Cherry Springs State Park

About 2 years ago, I got Michael a telescope for Christmas.  Shortly after, I found out about Cherry Springs State Park and have been wanting to take him there.  It is supposedly the darkest place, East of the Mississippi, for viewing stars.  Unfortunately, light pollution prevents us from seeing most of the stars in the sky from our cities and towns, so if you want to see what’s really up there, you have to find a very dark location. Lucky for me, it’s only a little over an hour away from home. So, I reserved 2 nights in the campground and prayed for clear skies.  I had a really hard time finding out about the logistics of this place.  I like to be prepared when I am going to be away from home, but the park website just doesn’t have a lot of detailed info. I scoured the internet for info and read a lot of reviews on Trip Advisor to help me prepare. I thought I would share what I learned from our trip.

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I found a cool site called Clear Dark Sky, which gave me a detailed forecast of the expected viewing conditions.  We had decided that if conditions looked bleak, we would just skip the trip. Fortunately, it looked like we might have good viewing conditions. So, we packed up and headed out.

My first piece of advice is to look at a map before going and plot out a few different routes.  The roads that go into the park are long and winding and your GPS will not help you.  We had planned to take route 44 the entire way, only to find out that a section of it was closed for road work.  We were lucky that they allowed us to pass through with an escort, but it was a dusty, bumpy 5 miles, and set us back about 1/2 hour. We plotted a different way home.

The park at Cherry Springs has 2 observation fields.  One is for serious astronomers only (not sure on the criteria for that) and there is a fee to enter.  You can set up a tent or camper and stay the night, but it is gated and once they shut the gate, you are in for the night.  They don’t allow people to walk into the field after dark and there is no light (except for red light) allowed on the field.  They have some observation domes that can be rented for the night, but again, they are for “serious” astronomers only.  If you fall into this category, I probably can’t offer you much more advice for your trip.

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Gated Observation Field

If you have kids and just want to marvel at God’s creation (or if you have a cheap, amateur telescope like we do), keep reading.  On the other side of Route 44 (just across the street) there is a public viewing area, where you can park and view the stars in the field. Bring a folding chair or a blanket, whatever makes you comfy.  It will probably be chilly, so bring a sweatshirt.  There is no rule against white light in this area, but I would highly recommend bringing a flashlight with a red filter or just put some red cellophane over your flashlight and secure it with a rubber band.  People get cranky when you shine white light in their eyes and it really does mess with the experience. There are port-a-potties, for your convenience.

We headed into the field around 8:30 or so, to wait for the sun to go down.  I really thought Evelyn was going to be bored, but Michael gave her an iPad and we used an app called Sky Watch to find where planets and constellations would appear in the sky.  She was literally giddy each time a star emerged in the sky. When we arrived there were several people already set up with some pretty serious telescopes.  We were very fortunate to meet a couple who had traveled from Maryland and they allowed us to look through their telescope and helped Michael to figure out how to use his.  We were able to see Jupiter and 4 of its moons, Saturn, and Mars. We even got to see the International Space Station fly by. I realized later that we never actually made it into the viewing field.  We ended up viewing the stars from the parking lot.  Ha ha, amateurs.

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By 9:30 or 10:00, Evelyn got really tired and wanted to go to bed.  I put her in the back seat of the car to lay down and sat with her until she fell asleep, but she wanted me to wake her up to see the Milky Way.  By the time she fell asleep and I left the car, the Milky Way was making it’s appearance. I did wake her up for a time so that she could see it, but she fell back to sleep pretty quickly.  I wish that I had taken this picture but sadly, I did not.  However, I wanted to find a picture that would closely represent what I saw…stars forever and a white swath across the sky. You really have to forget about your problems and realize how insignificant they are when you witness something like this.

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Photo Credit: Mink Mingle

There is also a campground that has 30 sites.  They are rustic, tent only, with vault toilets and no showers, and no dish-washing station, so in my opinion, this is not a great park for long-term stays. Aside from the star-gazing, there is not much to do here.  We reserved a camp site for 2 nights, but I think we could have been fine with just one night.  Most of the campers around us only stayed for one night.  It really seems like this park is designed for short-term stays. However, if you want to stay for a few days, I would highly recommend staking a claim on sites 1, 3, 5 or 8.  They are partly shaded so that you can escape the sun during the day.

