Cityscapes Philadelphia – What To Do, Art Museum Edition

PhillCItyHall 199x300 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum EditionWe barely scratched the surface of things to do and see in Philadelphia, and are already planning a trip back.

We invested in the three-day Philadelphia Pass  which was offering a discount when I purchased it, making it an even better value even though I hedged my bets and bought Doug an adult pass. Some of the attractions cut off child pricing at 12 and don’t offer student pricing (the Zoo for example) and I didn’t want to end up double paying in the end. If you are in the same situation, and have more time for research, I suggest checking out all the attractions you plan to visit and purchasing adult or child for your tweens and teens accordingly. Order online and pick it up at the Independence Visitor Center right downtown, which is a pretty good spot to start your exploration of Philadelphia anyway.

The Philadelphia Pass was definitely a good value for us as it offered admittance to everything on our “must-do” list. The City Pass is another less pricey alternative but it didn’t work for us because it required a choice between two attractions that were on our must-do list.

Since we had never been to Philadelphia, we took full advantage of one of the benefits of our 3-day Philadelphia pass, two-days on the Big Bus Tour , a hop on/hop off double decker tour bus that stops at most of the major attractions. Next time, we’ll just use public transportation (or walk) but for our first visit to the city, it was good to have the guidance.

NOTE: All the above companies promote offerings for other cities, including New York, so worth checking out for other destinations.

PhillyPublic art e1411249698419 300x98 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum Edition

Our sightseeing basically revolved around Art, Science and History. In this post, I’ll share our art excursion, much enjoyed by me, tolerated (just) by Douglas.

Our Stops: The Barnes Foundation, including the special Cezanne exhibit, and the Rodin Museum.

The permanent exhibits at The Barnes Foundation are amazing, full stop. Starting with the building itself. The collection is a mix of largely Impressionist and Modern Art collected by Dr. Barnes at the turn of the 20th century as well as African art, furniture, jewelry and metalcraft. Barnes actively designed the displays, so each wall, each room is itself an artwork, with the pieces in each grouping combining to make a whole that you can appreciate as much as you do its individual parts. The galleries have windows, with the shades opening and closing as the natural light changes so the artwork is displayed, literally, in the best possible light.

Staggering fact: the art in the permanent collection is worth $25 billion in today’s market.

I was less impressed with the Cezanne exhibit, The World Is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne. Perhaps because I was a little rushed by my non-art loving travel companion so I was not taking advantage of the audio tours, but it just felt on the small side, especially given the extra entrance fee it requires.

Know before you go: Bags, briefcases, backpacks are not allowed in the exhibit hall. At the coat and bag check they will provide you with a clear plastic tote for any items you need to carry with you. I imagine this is because the collection includes small objets d’art and jewelry that are NOT exhibited behind glass cases.

DetailBurghersRodin 300x199 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum EditionThe Rodin Museum. Certainly one of the most impressive settings I’ve ever seen for a sculpture museum, and I loved seeing old favorites like the Burghers of Calais and the Thinker. It was very focused on Rodin’s Gates of Hell, and offered less context for Rodin’s life and other works such as the monument to Victor Hugo. I guess you need to go to the Musée Rodin in Paris for that. I believe it is however the second largest collection of Rodin after Paris, so if you are a fan (as I am), a must see. Your entrance fee also gets you admission to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We did not make that stop this trip however, as Doug was pretty much “arted-out” by that point.

A neat fact about Philadelphia – it was the first US city to create a public art program requiring real estate developers to commission art as part of the development process. Building projects that receive public funds are required to allocate 1% of the budget to public art.

PhillyDragon 300x199 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum Edition

Public art in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. One of four dragons representing the seasons.

Cityscapes: San Jose

I had a little down time after BlogHer last month so I checked out the San Jose Museum of Art. A small museum, it took a little over an hour to cover all the galleries. I particularly enjoyed two exhibits, Initial Public Offering, a selection of recently acquired works, and Legacy, an exhibit of modern art donated by collector Emily Fisher Landau to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

You can take photos in the IPO gallery so here are two pieces that I loved.

SJMA Image 1 300x225 Cityscapes: San Jose

 Cityscapes: San Jose

You cannot take pictures in the Legacy gallery, so I will just tell you to be on the lookout for the lovely wall of works by Jasper Johns, and in the same room, a silver sculpture that screamed “Game of Thrones.” Just think raven and a head. Just a head.

The museum has a small but lovely gift shop. Definitely worth checking out if you are looking for a gift for someone who likes unique jewelry or modern art inspired household and tech gadgets.

In the San Jose area with more than a few hours, but not enough to make the trek to San Francisco? The Winchester Mystery House is well worth a visit if you have an afternoon, and is conveniently located near the Santana Row outdoor (and upscale) mall for shopping and restaurant choices. I’ve always had good luck at The Left Bank, but if Paris bistro isn’t your bag, there are many other dining choices.

