Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Spring 2020 - Florida

This was a trip that we took in the spring, I never had time to write it because of all of the driving.

February 19, 2020

Day 1 - Tall Hat Guy

We spent the day driving from Illinois to Tennessee today.  We've made this trip a few times, so I decided to take the slightly longer route which goes down through Illinois and then into Kentucky and Tennessee.

Our first stop was O'Hare Airport to drop off Kyrie.  She's flying down to Key West for a conference with her Galaxy group.  I'm sure she was very disappointed to not be able to take the 24 hour drive with us!
Image result for abe lincoln kankakee il
As we drove through Kankakee we saw the first of our oversized objects - Abe Lincoln!

He was along the side of the highway and we couldn't really stop and take a picture, so I stole this one off the internet.

The kids called him "Tall Hat Guy".  They like to mock my homeschooling skills as much as possible by refusing to acknowledge learning any names or other historical information.

Our next stop was the town of Casey, Illinois which has not one, not two, but eight (or more) world's largest items!  This was a dream come true for me and the kids enjoyed it quite a bit as well (although they were reluctant to admit it).

Fall 2020 - Mount Rushmore

 September 15, 2020

Day 1 - On our way!!


Tonight we began our trip to Mount Rushmore!  I've wanted to go here for as long as I can remember and this year seemed like the perfect time since most everything else is "closed", or at least not much fun, due to the covid-19 hysteria that took over the country this year.   

After Kyrie got finished working we got on our way.  We drove to Onalaska, WI (near La Crosse) and stayed at Stoney Creek Hotel.  The hotel was a last minute change.  We were going to stay in Rochester, MN, but we had a couple reasons for changing it.  This morning when I was checking the ours for our first stop - the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum in Walnut Grove, MN - I found out it was only open on the weekend.  Also, we had originally only booked one room with 3 queen size beds, but at the last minute started rethinking that strategy and decided we better just get two rooms instead.

Stoney Creek Hotel was great.  Very nicely decorated, comfortable beds and a little restaurant/bar on-site (with some colorful characters).  We had a nice night and look forward to our adventure beginning for real tomorrow!


Day 2 - A lot of driving and a few stops, but mostly just a lot of driving...

We crossed Minnesota this morning with only a couple stops at some rest stops.  Zach had to check out the playground at each one.  We should really find him a decent playground to stop at soon.  Our only real tourist stop in the morning was the Jolly Green Giant statue in Big Earth.  We took a couple pictures there and got out our PB&J for lunch.  Not too exciting...

We continued on into South Dakota and eventually made it to Mitchell, SD - home of the Corn Palace!  I didn't have very high expectations for this and I would say it basically matched that.  It was kind of fun to see and learn about the history of it.  Hard to believe that the original corn palace was built in 1892.  When, I picture what that time period was like, I figured people were a little too busy farming and gold mining to have any time left over for decorating with corn, but I guess not.  We had fun there and ate some popcorn.  It was a nice break from driving.

We couldn't really decide where to stop for the night and eventually decided on Oacoma, SD basically because we stopped at Al's Oasis for dinner and didn't really feel like driving any more.  We're staying at the Howard Johnson's there, which is decorated in 50's retro, so it's pretty cool.  Zach and Zoe are swimming in the pool as I type this.

Tomorrow, we get to the badlands and we'll see if we can pickup the excitement level a little!

Day 3 - Prairie dogs!

Today we drove on to the Badlands.  We saw a lot of sunflowers (but they were mostly dried up) and something that I think was popcorn.

We stopped and saw some prairie dogs at a gas station just outside of Badlands National Park and then also stopped at another prairie dog colony nearby.  They were really cute and it was fun watching them.

Inside the park we drove on the scenic look and stopped for some hikes along the way.  Our first hike was pretty adventurous, but was also a lot of fun.  Another hike was a fossil hike (without any actual fossils).  It was informative - hard to imagine an ocean here or a lush swampland - but the best part was seeing a bighorn sheep that was on some rocks nearby.