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Site #5 in Campground

The other sites are more in a field location with a few trees that dot the landscape. I was glad for our shady spot that bordered the woods, but if you are only planning to stay one night, I think that any site would be fine. Sites were very inexpensive (under $20 per night) and we reserved online, but I think that as long as the campground is not full, you could probably get a site if you just show up.  If you want to go that route, stop at the little building on the way into the campground to pay for your site.  I would arrive early (3-5pm) because the sites fill up quickly.  That would give you plenty of time to set up camp, have a meal over a fire and head up to the observation field as the sun is setting.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Try to go when there is a new moon.  If the moon is bright in the sky, it will be hard for you to see anything else.  Consult a moon calendar.
  • Prepare to stay up late….at least 11:00 or so for the best viewing.
  • You don’t NEED a telescope.  The skies are gorgeous enough on their own.
  • Keep in mind that some of the pictures you see online might not be an accurate representation of what you will actually see.  Sometimes the camera can pick up colors and depth that the naked eye cannot see.  Also, so much depends on the weather conditions and the time of year that you go, and how late you are willing to stay up.
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A view across the campground from our site.

After our first night, we had a full day to spend and a 4-year-old to entertain, so we drove about 8 miles to Lyman Run State Park, where there was a lake and a beach. They have a concession stand and boat rentals and they also have showers there, if you are so inclined, but we decided to rough it and go natural for the whole trip. This was also a very nice park and I think that the star gazing would probably be awesome here too, but you would have less protection from white light sources and there is no specific place set up for stargazing.  If you wanted a longer, more kid-friendly trip, it might be better to stay here and then drive over to Cherry Springs to view the stars at night.

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Lyman Run State Park

 

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Lyman Run State Park

 

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After a long day of heat and too much togetherness, we decided to take a little drive over to a country store that was only about a mile down the road.  Keener’s Kountry Store offered ice cream, gas (in ancient pumps), and firewood for $6 a bundle.  Next time, we will definitely stop here for wood after we arrive, instead of dragging it in our car.

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Ice Cream at Keener’s Kountry Store

I have to say that my campfire cooking skills are improving.  We made foil packs and corn on the cob.  The foil packs had chicken breast, potatoes, onion, and carrots.  I seasoned everything with salt and pepper and a nice chunk of butter.  They turned out so good!

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While we had a nice time and enjoyed our stay, I think the guy in this orange tent had the right idea.  Arrive late in the day, pop up a tent, and sleep with the rain fly off so you can drift off under an amazing sky.

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Tent Camping at R.B. Winter State Park

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I have no idea why (probably my new mom nerves), but I was always afraid of camping in a tent when Evelyn was a baby.  I had done it myself many times, but just needed some extra security when she was younger.  Since her first summer, we have always done our camping in my parent’s pop up camper or a cabin.  But, now that she’s a bit older, I felt ready to try camping in a tent.  So, for our first tenting adventure, we reserved 2 nights over the 4th of July weekend at R.B. Winter State Park.  My dad, aunt, and cousins were also staying in the park and my brother and his girlfriend decided to join us on our site.  We also decided to take our dog (something that we have never done before).  I was praying that it would all work out.  Fortunately, I can report that everything went pretty smoothly, aside from a flat air mattress and a scraped knee.

We arrived in the afternoon on Saturday and set up camp.  The weather could not have been better.  We had two tents and a few hammocks with lots of camp chairs.  I always keep a few extras around for my pesky nephews, who like to steal a chair the second it’s empty.  We had site #56, which sits on the side of the hill, so it has a lower level for parking with some steps that lead up to the elevated tent pad and fire ring.  There was also a picnic table and lantern hook. My only complaint about this site was that it was a little too close to the neighboring site.  We were talking about trying to get both sites for next year, so that at least we will have family next door.  Fortunately, our neighbors for this trip were friendly enough.  I couldn’t help but giggle one morning as I watched the chipmunks fervently scramble to eat up all the food that had been left sitting out on their site, after we were so careful to put everything away in our car, so as not to attract bears.