Further afield, take the drive over the Santa Cruz mountains and check out the Santa Cruz boardwalk. If you have kids, you will probably be here all day, but if you can spring free, drive a little south to Capitola for interesting little boutiques and a lovely beach.

Hotels: the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz — right on the beach,  and still in Santa Cruz but further inland,  The Chaminade. In downtown San Jose, you can’t go wrong with any of the choices near the Convention Center – Hilton, Fairmont, Marriott, St. Clair, Hyatt.

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.

Surviving Summer Vacation: Keeping the kids entertained on the road

School’s out for summer, and if you are like most Americans, you’ll be taking a family vacation. Parents, kids and possibly even pets displacing themselves from home to a vacation destination. By plane, train, automobile and even boat.

And the $25,000 question is: how are you going to keep the kids entertained in transit? Here are my tips for making getting there a part of the fun of the holiday, not just something to be endured.

1. Give each child a new game, toy or activity as you depart. Nothing expensive — a travel game or book for older kids, a small toy for younger ones. New is the key here –something novel that will keep their attention for the first stage of the trip, which is often on familiar (boring) ground, especially if you are driving to your destination. Important: don’t give books to kids who get carsick. It’s a tease, not a treat.

2. Now is not the time to impose a moratorium on electronics. Carefully stage and pack all hand held video units, iPods/iTouches and DVD players to make sure you have all the necessary chargers, headphones and games/DVDs. Try to avoid bringing every last game and movie — make the kids pick a few favorites You can always buy new movies in transit, even at rest stop convenience stores. Do the same for your own electronics — mobile phone, laptop, Kindle, iPod etc.

3. If you are traveling by plane, train or boat, each child should have his/her own appropriately sized carry-on for toys and games. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t come with, and don’t let your children have two carry-ons. You will end up carrying one of them. Instead, if you are traveling by plane, use one of the extra alloted carry-ons to pack a small suitcase with a change of clothes for everyone, basic toiletries and medicines. If your luggage is lost, or you have an extended layover, you will appreciate it. I learned this from experience. When Douglas was one, we had a lengthy and unexpected layover in Zurich on the way back from Europe. I had packed the diaper bag with everything I thought we’d need to get home, but hadn’t accounted for a 6 hour layover. I don’t know about now, but at the time, they did not sell disposable diapers at the Zurich airport. We made it home with none to spare!

4. If you are traveling by car, let the kids use their electronics when you are on long boring stretches of road. When there’s actually stuff to look at, or when the batteries die, try some of these games to encourage them to look out the window.

License Plate — This was a family favorite when I was a kid (pre-electronics era) You simply try to spot plates from all 50 states. This is especially good when traveling long distances.

Alphabet — Play Alphabet when you are in areas with lots of billboards and highway signs. Two teams, each has one side of the road. Your challenge is to spot the letters of the alphabet in order.

Travel Bingo — You can buy travel bingo sets or print your own from the web. We’ve used a pad and pencil version from eeBoo Travel Bingo Surviving Summer Vacation: Keeping the kids entertained on the road and also have the cards with the sliders (Regal Travel Auto Bingo), no pencil required. As long as each player has a different card, you don’t have to pick sides of the car. Just be sure that every player stands a reasonable chance of seeing a number of the things on his or her card.

Want to get your kid’s nose out of the Nintendo while eating at a restaurant? Play I Spy.  I Spy with my little eye something that is…. Our basic rules are the players can ask yes or no questions, and get 20 guesses/questions. But we often skip the rules and just have fun playing.

5. Popular games like Battleship and Mastermind have travel versions. Pick up some of your families favorites and a deck of cards for your travel games kit. Keep it small so it can fit in your airline carry-on as well as the backseat!

Next up in Surviving Summer Vacation: Kids and cameras

Our Gilligan Adventure

Our second morning in Fort Smith Montana greeted us with a beautiful sunrise and the promise of a wonderful day ahead.  

sunrise in MT2 300x225 Our Gilligan Adventure

Sunrise in Montana

Bighorn Lake was a mere 20 minutes away which seemed like a stone’s throw after all the traveling we’ve done thus far.  A relaxing day at the lake was exactly what these travelers needed.   Our campground host told us of a place near the marina where we could rent a boat by the hour and get the most fabulous view of the canyons.  Sold!   With fishing gear, picnic lunch and sunscreen in hand, we headed up through a local Indian reservation to the marina.

An Indian Reservation 150x150 Our Gilligan Adventure

Indian Reservation drive

At the risk of repeating myself and sounding trite, the landscape was incredible at every turn.  Mountains, fields, cliffs, colorful and vibrant met us around every corner.  Just when we thought we almost touched the heavens, the next turn presented the peaceful and tranquil lake that sat at the base of glorious red cliffs as far as the eye could see. 

first view of the marina 150x150 Our Gilligan Adventure

First view of the marina


Being the Monday after the long weekend, there weren’t a lot of people around us.  We glowed with anticipation of cruising this magnificent canyon, the third largest in North America with the Grand Canyon being the largest of course.