Next we stopped at Wall Drug.  I've wanted to check out this place ever since I saw their amazing marketing (a bumper sticker) when I was a child.  The store wasn't anything like I imagined it, but it was still a fun stop.

We checked into the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapids City.  The hotel seems pretty nice and the kids were delighted to see a big waterslide in the pool area.  Before swimming we had dinner at Firehouse Brewhouse downtown.  The food was decent.  Downtown we saw a few of the statues of presidents that they have scattered around.

Day 4 -  Very large and very small spaces!

We spent most of the day in national parks today.  We spent a long time in Custer and Black Hills National Parks.  We saw a lot of buffalo.  They were mostly in one wide open area, but occasionally we would see one in the forest.  The main buffalo herd was pretty much oblivious to the cars.  They walked right in front of and around the vehicles.  We also saw some burros and one deer.   We had some lunch (including buffalo) in one of the lodges.  I expected the park to be mostly prairie, but mostly the park is forested and has some great rock formations.  One of the most interesting was this lake that had a huge flat rock at one end.  Jacob and Max took a walk with me around the lake and around the rock, while Zach and the girls played on the beach.  The north end of the park is a mountain area named Needles.  It has a lot of very cool mountains.  Some of these had very narrow tunnels carved in them - we just fit!  Thankfully, I knew how tall our van was, so I knew we would fit that way, but wasn't so sure about the 8.5' width.  We folded the mirrors in, but we would have fit anyway.

After leaving the park we went to Crazy Horse Monument.  I'd have to say this was a bit disappointing.  The museums were not that informative and the monument itself doesn't seem to be making any additional progress since the 1990's according to their timeline.  The kids favorite thing was getting to take home one of the rocks that were broken off the mountain during construction.  Of course, most of them picked the biggest they could find.

We drove into the nearby town of Keystone for some pizza for dinner.  Looks like a fun town, but we needed to head to Mount Rushmore next.  We saved Mount Rushmore for last because we wanted to be there for the lighting ceremony.  Unfortunately, the lighting ceremony ended for the season a couple days ago.  They still lit up the faces, but no ceremony.  Anyway, Mount Rushmore was very cool.  I was worried that it would look small or unimpressive, but it was pretty awesome.  We had a good time walking along the trail and also ate some "Thomas Jefferson" ice cream.

Day 5 - Wolves, Bears, and Dinosaurs?

We began the day with a short visit to downtown Rapid City.  We checked out Art Alley which is an actual alley with graffiti by permit only.  I think the whole permit thing kind of defeats the purpose of street art, but whatever.  It was better than just having a non-art alley.  We checked out a few more of the bronze presidents that they have on the corners.

Next, we went up the mountain to a dinosaur park which was created in the 1930's.  This free park is on top of a large mountain and has several plaster? dinosaurs.  Not sure exactly what they are made out of, but they are all painted the same and look kind of funny compared to the dinosaur sculptures that people make these days.  Zach loved it though, especially since he could climb all over them.  

Our next stop was Bear Country USA.  This is a drive through safari that has wolves, elk, deer and lots of bears.  I wouldn't say it was the most interesting thing we've ever done, but it was alright.  Definitely a different experience driving around a bunch of bears.

Cosmos Mystery Area was next.  If you've been to a "mystery area" before, then you know what this is.  A shack built on the side of a mountain which seems to defy gravity.  Balls roll up hill, chairs stand on two legs, and you have to stand at an angle just to avoid falling down.  This was your run of the mill mystery area, not the best, but definitely worth the stop.

We had booked a cabin in the mountains for the next few days, but we received a call this morning from the place and were told that they had a mixup on their calendar and we couldn't check in today.  Luckily, they were able to set us up in a different place nearby which still held all of us - the Sundance Kid suite in Deadwood.  Deadwood is an old west mining town from the late 1800's.  It is famous for being the place where Wild Bill Hickock was shot during a poker game.  The town definitely celebrates it's beginnings and still retains at least a version of it's old main street.  We haven't explored it that much, so more on that tomorrow.