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Our three days at camp were just relaxing and fun.  We went for walks, played in the sand on the beach by the lake, cooked over the fire, made s’mores, and picked on each other. I love that Evelyn can be entertained with barely anything “to do.”  She finds her own fun. She loved just going in and out of the tent and curling up inside the sleeping bags, staking a claim on her sleeping spot right away. The kids enjoyed playing in the creek, lounging in the hammock, and exploring the paths. I even got in on the fun. I think that our dog, Moxie, didn’t quite know what to make of all of it, but she was very well behaved and I would definitely take her again in the future.

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We had so much fun that we are planning to do it again sometime, and trying to talk even more of our family into joining us.  Meanwhile, we’re getting ready for this summer’s next camping adventure.

RB Winter State Park

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This was our first camping excursion of the year.  I have been coming to this park since I was a kid, so it has a special place in my heart.  I have never really done much camping here though.  We would mainly go to picnic and play on the beach and in the lake, since the park isn’t that far from where I grew up.  Since it’s still early in the season, I opted for a cottage instead of a tent and I am so glad I did.  It was COLD.  I always forget that it’s about 10-15 degrees cooler at the park than it is at home.  So, even thought the forecast was calling for temps in the high 60s, it was much cooler than that….and it rained.  Blah.

We arrived on Friday evening and we decided to eat dinner before heading to the park, since it was supposed to rain all night and cooking over a fire would have been difficult…and miserable.  Thank goodness the cottage had heat and a table with benches.  At least we could spend the evening playing games and munching on snacks…and Evelyn was super-excited that she got to sleep on the top bunk for the very first time.

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Saturday was slightly better.  It only rained for a little while in the morning, mainly while we were trying to boil water for coffee over a fire.  That didn’t turn out very well.  Two lukewarm and barely brewed cups of coffee later, I was kind of grumpy.  We took at nice walk around the lake, but it was too wet for Evelyn to play in the sand.

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We lounged around, made some lunch and then I couldn’t help myself…I suggested that we find the nearest coffee shop for a real cup of joe, a little bit of warmth, and for something to do.  So, we drove about 15 miles, took care of my caffeine craving, and also stopped at Walmart to buy a camp stove.  I’m not giving up on trying to cook over a fire, but it’s nice to know we have a back up now if we need it.   26901293765_7548839ec0_k
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So, it definitely wasn’t my favorite camping trip. It was cold and rather boring.  Michael and I agreed that if we hadn’t paid for the cabin, we probably would have packed it in and headed home. We made the best of it.  But, we have a few other trips planned for this summer and I am looking forward to them.  I’m really hoping that our next trip to this park, over the 4th of July weekend, will be more fun. We will be tenting for the first time with Evelyn and we are also taking our dog, which we have never done, so it should be an adventure. We will have several other family members camping at the same time, so that will make things at least more interesting.

The Crayola Experience

The middle of winter always inspires in me an urge to escape.  Yes, a tropical destination would be lovely, but, since we’ve been together, Michael and I have yet to find ourselves in a position to take a week-long vacation in the middle of winter.  So, we make do with little weekend jaunts to nearby attractions, just to break up the monotony a bit.

This particular trip was inspired by a statement Evelyn made in the car one afternoon on the way home from work/school.

“Mom, I never stayed in a hotel before.”

“Sure you have, you’ve stayed in a hotel three times before.”

“Yes, but I don’t remember it.”

A few days prior to this, my co-workers had a conversation in our shared office about staying in hotels just for the heck of it, just for something to do in the middle of winter, even if it’s right in your own town.  My practical (and wandering) mind could understand the appeal, but has a hard time justifying spending the money for a hotel, when it’s just down the street.  I also really like to travel and see new things, so I thought, sure, let’s stay in a hotel, but let’s do something new too.

So, I started looking around online for some ideas.  Enter, The Crayola Experience.  Evelyn is the perfect age to enjoy this right now.  We have a 3 day weekend for President’s Day.  Let’s Go.

