Cityscapes Philadelphia – What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

BenFranklinStatue 199x300 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionOne full day of our Philadelphia weekend, our second full day of sightseeing, was the Science day.

We spent most of the day at The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia’s most excellent science museum. We saw the planetarium show, The Wildest Weather In The Solar System, which was included in our admission, and Kenya Animal Kingdom, the 3-D movie in the Franklin Theater, which had a small upcharge on our Philadelphia Pass admission. Exhibits we liked the best: the special exhibit on tech innovations, the gears and small machines, and the train factory. And of course, the gift shop where Doug found some great science and math books, including The Geek Handbook  and a super “Big Bang Theory” inspired t-shirt that spells out our favorite catch phrase using the symbols for barium zinc and gallium – BA ZN GA. Not exactly this one on Amazon, but close.

On this trip we did not have time for the nearby Academy of Natural Sciences, or the Mutter Museum of medical oddities, which was just a bit off our planned trajectory, but they are both on the list for our next visit.


We started our mini-vacation with a visit to the Ben Franklin Museum, which is part of the Independence National Park exhibits, but has a small admission fee. Located on — well strictly speaking underneath — the site of his home and printing business, the museum mixes interactive exhibits and historical artifacts to tell the story of Franklin’s life and role in American history.FranklinCourt 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

The rest of the National Park exhibits are free but you need a timed ticket for the guided tour of Independence Hall (get it free at the National Park desk in the Visitor Center or preorder online for a small charge) and there is a queue to see the Liberty Bell. Both of these exhibits also have security inspection of your bags. Our strategy was to go on a weekday first thing (Tuesday to be exact.) Exterior2IndepHall 200x300 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionWe were able to do the first tour of Independence Hall at 9am, followed by Congress Hall (where the House and Senate met when Philadelphia was the US capitol), and there was no line to speak of for the Liberty Bell when we finished with those two important landmarks. Weekends especially later in the day the lines for the Bell are LONG!!!

Most of the rest of the historical sites we saw from the comfort of our seats on the Big Bus Tour, which we used to get around for the two middle days of our 4-day trip. We also did the duck tour, Ride the Ducks, since it was included on our pass, and we had a little time left at the end of Science Day. While it covered most of the same sites as the Big Bus, it was fun to get on the water for that perspective.

ElephantZoo 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionWe wrapped up our trip with a visit to the Philadelphia Zoo, which I am squeezing into the history category since it is America’s first zoo. Highlights for me were the Victorian-era animal statues throughout the zoo, and the Big Cat exhibit. It was too hot for the cats to be very active, but the exhibit was laid out in such a way that even sleeping cats were visible, without it being disturbing to their sleep. I’d love to go back on a cooler day, and slightly later in the day, when the chances would be better that animals would be moving through the catwalks featured in the exhibit.

BigCatZoo 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition
GiraffeZoo 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

On our list for our next visit: I want to go back to The Barnes Foundation, and Doug never passes up a chance to go to the science museum. We also want to check out the African American Museum, and outside of the city — the Adventure Aquarium across the river in Camden NJ  and Longwood Gardens, which we visited briefly a few years ago and wanted to visit on this trip, but ran out of time.

Because there is A LOT to do in Philadelphia.

See all my photos from the trip on Flickr

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Cityscapes: Chicago

Summer 2013 including Chicago 260 200x300 Cityscapes: ChicagoLast summer, Doug came with me to BlogHer and we spent a few days afterward seeing the sights of Chicago. I had the best intentions to write a recap of the trip way back then but life intervened.

This year I am determined to keep the Roadtrip rolling with reports from our stay- and va- cation trips. In my next few posts, I round up some recommendations for things to do in Chicago, New York, San Jose and Philadelphia.

Starting with Chicago.

Get out on the water. The river and the lake. From the river, you are able to see the amazing architectural heritage of Chicago, and the lake…. Well Lake Michigan just needs to be experienced.

Bridge House Chicago Architecture tour 224x300 Cityscapes: Chicago

We took the Chicago Architecture Foundation tour on the recommendation of some friends, and it did not disappoint. Buy your tickets in advance; on weekends, the river tours do sell out. No time for a full-on boat tour? Take a water taxi. Shoreline and Chicago Water Taxi both stop at multiple points along the river, so you can get a little river flavor and to where you need to be at the same time.

