so most of the day it was just the kids and me. I took one back­pack. The kids each car­ried their own stuff. These are the things I am glad I brought:

  • A beach tent:  Although there are umbrel­las I bought a lit­tle beach tent.  I had done some research before I got down there but I ended up get­ting a tent at a local Wal-Mart.  It’s great.  It col­lapses down to noth­ing, has a floor, held up in some sub­stan­tial winds (our last day there was the day before a trop­i­cal storm hit) and it was cheap ($18).  It allowed us to stake out a shady spot a lit­tle closer to the water.  I also felt a lit­tle more con­fi­dent leav­ing stuff unat­tended while I was in the water with my bag securely tucked into the tent’s back corner.
  • The FloatiesFloat­ies:  Not those lit­tle inflat­able arm­band things but a hybrid life preserver/arm band thing with a cute face.  We also got them at Wal-Mart.  They are basi­cally a foam band wrapped in nylon life pre­server mate­r­ial with two foam arm band sim­i­larly wrapped and attached on the sides, a nylon strap with clasp on the ends and a face smacked on the front for good mea­sure.  ES had a yel­low duck and G a shark.  Even with the big waves on the last 2 days they kids just bobbed right up.  They felt safe and I felt like they were too.  Nearly every nearby par­ent asked where I got them after see­ing the kids in the water with them on. They were maybe $15 each.
  • Gog­gles: Salt water burns lit­tle eyes and whin­ing about burn­ing eyes hurts big ears.
  • Water­proof sun­screen:  Lots of it.  Spend­ing all day at the beach meant we had to reap­ply sev­eral times a day.  I used about twice as much as I thought I would and still it was not enough. Sorry, G.  They say the lotion is more effec­tive but I find the spray much more con­ve­nient once we get out and about.  I com­pro­mise by apply­ing lotion before we leave the house and bring­ing the spray to the beach. G tested Hint: Apple Cider vine­gar works bet­ter than aloe vera gel to relieve the sting of a sunburn.
  • Tow­els: I brought the large micro fiber ones.  You can find them at Mar­shalls of at Out­door Sup­pli­ers.  I only had one back­pack and one tra­di­tional tow­els would have taken as much space as four of these did.  These were plenty and they dry much faster than terry towels.
  • Beach blan­ket:  I found this on the rainy day out­ing to the nearby out­let mall.  Eddie Bauer makes it.  One side is a water­proof nylon and the other flan­nel.   It was big enough for 4 to sit on but rolled back nicely into it’s draw­string stuff sack.  It was at the out­let for $15 so I’m not sure if it is some­thing they still sell.
  • Water:  There are guys that walk around sell­ing water and frozen treats but they didn’t seem to come by that frequently.
  • Snacks:  There are places to eat but quite a trek from where we were on the beach.

Grayton BeachDur­ing the week we walked to our local Des­tin beach but on the week­end and some evenings we went to Sea­side and Gray­ton.  We were look­ing for good food and a dog friendly beach. The towns of Gray­ton and Sea­side are cuter than the much big­ger Des­tin– no malls, no big stores, lots of inde­pen­dent restau­rants. In Sea­side we ate and walked around to the lit­tle shops but didn’t go to the beach. Instead we stopped at a park and let the dogs and kids swim in the inlet.  Turns out there are no pub­lic dog-friendly beaches in the whole county. But in Gray­ton not only can a res­i­dent bring their dog they can lit­er­ally drive right up to the water at with a res­i­dent tag.  It was late in the day so we risked it for old Joe– it was sad to be so close to a beach and be unable to bring the dogs with so many already there run­ning free.  It was Layla’s first time at the ocean and they both had a blast. The beach was beau­ti­ful but we did find it had more jel­ly­fish and algae than just down the beach in Des­tin but maybe that was just the day we were there.

We came to go to the beach so that is what we had been doing every­day, but about mid­way through our trip I decided that we would mix things up and head to the water park: Big Kahuna’s.  We got there in the early after­noon.  You must pay to park and you must pay to get in and once you are in you pay for a locker.  It was an expen­sive day out– nearly a $100 for three.  I can’t say that I felt like I got my money’s worth. Maybe if they had not closed all of the pools a cou­ple of hours after we got there because of the storm that rolled in, or maybe if the kids had been big­ger we would have got­ten more out of it.  Lit­tle peo­ple had their own area and could go on some slides but they were frus­trated by all that they were not allowed to do. Although the kids had their float­ies (thank good­ness!) one me alone with two young chil­dren among lots of unsu­per­vised kids was a bit much at times. I think I will hold off on water parks until they are a bit big­ger, bet­ter swim­mers and/or the adult kid ratio is 1:1.  They had fun at the water park, but had just as much fun at the beach or the pool in our lit­tle community.Sandholes in Destin

You can find what­ever you would like to eat in Des­tin: local favorites, over­priced tourist traps to national chains like Waf­fle House or Chili’s. If noth­ing in Des­tin is to your lik­ing then all one needs to do is drive down the road to a nearby town.   Unless you live in a very urban place every­thing you can find at home you can find here in much the same way—large gro­cery stores, Wal­greens, Tar­get, Wal-mart, Barnes & Noble and a whole out­door mall com­plete with a huge Bass Pro Shop and movie the­atre.  It’s a tourism town.

