We made it to Canada, but just barely. I’ll summarize by saying the first five and a half days of the trip to Canada were awesome and the last half of the sixth day required perseverance. A lot of it. Some might say the last half day of the journey to Canada was horrible, but I’ll stick with “required perseverance”. But let’s take things in chronological order and save the explanation of the persevering to the end.
Instead of undertaking the 14.5 hour, 875 mile journey from Raleigh to Montreal in one long, arduous continuous trip, we stopped along the way in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New York City, New York. The Washington stop was only a few hours long – just enough time to visit the National Zoo. After leaving Washington, we arrived in Philadelphia late at night and stayed for a total of three nights. Once we departed Philadelphia, we spent two more nights in New York City before heading north on the final leg of the trip across the border to our friendly neighbors to the north.
Traffic. We experienced a lot of it on I-95 in Northern Virginia heading into Washington. The worst of our entire trip (other than the half hour we spent driving the few blocks through Times Square in New York City).
We decided to visit the National Zoo for a few hours to split up the first day’s drive to Philadelphia. And the Zoo has pandas. The Zoo pit stop worked very well for the kids – they got to get out and stretch their legs and we had the Zoo mostly to ourselves since it was late on a weekday. Parking was stiff at $22 flat rate, but the Zoo itself is free. We were lucky to see the pandas wide awake and eating so the visit was definitely worth the hassle of exiting the freeway and navigating through the center of our nation’s capital city.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the zoo for our kids was all the animals pooping right in front of the kids. They got a kick out of watching a cow, an elephant, and a panda poop. It was after lunch and before nap time, and that’s when animals poop.
I also discovered a new part of DC that I’ve never visited before. Rock Creek Parkway and Beach Drive. It’s a little winding road that gets you to the zoo. It makes you feel like you’re exploring a national park. The road is recessed about 50-100 feet below the other surface streets that it intersects, which means as you drive along the road you cross underneath a number of streets that are totally out of sight except for the massive monolithic bridges you pass underneath. And there are tunnels.
We enjoyed two days and three nights in Philadelphia. We stayed for free at the Four Points by Sheraton in the northern part of the city using our Starwood Preferred Guest points from the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card sign up bonus. The hotel was nice enough (especially after they fixed the air conditioning in our room!).
The hotel also provided free wings and beer on Wednesday night. The beer was disappointing since it was served in a five ounce plastic cup and there were no free refills. The endless chicken wings, however, did not disappoint (and that’s coming from a guy that doesn’t typically like the low meat-to-bones ratio of chicken wings).
This section covering Philadelphia is going to sound like a food blog because we spent more time eating than we did sight-seeing (that’s what happens when you travel with a two year old). Cheesesteaks are a big deal on the tourist trail in Philadelphia, and we had to sample a few different varieties around town. Since we were staying away from the downtown tourist area, we were able to visit regular restaurants where locals dine and avoid the long lines and inflated prices.
At Lee’s Hoagies we ordered the Super Deluxe cheesesteak with extra meat. At $22, it wasn’t cheap, but considering the two or three pounds of steak mounded into an arm-length (and arm-girth) sub roll, I would argue it still fits our Value Conscious Consumer ™ spending patterns. This sandwich fed the entire family. Enough said.
While I was getting take out from one restaurant, I noticed a grocery store next door. I went in and grabbed bananas and cherries for our breakfast the next few mornings and spent less on the fruit for the whole family than the cost of a McValue Combo Meal at McDonald’s (for one person). We also brought some leftover bagels from home and enjoyed these at breakfast, too. Dining in our hotel room for breakfast was very simple (and healthy) compared to loading five people into the car and seeking out a place to grab a bite.
While at the grocery store I also grabbed a carton of ice cream for $2. This wasn’t a pint sized carton, but rather the full size (which is now about 1.5 quarts). The ice cream was our post-cheesesteak dessert. At first glance it seems ridiculously unhealthy to sit down and eat an entire carton of ice cream, but when divided by five people, it works out to about nine ounces per person. For reference, the medium size at Cold Stone Creamery is eight ounces, and the small size Blizzard at Dairy Queen is twelve ounces. In other words, splitting a carton of ice cream between five people is like ordering a small to medium serving at an ice cream shop. Except it was way cheaper at $0.40 per serving for grocery store ice cream instead of $4.00 per serving from the ice cream shop.
Between the monster cheesesteaks and cartons of ice cream, we managed to get out and about and visit Philadelphia’s attractions. They have this thing called the Liberty Bell. It’s cracked, but still merits a visit if you have time between cheesesteaks. Our nation’s forefathers (including Benjamin Franklin, a very early example of a frugal, financially independent gentleman) used this bell to summon fellow statesmen to Independence Hall so they could draft documents (like the Declaration of Independence) that served as big middle fingers to the British Empire. We love the Brits now, of course, but back in the 1770’s there was some real bad blood between the colonies and the Empire.
The rest of the family doesn’t really care about history, so they sat on a park bench while I saw the Liberty Bell. You can tell from the preceding paragraph that I learned a lot while visiting the Liberty Bell and the museum it’s housed in. On a side note, the air conditioning in the Liberty Bell museum was mind-blowingly cold and a much needed relief after enduring the 95 degree temperatures.
Due to the severe heat, or perhaps the fact that he’s two, Mr. RoG Jr. whined the entire time we were exploring Philadelphia on foot on our first full day of the trip. This did not leave me with a good feeling about what the next 32 days would be like. After a couple hours of enduring the heat and touring the downtown area, everyone was hot and tired so we decided to call it a day.
Earlier in the day, we had decided to drive the car downtown and park. That was a very prescient decision. Parking was $5 for two hours at a shady on-street parallel parking space (much cheaper than the $20 we would have spent on transit for the whole family). When it was time to go, I walked back to the car and picked up the rest of the family. Then we headed back to the hotel for some relaxation (and air conditioning). Our hotel had a nice pool, so the kids had a great time swimming in the evening.
The next day, we decided to avoid the heat and do a driving tour from the comfort of our wonderfully air-conditioned car. We stopped by the University of Pennsylvania and saw the historic buildings situated alongside the newly constructed mid-rise modern office buildings and hospital facilities. We managed a visit to the famous Rocky statue in front of the steps of the Art Museum (but skipped the art museum itself). We explored some more of the older neighborhoods around downtown before heading back to the hotel base camp for more rest and relaxation.
By the second day in Philadelphia, I realized that our daily sightseeing schedule would largely be dictated by how long our two year old lasts before he melts down. And that’s okay – we knew that bringing a two year old on a five week trip would be a constraint on daily activity.
Traveling with kids
We knew traveling with kids would have challenges. Here are a few observations from the first segment of our trip that might help if you’re thinking about a long trip with kids. Ours were age 2, 7, and 9 at the time of the trip.
- don’t plan more than a few hours of activities per day (kid meltdowns are likely)
- get a hotel with a pool
- accept the fact that there will be a lot of rest and downtime
- naps are okay for kids and adults
- pack plenty of snacks and drinks while sightseeing
- you won’t see everything, so prioritize what you want to see the most
- toddlers like weird things like holes in the sidewalk, textures on floors, trucks and buses (don’t forget to indulge their peculiar interests occasionally)
In the next installment of our trip summary, I’ll tell about our visit to New York City and the drive to Montreal where we had some serious trouble.
Here’s a quick guide to our whole trip:
- Part 1 – From Raleigh to Philadelphia
- Part 2 – A few days in New York City
- Part 3 – Settling into our apartment in Montreal
- Part 4 – Sights of Montreal
- Part 5 – Quebec City, Canada
- Part 6 – Trip Wrap Up
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