Our room is just off the main street.  It's a unique townhouse with 3 bedrooms and a lot of decorations.  Great location.   I'd be curious to know what this place was before they turned it into an apartment.  There is a full bar in the apartment.

Day 6 - Worth the wait

We did some shopping in Deadwood this morning.  The main street of Deadwood is filled with casinos, but unlike Las Vegas, the casinos are kind of hidden away a little.  So, the main street retains it's historic feel even though there are modern slot machines behind almost every facade.  In between the casinos are souvenir shops, restaurants and snacks.  There is a music stage in the middle of the block where they were having a concert last night.  We didn't get a chance to check out any of the museums yet, but they have a couple of them.  Each day except Sunday they have shootouts and reenactments along main street - unfortunately today is Sunday.  

We picked up Subway in nearby Lead and had lunch in a park next to a huge pit that used to be a gold mine.  Zach, Zoe and Ella had a blast playing with the other kids in the park.

After lunch we had some ice cream back in Deadwood and then took a drive through Spearfish Canyon.  It was a beautiful drive with a waterfall and a stream that ran through the canyon that had trout in it.

By the time we got to the end of the canyon we were ready to check in to the cabin we rented.  We didn't realize it at the time but we were only about 10 minutes away at that point.  The cabin we rented was Mystic View Lodge and it is awesome!  It's a beautiful log cabin near the top of a ski resort area with an amazing view of the mountains from out the window and on the porch.  The kids love all of the games that they have, plus the pool table and hot tub!  It's a huge cabin with plenty of room for us to spread out.  It's so peaceful and you can see a million stars in the dark sky here.

We're looking forward to having a more relaxed day tomorrow and the kids don't want to leave the cabin at all!


Day 7 -  On the 7th day we rested...

Today we just stayed at the cabin and relaxed.  We've had a busy week and it was time for some down time.  The kids love that there is an arcade machine and a Nintendo 64 in the cabin, so they spent a lot of time on that.  Kyrie and I actually got to read some books for a change.  I think mostly we just didn't want to get in the car after all of the driving we have been doing.

Day 8 - A very long walk

We drove to Devil's Tower, Wyoming this morning.  I had no idea what to expect.  I remember seeing it in a movie and that was about it.  I thought it was just an odd shaped mountain, but actually it is lava that hardened in a volcano that eventually eroded away and just left this.  It was actually kind of fascinating and it was cool to see people actually climbing it!  

We only walked around it of course, but that turned out to be enough of a challenge.  Zoe really wasn't in the mood for a walk even though the trail was only a little over a mile long.  She fussed and complained for a very long time.  Then she was finally kind of accepting it until she saw the halfway sign when she figured we were almost finished.  That irritated her again, but luckily her tantrum was only half-hearted by then.  The second half of the hike was better and I think at least 6 of us enjoyed it well enough.

After the hike we stopped by another colony of prairie dogs (which is so much fun), and then stopped and had a good lunch at a nearby restaurant.

We drove back to the cabin and relaxed a little before dinner time.  Our lunch was a little late in the day and we weren't that hungry, so none of us could really decide what to have for dinner.  We ended up back in Deadwood at Maverick's.  It was a good dinner, but it took forever!  We were lucky that we didn't go there when we were hungry because it took over an hour to get our food!  It was really good though and everyone was fine with waiting, so it was a nice time.

The kids really like the hot tub at the cabin.  

Day 9 - I'll give you one cent to go faster!

