Philadelphia – Day 5

Posted by barb on Sep 22, 2014 in Travels

We decided to see one last site in Philly before we drove home today – the Philadelphia Zoo.

Philadelphia Zoo

I wanted to go partly because they had an okapi there – one of my favorite animals &#150 but also because I’m just a sucker for zoos.

We found the giraffes.


And hippos.

Hippo shake

Andrew had a moment with the otters.

Andrew and the giant otter

The orangutans had sheets in their enclosure for some enrichment today. When we got there, one of the orangutans had her sheet on like a veil. Then she dropped that one and followed the other orangutan, who had a purple sheet. They both hid under that sheet for a few moments, then got up and walked off together, one holding the other’s shoulder. Very cute.

Orangutans huddled under a sheet

Orangutans ditching the sheet


One really cool thing this zoo had was what it calls “Zoo 360.” Essentially they have “tunnels” through parts of the zoo so that some of the animals can roam a bit further than their normal enclosures. I think they had it for some of the primates, but we experienced it in the big cat area. As we were walking through the exhibits, we saw a pair of clouded leopards meandering over us.

Zoo 360 - clouded leopards exlporing

And while we were having lunch, across from the big cats, a jaguar came over to see what was up. (It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but the “tunnel” was near the window of the cafe.) It happened that some of the zoo’s maintenance workers needed to get to something near the tunnel, so we watched them wait until the jaguar turned back around to a point where a zookeeper could close off the tunnel.

Zoo 360 - a jaguar visits near the cafe where we ate lunch

In the small mammal house, we saw the aardvarks sleeping together. Look at that belly!

Sleeping aardvarks

And, of course, we found the okapi!


We did take a moment to get a picture of the two of us.

Happy 10th Anniversary to Us!

Andrew and Me



Philadelphia – Day 4

Posted by barb on Sep 21, 2014 in Travels

One of the things Andrew and I have talked about seeing in Philly for a long time was the Mütter Museum. It’s one of the offbeat museums that we’re attracted to across the country, though a bit more legitimate (or at least more successful) than some of the others we’ve gone to (for example, the Dime Museum in Baltimore and the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minnesota both closed a couple years after we had visited them).

Unfortunately, the M&uulm;tter doesn’t allow pictures inside the museum. Or maybe that’s fortunate. It’s a museum of medical curiosities, with loads of specimens collected through the 19th century. Andrew and I wandered on our own, taking in whatever interested each of us. At one point I passed him as I was walking into another room, and he just looked at me, shook his head, and said, “So much can go wrong.”

There was an extensive skull collection from a variety of people who died in a lot of different ways and with different ailments evidenced in their skulls. I was struck by the side-by-side skeletons of two women, one who had regularly worn a tightly-laced corset and one who did not – the damage to the ribcage was spectacular. Also noteworthy was the drawers full of things people have swallowed. Each drawer was labeled with things such as, “hardware,” “buttons,” “pins,” and “toys.”

[The Mütter Museum was free with our Philadelphia Pass, a $15 value.]

From there, we thought we might try to take in part of The Barnes Foundation Museum. However, when we got there, we found that they sold timed tickets, and the next entrance was a couple hours off. I didn’t really feel like waiting that long, especially since the museum would close just a couple hours after we got in, so we took a pass.

Instead, we hopped the hop-on-hop-off bus for the last time, and circled around the loop past the Philadelphia Art Museum where I snapped a few pictures from the bus.

Joan of Arc statue


We rode the bus almost to the end of their tour route and hopped off to see Elfreth’s Alley. This is the oldest continuously-inhabited residential neighborhood in the U.S.

Felicia at Elfreth’s Alley

Elfreth’s Alley selfie

From there, we weren’t too far from our hotel, so we walked back. On the way, I made us stop at the Besty Ross House gift shop to pick up a scrapbook kit I had seen there yesterday, but didn’t want to carry around all day. We also stopped at a comic book and game store, grabbing The Reef 2-player game that we played in our hotel when we got back.

Playing a new game

Final tally on the Philadelphia Pass?

Paid: $80 for a 3-day pass (which was an internet special that got us a 3-day pass for the price of a 2-day pass)

Which got us:

  • 3-day pass on the Big Bus Tour, $48 value
  • The Franklin Institute admission, $18.50 value
  • Betsy Ross House admission, $5 value
  • Eastern State Penitentiary admission, $14 value
  • Ghost Tour of Philadelphia, $17 value
  • Mütter Museum admission, $15 value

Grand total: $117.50

So, even at full price of $100, the 3-day pass would have been worth the money. (No, I’m not being paid by the Philly Pass folks – I was just curious to see if we got our money’s worth!)