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Let me preface this review by saying that I am not particularly fond of crowds.  On their website, Crayola does give some tips on how to avoid the crowds.  Basically, go on a weekday, after lunch time (2:00-5:00pm is ideal).  We went on Valentine’s Day (a Sunday this year).  As we approached the building and entered a nearby parking garage, I could tell that my crowd anxiety was going to be kicked into high gear.  There were families with little kids everywhere, braving the coldest day of this winter.  I mentally prepared myself for the afternoon and  I think I managed to keep it together for most of the time.  We spent about 3 hours there and only got to experience about 1/3 of what they had to offer.  There were long lines for many of the activities and Evelyn spent a lot of time at just a few activities that she enjoyed.  The trip was for her entertainment, so it really seemed pointless to pull her away from the things she was enjoying to make her try other activities that she might have had to wait a long time to do.

The Meltdown – We decided to go straight to the fourth floor to start, where  there were huge stations full of melted crayons.  The kids could dip long cotton swabs into the wax and paint with it.

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Next we ventured into this play area, which was fun for Evelyn, but a nightmare for me.  Once the kids got inside here, it was nearly impossible to see them and instead of only one way in and out, there were at least 4 ways in and out of the thing, on all different sides of it.  My guess is that someone loses a kid in here, if only for a few minutes, on a daily basis.

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Of all things, this was probably Evelyn’s favorite feature.  It was a series of interactive videos projected on the floor.  For example, the floor appeared to be covered with leaves and as the kids walked around on it, the leaves moved away from them, as though they were really walking through them.  The picture changed every few minutes to something new (balls that they could “kick”, etc).  We had a hard time dragging her away from this one.

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She enjoyed a variety of other features…a computer-generated display of her own artwork, watercolors, a water/boat feature, a diy puzzle, and we got free crayons with our names on them.  Overall, she had fun.  It was a bit too crowded for my liking and the long lines at many of the activities made it hard to do everything.  We were exhausted by the end of it all and since she was so looking forward to staying in a hotel, we didn’t have to fight with her when it was time to leave.

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Michael put me in charge of planning the itinerary for this trip, which was awesome, by the way.  I’ve always fancied myself a travel agent or a tour guide.  Anyway, I found this great little Lebanese restaurant for dinner.  It got great reviews online and it was something very different from what we would find in the culinary desert that we inhabit.

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I know, “Daddy’s Place” sounds a little…I don’t know…   BUT, the food was amazing…AND apparently it was named as such because the owner’s 4-year-old daughter thought that’s what it should be called.  So cute.

We got a mini pie sampler and every single one was delicious.  Michael got the lamb shawarma and got the falafel/hummus plate.  There was seriously enough food to feed six people and every single thing was so amazing. I had to finish it off with a Turkish coffee. If you ever find yourself in Easton, PA, definitely stop here.  Did I mention that they have 250 beers to choose from?

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And finally, Evelyn got to stay in the hotel.  We went for a swim and had some Valentine treats before heading off to bed, which turned out to be a two-hour long process.  I’m going to blame it on the coffee that Michael let her guzzle before dinner.  She told me multiple times that wanted to stay there for at least 10 days. Maybe next time, love.

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Black Moshannon

 

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Back in February, when the winter still had a harsh grip on us, when I was still pregnant and sick, and when the whole family was in a deep funk, we decided that we needed to get the heck out of town for a few days.  Michael’s work schedule made it difficult to schedule anything very soon, so we reserved a cabin for a weekend in April.  Even though it was a few months away, we really just needed something to look forward to.

A few weeks ago, we finally had our getaway.  I have to admit, it was kind of weird at first, just the three of us with no electronic distractions. For a minute I was wondering what I had gotten myself into.

With the exception of an hour long scream fest when we made Evelyn take a nap one day, we had a calm, relaxing time. During the day, we hiked the trails, which were easy enough for Evelyn, and in the evenings we toasted marshmallows and played board games.