Today we went horseback riding at Andy's Trail Rides nearby.  It was a lot of fun.  I was worried that Zach or Zoe would be scared since they had only ridden with Kyrie and I before, but they both did great.  Zach was ready to be the trail master by the end.  He kept telling his horse to get ahead of Jacob's (which it never did).  He told his horse, "Come on!  I'll give you one cent to go faster!"  He really was having a great time and talking to his horse the entire time.  Max however, didn't get along to well with his horse.  After Max was on his horse, but before they were done getting the rest of us ready, his horse decided it was time to go.  Max was like, "Umm, my horse is leaving."  It didn't go much better from there.  His horse never wanted to keep up with the one in front and Max didn't have much control over anything it did.  The rest of us had a great time though.

After the trail ride we went back into Deadwood.  We checked out the Adam's Museum which had some interesting stuff, but not too much.  Then we saw a wild west shootout on Main Street.  It was fun and the kids got some deputy stars.  We had a good buffet dinner at Silverado.

We'll be driving for the next couple days without any planned stops, so we probably won't have anything else to write about.  We have really enjoyed our trip.  So many cool things - buffalo, an old west town, horseback riding, Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, Badlands, and the Needle rocks at Custer, plus Devil's Tower and of course the prairie dogs!  What a great trip!


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

2019 Global Tour - Part 5 - New York City

click here for part 4

Day 29 - 1st Day in New York City

We reluctantly bid farewell to the cruise ship this morning and headed out into New York City.  We took two Ubers to our hotel to drop off our suitcases.  There is a UN Conference today which includes the US president and leaders from around the world, so traffic is even worse than usual.  We only had to go a couple miles to our hotel, but it took at least half an hour.

We are staying at TRYP Hotel by Wyndham.  The hotel is in a good location in Midtown not too far from Times Square.  We booked here because they have a family room that holds all of us.  The room is kind of ugly and the bunk beds look like they belong in prison, but it is a nice big room and my bed seems pretty comfortable.


We weren't actually able to check into our room until the afternoon, but we left our bags with the front desk and headed to Times Square.  We had a good time going through some of the stores - M&M, Hershey's, and of course Disney.

Disney Store was our first destination after a ten day cruise and at least two other Disney Store visits in other countries too. We had a fun time looking around. There was lots of NYC specific merchandise. We still managed not to buy anything.

Like kids in a candy store!

The second stop was the M&M store. The kids really wanted to try some of the special flavors like pumpkin pie, candy corn, mint chocolate, butter toffee and coffee. We bought about 6 oz worth (maybe about 1 cup) for $6 and once we were outside the store we divided them up. It was fun, but we should have just stayed in the store to do this, it was tough to find a spot in the street that didn't smell too gross to want to eat m&m's. And this was right in Times Square which isn't quite as bad smelling as some other areas we've walked through.NYC is just smelly and dirty.

Next we went to Hershey World right across the street. It was kind of funny that the kids were trying to find a Lego store, which they saw a HUGE sign for, not realizing that's a billboard advertisement, not a sign. This got us twice. Me trusting they really saw a store. Anyway, at Hershey World not only is their candy not $1 per ounce, they actually hand you a free mini Hershey bar when you walk into the store. Is that because Milton Hershey is my kids' uncle like 16 times removed according to Marc's genealogy research? There is of course a ton of every kind of Hershey, Reeses, Twizzler, Jolly Rancher, etc. candy that they make, but the prices were actually less than or equal to sale prices you'd find in a typical store. Zoe asked for this big package of Twizzlers for her souvenir. It was $3. I said yes, if she shares. Zach got a bag of York peppermint patties, Ella got Take 5s-their favorite Halloween treat, and Max got mini Kit Kats. All of this cost $16 and will  last for months. I anticipate it will merge into their post Trick or Treating candy trading. Cheap "souvenirs."

By then it was lunchtime, so we ate nearby at John's Pizza - very good.

We decided to do the hop on hop off bus after that, but immediately regretted it.  We had trouble buying the tickets because of the overly aggressive sales people and then once we were on the top of the bus we drove one stop before sitting in the sun without moving for probably 20 minutes.  (Avoid TopView; try a different company.) We did finally get moving and after that the tour was fine.