Scenes from the boat 225x300 Our Gilligan Adventure

Cliffs from the boat

Dennis, now affectionately known as “The Skipper”, came back from the rental office to let us know he booked a pontoon boat for a three hour tour.  We loaded our gear on the boat.  We were like giddy school girls unable to hold back our excitement.   After short instructions, Dennis got behind the wheel and away we went.  The boys and I took in the fresh air and hung our heads over the sides like dogs sticking their heads out the window of a car.  I’m not sure but our tongues may have been wagging just a bit!  The sun, the water, the views…perfection, sheer perfection!!  Each cliff was like a work of art hand painted by God, one more exquisite than the next. The boys each took a turn driving the boat.  Their smiles were brighter than the sun.

Luke chillin 150x150 Our Gilligan Adventure

Luke chillin'

It was about this time that the black cloud that followed us from NY to South Dakota managed to find us yet again.  We noticed it way off in the distance and the folks at the marina ensured us the storm would arrive well after we returned from our three hour tour.  We decided to pick up the pace a bit, just in case.  As we continued to cruise, we hit a nice breeze and then it hit – Luke’s favorite hat he bought when we were in Toronto went flying off his head and into the waters.  The current was pretty strong and it floated away quickly.  “Save Canada! Save Canada!” we joked as Dennis turned the boat around to grab it.  I picked up the fishing net our neighbor had loaned us and leaned over the boat in an effort to save the day but I couldn’t catch it!  I had it trapped but couldn’t get underneath to scoop it.  Dennis came over to help and we crossed signals and both let go of the net which quickly floated away next to the sinking hat.

In true Cardwell fashion, we refused to let it go and went to plan B.  Cameron quickly dumped his shirt and shoes and dove over the side of the boat to rescue the missing goods.  It was 35% heroic, 35% stupid and 30% excuse to go in the water.  He quickly reached the net and hats but had to grab his glasses, forgetting to take them off before hitting the water.  His hands were full and the current was strong, rendering him unable to swim. 

cliffs in the distance 225x300 Our Gilligan Adventure

Cliffs up ahead

I could see panic starting to set in, he was helpless as he started to drift further and further from the boat.  I think in a panic I started hitting Dennis, telling him to go in after Cameron.  He was already preparing to dive over the side and in a second flat, Dennis dove over the edge to calm Cam and save the day.  Luke kept an eye on the action and guided me as I brought the boat to them.  Safe on the boat, Cam said he was never so excited and scared at the same time.   My hero, the Skipper!

We drove just a little further when we noticed the clouds coming toward us.  We had enough adventure for the day and decided to turn around and head back to shore just in case.  We were told by the guides and our host not to miss Black Canyon on our tour.  Since the clouds were still in the distance, we decided to stop there for a few moments to eat our lunch once our stomachs had settled a bit.  The boys wanted to cast their fishing lines but sadly time was not on our side.  I think we were in Black Canyon less than 5 minutes when the storm was coming up quickly. 

black clouds roll in 150x150 Our Gilligan Adventure

Here come the black clouds!

Dennis started the boat while the boys and I packed up everything and put it under the covering.  Full steam ahead, Skipper!  I sat in the front of the boat to help identify driftwood that was being tossed by the storm.  The waters became very rough and the boat ride wasn’t so glorious anymore.  It was impossible not to sing the Gilligan’s theme song in your head … “the weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed, if not for the courage of the fearless crew the Minow would be lost, the Minow would be lost…”  Then it got worse.  Here comes the rain!  Thunder and lightning were over head.    We could see the bolts of lightning in the near distance.  The rain was slapping me in the face, I could barely see but it didn’t matter.  We just needed to get in as quickly as possible. This is where I wish my kids weren’t so smart.  They began to recite the laws of science and remind us that metal and water are conductors of electricity and we were sitting ducks!  We tried to calm the kids, telling them there was nothing to worry about but when I turned around and Dennis made that “HOLY CRAP” face to me, I got really nervous.

We pulled out our old standby “it’s just around the corner”,

just around the corner 300x225 Our Gilligan Adventure

Just around the corner

trying to keep our minds off of the life threatening situation we were experiencing.  Then, right around the corner, we saw the marina.  I wanted to cry I was so happy!  Three crew members were calling us in, frantically waving their hands “over here! Over here!”  As soon as we touched the dock, they rushed us off the boat and told us to run to the safety of the office.  There was another woman who seemed as panicked as us, yelling “Up here!  Get up here!”  We grabbed everything we could and ran up the stairs to the office like we were teenagers with a case of beer being chased by the cops!  Once we were safely inside, we exchanged a few hugs and a whole bunch of high fives, happy to be alive.  We were all so jazzed with excitement and relief that we just experienced one of the greatest adventures of our middle class lives.  Thankfully our three hour tour didn’t end the same as Gilligan’s but it was certainly exciting!

To see all our photos, visit Snapfish