Medieval Times–The VIP Experience

Over the last few years, the Fab Five and I have become big fans of Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. We went for the first time in 2017, and really enjoyed the show. When we heard they had an all-new show for 2018, this time featuring the castle’s queen, we returned. And when we were back in Chicago in May, I decided we should go back, because we were at a point in our history curriculum that fell right in the middle of the medieval period.

Things were pretty much the same upon arrival, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a walk around, especially when we got to stop and talk with the falconer and learn how they train their birds.

The meal was also mostly the same (although, instead of the pound cake we were looking forward to eating for dessert, we ended up with ice cream):

But the big difference in our experience was that I splurged on VIP tickets. Now, it was only the “Royalty Upgrade” which is the cheapest option, but we very much enjoyed the benefits, starting with the special lanyards and cheering banners we received (and we even got to support the Yellow Knight for the third year running!):

We also got to jump part of the line at entry, which was nice, but the biggest bonus was that we also got priority seating that landed us in the second row! We got a great view of all the of the action, and it was a whole new level of exciting!

Based on normal family rules, once we do a thing three times, it’s a tradition. Unfortunately, I had to tell the Fab Five that we can’t go back next May when we’re in Chicago, because it’s just too expensive for a large family to make it an annual event. You never know where I might find a loophole in the future, though!

Skydeck Ledge

I could talk all day about the amazing views from the 103rd floor of the Sears (Willis?) Tower. Being able to look out over Chicago and Lake Michigan and the suburbs beyond is an unbelievable experience.

But today I especially want to focus on the experience of stepping out on The Ledge, something I hadn’t done before our trip north in May. If you look way, way up, at the very top of the photo, you can see the tiny glass boxes “hanging off” the building:

My brain knows that this experience is safe. But there is something unbelievably disconcerting about stepping out onto a glass floor when you’re 1,353 feet in the air. Looking down and seeing the tops of other tall buildings beneath you is incredible, and a little scary, if you’re afraid of heights, and yet it’s also exhilarating!

This was the number one experience I wanted to share with the Fab Five during our time in Chicago this spring, and I’m so glad we had such a beautiful, clear day to look out over the city!

Brick Safari

I already mentioned that we visited Brookfield Zoo in May. And while we really enjoy any trip to a zoo, this trip was scheduled for one specific reason: to see the Lego Brick Safari exhibit that they’re hosting through the end of September!

The exhibit includes over 40 life-size animals of all kinds. There were signs with information such as how many bricks it took to make the animal and how long it took to build, and some of the animals even included a bonus challenge!

We really enjoyed seeing the animals that were accompanied by their young!

I loved how the young tigers were depicted:

The pandas were adorably role-poly!

Don’t these guys look they’re straight out of The Lion King?

Other signs included scientific information about the animals, which was very helpful:

There were plenty of sea creatures:

And immense animals:

And animals of every other size, too!

This was a really cool exhibit (it very much reminded me of the Nature Connects display we saw at the Missouri Botanical Garden a few years ago), and I’m glad we happened to be in Chicago while it was on display!

Brookfield Zoo–Part Two

I’m still trying to catch up on all the fun we’ve had this summer! Today, let’s take a look at Brookfield Zoo, a place we visited for the first time in January, and had such a good time, we knew we wanted to go back in May!

Some things were pretty much unchanged from our winter visit (the camels and lions were basically doing the same thing as when we saw them in January), and some were different (we saw a peacock spread his glorious feathers, and the giraffes were in their outdoor habitat):

The grizzly bears were very busy, and entertaining to watch!

We really enjoyed having the chance to see Snowflake, a rare albino alligator, who was temporally visiting the zoo:

Instead of a beautiful snow-covered landscape, we enjoyed seeing flowers and fountains:

We actually bought a year-long membership to the Brookfield Zoo to make this visit happen, so we’re looking forward to going back at some point before it expires!

Michigan’s Little Bavaria

I really think Frankenmuth, MI, also known as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” is the most charming town I’ve ever visited. The German architecture, specialty shops, and Bavarian flags everywhere really make you feel like you’ve stepped into a storybook village!

We might not be able to visit Europe as part of this year’s summer school, but I think going to Frankenmuth and experiencing the culture (and food!) of the town was the next best thing!

Markel Family Michigan Getaway–Day Two

Last Sunday was a very busy day! We started with breakfast at the restaurant where Ryan had his first job as a teenager. I had a Greek skillet, which was basically gyros for breakfast…delicious!

We then headed over to Christ the King’s second campus, where the retirement festivities were held, beginning with the Divine Service, where both Ryan and his mom got to sing in the choir.

There was a very nice lunch reception after the service, and it was obvious even to an outsider how much that congregation loves their pastors. It was a lot of fun to be part of it, even if we weren’t members there.

After the reception, we drove through Detroit on the way to our next destination. We stopped at historic Fort Wayne on the Detroit River (not to be confused with Fort Wayne, IN, which was named for the same general), to see a place that had been built as a defense against Canada, of all places! Unfortunately, much of the fort is falling apart, but we still got a good sense of what it used to look like.

While we were there, we saw two fighter jets flying overhead, which seemed very appropriate:

We then headed over to the Detroit Riverwalk, where we once again got to gaze upon Canada, but this time, in a more urban setting:

We also drove past Comerica Park…I know it’s home of the Detroit Tigers, but I couldn’t believe just how many tiger statues they had outside!