The whole city is dotted with theses wooden water towers. 
Macy's and Empire State Building

Constructed 100 yrs after Washington's election
We hopped off at Washington Square to let the kids play at the playground.



We had dinner tonight at the Beer Authority.  It was good food, but incredibly noisy.  Definitely didn't need to worry about our kids being too loud. I'm sure they were loud, but we couldn't even hear them sitting right next to them!

This is my fourth time in NYC. It's been the most difficult time for sure- mostly due to seeing things differently when you're with your children. The beer/urine/garbage smell and filth isn't new. Drunk swearing homeless people have been there every time. Sales people trying to swindle visitors. The way many NYers yell at each other is so matter of fact that it's a stereotype. There are some good people here too, but compared to the European cities we just visited, today I'm a just a bit embarrassed to be an American. Chicago has much of this too, but at least it smells better.

Day 30 - More of New York City

This lady came an inch away from getting clunked in the head by a street light

We had a better day in New York today.  We continued our Hop on Hop off bus tour with the Uptown tour which goes to the north side of Manhattan.  There was quite a bit of interesting architecture along the way.

One of Trump's Towers
Cool architecture

Skyscraper built within an existing six story building

I noticed many areas have very diverse architecture all blended together
We hopped off at the Museum of Natural History mostly because Zach saw a sign for dinosaurs and just had to go.  I'd been wanting to go here anyway, so that worked out.  The museum was pretty good.  Somehow we missed the statue from Easter Island and never quite got to the section about space, but otherwise we saw everything we needed to see.  The dinosaur bones were interesting and the size of the Blue Whale in the ocean section was amazing.

No mention of this being the setting for the movie Night at the Museum? Picturing these exhibits coming alive made this museum cooler than it otherwise would have been! The other cool thing was how big many of these skeletons are. That Titanosaur pictured above took up a whole room and stuck out of both sides. 

Me, trying to find Scotland in the Paleozoic era

Zach's favorite part of every museum
After having some Nathan's Hot Dogs from the cart outside, we got back on the bus for more tour.

Soon we entered Harlem. It looks noticeably different than the areas we'd toured so far, so I took a few pictures for contrast.
Mosque that Malcolm X was reverend at

Before long, we were out of Harlem and suddenly passing by pristine residential buildings and mansions and up "Museum Row" past the Gugenheim and the Met most notably.

Our next stop was the Central Park Zoo.  The zoo was quite small, but it did have some interesting habitats.


 The sea lions really stole the show!

Ice Cream in Central Park

This was a very small zoo but it was enjoyable. We bought our tickets only 1 1/2 hours before it closed (an hour early) and were worried we wouldn't see everything. We saw everything in 45 minutes and enjoyed it. The children's zoo is free after 4pm or included with admission to the main zoo. It's cute and worth a walk around too.


We got back on the bus to head to the Chelsea neighborhood for dinner and to the Lego store, but it was raining a bit and the traffic was nearly stand still at this time, so we ended up getting off the bus near Macy's on 34th street instead and settled for dinner at TGI Friday's.

The bathrooms in this restaurant required a code to get in, are single bathrooms, and are so filthy that I'm surprised the restaurant can pass a health inspection. It wasn't just here, it was like this nearly everywhere we went. I recall John's Pizza like that for sure. When I mention these things, I'm not complaining, exactly. I'm just trying to paint a real picture to others who are reading to know what to expect if you visit NYC too.

My sunset picture tonight

Made of Crocs shoes
We checked out a few stores around the area and picked up some pastries for a quick breakfast tomorrow since our ride to the airport will pick us up at 6:40 a.m.

