Saturday, April 16, 2016

New Hope, Pennsylvania

The Trip: A day trip to New Hope, Pennsylvania

The Mode: My Volvo XC 90, also known as The Mom Mobile

The Adventures: Shopping, ice cream consumption, experiencing the kid-friendly exhibits at the Bucks County Children's Museum, pining over a bear (don't worry; I'll explain)

This time, much like George Washington, we crossed the Delaware. Unlike Washington, we soaked up the sun and checked out the funky shops of New Hope.

Our version of crossing the Delaware

Today, the weather finally shifted into perfect Spring mode. When we came home from Orlando, it was 32 degrees in New York. It was cloudy, cool, and, dreary for more than a week. Then the temperatures magically jumped into the mid-60s, the sunshine made its glorious return, and we hit the open road for some fun.

Zoë is ready for the sunshine

Nostalgia Alert! Nostalgia Alert! New Hope was one of my favorite haunts back in the day, say late 90s, early noughties. The Backstreet Boys and Britney were in regular rotation on the radio, I was in all my child-free hippie-girl glory, and New Hope was a funky town dominated by LGBT-owned stores selling handmade clothing and jewelry, antiques, and genuinely unique stuff.

Now, if you'll forgive an old lady a trip down Nostalgia Lane, my then-husband and I would occasionally drive over the bridge spanning the Delaware River and spend hours poring over antiques, paintings, statuary, oddities, and miscellanea we couldn't find in Manhattan. The shops were cool, the store owners were friendly, and we almost always came away with something we never knew we wanted.

Over the years, gentrification took hold, and then the gentrified shops went bust. Some of the old standards from my heyday are still there, and some are thriving. After a time of appalling normalcy, it seems New Hope is starting to become weird again, and I hope it can return to its former glory. Some things, however, are gone forever, like the Aaron Burr pistol graffiti in the sidewalk outside of the Aaron Burr House, a B&B on the site the notorious American vice president hid out after shooting and killing Alexander Hamilton in an illegal duel.

Taxidermy Bear says, "Get on with the story, already"

Okay, Taxidermy Bear has a point. On with today's adventure!

Speaking of the bear, I fell in love with this guy the minute we arrived! He was chillin' on a chair at a funky little shop we passed. I clicked a quick photo because he was so dapper and handsome. I figured we'd enjoy a day of fun, and I'd come back in the afternoon and ask about him. Alas, I should've asked right away because he was gone by the time we made our way back. [Insert sad face here.] Who knew there would be a sudden run on taxidermied bears?

Everyone was plenty hungry by the time we arrived, so we chose the Logan Inn, New Hope's first inn, established in 1727. Now it's a low-key dining establishment with outdoor seating and standard pub fare. Gabe went for pasta, and both Sebastian and Zoë chose grilled cheese sandwiches. Mmmm, mmmm. The menu includes sandwiches, burgers, salads, and the like. 

After lunch, we took off in search of a Victorian death memorabilia shop my ex-husband told me about at Christmastime. It seems the shop has fallen victim to the town's shaky economy, because we couldn't find it at the address advertised on its website.

We were disappointed but undeterred. We did discover one of my old favorites -- Mystickal Tymes! Gabe, my oldest, has been obsessed with the Harry Potter books recently, and he was determined to find something magickal. The shop has something for just about every religious belief system, including crystals, stones, wafting incense, statuettes, and even psychic readings. Gabe settled on a few stones that promise protection and stress relief. I don't know if or how they work, but Gabe seemed appeased.

The kids, who outnumber me three-to-one, started shouting for ice cream, so we walked off in search of frozen treats. 

We explored an indoor mall that previously boasted art galleries, toy and souvenir shops, and an ice cream parlor. An art gallery is still there, and the ice cream place sells candy and a few toys, but the rest of the place, including the public bathrooms, has been boarded up. Sad, really.

Strawberry for Seb and green mint chocolate chip for Gabe

After the ice cream was devoured, we hoofed it over to the Bucks County Children's Museum, where the kids ran amok, checking out exhibits using air to propel balls into the air and excavating treasures from sandy work sites. The kids spent about two hours playing and working off lunch and ice cream. 

 We headed off into the sunset, quite literally, after a day of seeing quirky things, eating yummy food, and having a good time. Not a bad way to spend a sunshiny day. 

