For the life of me, I don't understand why Pittsburgh gets a bad rap. We were there this past week while Matt was at a business conference, and we had a wonderful time and didn't even get to see all we wanted to see. We arrived on Sunday after a very long drive (it took seven hours from my parents' house in Brooklyn, including a stop for lunch and mandatory wild run through the fields to stretch legs and get the kids prepared for the inevitable...it's very hard to tell little kids that no, four hours is not the entire ride, yes, I know you've been sitting forever, but we still aren't there and you'll know we're there when the car stops in front of a hotel and we get out!) We settled into our room at the Marriott Spring Hill Suites, right next to PNC Park, though since baseball season doesn't begin till April 19, it was an empty, quiet PNC Park! The kids, as usual, wanted to explore every nook and cranny of the room, including closets, bathroom and drawers, the location of the ice machine, and were thrilled by the kitchenette (as I was...theoretically at least, it meant we could have some meals in the room, though this only happened for a late lunch one day, as well as snacks, of course. The hotel offered a primo breakfast buffet, including eggs, waffles, sausage and bacon, cereal, oatmeal and toppings, fruit, yogurt, bagels and english muffins, and various pastries, donuts, and muffins. Coffee, juices, milk (and Emma's adored chocolate milk in tiny cartons with a straw? What could be nicer for a 4-year-old?) and tea--we ate a huge breakfast every day and then got by with a small, late lunch. The other wonderful thing about the hotel was the shuttle bus service...they would drive you anywhere in the main area of the city, and pick you up when you were finished. I have never been to a hotel that offered this perk--airport shuttle? Sure. But not door-to-door service for restaurants and museums! And the kids absolutely loved riding in the bus...no car seats! Ben and Emma hardly knew what to do with themselves, but they loved the freedom.
Highlights of the trip:
* The pool. As usual, the kids love swimming, and they love it even more when it seems like they're getting something for nothing--in this case, swimming inside when the weather outside wouldn't permit it! Personally, I hate indoor pools, as the smell of chlorine is overwhelming, the acoustics of four children in an indoor swimming pool is unbearable, and though I enjoy the pool, I really only enjoy it when I'm hot. So hotel pools are not my favorite thing, but since it was for the kids I have included it.
* The weather. We had superlative weather. Our two travel days (last Sunday and last Friday) were chilly, but we didn't care since we were trapped in the car anyway. Our first full day, Monday, was pretty seasonable, in the low to mid-50s and cloudy. However, Tuesday and Wednesday were gorgeous spring days, in the 60s and even reaching into the lower 70s on Wednesday. We mostly scrapped the bus service and walked to all the attractions, and found a playground on the way back to the hotel on Thursday for some much-needed outside play. We were disappointed when we checked the weather report on Wednesday night, which said Thursday would be rainy and have a high temperature of 47...what a disappointment for our last full day! Imagine our surprise at the bright blue skies, sunshine, and 65* weather we actually got!
* The Carnegie Science Center. We got in free with our Boston Museum of Science membership. There was water play, trampoline play, a ride which simulated a trip down the Amazon, an Imax movie on life under the sea (complete with popcorn!), a show about the chemistry of making fruit flambe (complete with a taste over vanilla ice cream...), a gigantic train set showing Pittsburgh of about a hundred years ago, complete with 4 seasons and even day and night, a kid zone with puppets, playground, working farm, and a bucket and pulley system with balls that shot out of cannons and everything. Much fun was had.
* The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. This was my favorite day by far. I love a good zoo, and this was a good zoo! (Though I did regret it was early in the season, as some animals were not on display till April, and the rides weren't running either. Still, the cooler temperatures made the animals that were there very active and playful.) We saw a snow leopard, lions, togers, polar bears and regular bears, otters, giraffes, zebras, monkeys and gorillas, kangaroos, elephants (including a baby that was oh-so-cute), birds of all kinds....they had a super playground with nets to climb and bounce around in, slides and decks and steps. It was a gorgeous day to be outside, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
* The Pittsburgh Children's Museum. I felt a bit bad for Rachel, who was too old to have a whole lot of fun here and spent most of her time with me, watching the kids and chatting. But for the other three kids, this place was a blast. They had a room that mimicked Mr. Roger's Neighborhood (whose show they unfortunately detest, but when it's laid out in front of them is a terrific play place!) , a three level climbing area of carpeted ramps and little rooms, a treehouse room complete with nest-building materials and giant robin eggs to play with and a hut shaped like an acorn, and a room called the garage, which had an atrium ceiling to fit in a huge play structure that has a pulley system to launch parachutes to the ground. It also had a pulley structure using balls which travelled along wires and through baskets to eventually drop back into the start where you could send them up again and watch them travel the room endlessly. The prize for bizarre went to the Animateering Room, where the kids could use a video-game-like machine to make a puppet show, there was a room you could go into and stand next to a mannequin, and through camera tricks, people outside the room could see you as a ghost, and a huge slide down the side of the room, which looked innocuous till you went to the top and found that there was a room you had to walk through to reach the slide whose floor was tilted at a 25* angle and had a checkerboard floor and walls--the combination of these two things jarred the brain so much that I was dizzy and had to hold the walls to make it across the room without falling. The kids loved it, though.
* The National Aviary. Julia loves birds. We all do, but she especially does, and so this beat out the Natural History Museum as our last attraction of the week. We got to feed lorries, little parrots from Australia who are very curious and friendly and flocked all over us when they saw the much-loved cups of nectar in our hands. We saw a show about how different birds fly and what they eat--including a Eurasian eagle-owl named X, a crow who would stow dollar bills in a collection box, a toucan who landed on shoulders, and gulls who snapped food out of the air. We toured a tropical rain forest and the kids got to hand-feed birds there, from African starlings (who are bright and gorgeous like parrots, unlike our own European starlings, who are just pests) to blue crested pigeons, who look like blue peacocks with delicate crowns of feathers on their heads. We went to a presentation on veterinary care and learned that birds stop breathing when anesthestized, and fed a tiny duck named Milo who is one of their biggest veterniary problems at the aviary (she often has trouble laying her eggs and has to be treated to get them out...) We ended up at the wetlands exhibit, where we were transfixed by the flamingoes, roseate spoonbills, and scarlet ibises. It was really a lot of fun.
All in all, it was a terrific vacation, as much fun as Boston but with the added attraction of everything being new to us. We are happy to be home now, with our own beds, the kids' toys, clothes in closets and drawers instead of in suitcases, outside to run wild in at a whim (that is the worst part of hotel life with kids, in my opinion--the inability to have space to do what they want!) and perhaps most of all, a break from restaurant food! Though we all love eating out, after a few days it just becomes too much. Not enough vegetables for the kids is the biggest difference, though Rachel did order a huge salad for dinner one night and the kids all had some--restaurant kid meals are truly terrible in terms of the old 5-a- day! Luckily we had fruit at breakfast and in the room, and I also bought a bag of baby carrots they devoured. I will post some photos later today. I have to sort through them and decide, as Rachel took so many pictures of animals and scenery. This post has taken a while and the kids are clamoring for attention!