Sunday, July 29, 2012

Arriving in Costa Rica

So the stars aligned for us this summer.  Mike was at a duty station where a certain long leave period was guaranteed, and it happened to be also when kids were out of school, AND grandparents were available to watch the kids.  We knew this was too rare not to take advantage of, so in the months before we were on the lookout for something to or someplace to go as a couple.  That's when a fabulous sounding groupon hit my inbox.  It was for a "Weekend Warrior" package to Costa Rica with a company called Desafio.  There was also the option to extend the trip, but 3 days of activities and lodging, plus rides to and from the airport were included.

Three months later we were on plane.  6 hours later we were riding through the hills outside San Jose, on our way to the western side of Arenal Volcano.

Here's me trying not to look at Mike as we drive past fields of fruit.

It was an over 2 hour drive, and the first half was enough to make me queasy.  It seems most of the road rules are kind of optional.  Our driver pointed out lots of  the sights and features as we went past.

After an hour, we paused to stretch a bit and saw a beautiful church in the center of a town.

But we didn't pause long as we and the other passengers were eager to get to our destination.  We had lost a lot of time, according to the driver, because we were stuck behind someone driving the speedlimit on the winding road.  So back into the car and through a sugarcane region.

Soon we got breath-taking views of the Arenal Volcano.

Finally in the town of la Fortuna, where it had started to drizzle as it normally does in the afternoons, we stopped at the Desafio headquarters to finalize the details of our stay and to have a shot of the local liqueur- delicious!

 Everything arranged, we hopped back in the van for the last couple miles to our assigned hotel, Manoa. The whole complex was spread out on a hill so every room faced the volcano, and it included a huge pool, a full-service spa, a restaurant, and their own natural hot springs that spilled into a swimming pool.  Both pools had their own sheltered wet bars, which we visited regularly in the evenings.  Walking around wasn't much of a chore, but if you didn't feel like walking or if it was raining, you could call the front desk and they'd bring a ride to your door in just a couple minutes.

The rooms were in duplex pairs, surrounded by landscaping, making most quite isolated in feeling.  From our  little porch, we could just soak up the tropical feel and observe some tiny neighbors.


 It rained every night, and most of the time is was a deafening thunderstorm and downpour on the corrugated roof that drowned out talking and almost the ability to think, but that's all part of the experience.  Besides, in the morning everything was always fresh and clean.

To be continued...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Photo Friday: A Preview of Next Week

Earlier this summer, we got to take a real vacation as a couple- no kids!  There's a lot to tell, and that will come next week.  In the meantime, here's a preview...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City, Kansas

After Hutchinson, we hitched our wagons a little further west to Dodge City.  There's plenty of info available at the visitor's center, as well as a train for the kiddos to explore.

Unlike a lot of engines you see out on display, this one was pretty accessible.  Lots of levers to pull!

Right up from the train and the visitor's center is the Boot Hill Museum.  You enter through the gift shop, and start with a video about the history of the area.  Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for kids ages 5-10, and families are $35.  It's a Blue Star Museum, but we were limited to 6 people, meaning we had to pay for one.  They offer country-style dinners and variety shows in the evening for extra.

It's called Boot Hill because one of the first main cemeteries was up there, and sometimes strangers and victims of shoot-outs were buried up there with their boots still on.  Several local characters are known to be laid there as well.  They've marked as many as possible, but no one really knows how many people were buried there.

The jail was rebuilt on site near the cemetery.  But her cuteness will not be contained.

Separate from the Native American Heritage building near the hill, the main storefronts are almost all connected, allowing you traverse them without stepping into the heat every time.  Since it was over 100 that day, we appreciated that.

First up was the saloon.  Beer and other drinks are served here, but it was a little early for that, so we settled for water.  We arrived just in time for the dancing lesson.

They provided skirts for the young ladies and taught them a routine designed to promote a girl's.... assets.

Just about anything you'd want to know about the Old West was on display.

At one point the kids were all recruited for Marshall training.  At the end they received a badge.

Here they are learning to "mosey."

Then our newly minted Marshall took us to the bank to assure us that it was a safe place.

There's a joke here, I know it....

Half of the school house was dedicated to famous Kansans.  Did you know Dennis Hopper is from Dodge City?

The blacksmith wasn't working that day- too hot!

Beatty & Kelly Restaurant serves sandwiches and ice cream, so you can eat your lunch at Boot Hill or leave and re-enter at your leisure - your admission is good all day.  There's an Applebee's right outside.  We opted for Sarsaparilla Floats.

We interrupted our ice cream for the noon gunfight.  They let us take our floats out with us so we wouldn't miss either.

At the end of the shoot-out, the actors signed pictures they sold for $1.  They use the proceeds to fund their performances.