Philadelphia – Day 3

Posted by barb on Sep 20, 2014 in Travels

Half-marathon training doesn’t take a break, even for 10th anniversary vacations, and I had a 9.5 mile run on my schedule for this weekend. The plan was for us to head up to Fairmount Park where Andrew would rent a bike (with his newly-purchased bike shorts from the night before) and we would both do the 8-mile loop (Andrew a couple times, resupplying me with water along the way). That was the plan.

Little did we know there was a big 5k going on in addition to normal Saturday busy-ness. We ended up driving pretty far past the bike rental place before we could find a parking spot. We dithered for a while about what to do. I *could* still do my run while Andrew sat and read his book a the car. But, then I would have no back-up – no source of fresh water or Gu/sports beans to ensure I didn’t run out. And, I’d be feeling bad about leaving Andrew just sitting there for a couple hours. In the end, we drove back to the hotel, run not accomplished. I decided I would make it up one evening on the treadmill after work next week.

The revised plan for the day was to start at the Betsy Ross house. We toured the house, meeting Betsy Ross on the way.

Betsy Ross' House

Betsy Ross' House

[We got in free here with our Philadelphia Pass, a $5 value.]

Then we hopped the hop-on-hop-off bus again (our 3-day passes from yesterday were still good!) to the Eastern State Penitentiary. It was an active prison from 1829 to 1971. It was a new type of prison, where inmates were isolated from everyone. They had a small room with just a small opening for food, and that opened to a small private outdoor area. From the time they went in to the time they went out, they saw no one else. The idea was that they were to ponder what they had done wrong. Not much had been done to the site since it closed in 1971, so it stands in ruin. Very cool.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary

Felicia behind bars

Al Capone was even here for a little while.

Al Capone's cell at Eastern State Penitentiary

[We got in free to the Eastern State Penitentiary with our Philadelphia Pass, a $14 value.]

We didn’t want to pack too much in to the day, so we went back to the hotel and kicked back for a little while before heading off to Ghost Tour of Philadelphia

It was fun to hear ghost stories of the area. Do I believe them? Not really, but still fun to scare yourself every once in a while.

Ready for a ghost walk

[We got our ghost tour free with our Philadelphia Pass, a $17 value.]

Our tour ended at Washington Square, where we stopped to look at the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier – beautiful at night.

Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier



Philadelphia – Day 2

Posted by barb on Sep 19, 2014 in Travels

We started Day 2 of our adventure by returning to the Independence Hall visitor’s center. We had picked up a brochure yesterday for the Philadelphia Pass – a pass that gets you into a bunch of sites for free. It included one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours, and we found an online special to get the 3-day pass for the price of the 2-day pass. It seemed like a good deal – I’ll summarize how we did with that on the last day.

Our plan was to go to the Franklin Institute, and the best way to get there (without walking) was to grab the hop-on-hop-off bus, so we picked up the Big Bus Tour near Independence Hall.

[We got a 3-day pass for the Big Bus Tour free with our Philadelphia Pass – a $48 value.]

The Franklin Institute is a science museum. It was between traveling exhibits, so we missed out on a couple of the exhibit halls, but the permanent exhibits were still well worth our time.

Franklin Institute

There was an exhibit on the brain, which included a segment on optical illusions and tricking the brain. The most striking thing in the exhibit was an illusion where you and a friend enter a hotel room. The room is slanted, as is a bed that one of you lays down on. Within a couple seconds, your brain is convinced that your still-standing friend is standing at an angle, not that you are laying at an angle. Very freaky.

Sidewalk painting optical illusion

There couldn’t very well be a science museum named after Benjamin Franklin without a hall on electricity! The electricity exhibit included some historic pieces from Franklin’s research on electricity and some things to try ourselves.

Andrew was playing with an exhibit, and ended up with a bit of static electricity in his hair!

Electrified Andrew

There was also a big exhibit on flying and air flow – the Franklin Air Show. Felicia *had* to try out the fighter jet cockpit.

Felicia in the cockpit

We also took in an IMAX show, walked around Sir Isaac’s Loft (exploring forces and gravity), and spent a little time in the Amazing Machine’s (exploring mechanics and machines).

[The Franklin Institute was another thing included in the Philadelphia Pass, an $18.50 value.]

Since today was officially our anniversary, we tried to find a nice-ish restaurant on our way back to the hotel. We settled on a Thai place on South Street. It was a great choice for us – not too upscale (because we just don’t *do* that), but very good food. While at dinner, Andrew realized that he had forgotten bike shorts for our planned run (me)/bike (him) expedition tomorrow. So, he ran off after dinner to see if he could get to a nearby bike shop before they closed. I walked back to the hotel, and found this sign along the way.

