Friday, October 20, 2017

Philadelphia: Family-friendly Fun Things To Do in the City of Brotherly Love

This is my third post about our adventure traveling through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. You can find the first post from this trip here and links to all the other educational US travel we've done here

Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and other benefits for some of the hotels and attractions we visited throughout the trip. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone. I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I whole-heartedly recommend. If you notice any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love a particular hotel, attraction, or restaurant enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay. 

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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Philadelphia ranks as one of my all-time favorite cities. Our nation's history is everywhere you look and there is so much to see and do. Not only that, but Philadelphia has great food and is pedestrian-friendly, two things that matter a lot to our family. We arrived in Philadelphia in the afternoon on Tuesday, October 3 after spending the day in Delaware. We stayed for three nights and packed a significant number of attractions into our limited time. There's no time for rest when you vacation with the deRosiers!

Obviously, the #1 attraction in Philadelphia is Independence National Historic Park. We walked through the whole park the evening we arrived. The buildings were closed, but we got spectacular, tourist-free views of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. 

  

Of course, we returned the next morning to properly explore Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, the Visitor Center, and the surrounding area. Allow at least three hours to see it all. 

  

While we were there, Trevor earned the Junior Ranger badge. I strongly recommend having your kids do this at every national park they visit. It's fun, free, and they end up with a nice souvenir badge. Trevor also collected Independence NHP Trading Cards. Each ranger at the park carries some and give them out to kids who approach them and answer simple questions. 


The US Mint is another don't-miss in Philadelphia. They offer an excellent self-guided tour. We loved watching coins being made and were fascinated to learn that if coins drop on the floor at any point during the manufacturing process, they are destroyed. As you might imagine, security is very tight at the Mint, which includes a complete ban on all photography. Our lone photo is of the exterior of the building. 


We had a fantastic time at the Museum of the American Revolution and the hours we spent there flew by. It is packed with so much information, interesting displays, lots of video, and plenty of hands-on exhibits to keep kids (and adults) entertained.  
 
  

I want to mention one thing in particular that the Museum of the American Revolution does extremely well and that is having "Please touch" signs. Here is Trevor touching a piece a true piece of history- part of the last surviving Liberty Tree. 

  

We ended our time at with a fascinating film, which concluded with an unveiling of General George Washington's actual headquarters tent from the Revolutionary War. No photos allowed, obviously. 

Of course, we had to do the Philadelphia Urban Adventure Quest. (We've done Quests in Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Phoenix, plus we did beta testing for them in San Jose and San Francisco.) It's a mobile phone scavenger hunt and it is so much fun! It's a great way to explore a city and it always takes us to places we might otherwise not have seen. I've been to Philadelphia a handful of times before, but had never been in Elfreth's Alley before. It was really neat. 


Other stops along the Quest included Washington Square, the Betsy Ross House, and Christ Church. 


We made two dumb mistakes and ended up with the worst score we've had among the 8 Quests we'd done, but that didn't matter one bit. We worked well together, saw things we otherwise would have missed, and learned a lot about Philadelphia. 

After the Quest, we headed to Philadelphia's Magic Gardens. If the word 'garden' evokes visions of trees and flowers, think again. PMG is an immersive art museum and gallery made up of tiles, mirrors, bottles, and so much more. It is the work of Isaiah Zagar and it is overwhelming in the best of ways. The indoor space features mosaics on the walls and ceilings and hints at is what to come when you step outdoors.  

  

Outside, every surface is covered. It was difficult to know where to look or which way to go. We followed the winding paths and staircases randomly, with each turn revealing something new. If you're up for a challenge, try the scavenger hunt at Philadelphia Magic Gardens. The three of us worked together and still couldn't find everything... even with hints from the helpful employees! It might be the most difficult scavenger hunt I've ever done, but it was so much fun and really helped us (Trevor in particular) focus our attention in a place with visual overload.

   

One of our favorite discoveries was this phrase that we recognized from Shelley Pearsall's outstanding book, The Seventh Most Important Thing. We listened to it on CD during our drive to Oregon over the summer and it made the time fly by. I highly recommend it for preteens, teens, and adults. 


I'll share one final must-do before wrapping up the post and that is the National Constitution Center. Wow- what a museum!


