Road Trip 2017: Eclipse Edition

There’s a back-story to this trip.  My grandfather served on the USS Cobia during World War 2.  Through an accident of history, that very submarine is preserved as a floating museum in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Grandpa died over a decade ago.  I found out about the Cobia several years after he died.  Grandpa never mentioned that it still existed, though he had attended crew reunions there.  I think he considered his service to be very personal and never spoke of it much.  I’ve wanted to visit, to make a pilgrimage if you will, but I wanted to take the girls when they were old enough to remember and appreciate the history of the thing.

I took advantage of a confluence of events this year to do it: 1) Alpha is old enough, 2) an impending total eclipse would pass (relatively) close by, and 3) I wanted a vacation and a road trip.  Alpha was agreeable to going, and she too wanted a road trip, so boom it was on.

As a side note, Alpha handled this trip with aplomb.  She has a bladder of iron, remained agreeable even when things went sideways, and is generally helpful around the car.

Overall Trip Statistics: 5 days, 10 states, 2700 miles, 2900 feet at highest pass.

Day 0: Destination Erie, Pennsylvania

The first day of the trip started with overcast skies that swiftly turned to rain — but the day ended with sun

We chose to leave on a Friday.  I put in enough of a day at work to count it as a full day and avoid using another vacation day, which meant leaving around lunch time.  Alpha and I were packed and ready to go by 1 pm.  A final stop to see Meghan at work, and we hit the highway… and traffic.

I made the mistake of assuming that traffic would be moderate at mid day.  Friday afternoon rush hour tends to be nasty, especially so in summer, but it begins earlier than I know.

As we crawled our way down the turnpike we witnessed an almost-crash in front of us.  We mostly idled our way until Charleton.  I guess that house rentals in Maine must run from Saturday to Friday, since a large portion of the cars around us were from NY, NJ, and PA and they all peeled off at the I-84 exit.

Cruising through Schoharie, NY
We found lots and lots of construction, but we never slowed down in New York

The rain moved in as the traffic cleared.  We made fair time for a couple of hours as we skipped into New York state under showers.

Skies cleared by mid-state, with a few hours of sunlight left.  After dark we cruised through the Seneca reservation.  All of the road signs were translated into Seneca, which was kind of neat.  They also have a casino that, much like Foxwoods, rises out of the forest in a jumble of incongruence.

We made Erie at about 9:30 that night – a Motel 6 alongside Interstate 90.  It was a plain, but clean and serviceable hotel.  We turned in sans dinner and slept well.

Travel Report:

Central and western New York are very boring.  We didn’t get cell phone service anywhere and the highway just seems to go forever.  There are some peculiar town names in western New York, ‘Horseheads‘ was a particular favorite.

Day 2: Destination Chicago

Breakfast at Zodiac Dinor
Breakfast at the Zodiac Dinor (sic). It was delicious and huge; we never did care to eat lunch that day.

We had a fantastic breakfast at a local diner and set off on the scenic route for a little while.  We wanted to see Lake Erie.

Along the way we found some sites and some sights.  The day was warm but a little cloudy, which meant that it never got too hot.  I was looking forward to rolling with the top down on this trip and I was not disappointed.  We hit the sweet spot for a convertible: 50 mph @ 72 F, moderate humidity.

Before we left Conneaut, Ohio we stopped at a lemonade stand; the kids even served us in the car.  (I’ve made it a policy over the years to always stop for lemonade.)  The roads were beautiful, alternating between showing us the lake and just being green.

D-Day Re-enactment in Conneaut OH
We drove by a D-Day re-enactment in Conneaut, OH [click to enlarge]
D-Day Re-enactment, another view, Conneaut, OH
A better view of the D-Day Re-enactment. It appears to be a yearly event. [click to enlarge]
chicago skyline
Looking over the highway near our hotel. Chinatown is a little further left than is visible. [click to enlarge]

Lake Erie from Ashtabula, OH
The scenic byway made some very close passes to the coast and we saw some great views of the lake.

Lake Erie itself is gorgeous.  The towns that border the lake are a mix of quaint, middle-America, and gaudy: some reminded me of Cape Cod, some reminded me of the over-commercialized beach town of Misquamicut, RI, and some reminded me of any number of nondescript towns that I’ve encountered along my travels.

We switched over to the highway around Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, as we became conscious of the time: I wanted to get into Chicago before sundown.  Being Saturday we didn’t have to worry about rush hour.  We rolled into town around 5:30, which was perfect.

Dinner at Tasty Place
Our meals at Tasty Place. As the name suggests the meals were, in fact, very tasty. [click to enlarge]
Our hotel in Chicago was right next to Chinatown, so we took a walk to find some dinner.  We found a hole-in-the-wall with some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.