I don’t mind tent camping, but this time we decided on a modern cabin with heat and a bathroom, and I’m so glad we did.  It was still pretty cold at night, and I didn’t want to trek out into the night to a communal bathroom with a child who is just recently potty trained, especially with the clear warning about bears that was posted in our cabin.

Like many of Pennsylvania’s natural features, this watershed was named by Native Americans. According to local tradition, this area was called “Moss-Hanne,” meaning “moose stream.”  Appropriately, the “black” in the park name describes the tea-colored waters. The 250-acre Black Moshannon Lake is fed by clear springs and small streams which flow through the bogs that stretch in most directions from its shores. As the clear water flows through sphagnum moss and other wetland plants, it becomes colored by plant tannins. In a sense, the bog vegetation acts like a giant teabag to color the water (from the park website).

I’ll just let the pictures tell the rest of the story. 🙂

traveling with a twosie

 

traveling with a toddler

This week we set out for a 12 hour car ride from Pennsylvania to Georgia (and back again a few days later) with our 2-year-old.  I was dreading it for several weeks and seriously considered backing out and sending my husband on his own.  I just hated the idea of having her stuck in her car seat all day long.  It’s hard enough for me to travel and, for the most part, I have control of my own destiny.  I knew it would be that much harder for her, so I did my best to plan ahead.  Fortunately for us, the trip went really well.  We managed to keep Evelyn entertained and she fussed very little during the hours on the road.

Are you thinking about a long trip with your toddler?  Here are some things you can do to make it as painless as possible for everyone.

Overlap travel time with sleep time.  For our departure trip, we left home around 3:30am.  I am not the type of person who can leave at 8pm and drive all through the night.  I would be dozing off behind the wheel.  But, if I can get a few good hours of sleep first, I’m fine.  We went to bed early and packed the car before bed.  Then we only had to fill our travel mugs with some strong coffee and transfer our cherub to her car seat.  We managed to get about 4 hours under our belt before she woke up.  She also napped later in the day for about 2 hours, so that cut off a considerable amount of travel time for her.

Take frequent breaks.  I think you have to enter into a long trip like this with a laid-back attitude.  Of course we wanted to make good time on our trip, but we stopped frequently to eat, use the restroom, and just walk around.  Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to arrive by a specific time.  Stop when you (or your child) need a break.  If you have a very active child, that might mean more frequent breaks.  Many rest stops have large, grassy areas where your child could run off some energy and everyone can just stretch their legs.

Pack plenty of snacks.  A hungry kid is a cranky kid.  Normally, I would be a bit nervous about allowing Evelyn to eat in the car.  I always worry about choking, especially if it’s just the two of us and I am driving.  But, since one of us could sit in the back seat with her and monitor her, it wasn’t a problem.

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Ok, I didn’t take this pic on the road, but it was too cute not to post. 🙂

Pack an activity bag.  I packed a bag with books, crayons, paper, stickers, and playdough.  I purchased an inexpensive clipboard that she could use as a work surface.  I also packed a few of her favorite games that could be easily manipulated on the road.

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Embrace technology.  I’m not gonna lie.  I’d love to tell you that we didn’t rely on our devices to entertain Evelyn, but we did use the iPad to show her some downloaded movies when we had exhausted the other activities.  I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching Frozen and Brave with her.  I offered her my phone to play some memory and matching games that she likes, but she wasn’t interested at the time.  What kind of kid is this anyway?

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Involve the kids in the conversation.  It’s easy for the adults in the front seats to get caught up in conversation and ignore the little ones in the back.  The few times that Evelyn whined during our trip were when Michael and I were busy chatting away and she wanted to get in on the conversation.  Involve them!  Point out trucks, buses, or interesting vehicles on the road.  Ask them to tell you what they see out the window.  Talk about where you are going and what to expect there.  Listen to music and sing songs.  Make them a part of things.

Be patient with them.  It’s really hard for kids this age to sit still for long periods of time.  There are bound to be some tough moments.  Acknowledge how hard it is to sit, offer suggestions, and change things up if necessary.

Since Evelyn is an only, I can’t speak on traveling with multiple children.  What works for your family?