For your lake experience, it all depends on your tastes. Lots of choices leaving from Navy Pier – dinner cruises, speedboats, tall ships. We chose the Tall Ship Windy I like schooners and part of the schtick of the Windy was a pirate story which I thought Doug would enjoy.

Other important stops on a Chicago tour, especially with a teen boy — The Field Museum and the Willis Tower.

Doug Sears tower 200x300 Cityscapes: Chicago
At Navy Pier, don’t miss the free Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows.

stained glass exhibit 300x200 Cityscapes: Chicago

We also wanted to check out the Shedd Aquarium but the lines were super super long by the time we got there so my best advice is to make it your first stop of the day right at opening if a visit with the fishes is tops on your list.

In the neighborhood: Barnard to Boston

3822841817 6c7cf28b33 In the neighborhood: Barnard to Boston We spent the first week of August at our home in Barnard Vermont so Douglas could attend day camp at the Vermont Institute for Natural Sciences in nearby Quechee. For me, it was mostly just a different window, but we did go on a couple excursions.

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park in Woodstock — Laurance and Mary Rockefeller spent summers at their home in Woodstock, and the Park Service offers daily tours (in season) of the home, as well as a couple of special tours. The most recent addition to the schedule is the Fallout Shelter tour, which seems to be offered about once per month.

There are two fallout shelters on the property, one under the house itself and another underneath the Belvidere, an outbuilding that houses pool changing rooms, activity room, soda fountain and  two-lane bowling alley. The one underneath the Belvidere is the shelter open to visitors.

The tour is about 70 minutes, and a good half of it is a ranger presentation about the Cold War that preceeds the tour of the shelter. After all, how long does it take to tour a one room fallout shelter?

Our verdict: If you only have time for one tour of the mansion, take the regular house tour. It’s offered a few times a day and reservations aren’t required, as they are for the special tours. It was fine for us, because  we’d already done both the regular house tour and the special Hidden Spaces tour.

If you do decide to take the Fallout Shelter tour, a true highlight was the private bowling alley, but younger kids may get restless during the ranger presentation. Consider starting your day across the street at Billings Farm, tire them out a bit looking at cows and chickens, and then take the mansion tour of your choice. A combo-ticket is offered.

As part of Doug’s summer camp week at VINS, the kids put on skits for the parents on the last day. We were so proud of Douglas, who played the part of narrator for his team’s skit. Photos are in this Flickr set.

We stayed to watch the afternoon raptor show at 3:30pm.  If you are in the area, it is well worth the time.

A camp highlight for the kids was getting to hold the American Kestrel.

3823620274 849c222060 m In the neighborhood: Barnard to Boston

This weekend, we went into the Museum of Science in Boston to see the National Geographic Crittercam exhibit, which ends August 30th. We also stopped by the Black Holes exhibit and saw the Omni film Mystic India.

Our verdict: Crittercam was terrific. Hard to believe  that they are able to securely attach the cams to such a variety of animals, terrestrial and aquatic, and it is truly amazing what  researchers have been able to learn about animal behavior by looking at life through their eyes. Best part of the exhibit: I loved the whales’ bubble net cooperative feeding and the lion cubs investigating the camera on their mother.

Black Holes has a web-component, but otherwise seemed very similar to previous astronomy exhibits we have seen, although to be fair, I didn’t spend much time in the exhibit.

Mystic India wasn’t quite what I expected. The narration retraces the steps of an 11 year old yogi who walked across India in the late 1700s. In adulthood, he became an important religious and political figure, and it was clear from an audience full of Indian families that his story has profound religious and cultural resonance.

For Westerners like me, unfamiliar with his life, it was at times hard to embrace the storyline.  Barefoot and wearing nothing but a loin cloth for four years in the Himalayas? Of course, it’s a parable and I have no wish to be disrespectful of another’s religion or icons. I have just as much of a problem with certain elements of the Jesus Christ story when played out on the screen. Somehow, the translation to film highlights some of the improbabilities that we just have to get over in order to believe.

The scenery however was magnificent, and in the end, the film-makers made their point about cultural diversity, community and tolerance. Funnily enough though, for me, it was as much from the fact that the legion of volunteers who participated in the making of the film  didn’t take individual credits. It was the collective that made the film and told the story. You just can’t argue with that depth of belief.

If you are in Boston, get thee to Crittercam before it leaves at the end of the month.