Author: Michelle

Sanders Chocolate Factory Tour

Sanders Chocolate Factory Tour

We’re always on the hunt for fun, inexpensive things to do with the kids in the Detroit area. I can’t say it took a lot of arm-twisting to bring the kids on this outing! In fact, I was pleasantly surprised with how much my 6 […]

Guardian Building Tour

Guardian Building Tour

Any other architecture nerds out there? While neither David nor I have any background or training in architecture, we both love touring historic houses (Biltmore, Edsel & Eleanor Ford House) and buildings. One of our favorite getaways at our last duty station was a weekend […]

An afternoon at the Ark

An afternoon at the Ark

There’s not a lot that can entice me to stop when I’m road-tripping it solo-parenting style with the kids. Let me re-phrase that – *nothing* sways me from my myopic goal of covering the 16 driving hours of distance between Detroit and New Orleans. Except Chick-fil-a and occasional potty breaks. So when my mom volunteered to ride north with us after the wedding, I was enthusiastic for the help as well as the opportunity to throw in a scenic stop along the way. We picked Ark Encounter (a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark) in Williamstown, Kentucky, because it was something that piqued our interest, and we also thought the kids might enjoy it.

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What grabbed our toddler’s attention from the beginning was the sound effects. There were animal sounds coming from baskets and cages as well as the background noise of a deluge. The first and second floors of the Ark are full of containers for food and water storage along with cages containing representations of animals from different species.

Plaques along the walls give hypotheses to questions I’d never even considered like “where did Noah keep the polar bears?” and “what did Noah feed the anteaters and koalas?” There are also two different films (that kept the kids’ interest!) to see and a lot of exhibits and informational displays.

 

When reading through TripAdvisor reviews ahead of time, it seemed like a common thread was “save time for the last level – it’s the best!” Among other things, this third level contains living quarters for Noah and his family along with background stories crafted about Noah’s daughters-in-law. While the rooms were much more comfortable than I would have imagined, I suppose if you were building a boat over a period of approximately 75 years, you’d probably try to make the living space as nice as you could. 😛

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Overall, it was worth the stop! We spent about four hours at the Ark and the adults along with our 8 year old felt like we could have spent more time there. The youngest three members of our group were DONE though, so it was a brief lunch stop and back on the road for us!

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Know before you go:

  • Purchase tickets ahead of time! Even visiting off-season, we waited in line to buy tickets about twenty minutes. Spare yourself the wait if you can.
  • The grounds and Ark itself were all very stroller-friendly and handicap accessible. Those ramps meant for animals also worked splendidly for herding our crew in and out. 😉
  • There are dining options available on-site – a couple of restaurants (seasonal) as well as some prepared foods in the gift shops. We blitzed past these and ate on the road though. If you’re in the area for longer, there are other activities around the Ark. Ice skating is available in the winter and zip-lining can be done the summer (for an additional fee).

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Pączki Day!

Pączki Day!

One of the perks of moving every two years is getting to experience the cultural variety that the US has to offer. Whether at the World Ice Art Championship in Fairbanks, Alaska, or at the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockport, Maine, we haven’t had to […]

Adventures with Food: Carbonara with Fresh Pasta

Adventures with Food: Carbonara with Fresh Pasta

Once we started making our own pasta, we were excited to begin adapting some of our favorite recipes for use with the good stuff. 😉 This one is a family favorite (I mean, who doesn’t like carbonara?) that we originally found on Simply Recipes. I’ve […]

Coffee culture, at home and abroad

Coffee culture, at home and abroad

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Coffee in Crete

We’re big into coffee around here. I know, it’s cliché – look at any bio floating around and it’s in there. But we were taken with the stuff enough to devote a sizable chunk of our dining area (and dare I say, budget) to our coffee experience.

We started in earnest when we lived in Alaska – with the bitter cold and daylight not appearing til closer to 11 AM during the winter, there needed to be something to motivate us to get out of bed.

 

 

The weather and latte art in 2012

This propelled us through our time there quite nicely, but when we moved to Germany we sold our machine because it wouldn’t work on the voltage over there. Sad day, but we promised ourselves we’d get another one when we returned to the States, and we might even upgrade our setup.

But being without an espresso machine wasn’t even close to all bad, because we had the world of European coffee to explore! We did a lot of coffee tourism as we went around the continent and had a ton of fun discovering how different countries approach coffee and the culture around it.

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In Germany, Kaffe und Küchen (coffee and cake) is a tradition that is kinda self explanatory.  We had an awesome roaster and cafe about 15 minutes from our house with a courtyard and a play area for the kids. As Kaffe und Küchen is more of a leisurely affair, it was great to send the kids to the sandbox and then enjoy most of our cake before they’d noticed we’d gotten more than just coffee!

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View of the courtyard from the sandbox

Given our coffee fixation, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to go to Italy a few times – ground zero for coffee in Europe.