New Hope Notes

If you go to New Hope, here are some helpful pointers. If you take New Jersey/Pennsylvania Route 179 over the small bridge spanning the Delaware, there's no toll. It's a savings of about $1, but if you really want to pinch pennies, this is an easy way to do it. Also, parking is cheap or sometimes free at New Hope-Solebury High School, which is about half a mile from the downtown area. The entire city is a mere one square mile, so if you don't mind walking a little bit, you can save yourself from feeding meters or paying for your parking. Occasionally, one of the school's organizations will charge about $5 for parking in the lot, but we weren't charged for our visit today.

Happy travels!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Post-Trip Bringdown, Baby!

You know those days when you're kids are beating each other with giant pizzas, you're playing referee before you've had your coffee, and you screech up to the school seconds before you're late, all while shouting, "Move, move, move!" like some drill sergeant straight out of Full Metal Jacket? Yeah, it's been one of those days. I'm talking post-vacation bringdown, baby. 

I don't drink, nor do I smoke, but it's not even lunchtime, and I'm already craving one of those gallon jugs of cheap wine and carton of cigarettes.

 If I drank, I would so be drinking you right now, Paisano

Memories of soft sunshine, smiling kids, and the giggly, squirmy excitement of rushing off to experience all those cool things we've always wanted to do are still fresh in my mind. And then real life swoops back in, and it's all about meal prep, homework, and the full-time job.

Funny thing, really. I feel you become your true self when you're traveling. You become a child again. The world becomes your classroom. You absorb languages and cultures, taste new foods, and smell new fragrances. Everything is new, and you can truly let your guard down and be a citizen of the world. It doesn't matter what other people think of you. The experiences matter.

This is why I love to travel, and this is why I'm so excited to share my travels with my children. I want them to know what really matters. So, we had a tough day. Big deal. Tomorrow will be better. Tonight, we'll talk about those really cool experiences. And we'll laugh. And the tension of the day will lift. 

And we'll talk about our next journey. We're heading off again this weekend. And I can't wait.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Orlando and Florida's Space Coast

Welcome to our inaugural blog for the Well-Traveled Mom! I hope I can provide some helpful information and some inspiration for your travel goals!

We start our journey with every kid's fantasy destination: Orlando, Fla.

Orlando's Amtrak station

The Trip: Spring Break at Universal Studios, with side trips to The Kennedy Space Center and Cocoa Beach

The Mode: Amtrak's Silver Star from New York Penn Station to Orlando

The Hotel: Cabana Bay Beach Resort

The Adventures: We arrived in Orlando after a pleasant 24-hour train ride in coach seats. Cost: about $620 round-trip for one adult, two children over three, and a toddler, who traveled free.

We spent our first day getting a sense of the place. Cabana Bay could be a travel destination on its own with its late-50s vibe and a ton of activities.

The pool, which is never deeper than four feet at any point, is a highlight, framed by a really awesome slide! Gabe gave it a thumbs up, but Seb, who isn't the strongest swimmer, was not a fan. Zoë is too little for the whole thing and, therefore, has no opinion. She did, however, love playing in the pool and getting a free ride in the water from Mommy.

Gabe takes the plunge

If swimming isn't your thing, maybe bowling is. The resort has a 10-lane alley called Galaxy Bowl.

Perhaps it rains on your parade, as it's wont to do in Florida. There's an arcade for that!

If the weather is fine, and you're looking for a little manufactured, theme-park fun, a shuttle departs every 10 minutes for Universal Studios, but we found at least two buses waiting each time we headed over to the park. They work hard to keep you happy.

Zoë seems pretty happy

The park itself is pretty much what you'd expect. The security area was mobbed in the morning on Tuesday, our first full day there. The following day, when we went in the early afternoon, it was easy to get through.

There are plenty of places to spend your money. The Simpsons Ride features a carnival at Krustyland, where you can be parted with your cash for games of chance.

The Simpsons Ride is like experiencing a live-action Simpsons episode. Confession time. I am a huge Simpsons fan. I've been watching the show since I was in junior high school. Seeing a mock-up of Springfield was seriously cool for this kid-at-heart. Shopping at the Kwik-E-Mart? Ah, yeah!

Thank you! Come again!
 Zoë has a new babysitter. It's Krusty the Klown! Hey-hey!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is just past the purple triple-decker bus near the Simpsons area. You'll find a massive fire-breathing dragon chained to Gringott's Bank. Little kids might be intimidated. My seven year-old was terrified, but the lovely staff helped calm his nerves. I found that the staff, from actors to security and even the cashiers working the souvenir shops, were all kind and helpful, and they truly seemed to enjoy their work with kids.