Unfortunately, there is no photography allowed in 99% of the exhibit space. I'm not sure why, but I'm a rule follower, so I didn't question it or try to sneak photos. But I would love to have photos of Trevor in a voting booth, listening to actual quotes from a Democratic president and a Republican president from history and deciding which resonated better with him. I wanted a picture of him competing in a fun trivia game show. (He did really well, so he must have actually learned something from my efforts last year!) I'd love to have recorded his expression as we applied to vote in various years throughout history and he learned how many people were disenfranchised for so long. I'd definitely want photos of us dressed up like Supreme Court justices. That would make a fun Christmas card!

Fortunately, photos were allowed in one room, filled with life-size statues of the men present at the Constitutional Convention. At 6'4", George Washington dwarfs Trevor. At 5'4", James Madison is more my size.

  

Photos were allowed in the lobby, too. President deRosier, 2020?

  

As you can see, we had an amazing time in Philadelphia. And I haven't even mentioned where we stayed or what we ate! Those deserve a separate post, so come back to read that on Monday.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dover: Capitol, Cheddar's, Air Mobility Command Museum, Murderkill, Bowers Beach

This is the second post about our adventure through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. You can find the first post here. Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and other benefits for some of the hotels and attractions we visited throughout the trip. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone. I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I whole-heartedly recommend. If you notice any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love a particular hotel, attraction, or restaurant enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay. 

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Dover, Delaware


By 9:00 am on Day 2, we were on the road from Annapolis, MD to Dover, DE. Our first destination was The Old State House. What a beautiful area! The historic area of Dover, like Annapolis, is very pedestrian-friendly, clean and safe, and clearly caters to tourists interested in history. There were docents on hand to guide visitors and explain everything. We learned so much about the early years of The First State. 

  

Speaking of which, Delaware is very proud of the fact that they were the first state to ratify the Constitution (December 7, 1787). Not only is it printed on their license plate, but it appears on monuments, statues, t-shirts, and pretty much everything else. 

  

We found Delaware's Liberty Bell replica between the Old State House and the current Legislative Hall. Notice that Trevor has three large stickers on his jacket. These are the passes we had to wear while touring the Capitol in Annapolis. After we left, Trevor peeled my sticker and Steve's sticker off of our clothing and put it on his own. 


It has been very interesting to compare the levels of security between all of the various capitol buildings we've visited. We've experienced everything from airport-level ID checks and metal detectors to absolutely no checks or visible security. It's fascinating. 

When we went through security in Dover, we had to show ID and each got another sticker to wear. Here's Trevor inside the Capitol with his three Maryland stickers and one Delaware sticker. 


We enjoyed our visit to the Legislative Hall. Afterward, we did a little geocaching nearby and found a cache by VisitDelaware. Our first Delaware cache! (Notice that Trevor is now wearing three Maryland stickers and three Delaware stickers.)


My personal Delaware highlight was meeting up with a former student of mine, Amerina, and meeting her husband and daughter. He is in the Air Force and stationed in Dover. I haven't seen Amerina since she graduated from fifth grade in 2005. She found me on Facebook a few years ago. When I told her we'd be in Dover, she enthusiastically accepted my offer to meet up and suggested lunch at Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen. The food was outstanding and it was wonderful to catch up with her. 


I'm still a hair taller than Amerina. I can't say that about too many of my former students! Many of them dwarfed me before they even finished fifth grade. 


Our next stop was at the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base. 


The indoor exhibit area was excellent, with plenty of opportunities for kids to climb in, on, or under. 

  

The outdoor display area was impressive. 
  
  

Although we are not military, we live in a military town and have many Air Force friends. Trevor thought it was so cool that there was a display about Travis AFB when we were 3000 miles from home!


Delaware's #1 tourist destination is Rehoboth Beach. Unfortunately, it was an hour away the wrong direction, so we weren't able to include it on this trip. I did want to visit a beach in Delaware though. I scoured the map for promising beaches near Dover and ended up discovering Bowers Beach. It looked like a nice place to stop and stroll for awhile. When I read that Bowers is also the mouth of a river named Murderkill, I was all in. I'm weird like that. As it turns out, Murderkill River was most likely not named for any sort of death. And it was indeed a lovely place for a stroll. 


Bowers Beach is rebuilding their dunes following destruction by storms and, at least right now, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for swimming or sand play. But there was a very nice rock jetty for those who want to enjoy a nice walk by the beach. It was just what we needed on this beautiful October day. 


All too soon, it was time to leave Delaware and head to our next destination, Philadelphia. As we drove north through beautiful Delaware, we kept seeing one crop over and over that we couldn't identify at highway speeds. I finally asked Steve to pull over because it was driving me crazy not knowing what all the huge fields were. My best guess is soybeans.