We turned in no long after dinner; we had a full day ahead.  We spent a little time unwinding and calling home.  Earlier in the day we had found out that the USS Indianapolis had been located, and shared the news with Meghan and Beta.  They proceeded to watch Jaws (with the Indianapolis scene) and brag to us about doing so.

 

Travel Report:

Route 531 along the coast of Ohio is beautiful.

Indiana Rest Stop
We stopped to rest for a bit in Indiana. The turnpike was single-lane (for construction) and bordered by jersey barriers on both sides for miles, which does weird things to your brain after a while.

The Indiana turnpike is bumpy as hell, and boring, until you approach Elkhart.

Day 3: Destination Cobia

This was the main event.  We arrived around lunchtime.

USS Cobia
USS Cobia, positioned at the stern and looking towards the bow.

There are regular tours of the submarine, from forward torpedo room to aft torpedo room.  They’ve restore the submarine to about 80% working condition.

uss cobia torpedo room
The forward torpedo room

We found at least three, possibly four, photos with Grandpa in them.  The questionable photo is from a reunion photo, not everyone was looking at the camera and, sad but true, old men all start to look alike after a certain age.  One other photo that we saw him is from a reunion, the final two are from his time on the submarine.

Alpha, with the Cobia’s stern in the background [click to enlarge]
Our tour guide was new – his first day! – and he wasn’t familiar with any of the crew besides the captain.  Grandpa, being an officer but not the captain, wasn’t a name he knew.  The tour was about twenty minutes from bow to stern.

Being a real WW2 submarine the quarters were very cramped; I’m not sure how my grandfather, being a few inches taller than I am, was able to fit through the tiny intra-compartment doorways.

The submarine part of the museum is a little small; there’s a somewhat larger section devoted to boats on Lake Michigan and the various wrecks.  Alpha and I agreed that we’d like to come back another time to view the lake history in more detail.

We ate dinner in Chicago, a pizza place of course.  After we got back to our room Alpha wanted to veg out.  I felt cooped up by the car all day, so I went out for a walk around the neighborhood.  I took some photos but they were terrible; I need a new phone with a better camera.

Travel Report

The state of Wisconsin replaced a large section of the pavement on Interstate 43, both northbound and southbound, with a concrete washboard.

The car’s computer calculated our average MPG to be north of the 30 mark sometime this day.

Day 4: The Eclipse

Alpha and I got going a bit later than I had originally planned, and had a smashing breakfast at a market that’s a block from the hotel.

Clouds over Ashkum, IL
The clouds became progressively more forbidding as we raced south to meet the eclipse. The weather report for southern Illinois was clear skies, so we pressed on. Skies grew even darker shortly after this photo was taken, but we never got more than a sprinkle in the morning. [click for a very-hi-res version.]
Getting close to or under the eclipse path was a bonus, so we didn’t have any specific destination to reach, just “as close as we are able or choose to get.”  I picked Marion, Illinois as a target and we started driving.

We hit some traffic along the way, not due specifically to the eclipse but around construction along the highway.  I don’t know if traffic would have been lighter and we would have slipped right through if it hadn’t been for the eclipse.  We probably spent an hour and a half sitting in various stand-stills, and 30 minutes more finding detours, and were about an hour outside of Marion when we decided to stop to watch the eclipse in Effingham.  It was a fair place to stop, with fuel and food, and we weren’t the only ones peering up at the sun.  While it wasn’t directly in the path of totality the sun was reduced to a tiny hair-like sliver.

eclipse peak
The clouds proved to be a mixed blessing by obscuring the view but allowing us to take unfiltered photos of the eclipse. I was too busy taking in the moment to photograph the actual peak — this was from about four minutes before the peak. The eclipse was moving from left to right in this photo, and the top was the only bit visible at the peak.

From the stopping point, our next destination was Lexington, Kentucky.

Downpours over Newton, IL
We ran into thunder and lightning as we moved east through Illinois

We got into Lexington late, due in part to rain.  A large part of our drive was on country roads which, more than the interstates, are long, straight, and surrounded by corn.

We arrived in Lexington after 7 pm.  It’s a college town and we ate dinner at a joint that caters to the college crowd.  It was delicious.  Alpha had breakfast for dinner and I had a burger.  As we walked out the door Alpha remarked how good it was.  The person walking out behind us was, unbeknownst to us, one of the cooks heading out for a break; she flashed a huge smile and said “thanks!”

Alpha stayed in our room while I took a swim in the hotel pool.  We were in bed and lights-out before 9 pm, as we were leaving very early the next morning.

Traffic Report

Midwestern seasons seem to be like New England: almost-winter, winter, still-wintery, and road construction.  The side roads are much better for driving than the interstates, and almost as fast and direct.