Philly sign



Philadelphia – Day 1

Posted by barb on Sep 18, 2014 in Travels

Andrew and I decided that we needed to do something for our 10th anniversary. Sure, we’re planning a big trip in a year or two, which is really our anniversary present to each other (much like we waited a couple years for our “real” honeymoon – a Mediterranean cruise to see the 2006 total solar eclipse &#150 but had a few-day getaway a B&B nearby right after our wedding). We decided on Philadelphia because it’s close, and we’ve been talking about wanting to go for a while.

We started up in the morning, not too early, but with a goal of getting there before lunch so we would have the afternoon to walk around and decide how we would spend the rest of our trip. It was a quick drive (< 3 hours). Our hotel room wasn't ready yet (no surprise, since check-in was at 3PM). So, we dropped off our car and luggage, grabbed a quick lunch, and started walking toward the Independence Hall area.

We started at the Liberty Bell, since the line was fairly short. Learned (again, since I had been there once before) that the famous crack appears the way it does due to efforts to fix it. It had a small crack and was re-cast twice before this crack was widened in an attempt to fix it. No luck, so they finally gave up.

Liberty Bell selfie

Next we walked across the street to the Independence Visitor Center. We grabbed a bunch of brochures for other places we wanted to visit, and then found out that we could get (free) tickets to see Independence Hall – where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Signing room in Independence Hall

At that point, it was getting too late to see much else, so we walked around to the Philadelphia City Hall and found a couple of nearby parks with sculptures. One of my favorites is the “Your Move” sculpture, a park with oversized game pieces scattered around.

Andrew with "Your Move"

Barb with "Your Move"

Finally, we made our way back to our hotel – a long walk from where we ended up. We saw Benjamin Franklin’s gravesite on the way. People, inspired by his saying, “a penny saved is a penny earned” leave pennies on his grave. We later heard that the grave makes about $4,000 per year in pennies.

Franklin's grave

We also found dinner near our hotel at a place called Lucha Cartel. I particularly taken by their take on The Last Supper – done with Mexican wrestlers painted on the backs of skateboards.

The Last Supper, at Lucha Cartel in Philadelphia

I had a pineapple jalapeño margarita, which was hot, but tasty.

Pineapple Jalapeno margarita



My first, and the last shuttle launch

Posted by barb on Jul 15, 2011 in Pictures, Recreation

While I’m not the biggest astronaut and “human spaceflight” nut, I have always wanted to see a shuttle launch…or a rocket launch…okay, I wanted to see something big with fire behind it rise up into the sky. Given that the shuttle program was coming to an end, I began to realize that I needed to get on the ball and hustle down to Florida for a launch. A small number of NASA employees are elligible to get tickets to see the launch from the NASA causeway – you know the place with the giant countdown clock that you see on TV? Since these last several launches were so well-attended, a lottery was instituted for these car passes to the causeway. I started putting my name in last fall, but never got picked. So, I did what members of the non-NASA public had to do, I gathered up my family and dragged them down to Florida, and staked out a claim on public land for the launch.

Because this has been such a crappy and hectic year, I wasn’t able to drag everyone (or even just my husband) down for launches earlier in the year. So, we were stuck going to the last launch…when a million people were expected to descend on the Space Coast. No problem. We could deal with it, if only for a day.

To make this a real event, I also invited my Mom and my aunt, Maggie. Mom flew out to DC ahead of time to enjoy July 4th in DC, then the three of us (Mom, Andrew, and me) piled into the car early Thursday morning and drove the 15 hours to Cocoa Beach. We met up with my aunt in Cocoa Beach – she had flown in earlier on Thursday and checked into our hotel. None of us was optomistic that we would see the launch – Friday’s forecast for launch was just 30%, as was Saturday; Sunday’s was a bit higher at 60%. We had to leave on Monday, so if the shuttle didn’t launch over the weekend, we wouldn’t see it. No matter – we would make an adventure out of it either way.

Our early-morning glimpse of the shuttle

Friday morning we set the alarms for 3:00 AM with a goal of leaving for Titusville and Space View Park by 4:00 AM. As we drove, I checked the weather and launch forecast again – it still didn’t look good for the 11:26 AM launch time; 30% for “go” was predicted. We forged ahead anyway. Along the way, we passed cars and trailers parked along the road, and if we squinted we could see the bright spotlights lighting up the launch pad. We wondered if we should also stop…but our plan was Space View park, and we were sticking to it.