 

 

i heart philly

I’ve been a little MIA for the past week or so and that’s because we’ve been on vacation in Philadelphia.  Well, we were house and dog sitting for my brother-in-law while he was on a tropical vacation.  We poor folk with a young baby have to stay close to home.  Anyway, since Michael’s brother moved to Philly about 3 years ago, it’s been kind of a home away from home for us.  We go to visit and sometimes stay for a week at a time, if we’re holding down the fort, like we did this past week.

I decided not to lug my Nikon DSLR with me, since I have already used it to take a ton of pics there.  This week all my photos were shot using Instagram on my iPhone.

It seems like Evelyn grew by leaps and bounds these past few days.  Looking after her was a bit of a challenge in a house that isn’t baby-proofed, especially since she is super mobile these days.  We tried our best to keep her corralled, but she managed to get into every sort of trouble.  First, she found the stairs…and even made it to the second step on one occasion.

Michael put this box on the floor, so that she could use it for support while standing…then she promptly crawled ON TOP of it.

This is the look I got when I told her “no.”

She had a great time playing with her dad’s shoes (I let this one slide as long as she wasn’t trying to put the shoe in her mouth!)

…and she had no trouble chasing all three dogs off of their bed, so she could play on it.

Despite all the mischief, Evelyn was a trooper.  We dragged her all over the city and she was in her glory most of the time.  I have to admit, it was a little difficult for us to do the things we would normally enjoy doing, because we had to work around her nap times, fussy times, and eating times, and she is too young to really appreciate all the fun kid things to do in the city, but we still managed to do a lot and she was right there along with us, absorbing every minute of it.

One day when we went out, it poured down raining, so we popped the little canopy up on her stroller, covered her lap with a blanket and pressed on.  Michael and I were a little disgruntled, but Evelyn didn’t seem to mind it at all.  When the rain finally stopped and I pulled back the stroller canopy, she was sitting up, taking it all in, and enjoying herself immensely.

She also finally began to sign “more” while we were away.  At first, I though it was a fluke, but then she did it again and again.  We had been signing with her here and there, mostly “more,” “milk,” and “all done,” but I had actually been getting pretty lazy about it.  Now that she seems to be doing a lot more imitating (she waved for the first time to a random lady in the check out line at Ikea), and picking it up, I will definitely start introducing more signs and using them consistently.

So, what did we do while we were in the city?  Well, we had already done all the basic touristy things (Constitution Center, Liberty Bell, Museum of Art, Phillies Game, etc) during previous visits, so we decided to try some low key activities.

One of our favorite places to visit is the Reading Terminal Market, but on the day we decided to stop there, it was closed (duh, it was Labor Day).  That also happened to be the day it rained buckets.  Blah.

Crossing the Ben Franklin bridge into New Jersey, home of our favorite destination…Total Wine!

And more rain…

The neighborhood where we stay is full of little restaurants, cafes, and shops.  We stopped at Cafe Lutecia for breakfast one morning, a little slice of France in the heart of Philly.

We were also located close to the University of Pennsylvania, so we visited the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.  The had a special Mayan Exhibit, I’m certain capitalizing on the 2012 Apocalypse theories.

To get to the museum, we had to cross the South Street Bridge, which provides an awesome view of the city.

We visited the 9th Street Italian Market

…and enjoyed a gelato at 10 o’clock in the morning.

Then we stopped at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, which was featuring the works of Maurice Sendak.  The photo below shows a mural that was painted by Sendak on the wall of a friend’s home.  The painting was donated to the museum and they had to remove the wall of the home in order to put it on display.

Finally, we visited Penn’s Landing, along the Delaware River.

And we couldn’t go to Penn’s Landing without stopping at The Franklin Fountain for some ice cream.  I got the green tea, and even though Evelyn shouldn’t really be having dairy yet, I let her try some anyway.  She gave me this look when I started to eat it and I just couldn’t sit and eat it in front of her.  Needless to say, she loved it!

Ah, well, as much as I love being on vacation, it’s good to be home, surrounded by the familiar.  Where did you vacation this year?