This example of scaffolding actually looks better than most.
Here are a couple of observations Marc hasn't mentioned yet. Every block of the city seems to have quite a bit of scaffolding. Some buildings are obviously undergoing some construction and are netted and everything. Particularly near our hotel and lots of other areas too, no construction is apparent but lots of scaffolding is present. I had been thinking that if it was permanent, something could be done to make it look better, then we drove by some wrapped in greenery outside a luxury hotel. I suppose that helps a little at least from below. One other thing... the smell of people smoking pot in this city was overwhelming. Particularly near construction sites. 

Clearly I not NYC's biggest fan. I think the six hour tour we took before flying home after our 2016 Transatlantic cruise was a much better plan. I'm glad we saw it together once. I'm sure the kids got something from the experience as well.

Day 31 - Going Home!

Friday, September 27th

Marc arranged a van to pick us up and take us to LaGuardia Airport. The pick up time was 6:40-7:00 am. The driver arrived a little early even. We were ready and hurried downstairs. The traffic was light at this hour and he avoided areas he knew were affected by the UN conference. As we got closer to the airport, we could see lots of traffic coming into Manhattan of course.

We had a bit of trouble with Max's ticket not noting his precheck status even though the rest of ours did. Marc had to stay back with Max as the rest of entered the security line. Marc chose to get Max's ticket re-printed rather than go through the lengthy and more cumbersome regular security line. 

Meanwhile, while I was a bit flustered from that and trying to get the rest of to a good place past security. I apparently set my backpack down, When I had everyone sit down near a food court well past security and close to our gate, Zach immediately asked, "Did you forget your backpack?  I know where you left it."

He and I ran back to get it, thankfully  just where he knew it would be. By then Marc texted me that they were through security and we were all together again with all of our bags and everything. Whew! Time for coffee!

Actually we had lots of time for coffee, and lunch, and playing UNO, and whatever we could find to occupy our time. Our flight was delayed about four hours due to storms in Chicago.

Never so happy to see Chicago!
Once we finally boarded at 2:30ish, we pushed back from the gate and the captain announced we were going to have to gate on the runway and wait for an update in an hour to see if we could take off for Chicago. The airport was too backed up. Thankfully, no sooner had he finished the announcement then he said we actually had the go ahead to take off in ten minutes. Maybe that was his way to make us feel happy about another ten minute delay. Just kidding, I heard that lots of flights were canceled.

Marc was busy grocery shopping, jumping my car after it sat there for a month, doing laundry etc., and I got impatient waiting to complete this blog. I hope he adds his final thoughts too.

My final summary: This was an awesome trip! I'm so grateful to have had this time and experience with my husband and children. The weather was actually mostly good, except that hurricane that rerouted our cruise and the storms today. With so many modes of transportation, tickets for various things, reservations for hotels and apartments, it's amazing that everything went as smoothly as it did. I'm sure we're all changed from this trip in a positive way. I'll be ready for another massive, life changing trip like this in about three years! 

Yes, it was an awesome trip.  Norway was just amazing and I look forward to seeing it again someday.  The castles around the UK were really cool - I'm glad we got to go through so many of them.  It was so fun being in these different cultures for a little while and seeing the little things that make each place different.  It was unnerving at times to be in an unfamiliar place not exactly knowing what to expect, but Kyrie did a great job of planning so that everything went smoothly.  Doing our homework ahead of time about each place saved us a lot of hassle, worry and money.  Our kids are really amazing.  They trooped through all of these cities non-stop and hardly ever complained.  They will never admit to learning anything or enjoying any of the more educational aspects of the trip, but we could really tell that they got something out of each place.  So glad that we get to share in these experiences with them!  Unfortunately, we haven't managed to get many of the kid's opinions or comments into the blog.  Usually during the trip I write most of the blog while everyone is sleeping because we're busy all day and then once we get home the  kids are busy with other things.  But, hopefully sometime soon I can review this blog with each of the kids and get their thoughts down too.

Well, I guess that's it for now.  Thanks for reading!