Traffic wasn’t actually bad until we were very close to Space View park – we circled around a bit, and finally found a pay parking lot charging just $15 (which, frankly, we didn’t care about – we just wanted to park the car and find a place to park ourselves). We had packed to be there all day – we brought our airline friendly storage, blankets, chairs, a cooler with drinks and picnic fixings, picnic basket, bag of snacks – so we grabbed everything except the chairs, and trudged out to the park. It took a couple tries to figure out where exactly we should way, but eventually we staked our claim, laid out the blankets, and got ready to wait.

Gemini Monument
People everywhere!

And wait. And check the status updates. And wait.

Each check of the shuttle status seemed to end with a version of the phrase, “the chance of launch remains at 30%”. So we were making plans for Saturday – deciding what we would do differently, where we might try to wait, and how early we might want to try to show up.

And as we waited, more and more people showed up. People were everywhere. Everywhere – including one dumbass and his (near-adult) boys on top of the Gemini program monument. Thankfully a few cops finally came through and made them get off of the monument.

Clouds threatened rain. We were “misted” on. Blue sky peeked in and out. We had no clue what the weather was going to do; if it would permit the launch today.

And waited. (Chocolate and potato chips might have been consumed before 10 AM.) And the crew continued to ready the shuttle, and the countdown and planned countdown-holds, continued. Each update, still with the caveat that launch was only a 30% probability.

Then word came down – they were exiting the final planned hold, with 9 minutes on the clock. Launch would happen! The weather cooperated, if barely, to permit the launch. We all waited, watching our clocks, listening to the flight control team on several radios. More people pushed into the park. I took Trevor and my camera and nudged my way up closer to the water – around the bush that threatened our view. We thought we were in the final 30-second countdown…the crowd counted (without a nearby radio). No launch. What happened? Then word came that there was a 30-second hold. The countdown started again (once a nearby onlooker pulled up the radio channel with the control room chatter). We counted along.

...and away!Atlantis ascending




I held my camera over the heads of the crowd, aimed as best I could, and held down the shutter (in “sports, continuous” mode). It took a little bit for me to see the orange glow rising. The crowd was clapping, and we watched the glow rise with a cloudy-tail behind it. Unfortunately the clouds were low in the sky, so we soon lost view of the shuttle.

A few people started leaving, but the guys behind me kept saying, “wait for it, people, you don’t want to leave yet.” So I waited. And it seemed to take a while….and then I knew what they were talking about.

The sound. Or the feel. It’s hard to say. Certainly the sound of the rocket hit us, but it was more of a feeling. A rumbling deep in the gut that spread out to every part from my toes to my head. And it kept going for what seemed minutes, though probably less. And that is probably the memory I will carry from this experience – the rumble of a rocket thrusting a fragile vessile of human life into space.



If I could have tweeted (2)

Posted by barb on Dec 28, 2008 in Travels

If I could have tweeted the past couple days…

Cold. Fraking cold. Cold Cold. Fraking, frak, frak, frak cold. (Tue Dec 23, 2008 – 8:32 AM)

Ahhh hot cocoa! Good for aching feet and cold, cold, cold, me. (Tue Dec 23, 2008 – 12:48 PM)

Mmmm…Roch Voisine is still very cute. Remember swooning over him in high school French class. (Wed Dec 24, 2008 – 9:36 PM)

No, I am NOT afraid to make the drive home by myself. I realize that I’m a helpless girl, but lay off already! (Wed Dec 24, 2008 – 11:54 AM)

Merry Christmas everyone! (Thu Dec 25, 2008 – 10:14 AM)

Sigh. Missing home – either one. So “not my Christmas” here. (Thu Dec 25, 2008 – 11:58 AM)

Would you be grilling @akuchling about driving “such a long way”? Or is it just that I’m a girl? So tired of this. (Thu Dec 25, 2008 – 2:25 PM)

Score one for my grandma! Asked how long my drive would be Sat., told her 10 hours, responded “oh good, that doesn’t sound too bad.” Hah! (Thu Dec 25, 2008 – 5:10 PM)

Holy crap! We spent a lot in Canada! (Fri Dec 26, 2008 – 10:12 AM)

Packing, packing, packing. Hoping to get car packed up so I’m ready to just breakfast and go tomorrow morning. (Fri Dec 26, 2008 – 10:23 AM)

Kicking back and relaxing for the evening. Just about everything is packed up for the drive tomorrow. Yay! (Fri Dec 26, 2008 – 7:03 PM)



Quiet Canadian Christmas

Posted by barb on Dec 25, 2008 in Pictures, Travels

Jo peeks in one of the bags under the tree

We’ve had a quiet Christmas. Yesterday it snowed again – third snow storm this week, I think. We’ve decided to just hunker down and enjoy being in the house. Not much to report from here – we opened presents last night, slept in this morning, and are just kicking around the house. We’ve watched the Christmas specials that I brought with me (White Christmas, A Christmas Carol (the Patrick Stewart/TNT version), and A Christmas Story). Andrew’s cousin came for a little while yesterday, and his Auntie and another cousin came for tea today. We may go into “the village” tomorrow to check out a new antique store.