Don't forget to tell them we sent you!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wayside Wednesday: Fort Larned, Kansas

Heading back from Dodge City, we decided to swing past Fort Larned which was marked in our road atlas quite simply, but turned out to be a real National Park.  We weren't there 10 minutes before we wished we had more than just an hour to spare for it.  Not enough time for the kids to earn their National Park badges!

Anyway, Fort Larned was built as part of the effort to protect the travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.  Regular patrols went out to discourage Indian attacks and outlaws from taking advantage of wagon trains.  Since wood is scarce in this part of Kansas, there was no stockade.  Of course, you can see just about anything coming for miles.  The fort consisted mostly of long buildings around a central square.  Below are the officers' quarters.  The larger buildings housed 2 Lieutenants on one side and a Captain on the other, along with their families and servants, if they had them.  Lieutenants rated one room, and Captains two adjoining, and the three would share a kitchen and main hallway.  Some bachelor Lts. would combine their rooms to have one bedroom and one sitting room for junior officer gatherings.

The fort never housed more than a few dozen cavalry and infantry soldiers at a time unless units were passing through, then it could accommodate a couple hundred easily.

Men bunked 4 to a bed typically- head to foot so you could fit 2 on top and 2 on the bottom.  And my kids thought they had it crowded.

Adjoining the enlisted barracks was the hospital.  The doctor had his own office, plus his own room.

Amazingly, in the 103 degree heat, the blacksmith was working his shop.  As the kids watched, he made a chain link.  After it cooled, he gave it to them and suggested as they visited blacksmiths at other national parks or museums that they try to get more links and make a chain.

Graffiti was carved into almost every brick, and I just assumed it was from the "national park craze" ushered in by the automobile.  I'd seen lots of that before in places like Mammoth Cave.  But then I looked closer...


This was a re-creation of a hot-box used for punishment, mostly in dereliction of duty.  Imagine a day in there in a wool uniform- yikes!
You can see Patrick holding the ring from the blacksmith.

A school house on the post sought to educate both the children of soldiers and servants as well as the soldiers themselves.  They maintained a library full of classic works of history.  

The quartermaster's storehouse:

 I just wish we had had more time.  And a little less heat.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cosmosphere in Hutchinson KS

I suppose if you live in the middle of the country, visiting the Kennedy Space Center in Florida or the Johnson Space Center in Houston or the Air and Space Museum in D.C. all seem a little far to go for a rocket fix.  If that's the case, you can try the Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Between it and the Salt Mines, you can make a pretty full day in this small Kansas city.  They're both participating in the Blue Star program this summer, making general admission free to military and their families.  For civilians, you can get a money-saving combo ticket to both places here.  General admission $12 for adults and $10 for kids ages 4-12, discounts for seniors and AAA.  The IMAX theater and Dr. Goddard's lab is extra.

When you walk in the door, you can bump your noggin on a real SR-71 Blackbird, which the main lobby of the museum was built around.  My camera was having battery issues, so you'll have to see it for yourself.

The museum follows the history of rockets and space travel, starting with science fiction and World War II.  They have REAL V-1 and V-2 rockets on display, as well as amazing details of the programs that developed around and in response to them.

Our generation may forget it all too easily, but the story of space travel is the history of the Cold War.  It involves ingenuity, espionage, fear, competition, failure, heroism, cover-ups, cover stories, and politics.  Really, if you just want to learn about the Cold War, it's worth the visit.  If you want to be inspired and amazed by feats of engineering, it's worth the visit.  If you want to learn more about what the Soviets were up to, this is the place to go.  In any case, you'll learn a lot.

 Sorry, it gives me nerd chills.

Outside you can walk around a Titan rocket, used in the Gemini program.  From the exhibits inside you can access the base of it.

Most of the displays were over the kids' heads, especially the younger ones, though I think Patrick and Sam came away with a new perspective.  The little ones got kind of restless after a while, probably tired out from the Salt Mines earlier that day.  Fortunately, there were enough things to climb on in a few places to entertain them long enough for Mike and me to read displays.  The museum could use a few more interactive things, though, there was a lot of reading and artifacts, but not much hands-on.

However, they do have some pretty impressive rare artifacts relating to Sputnik and nuclear warheads.  Also on display are capsules from Gemini X, Vostok, Mercury VII (the "Liberty Bell"), the Apollo Program "white room," a large moon rock, and Patrick's thrill: THE Apollo XIII Command Module "Odyssey."

Plus, Jim Lovell's flight suit:

I've met Jim Lovell, he's a pretty nice guy.  I don't think the kids ever believe me when I tell them, though.  They think he looks like Tom Hanks.

This Lunar Module was Nicholas' favorite.  I think every 30 second for a straight half-hour I had to tell him No, he wasn't allowed to climb on it.  "But it's got a laaaaaddddder!"

How big are the space shuttle's tires?  About as big as a five-year-old girl:

Tell them we sent you!