Busses and Chocolate

Tim has been off this week and so while we spent the first bit of the week at home (and I still utterly refuse to use the word "staycation" - except I guess I just did, but whatever) with a fun day with the larger family (Monday), a trip to the zoo downtown (Tuesday) and a random day rattling around the house and being semi-productive (Wednesday), yesterday we packed up our bags and headed for points north.

I am working on reminding myself that Vacationing the Sleepy-way (kind of like training dogs the Woodhouse way, for those who grew up on PBS like I did) is not a bad thing, that it is, in fact, relaxing. And that I should not be freaked out that we had not yet left the house at 10:30 in the morning. (Actually, I think we were out of the house at 10:19, so we did beat 10:30, but really.) As Tim pointed out, there was no traffic. I might have replied that yes, in the middle of the freaking day that tends to be the case. Regardless, we deposited the doggie at my mom's and then headed even further north to Gettysburg.

My thought, on choosing Gettysburg, was based on vague recollections from previous visits that included lots of wide open space to run, cannons and monuments to climb, and other semi-child friendly things that would not bore the old people. We arrived just in time for lunch (or just after the optimal time for lunch, but before the melt-down of epic proportions because the two year old is hungry, dang it!) and hit the Gettysburg McDonald's. I highly recommend this establishment. First, it's McDonald's, so the children in your life will get a cool toy and nuggets of pressed white meat that they claim is chicken. The adults will get their usual preference along with the standard dose of heartburn. However! If you have recently been cooped up in a car for about 2.5 hours, they have a most excellent (made so by being incredibly clean) play area (inside!) for anyone under 48 inches. (On seeing this sign, Tim made sure to point out that there was something I was actually too tall to participate in. I might have hit him.) Once said foodstuffs were consumed, we headed back to the Battlefield Visitor's Center.

And my how that's changed since I was last there. (Granted, it's been...15 years? But honestly.) We debated our options and the tolerance of a two-year-old who had napped a bit on the way up but who we felt probably needed to be treated a bit like you'd treat a box full of potentially unstable material prior to thorough examination by a bomb unit. So we decided on a trip out to Eisenhower's house (and farm - we were putting a lot of stock in the, well, stock, to entertain the kiddo). We chose well. Because you get to ride a bus out there. Can you fathom the joy of riding on a bus? It was as if we had entered the throne room of the Queen and were being addressed by name and told we might, should we so desire, call her Liz. Honestly, if we could have simply ridden the bus for the next several hours, the kiddo would have been fine.

So we bounced over to the house in the bus, the doodle yakking away (loudly, despite several attempts to get him to hush) and I had that nagging suspicion that the over-the-shoulder indulgent smiles we were getting from other bus riders were not so much in the "Oh he's adorable and reminds me of my <insert relation here> that isn't here with us" and more along the lines of "Really? You brought your two year old? Have you lost your mind?" But we sat in the back, away as much as possible, and you could still hear the tape so...I'm going to say we weren't all that annoying.

Once there, they shuttle you into the barn for a little babble by the Park Ranger. This was great as there are tractors in the barn and a tractor is right next to a bus ride in the joy that it brings the doodle. So he exclaimed loudly about the tractor and how he wanted to ride it and was it like papa's tractor until Tim took him to run under the crab apple trees until it was actually time to go into the house. Inside the house, the Park Ranger babbles considerably less and there is lots to look at, which meant that every two seconds, we had the following conversation:

Him: What's that?
Me: That's a <insert item> owned by President Eisenhower (Or Mrs. Eisenhower if it was hers).
Him: Oh...what's that?

Rinse. Repeat.

But he did enjoy it - particularly when he realized that he an Mamie share a deep and abiding love of all things pink.

We wandered the grounds briefly after the house tour, then hopped on the bus! for our return trip. At which point we drove to the parking lot of the old visitor center and rambled among the cannons and monuments clustered there until it was clearly time to head hotel-ward.

Since I was trying to plan ahead, our hotel is actually in Hershey (about an hour more north) as it was our destination for today. We stopped at Chili's on the way then found the hotel and the doodle hit the hay while Tim and I found our way to the free wi-fi and hung out for the evening. I will say, I heartily recommend the Hampton Inn in Hershey should you ever be up this way. (Of course, the Hampton Inn is my hotel of choice, honestly. Given my druthers, I'll pay the bit extra that you do there in order to get the way above what you pay for quality I feel you get there. The one in Hershey though goes even above what I've come to expect from a Hampton Inn. It's just delightful.)

This morning after our breakfast downstairs, we headed off to the Hershey's Chocolate World. It's about as awesome as that sounds. It being after Labor Day, Hershey Park is no longer open on the weekdays, but the Chocolate World is still open 9-5, and it was plenty to occupy us for a slightly extended morning. We first hit up the 3-D History of Hershey movie. This is basically an excuse to have singing and dancing chocolate bars of all varieties jumping out of the screen at your for 30 minutes. Along the way you also find out that Mr. Hershey started out selling caramels, sold his caramel business for $1Million in order to buy up every farm in this area he could (for the milk cows, you know) in order to start his milk chocolate business. I'd say, all things considered, he did the right thing. During the extravaganza of singing and dancing chocolate, you also get sprayed with water, snowed on, and immersed in bubbles falling from the sky...so kind of like the Revolutionary War exhibit at Mount Vernon, but with a happier subject matter. And you get a handful of chocolate as you leave.

Next up was a "chocolate tasting." This is a bit of a lecture (made fun by having "live satellite feeds" from a jungle explorer who is a cross between Inspector Gadget and The Librarian...basically just really goofy) about where the cacao comes from and how the plants growing around it influence the tastes you get from it. Then you actually taste the chocolate (look, listen, smell, melt on tongue) and it actually does have different notes. The best part of this for the doodle was being encouraged to "froth" the chocolate milk (our first taste) by blowing bubbles in it with the straw. Surprisingly, that does actually make a difference in taste (it's considerably better frothed...so no more telling your kids to stop!)

Then we rode the factory tour ride - this is a cute little "It's a Small World" meets Hershey's type ride - complete with annoyingly catch song that haunts your for the rest of the day! (We actually did this twice, as it was a big hit with the kiddo.) This walks you through the process of chocolate from bean to bar - and it's really well done and rather interesting. (Plus it's the one free thing - so it's good to do a few times to get that free chocolate at the end and make you feel like you're getting your benefits!)

Each ride/exhibit/whatever dumps you into the largest chocolate-based gift shop you have ever seen. So of course, we ended up buying quite a bit of chocolate. Is it different than what you can get at the store? Some - might be size or packaging. But basically the novelty is that it's from the factory. What can I say...we were there, it was there...now it's coming home with us.

At that point, we took the sugar-hyped-but-still-rubbing-his-eyes kiddo back to the hotel for a nap...currently on-going. I think after nap may be some time at the hotel pool before supper (seriously considering seeing if we can just have a pizza delivered) and bed.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow is the whole point of this little wandering extravaganza...our Day out with Thomas. Choo-choo!


Rachel said...

Nice! I've always wanted to go there!

michellewillingham said...

I am definitely taking the kids there one day soon!

beth said...

Definitely worth the trip! Michelle, your older kiddos can do the create your own chocolate bar and real factory tour as well as some other stuff that we just didn't see the little one making it through.

Gwynne said...

It all sounds fun! Enjoy meeting Thomas!!