We had a great time.  Not too long ago G and ES were telling me that they were for­get­ting how to swim and needed to go back to Florida.  I’m glad they enjoyed it as much as I thought they did.  I would go back.

23 February
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A Thursday: Audubon Insectarium and the Louisiana Children’s Museum

My kids are Saint fans… or at least they are fans of the Who Dat song and ES of gold pom-poms. So how could we pass up the chance to spend a long week­end in NOLA where the Mardi Gras and Super­bowl cel­e­bra­tions con­verged?  Because we were dri­ving we headed down a bit early to avoid the bad weather. It’s about 10 hours from St. Louis to New Orleans.

Because of Mardi Gras lots of places were com­pletely closed and/or hours of oper­a­tion were ran­dom.  For Instance, after con­sult­ing the NOMA web­site on Sun­day we went to see the Dis­ney Princess exhibit only to get there to be informed that they had decided the night before to close early.  Nice.  The kids cried. Thanks NOMA.

Into the InsectariumIn the flight room In an effort to avoid the week­end chaos of Mardi Gras in the Quar­ter we  headed down to the Audubon Insec­tar­i­ums and then Louisiana Children’s  Museum on Thurs­day.  It was cold and rainy– a per­fect day for some indoor  activities. We have been to the Audubon Aquar­ium (right around the cor­ner)  but this was our first trip to the Audubon Insec­tar­ium and I was look­ing  for­ward to see­ing what was inside.  We got there in the early after­noon and  with the excep­tion of a school group there were not a whole lot of peo­ple  there. My first impres­sion:  It’s not that big.  You enter into a hall­way with lots of lit­tle plexi-glass bug homes.  Also, off this hall­way is an exhibit on what it’s like under­ground enlarged 100 times with  giant insects, and sound affects.  G and ES had a  good time under­ground.  Love Bug at the Audubon InsectariumThere was a painted VW  Bee­tle sans doors that the kids liked jump­ing in and  out of. Finally, we came to the cafe and a room  about Local bugs– not too inter­est­ing to my 3 and 5  year old.  Then there came the room about water  bugs.  At its cen­ter was a large cir­cu­lar tank where 2  young albino alli­ga­tors live– some­how creepier  than the green/brown ones. abkini gatorsNext was a room with  inter­ac­tive exhibits and  just off there was the kid’s favorite thing–the bug movie.  Although only  about  10 min­utes long we were all kept engaged with per­fectly timed mists  and smell and seats that moved  and poked. We all loved it.  From there we moved into the room with cases and cases of beau­ti­fully  mounted bugs.  I got more out of this room than the kids. I am still amazed by the sheer scope of the insect world so con­cisely dis­played.  Finally, there were the but­ter­flies.  After we saw them hatch­ing from their cocoons we got to  go into the free flight area.  Not many were fly­ing, but a few were sit­ting low enough so the kids could  see them.  G had to strug­gle not to touch.  It was almost too much for him to resist so he com­pro­mised  by shov­ing his hand in his pock­ets and blew on them instead. I saw he was loos­ing his inter­nal bat­tle  so we left only to be deposited into the gift shop.  That was it.  Maybe an hour and thirty min­utes max.  The kids had fun look­ing for the bugs in their houses but had it been any more crowded they would  have been too much for them and me.  Glad we went, but once was enough.Color-coded Butterfies

Hint: Street park­ing is hard to find but the Audubon val­i­dates for reduced  park­ing at cer­tain lots. The  Audubon web­site says which ones.  Also, if you plan on going to mul­ti­ple Audubon prop­er­ties they  offer a multi loca­tion  ticket.

After a quick lunch we headed to the Louisiana Children’s Museum.  We’ve been here a cou­ple of times.  Last year the kids Grand­fa­ther bought us a fam­ily pass.  It was a great gift!  It is rec­i­p­ro­cal to over 100  other Children’s Muse­ums all over the country.

puzzlesto the top of the LCM

The LCM is on sev­eral floors with a cen­ter court­yard.  The kids wanted to start at the top so we headed up to the 3rd floor– played on some mini Mis­sis­sippi River Boats, did some gro­cery shop­ping, hung out in Mr. Rogers Neigh­bor­hood, learned about our senses, did puz­zles and made bub­bles.  There is also a tod­dler area on the 3rd floor, but ES has always been to old to go so we’ve never ven­tured in.  There is also a craft area with dif­fer­ent sched­uled activ­i­ties but we never seem to time our vis­its correctly.

PulliesGrocery shopping at LCM The 2nd floor houses their offices so we end on  the much smaller 1st floor.  If you’re famil­iar with  Ruff  Ruff­man on PBS he has a lit­tle area here,    there is  a wooden train set and the option to play  occu­pa­tional dress-up. There is also a shadow    wall tucked into one of the cor­ners.  The kids like  it but they so do adults.  After we left there were 2  par­ents of a very lit­tle one who spent quite a while mak­ing shad­ows while their daugh­ter played with her grand­mother else­where.  We lifted our­selves with pul­leys, rode a bike down a video road trough balls and used dif­fer­ent tools to put balls in holes. The museum was clos­ing and so we were done.

It was along day.… but the kids had a blast.