Indiana doesn’t seem to understand the concept of interstates.  They have traffic lights and intersections on I-64.

Day 5: Destination Home

Alpha in the carThis was the longest, hardest drive of the trip: almost a thousand miles in one day.  Under the best of conditions it would be a fourteen-hour trip.  Alpha and I discussed doing it in one day or breaking it into two, and her answer was firm: lets go home today.  So we did, come hell or high water.

We didn’t take any scenic routes or make any unnecessary stops, it was just pounding the pavement (so to speak).  We left Lexington at 7:30 am and made it home around 11:30 pm.  We texted Meghan every time we crossed a state line, and she was reposting our updates to Facebook.

Travel Report

Somewhere in eastern Kentucky we passed a field that could have been straight out of a Bob Ross painting, with a shed or small barn, happy little trees, and a small mountain in the background.

West Virginia is beautiful, even from the highway, though cell phone reception is non-existent.  We suddenly had great coverage when we entered Maryland, even though the mountains didn’t stop, so it seems to be a political issue not a geographic one.

We reached a peak mileage of 31.8 MPG, according to the car’s computer.  My back-of-the-envelope math came up slightly lower at our last fill-up, but close enough.

The climate control system lost it’s mind somewhere in Kentucky and was alternately blowing cold and warm, regardless of actual setting, for the rest of the ride.  Things got a bit warm and sweaty, but not the worst I’ve ever had.

Pennsylvania doesn’t know how to manage traffic around construction, of which the was plenty, including some standstills well before rush hour.  Neither does Connecticut, where we were hitting standstills at 9 pm.  That shouldn’t happen on a Tuesday night.

Sixteen hours of straight driving is very, very tiring.

Suffolk Downs

We spent a day at the races.

Well, ok not a whole day, just a few hours.  We didn’t go to bet, though Meghan did bet $3 and is now up by $3.  We went to watch the horses.

Our destination was Suffolk Downs.  It is an eighty-something year old horse-racing track just outside Boston.  Its days are numbered but they’re still holding a few races per year in the meantime.

Our Alpha child loves horses.  She’s loved them since the first grade, when she abruptly gave up a love affair with dinosaurs to fall madly in love with horses instead.  When I found out about the races, I realized I had an opportunity to make one very happy child.

We bought a program as soon as we arrived and set Alpha loose.  She immediately headed over to the paddock, started matching the horses to the program, and figured out pretty much everything on her own.  She picked her favorites and apparently has a good eye because, of the two she picked, one was a winner and the other placed at #2.

We stayed for three races before heading back home.  The siren song of chores beckoned us home, plus Beta child was in a mood, one that didn’t include horses or racing.  There’s another race weekend this year, and I think Alpha and I will attend again.

Camping @ Hammonasset

Our southern friends from Connecticut invited us to go camping at Hammonasset Beach State Park with them.  They go every year as a big party, with family and friends.

I only recently found out that this is a thing; our neighbors/friends from across the street go up to a campsite in New Hampshire every year to meet with other friends, some of whom they only know from camping.

tent
Our tent [click to see more of our campsite]
This was our first time going camping as a family, ever.  I’ve gone deep-woods camping by myself. (No facilities, no roads, no people, no nothing — I’ve never smelled worse than three nights of that.)  Meghan had been camping at Pennsic and Gulf Wars during college.  (She has stories that amaze.)  Beta has been overnight camping (in cabins) as part of Girl Scouts.  We’ve all been “camping” in the backyard.  This trip was a first for being away from home and trucking everything we would need.

Day 1

We arrived mid-afternoon and immediately set to pitching our tent, figuring that there could be nothing worse than setting up a tent in the dark when you’re exhausted.  Though the tent was new and this was our first time, it went up pretty quickly and cleanly.

Jones's and Gailey's
Jones’s and Gaileys. The Gailey’s custom campaign tent is in the background; behind are a couple of Hobie Cats that we sailed the next day.

Our friends provided dinner: our traditional Friday night get-together victuals, spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread, only on a Monday.  Being experienced campers with a lot more room to pack stuff, they graciously offered to provide dinner for the two nights we were there.  After dinner there were s’mores around a communal campfire, where we got to meet the rest of the party — more Gaileys and some family friends.

There were kids of all ages, including a few that were right around Alpha and Beta’s ages.  They played boffer swords until dark, then convinced a couple of us adults to play manhunt.

We didn’t tuck into bed until about 10 pm.  As the kids washed up some of us gathered around to chat and stargaze, and we were able to point out some satellites going by.  The other adults hadn’t known that you could see them so easily.  Schwing!