All fire and no bite

Islands of Adventure, on the other side of Universal, offers big thrills and rides for the little kids.

Adventurous boys about to take on Islands of Adventure

My 18 month-old daughter, Zoë, took her first ride on the One Fish, Two Fish ride at Seuss Landing. She loved it! Just be aware that most rides require children to be over 40 inches tall. Petite Zoë probably has a few years to grow before she can enjoy most of the things the park has to offer.

Zoë embarks on the One Fish, Two Fish ride at Seuss Landing

My boys, on the other hand, never had a dull moment, raving about the Jurassic Park River Adventure. Dinosaurs and water combine for an epic adventure.

A quick side note: if you have children who don't meet the height requirements, and you're pretty confident your other kids are going to be fine riding alone, there are child swap areas to wait for them.

Memorable Meals: There is no shortage of places to grab a bite, from burger stands to nice restaurants.

My boys are big sushi fans, and we really enjoyed The Cowfish Bar and Grill. There's a kids' menu, which includes some sushi rolls for the novice sushi eater, but my boys each ordered a Tropical Storm roll. So, parents, don't let your kids do as mine did! Order one roll. It will feed at least two kids. The place also has an interactive fish-creator, which allows you to invent your own fish and send it off to the "aquarium," a screen that displays these fishy creations.

We also devoured a massive, pink doughnut, complete with sprinkles, we acquired at the Kwik-E-Mart.
Mmmm ... Colossal donut!

The Monster Cafe has a cool atmosphere and some awesome monster-movie memorabilia, which I found super-awesome. I love Universal's classic monsters, and it made a stop necessary. The food is pretty standard fast-food fare, so don't expect haute cuisine. 

Don't look behind you, guys!
Once my kids drained every last ounce of fun from Universal Studios and Cabana Bay, we hit the road for The Kennedy Space Center. It's worth noting that you'll have about an hour drive from Orlando to the space center, just in case you have an event planned, as we did.

Houston, we have a gift shop

Our event was Lunch with an Astronaut, and our astronaut was Bob Springer, who joined the space program back in the late 70s. Over a buffet lunch, Mr. Springer told us about his experiences in space and shared photos. My nine year-old son Gabe was enthralled. Younger children, however, might not get as much out of it. My seven year-old seemed bored and distracted, and my toddler, Zoë, became fidgety and fussy. As a former young kid with astronaut dreams, I thought it was cool. Plus, my boys got their picture taken with a real-life astronaut, which is kind of like getting a photo taken with a rock star to grade school-aged boys.

Sebastian and Gabe with Astronaut Bob Springer

NASA seems to be pushing hard for an expedition to Mars. There's an area devoted to enticing starry-eyed youngsters to train hard, study advanced astrophysics, and join that Mars adventure! There are interactive stations for the kids to explore, and a quick program to inform visitors about NASA's hopes for its next major interstellar trip.

There's also an amazing exhibit devoted to the Space Shuttle Atlantis. You are led into an amphitheater, where a short film describing the arduous task of constructing the Atlantis is shown. Visitors are then led into a smaller theater area for another feature, and the screen lifts to reveal the actual space shuttle, suspended for display.

We were scheduled to leave by train late Friday evening, so we did what any family looking to make every moment count would do. We hit the beach! Cocoa Beach, to be precise. Oh, Cocoa Beach. How I wanted to love you. Alas, I was disappointed. 

Zoë takes a stroll on Cocoa Beach

Don't get me wrong. The beach is beautiful. It's clean, and the water was clear and lovely. The city itself, however, is not exactly kid-friendly.

Its numerous strip clubs and bail bond places indicate that this beach is aimed more at keg-toting frat boys in airbrushed T-shirts than little kids.

Still, the beach might be worth it for a day trip, but beware that there are no public showers or changing areas, which makes sand removal and bathing suit changes a little tricky.

We'll be back!

Our trip was not without its setbacks, but we left feeling happy and carrying with us a lifetime of memories -- not to mention a suitcase full of souvenirs. My biggest souvenir? My credit card bill. Ouch!

If You Go

If you take the plunge, be sure to bring some comfortable walking shoes. You will walk a lot. My brood and I averaged six to eight hours of walking each day, which I call the Bataan Fun March! Also, bring plenty of water, sunscreen, some cool clothes, and your patience. There are lines. Lots and lots of lines.

Happy travels!