We’ve been keeping an eye on the weather to see when I should drive home. It looks like I’m still okay to head home on Saturday — the forecast is for rain and 50 degrees for a high in upstate New York. Hopefully I’ll be home Saturday night.

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Slushy and Cold Days in Montreal

Posted by barb on Dec 22, 2008 in Pictures, Travels

After a bit of…um…schimpfing…we drove up to Montreal yesterday. Once we got onto the main highway, the roads were fairly clear. The wind was blowing, so snow swirled on the roadways, but mostly visibility was good. Montreal proper was actually worse than the highways – sloppy and slushy and slippery. But, with only one wrong turn (which actually made the directions easier), we made it to the hotel, checked in and parked in the underground garage.

On tap for the day? Shopping!

We bundled up (it was *cold*), grabbed lunch, then took the metro to Old Montreal. Jo came with us, so she could pick out a new outfit and a couple things for her friends back home. We also took in Notre Dame Cathedral in the snow — very pretty.

Jo enjoys a sloppy hot chocolate (with yummy real whipped cream)

After a bit more shopping, finally making into a little mall (for warmth!), we settled down for hot cocoa. I also got new mittens and a hat (tuque or tuke), which helped me keep warmer.

Next stop? A Hello Kitty shop!!!! I picked up a few fun things, and we headed back to the hotel for a while. We needed to rest from the trudging around in the slush and the cold.

Finally we walked down Saint Catherine’s Street, stopping at Addition Elle – an awesome “plus sized” shop (unlike Lane Bryant, their most common fabric is *cotton*, not polyester or some crappy, shiny, wrinkle-attractor). I ended up finding a cute new winter coat, so I spent way more than I should have. Oh well – it’s so much better than the one I had.

Jo checks out Ogilvy's window display

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to press our noses against the Ogilvy’s window – dressed up for the holidays.

The morning was cold. Cold, cold. Frost-bite cold. Cold, cold, cold. (Woke up to -8 degrees F). We bundled up and went found a crepe place on St. Cate’s. Very cold breakfast — the crepes were warm, but we sat by the window, which was very, very, very cold.

Jo outside the Canadian Center for Architecture

Then we walked to the Canadian Centre for Architecture. We spent some time there – the special exhibit was about ways that people change and interact with their surroundings, featuring exhibits on guerrilla art and gardening, among other things. We also walked through the restored Victorian house which had been turned into a reading and meeting area (so no Victorian furniture or decor). Finally looked at the exhibit on sky lights. It didn’t take us very long — I’m glad we went once, but we don’t feel the need to go again.

Finally we met up with Andrew’s friend and his wife for lunch. We had been thinking about going to the Botanical Garden, but I didn’t feel like walking much more (I’d forgotten how tiring it is to walk in the slush and ice), and I really didn’t want to drive home in the dark. So, we headed back to the “country” and Andrew’s parents’ house.

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If I could have tweeted (1)

Posted by barb on Dec 22, 2008 in Travels

Our cell phones don’t work in Canada, and Andrew’s folks are on dial-up, so I’m without Internet and without Tweets for this Christmas week. Popped on briefly from our hotel room in Montreal….

If I could have tweeted the past couple days…

Just heard @akuchling say “What dat?” by himself in the kitchen — something we picked up from Ugly Dolls merchandise. (Sun. Dec 21, 2008 – 12:51 PM)

Enough with the futzing already. (Sun, Dec 21, 2008 – 4:46 PM)

It’s totally weird to see “boxing week” ads. (Sun, Dec 21, 2008 – 7:32 PM)

So over walking in the crappy-slushy-icy sidewalks in Montreal. (Mon, Dec 22, 2008 – 1:31 PM)

Totally going to chop off all my hair when I get home. It’s getting in my way. Long enough now to donate to Locks of Love. (Mon, Dec 22, 2008 – 2:26 PM)

Yay! Found a cute new winter coat! (Mon, Dec 22, 2008 – 6:15 PM)

Settling in back at the hotel for the evening. Tired from treking around the sloppy roads. (Mon, Dec 22, 2008 – 8:00 PM)


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