I did a little research and learned some fascinating facts about agriculture in Delaware. Did the rest of you know that soybeans are a major ingredient in crayons?!


We learned so much about The First State during our short time in Delaware. I hope we're able to return someday and explore the southern part of the state!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Annapolis: Chick & Ruth's, State House, Historic Annapolis Museum, and the US Naval Academy

As I mentioned in my last post (about the Atlas Fire that got way too close for comfort), our family just returned from an East Coast adventure that took us to Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. We had a fantastic time. Over the next two weeks, I'll be sharing what we did and what you won't want to miss the next time you visit these states. 

Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and other benefits for some of the hotels and attractions we visited throughout the trip. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone. I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I whole-heartedly recommend. If you notice any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love a particular hotel, attraction, or restaurant enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay. 

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Annapolis, Maryland


We began our journey in the evening on Sunday, October 1. We took a red-eye (Trevor's first) from San Francisco to Baltimore. We arrived in Baltimore at 7:00 am, picked up our rental car, and took a short drive to the capital of Maryland. 


Our first goal was to find breakfast. I'd read about a quirky restaurant called Chick & Ruth's Delly that I wanted to try. The reviews were great and it sounded like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, we were a few minutes too late to experience the morning flag salute, but the food was excellent. Steve had (huge) pancakes and Trevor and I split a delicious breakfast pizza.

  

With full bellies, we headed to the Maryland State House. It is the oldest in the US that is still in use by the legislature. 

    

It is also where George Washington resigned his commission as General in 1783.  

  

And, it is the place I took one of my absolute favorite photos from the whole trip, thanks to Officer Harris. He's pretending to stamp the date and location on Trevor's forehead, instead of in his State Capitols book, which is sitting on the desk open to the Maryland page. I'll be sharing all about the book soon. 


Our next stop was at the Historic Annapolis Museum. This wonderful museum had an outstanding exhibit called 'Freedom Bound.' It told the stories of resistance to slavery and servitude in the area from the 1720's to 1860's. It was very powerful. 


One hands-on exhibit asked museum-goers to examine the items a slave or indentured servant might consider taking during an attempted escape. Each item has the potential to be beneficial or a burden depending on circumstances. And there's only so much you can carry as you flee.


Annapolis is a really cute town, with brick-paved roads and plenty of pedestrian-friendly features. We parked the car once when we arrived and didn't move it until we left Annapolis 24 hours later because everything we wanted to see was an easy walk. 


Our next destination was the United States Naval Academy.

  

We took a guided walking tour and it was fantastic. It lasted about 90 minutes. We saw all sorts of things we wouldn't have seen if we'd just wandered around on our own. 

  
  

Our next stop was at Annapolis Ice Cream Company. It was so hard to pick flavors because everything looked so good. We each chose something different and all were excellent.

By this point, it was late in the afternoon and we were definitely feeling the effects of our red-eye and the time change. We checked into our hotel, the State House Inn.


We stayed in the Prince William Room, which was just perfect for our family of three. 


The State House Inn was charming, comfortable, and clean (in other words, everything you'd want in a hotel). But it was the location that sold us. We were literally steps away from the Maryland State House and less than half a mile from the Naval Academy. Look at the view of the State House from our window: 


I spent a bit more time at the State House Inn than Steve and Trevor. They opted for dinner, while I chose to skip it and go to bed! While I can't personally recommend it, both Steve and Trevor feel you should eat at the Federal House Bar and Grill when you're in Annapolis. 

We had a good night's sleep and were excited to start Day 2 of our adventure. While Steve and Trevor got ready, I headed over to Chick & Ruth's to get breakfast to go. I ordered two donuts and a huge apple fritter for us to share. The weather was perfect, so I set everything on one of the patio tables in front of the State House Inn so we could dine al fresco. 

 

Now, I know I said that Chick & Ruth's was quirky, but surely they didn't expect us to put ketchup, salt, and pepper on our donuts or in our orange juice! Yet there they were, tucked inside the bag. I didn't discover them until I unpacked our donuts. Funny. 


After breakfast, we walked a few blocks past the State House to St. John's College. This is where Maryland displays their Liberty Bell replica


After a wonderful 24 hours, it was time to stay goodbye to Annapolis and head to our next destination. I'll tell you all about that tomorrow.