Sleep, for a variety of reasons, was somewhat elusive the first night, except for Alpha who can sleep through pretty much anything.

Day 2

We started the day with pancakes, eggs, and bacon.  The Gaileys possess a propane-fired flattop grill which made cooking a breeze.

sailing away
Quinn and Sam, sailing to Tahiti

Sam wanted to get the two Hobie Cats they brought along into the water.  We got to the beach and set to rigging them, then took ourselves and the kids out for some sails.

We were at the beach for about four hours, and as a group we only got slightly burned — I had planned ahead and coaxed the girls into going to the beach with me for a week leading up to the trip.  Meghan got a bit burned across the shoulders, and oddly enough Mu (the junior Gailey) got sunburned on the tops of his feet.

After packing the boats back onto their trailer, we headed back to camp (with a detour into town to get aloe) in order to make dinner.  Second night was a communal pot luck, with hot dogs, hamburgers, and a bunch of sides.  We got to know the other campers in the party and found that we have a lot in common.

rainbow
A passing shower gave us a rainbow… over the campsite bathrooms.

The rain, which had been holding off all day, finally came in the form of a few brief showers and a rumble of thunder.  I checked the weather radar back home and, wouldn’t you know it, heavy storms were moving through our town.  (I love thunderstorms but seem to have a repelling effect on them.  Even the strongest storms peter out as they reach our area.)

We took the opportunity to coax the girls into bed a bit earlier, though sleep was still hard to find the second night.  Besides possibly being over-tired, the temperature dropped to nearly 50° F so everyone (except me) was cold despite blankets.

Day 3

We all got up early to a beautiful morning.  Meghan and Joanne took a walk back out to the beach to look for some bald eagles we had noticed the day before.

Checkout is 12 pm, and we planned to swing through Noank on the way home to see the folks, so we packed up the campsite right after breakfast (more bacon, eggs, and pancakes, plus sausages) and hung out with the Gaileys until it was time to go.

We bid adieu and headed out right at noon, spent a few hours having lunch and visiting with Mom and Dad Jones, plus Katie Jones and Eta (my niece).  We made it home just in time to get Butter out of doggie daycare.

Alpha and Beta in the Land of Rat

Friday-Sunday: The Planning

The Friday before February vacation, Meghan and I meet up for lunch and she drops a bombshell: “what if we take the girls to Disney next week?”

Last minute scheduling aside, this presents some very large hurdles: cost, PTO requests and balances, and arranging transportation.  We kind of, sort of had the money but I had earmarked it for other things.  I don’t get a lot of time off in my new job, and I’m husbanding what I do get for something we’re planning towards the end of the year — and we’re normally expected to schedule PTO in advance.  Last minute plane tickets tend to be expensive, crappy flights.

gecko camoflaged by mulch
If look carefully, you’ll notice that there are geckos everywhere around Disney. This one is particularly well-suited to mulch. (click to expand)

Meghan wanted to do this, I was on the fence, so we compromised and decided to go.  Meghan is vivacious, I’m the responsible one.  A decent life lies somewhere in between, and I’ve learned over time to let go a little while still reigning her in enough that we don’t meet financial doom.  It did mean that I would be working on this vacation.  I’m fortunate to have a job that only needs a laptop and an internet connection, and an accommodating boss.

The most important decision we made was to keep it a secret from the kids.  We had to make all the arrangements, prepare for the trip, and talk about it all weekend without letting them catch on — no small feat.  Oh, and we had already planned to see some friends in Connecticut on Saturday.

We had to come up with a bunch of cover stories.  Beta needed new shorts, and we can’t buy them without her trying them on.  We had to get the dog to boarding before Monday without arousing suspicion, since we needed to be at the airport before 6 am.  We needed to get the kids showered and in bed a little early, even though Monday’s a vacation day.

The final cover story: why we’re getting up before 5 am, which we had to provide the night before so the kids wouldn’t worry when we woke them, but something that wouldn’t make them too excited to sleep.

Monday: Getting There

4:30 am: Mom and Dad rise and shine!
4:50 am: kids roll out of bed and stumble downstairs
5:00 am: in the car
5:20 am: arrive at the airport long-term parking garage
5:30 am: shuttle drops us off at the airport
5:31 am: Alpha asks “why are we at the airport?”
5:33 am: security line, and we can’t keep the secret anymore
6:20 am: take off!

Our flight to Orlando had a long layover and transfer in Detroit.  Both legs were packed solid.  There was a class trip going to Disney that got on the plane in Detroit.

During the layover I got some real work done, while Meghan and the girls got some lunch and amused themselves.