 

 

La Casa del Caffe Tazza D’Oro in Rome

In Italy it is far more common to take your coffee standing at the bar, so while coffee is cherished, it isn’t usually lingered over. You can get it at a table, but the price usually spikes up about 50% for table service, so I usually just got it at the bar like everyone else. On the plus side, the average Italian takes several coffee breaks a day, so while they don’t spend as much time per break, they take more of them, so it all evens out in the end.

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Barista in Naples

Something to note in Italy is that the coffee gradually changes with the latitude. In Northern Italy, they go for a lighter roast, something most Americans would refer to as a medium roast. As you travel south, it gradually darkens, until you reach Naples, where the coffee is darkly roasted and extra syrupy. I’m a little more partial to the medium stuff, but hey, to each his own!

France has lovely cafes, but the coffee was pretty consistently lackluster. The pastries, on the other hand….

 

 

Clockwise: Prague, Istanbul, and Athens

Czech Republic’s cafe culture was much the same as Germany’s, though “third wave” type of roasters were more common than most places (with the exception of Berlin, which has a thriving 3rd wave coffee scene). We seemed to mostly visit Czech in winter and early spring months, so we’d plot our sightseeing around cafes and warm up 2-3 times a day with coffee and shelter.

We found Istanbul and the Greek areas we visited to present the slowest coffee experience of all. Something about the sun warming you lends itself to longer stays at the coffee shop. Though we did get Ibrik coffee in both areas, I seem to have neglected to take any pictures – shame on me!

I could go on, but most would say I already have 😛 So, suffice to say, we were all the more excited about coffee when we were gearing up to leave, so after much careful research we kept our promise to ourselves for another espresso setup, and did indeed upgrade it upon our return.

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We were out of town when it arrived, and our landlady called us and asked, “are you sure this is all supposed to be here?!?”  Yes. Please don’t send it back – I’ll cry.

We got the machine and have been enjoying it for a few years now, but wanted to take the best from across the spectrum of the coffee scenes we had experienced. So, as recently seen on this blog, we just recently finished building our cafe table to round out our home coffee shop. It’s a blend of everything – the machine and coffee from Italy, the Parisian style, and and the laid back approach found in the Med – and we couldn’t be happier with it!

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Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, MI

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, MI

If you’re anything like us, these bitterly cold temperatures have you looking for an escape. How does 75° and 60% humidity sound? We thought it sounded like paradise, so last weekend we headed to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle.   Opened in […]

The Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, MI

The Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, MI

Want to escape to the Cotswolds but can’t find room in your budget for a ticket to England? Try taking a tour of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford house! Edsel was the only child of Henry and Clara Ford and a Ford Motor Company executive. […]

Belle Isle Aquarium, MI

Belle Isle Aquarium, MI

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Detroit’s tiny aquarium claims the title of “America’s Oldest Aquarium.” It was designed by Albert Kahn, the “Architect of Detroit” who built the Art Deco Fisher Building downtown as well as the Cotswolds-inspired Edsel & Eleanor Ford house. Having heard that it was small, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect from this aquarium, but the tanks were pristine and the kids genuinely enjoyed our visit. As you might expect, the fish are predominately from the Great Lakes region, with some non-native varieties present.

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In addition to viewing the fish, the aquarium’s building is worth the visit. The gallery is a single level with green glass tiles covering the walls and ceiling to evoke the feeling of being underwater. During Prohibition, the basement was occupied by a speakeasy and later served as a storage area for larger fish, which were visible via closed circuit television.

Know before you go:

  • The aquarium is located at 2 Inselruhe Ave., Detroit, MI 48207 and is open Friday-Sunday from 10-4.
  • Admission is free for all the attractions on Belle Isle but to enter the island, you’ll need to purchase a day pass ($9 at the time of this writing) or an annual pass ($31). That being said, when I’ve visited Belle Isle on Thursdays and Fridays, the booth where they check and sell passes has been unmanned. Drivers with Michigan-registered vehicles can purchase a Recreation Passport for only $11 that allows access to all state parks, including Belle Isle.
  • Go on Friday if you can – we had the place to ourselves!
  • Don’t speed on Belle Isle. The speed limits are low, so it’s easy to do but the state police that patrol it (thankfully) have little else to keep them busy.
  • Accessibility: There is a handicap ramp to the left of the building but when we visited during the week, the door was locked, so I ended up baby-wearing. That might be a good idea regardless, since it’s a small aquarium and probably gets crowded on the weekends.

If you visit when the weather is pleasant, there are several outstanding playgrounds where the kids can burn off some steam. (A favorite is the one outside the nature center at 176 Lakeside Dr., Detroit, MI 48207.) Hopefully you enjoy your visit to “America’s Oldest Aquarium” as much as we did!

Greenfield Village, Michigan

Greenfield Village, Michigan

Along with last month’s visit to the Henry Ford, we checked out Greenfield Village. This attraction was created around the same time as Colonial Williamsburg, but instead of constructing a new town, Ford wanted to bring actual buildings from different locations in America together to […]