3:45 pm: land in Orlando
4:15 pm: arrange some ground transportation

Orlando airport is huge.  It has monorails to move passengers between terminals and the main building, but each terminal is pretty big in it’s own right.  They’re also building another terminal right now.

We discovered that our on-property hotel of choice, The Swan, is not owned and operated by Disney and does not come with the typical benefits like a free bus ride between the airport and the hotel.

We secured a taxi driven by a guy named Victor, who hails from NYC.  Our ride was very entertaining, as he got more comfortable his vernacular got very… colorful¹ but his stories and running commentary were among the best from a taxi that I’ve ever had.

4:45 pm: check into The Swan
5:00 pm: take a shuttle to Disney Springs to get dinner

Beta and living statue
The living statue would make you think she would stay still, and would then do something surprising (like put her hand on your shoulder or lift your bag out of your hands) then turn back into a statue.

Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney, is basically a mall with shops and restaurants dotted throughout.  There aren’t any rides, so it doesn’t require a park pass.  After looking around a bit and engaging in strong negotiations over who wanted what, we picked The Landing because it offered food that everyone would like while dining on a dock over the water.

To be honest, Disney Springs isn’t quite as much fun as it used to be.  The stores aren’t unique anymore — they’re the same as any mall.  The Landing was also a little disappointing, with fine-dining prices but takeout-quality food.  We refused to let it get us down, though, and watched a beautiful sunset from our table.

7:00 pm: head back to the room
7:30 pm: Beta goes swimming in the hotel pool
8:30 pm: bedtime for everyone

Tuesday: Animal Kingdom

Morning dawned clear, bright, and warm.  After a buffest breakfast at the hotel we went our separate ways: Meghan, Alpha, and Beta to Animal Kingdom and I back to our room to work for the day.

At lunch I went exploring to see what was around the hotel and found a beach, playground, and much larger pool complex with a water slide, two hot tubs, and a waterfall/grotto.

About the same time I was wrapping up work, everyone else came back to rest up a bit.  Beta wanted to swim a bit, Alpha did not, so Beta, Meghan, and I suited up and walked down to the pool.  Alpha stayed behind to charge her introvert batteries.

We played at the big pool for over an hour, until we started getting hungry.  We decided to go back to the Animal Kingdom to get dinner, try a few more rides, and watch the light show.

After a light dinner at one of the short-order restaurants we headed over to “the Himalayas” to try out a ride that Alpha wanted to see called Expedition Everest.  It’s a roller-coaster that is partially inside the “mountain” (so it’s pitch black, like Space Mountain) and rolls backwards for part of the ride.  Very intense, very fun, especially after dark.

The girls also convinced me to take two cruises on the Kali River Rapids.  I managed to stay merely damp after the first pass, but I was completely soaked after the second.

We went back to the hotel after that.  The light show was wrapping up and we wanted to beat the crowds back to the shuttles.  It was also pretty late, after 9 pm, when we finally got upstairs.

Wednesday: Epcot

This was a rainy day.  This was also a tricky day, activity-wise, because Meghan was only able to take half the day off and had to work during the afternoon.  We had breakfast at the hotel again, and I headed upstairs while the rest of the family went over to Epcot for a little while.

Everyone was back in the room at noon, as the drizzle started outside.  I knocked off work a little early (hooray for getting my crap done!) and took Beta over to the hotel’s game room while Alpha recharged her introvert batteries again.

About 2pm we decided that we wanted to go (back) to Epcot – me, Alpha, and Beta.  Meghan was still working but had arranged reservations at the Garden Grill at 4:45.  It’s Meghan’s favorite restaurant in Disney.

The rain remained light and drizzley while the girls and I toured the World Showcase in Epcot.  We stopped in a few of the “countries” along the way, from France (where the ferry dropped us off) and counter-clockwise around through China, which is almost exactly opposite.

While we poked around a shop in China the rain picked up, then picked up some more, so we stayed inside and waited for it to slow up — the clock was ticking and we had a date with Meghan in an hour.  I refused to pay $9 per poncho.

A little after 4 pm the rain appeared to lighten up so we made a break for it.  We got out of China and were in front of Norway, the next country over, when the skies opened up into a torrential downpour.  We were soaked to the bone in seconds, before we could even dart under an overhang.  So much for being dry at dinner.

We squished our way up to The Land in time for our reservation inside, a couple of minutes late but sooner than Meghan.  The rain not only stopped after soaking us, but the sun popped out before we arrived at the restaurant.

After dinner we took the slow ride that goes around the restaurant, and headed out to enjoy the rest of Epcot.  We went over to the ride in Mission: Space (not to be confused with Spaceship Earth, a.k.a. the golf ball) which is a pretty cool G-force type ride.

The rain continued to come and go so we wound up buying a couple of ponchos and an umbrella for the walk home.  This was a fortunate decision on Meghan’s part because the rain came back in earnest while we walked back to the ferry.

Thursday: Boardwalk, DVC, and Heading Home

Our last day, but a late flight (9 pm) so we had time to have some more fun.  I arranged with my boss to put off work until late in the day, since there were no meetings scheduled.  Meghan had to work in the morning and doesn’t have flexible scheduling.

kids at the beach
Alpha and Beta on the beach. Across the water is the Boardwalk.

We were a little disappointed with the Swan overall² so we decamped for the Boardwalk, just next door (and a Disney resort) with shops and things to do.  I took the girls out to play and walk around while Meghan sat in the lobby with our bags.  We discovered that Epcot is just a short walk away.

After making a circuit around the “harbor” it was lunch time.  Alpha wanted to read but Beta and I were still a bit restless.  We headed down the walking path towards Hollywood Studios.  Not to go into the park, just to see where the path goes and look for alligators.  (We didn’t see any.)

Even after all that we had a few hours before we needed to get to the airport so I wandered into the DVC office to gather some information.  Meghan and I have talked about buying back into the vacation club for about a year, as changing fortunes have allowed us to travel and vacation more frequently and the DVC can actually be viewed as a money-saving way to travel.  As the agent brought our information back up we discovered that Meghan had been making inquiries while she was at Epcot the day before.  There was an open house at another resort where we could get all of the information, so game on: I judged that we were both ready to plunge back in, and got us a ride to the open house.

beta posing on swing
Beta posing for the camera as she swings

This was late in the day, getting close to the time we should really start heading to the airport, so we had to hew to a tight schedule with the sales guys.  We arranged it perfectly, though, and got back to our starting point in time to meet Victor (remember Victor the taxi driver? we liked him so much we called him back for our pick-up³) at our pre-arranged pick-up time.

Our flight out was pretty uneventful.  We took off on-time at 8:45 pm and landed at 11:30 pm, a bit of turbulence in between.  The kids stayed awake, I worked for a bit, Meghan napped (a first for her on a plane!).  We rolled back into our driveway at half-past midnight.

All in all, a success!

Footnotes

1: We don’t worry much about letting our kids hear profanity.  We have taught them some simple lessons: profanity is what you say when you don’t have the vocabulary to express yourself; profanity doesn’t make you cool, and certain people will judge you poorly when you use it; profanity is just words.  Moreover, making a big deal about “bad words” just increases the taboo-ness of them, which makes them more desirable. Return

2: Our time at the Swan ranged from merely average to disappointing.  The room was of average quality, but we’ve stayed in downtown Manhattan for the less per night with more included as part of the nightly fee.  Some of the disappointment was due to poor expectations: we thought that it was a Disney resort with same benefits like ground transportation from the airport included; some disappointment was because they nickel-and-dimed us to death (e.g. a $25-per-night “resort fee” to cover the complimentary internet access and pool, which we only got partially refunded). Return

3: Victor’s cell phone is 321-945-1003, call a few hours ahead to arrange a ride with him (dispatch will only send the next available).  His voicemail box was full but he responded promptly to our texts.  He seemed to genuinely appreciate having a guaranteed fare.  There are cheaper methods to get in and out of the airport if you’re by yourself, but none quite so hilarious. Return

NYE 2016

Date: Evening of December 31, 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Event: New Year’s Eve

baba and alpha
Baba and Alpha, watching the carousel

We rang in the New Year in traditional style: a night out in Boston.  This year we had the very good fortune to be joined by Baba (Meghan’s mother, the girls’ grandmother).

Most years we take a train into the city to avoid issues with ‘amateur night’ drivers, but not this year. Being a Saturday, the commuter rail only runs a limited schedule; there are extra trains but not until later in the evening.

We reserved parking right next to the Commons (Parking Panda to the rescue!) but planned to start the night at Quincy Market.  I dropped the rest of the family off there and ran downtown to park the car.  I made the short walk back to meet with everyone again in about fifteen minutes.

The Black RoseWe shopped a bit before getting an excellent early dinner at The Black Rose.  We’ve been there several times; despite it’s location right next to Quincy Market it doesn’t have the air of a tourist trap.  It does have excellent Guinness on tap, though!

Let me back up a few days before I present the next photo: both girls have had braces on their teeth for a long while, until this past week.  Beta will be getting a second round when she gets a little older, but for now they both have brilliant smiles.

Alpha Mom and Beta
Alpha, Mom, and Beta, dinner at the Black Rose in Boston

Dinner was followed by a little more window-shopping, a brief stop for Blink, the Greenway Carousel, and dessert in the market.

We walked from Quincy Market to Boston Common, about a mile.  We stopped for hot chocolate and hot apple cider across the street at The Thinking Cup Cafe.  Both were very good.

Finally, at 7 pm: fireworks.

fireworks
NYE 2016 Fireworks – my phone’s camera cannot do them justice, but they were right over our heads

After the fireworks, our decision to park across the street paid off.  We picked up the car and made it out of the city before the rest of the traffic.

Baba slept over our house to avoid amateur night traffic, rain – the threat of rain made good shortly after we got home – and for a promise of waffles in the morning.  Meghan and her mom stayed up to watch a show, Hinterland, but everyone was asleep well before midnight.

Fenway 2016

fenway park
Fenway Park from the grandstands (section 30)

Baba took the whole clan to Fenway to see the Red Sox play the Chicago White Sox.  It was an afternoon game so that the kids could come, too.

del's lemonadeBaba generously bought us stadium food as well – no small sum for hot dogs, pretzels, pizza, and Del’s Lemonade.

The Sox stunk until the bottom of the 5th inning, at which point they came back from 4-0 lead by the White Sox to win 7-8.

Delta fell asleep by the 8th inning, which is surprising given the amount of noise every time the Sox got a run.  Kappa, who’s about a year and a half, stayed awake and in mostly good spirits through the entire game.  Beta was well behaved, and Alpha genuinely enjoyed herself.

We left as the 10th inning was starting so that we could avoid some of the crowds with the kids and headed down the street to get dinner at Wahlburgers.

NYC 2016

nyc vs boston
Finding your way in NYC really is easier

Meghan and I like to keep our kids exposed to the cultural world, giving them a cosmopolitan worldview.  I chose a job near Boston in part to allow frequent trips into the city.  But one city isn’t enough to give them a breadth of experience.

We took an overnight trip to New York City during February school vacation.  Discovery Times Square is currently exhibiting The Vikings, which is of particular interest to Meghan and Alpha.  (That isn’t to say there isn’t interest from me and Beta, they’re just that much more keen.)  Meghan found a great deal on motel rooms (the girls are old enough now that we need two) right by Times Square at Four Points by Sheraton.  The view wasn’t anything to write home about but the location can’t be beat: two blocks from Times Square.  The rooms were clean and neat, and the staff were bend-over-backwards friendly.  I would totally stay there again.

We drove down early Wednesday morning, dropping Butter off at Marty’s and picking up Meghan’s mom (aka Baba) on the way.  Baba loves going to NYC, she knows the lay of the land better than we do, and she’s a bit more adventurous than I am when the kids are around, so we invited her along.  She offered to share the kids’s room to keep costs down — and that provided peace of mind overnight, too.

Meghan yelled at me for this selfie. She insisted that it was inappropriate to do while making 75 mph on I-91.
Meghan yelled at me for this selfie. She insisted that it was inappropriate to do while making 75 mph on I-91.

We rolled into town around noon and got situated in the hotel with time to spare before our exhibit reservations.  We walked from the hotel and poked around Times Square for a few minutes.

woody and olaf
Click to expand

There were a pair of people in costume, one dressed as Woody from Toy Story and the other as Olaf from Frozen, soliciting tips.  They made their own costumes and don’t work for anyone but themselves, so Meghan got photos with each and tipped them a few bucks.

I continue to be amazed how many people are continually in New York City.  The crush of people feel like there’s an event going on somewhere, but it’s really just an every day occurrence.  Dozens of people at every crosswalk, hundreds of people on every sidewalk, all the time.  Boston has nothing on NYC.

alpha holding viking sword
Alpha holding a reproduction Viking sword

We made our way through the crowds to the exhibit and spent about an hour and a half learning about Vikings.  As an aside: the exhibit is self-paced and just about the right length.  They had a number of artifacts grouped into several themes about everyday life, instead of constructing a sequential historical narrative.

We waited to get lunch until after the exhibit so we were somewhat famished.  A few storefronts down from Discovery is a pizza and Italian restaurant called John’s of Times Square, located in a former church.  The adults had excellent pizza and the girls had excellent pasta.  It might have been a case of hunger making the best sauce, but probably not.

ulfbehrt sword
There’s a great NOVA episode about the “mystical” Ulfberht sword

After lunch we shopped around Times Square a bit.  Alpha bought a New York-emblazoned sweat shirt and Beta got a pin for her hat.  Baba noticed that Phantom of the Opera was playing right in front of us, so she bought three tickets for 8 o’clock that night.  Beta wasn’t interested and I was wiped from driving all day; we chose to stay in.

We wandered back to the hotel to rest up.  I had to step out in search of a pharmacy: we had a snafu when we left the house and forgot to pack our bathroom stuff.

meghan and alpha at phantom
Waiting for Phantom of the Opera to start

Our motel offers complimentary dinner stuffs on Wednesday nights.  We were just coming off of lunch, not particularly hungry, but the food was delicious. Free wine and beer, too!

We finished dinner and Beta and I headed up to our room to watch some TV and get ready for bed.  Meghan, Baba, and Alpha headed out to their show, and didn’t get back until after I was asleep — sometime after 10:30 pm.  They said they had a great time though!

We started the next day with an excellent breakfast buffet at the motel.  We seem to have a knack for choosing motels with great breakfasts; it really makes dollars stretch further if your breakfast is hearty when you’re traveling.

We decided that we could fit in one more museum visit before leaving town.  The American Museum of Natural History was on our way home and is always worth a visit.  We also considered the USS Intrepid but decided to save it for another visit so we can give it the amount of time it deserves.

wrong-way shadows
Notice the shadows. The sun is rising off to the right, but the cars are throwing shadows the wrong way. The strange beauty of a city made from glass.

We got in early and encountered almost no waiting to get into the parking garage and admissions line.  We had three destinations in mind: the dinosaurs, the blue whale, and the gift shop.  We got to see all three, in that order. The life-size blue whale model is stupendously large – and that’s after seeing the full-size apatosaurus for comparison.

baba and girls
Driving home (click to expand)

We made our way out of the city around 1 pm.  We didn’t want to get home too late, and the drive can take upwards of six hours with stops and detours to Willimantic and Hampton. The ride home was uneventful, traffic was mostly light and Waze didn’t let us down.  Butter the dog was very happy to see us when we picked her up, and I was extremely happy to sleep in my own bed.

NYE 2015

Meghan and Quinn
Quincy Market. The girls wanted nothing to do with this selfie.

Another year, another amazing fireworks show on Boston Common!

The weather has been abnormally warm this year.  Christmas day was in the 60’s, and NYE was in the upper 40’s during the day.  The fireworks, held at 7 pm, were not uncomfortably cool.

Being a tradition, we like to make an evening of it.  We took the train in, arriving at North Station and walking around the city.  Even though we have a train station in town, the parking sucks and the fares are higher so we head down the road to Anderson RTC in Woburn.  The MBTA makes outbound trips free on NYE after 8 pm, so it’s even cheaper to take the train (and just as convenient).

Beta child on the carousel
The carousel doesn’t have any horses, but it does have squirrels, owls, and a sea turtle

On the greenway in front of Quincy Market there is a carousel.  December 31 is the last day of the season, so the kids like to get in one last ride.  This year we arrived after dark so all the lights were on.

After the carousel, we headed across the street to Quincy Market.  The Christmas tree was still lit and the holiday show, Blink!, was still running.  It’s just a small light show and music that plays a few times an hour, but it’s a nice touch.

Dad and beta
Dad and Beta making bad faces for the selfie

We got dinner at the kiosks in Quincy Market.  It was nothing to write home about except this year there was a teenage guy playing rock hits on his guitar in the central seating area that Alpha was quite taken with.  Meghan gave her some money to throw in his guitar case.  It was all very cute.

We got some dessert and hot chocolate on our way out, and ate it on the way.  The kids got cannoli, which weren’t quite as good as what’s available in the North End but seemed to be pretty good regardless.  Meghan and I shared a slice of German Chocolate cake.

Alpha and Dad
Heading home, and all smiles!

With the weather being so nice a lot of people turned out this year, and the hill overlooking the baseball diamond was downright crowded.

A funny thing about these fireworks: they always seem to have more than one climax.  We always have to wait for a few moments to make sure they’re really done this time, before heading out.  We caught a train from North Station before 8:30, had the girls in bed before 10.  No, we didn’t stay up until midnight either.

Everybody
Everybody!

Hot Chocolate

[Scene: I’m standing on a rocky ledge with both girls and Butter the dog.  Meghan is above the ledge, refusing to come down to meet us.]

Me: You could be down here with your daughters and husband and dog.

Beta: That’s better than hot chocolate!

Alpha: Well… Hot chocolate is actually pretty good…

Magnus Chase

Alpha and Beta have been following the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan almost since the books first came out.

To kick off the latest series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Mr. Riordan hosted a Q&A / talk in downtown Boston that Meghan and the girls attended.  They got signed copies of the book, and some swag, to boot.

Alpha holding book and swag
Alpha is very excited to a) see Mr. Riordan, b) get a copy of his latest book, and c) get some swag

When I went to pick them up, there was no question I was in the right spot: as I watched, a sudden stream of very happy people holding ‘Magnus Chase’ foam shields appeared on the side walk.  The event was sold out and the auditorium was standing-room-only.