And then after what seemed like a longer drive than it was, probably because I was so excited to arrive at our destination, we reached Frankenmuth, Michigan’s “Little Bavaria!”

Even our hotel, which is definitely part of a large chain, had a Bavarian look!

All of Main Street is in on the Bavarian architecture, and it was just as charming as I expected it to be!

We had late dinner reservations at one of the two restaurants in town that are famous for fried chicken dinners…the Bavarian Inn. Our dinner was amazing, but you’ll have to wait a few days for the full details!

Even though our dinner lasted almost two and a half hours, it was still light outside when we were done. We were so far north, the sunset was almost an hour later than it is here at home! So we were able to enjoy a nice after-dinner walk, and actually see the town. I loved the covered bridge…but I’m really glad we walked across it instead of driving over it!

We stopped at the Bavarian Inn’s lodge, where they have a huge fun center, and we found my favorite game…skee ball! I think the dinner weighed me down, because the best I could do was tie for first!

We needed to stop at the store and pick up a styrofoam cooler for our dinner leftovers, and I was tickled to discover that even the Kroger looked like it was built in Bavaria!

It had been a long day, and we were all full and tired, so we headed back to the hotel after that. I really wish we could have spent more time in Frankenmuth, but we did have a few more stops planned for Monday morning before we left town!

Markel Family Michigan Getaway–Day One

Last Saturday, we were up dark and early (again), this time for a short road trip to Michigan. I think we were all dreading the long drive, but it ended up feeling really quick, and I think that was partly due to a brief stop in Casey, IL, which is home to many of the world’s largest items, including this rocking chair…it’s seriously huge!

Anyway, it was a really good drive, and we arrived at the Hampton Inn in Southgate in a good mood, even though rain was starting to fall. I can’t remember the last time I stayed at a Hampton Inn (if ever)…it was a really nice hotel!

After we got all of our luggage into our room, we headed to Bishop Park in Wyandotte, where I got to look across the Detroit River at CANADA! I know it sounds silly, but this was the first time I’d ever seen another country with my own eyes, and it was very exciting!

We then visited the church that Ryan grew up at, Christ the King, Southgate. We loved the beautiful stained glass windows!

We also drove by Ryan’s old house:

And then stopped at a convenience store so we could introduce the children to one of the best drinks known to man:

Did I mention why we were in Michigan? The pastor from Ryan’s childhood church was celebrating his retirement last weekend, and the church was having a big celebration in his honor. He and his wife hosted a lovely reception at their home for out-of-town guests Saturday evening, so that’s where we headed next. Fortunately, the rain abated while we were there, and we enjoyed our dinner outside. Afterwards, we headed over to Meijer, a store we don’t have in the St. Louis area.

The reason for our stop? To stock up on the previously mentioned world’s best soda:

After that, we headed back to the hotel, where we enjoyed a swim in a pool that had cool lights that changed color:

I know that this is going to come as a shock, but when we got back to our room, we didn’t watch the Food Network…instead, we watched Nick at Night, which was showing Full House and Friends!

Markel Family Combo Breaker Getaway–Day Seven

We’re always sad to say goodbye to Pheasant Run, but that’s how the final day of our trip north began:

We weren’t quite ready to leave Chicagoland, though, so we stopped for a walk around the Lincoln Park Zoo.

We also needed fuel for our journey home, so we went to Rainbow Cone for a treat:

And we stopped in Bloomington/Normal for an early dinner at one of my favorite restaurants…Portillo’s.

And so ended our extended trip for Combo Breaker. We had a lot of fun and made a lot of memories, and summer is only just beginning!

Markel Family Combo Breaker Getaway–Day Six

I had big plan for Memorial Day, because for the first time, we were going to be staying a Pheasant Run an extra day, giving us time for extra activities. My plan was to go to Cantigny Park, which is a fun place to visit any day:

But a really special place to visit on Memorial Day. In addition to a lovely ceremony, where they laid a wreath by the Doughboy statue, there were demonstrations of many kinds, including a fife and drum corps, and an army drill team:

The only real disappointment of the whole trip was that the concert at Cantigny, featuring the Wayne Messmer Big Band, was cancelled due to rain. I was really excited to hear Wayne Messmer sing in person for the first time, but I guess I can hope that we can do that next year. Anyway, we drove back to Pheasant Run in an absolute torrent, and headed up to our room to dry off…we were almost as wet as if we had been swimming!

We went back to Alfie’s Inn for another dinner of appetizers (nachos, wings, spinach and artichoke dip, potato skins, and onions rings), plus another dessert (brownie à la mode).

Thankfully the storms stopped, so we had the chance for one last swim in the Garden Atrium pool:

After our swim, we went back to our room to watch the St. Louis Blues play in the first game of the Stanley Cup final…unfortunately, they lost, but at least we were able to watch them away from home!

Markel Family Combo Breaker Getaway–Day Five

On Sunday, we stopped by Combo Breaker just as the pools were starting for the day. Since we were dressed for church, I took a picture of the Fab Five in their Sunday best:

And as is my tradition, I made sure to get a picture of myself wearing Pinup Girl Clothing on the Combo Breaker floor:

We then went to church at St. John Wheaton, where we unexpectedly ran into someone we knew…the Lutheran church is so small!

And then a stop at Oberweis for ice cream:

The lemon-blackberry was delicious!

After some lazy time in the hotel room, we went down to Combo Breaker for the Tekken 7 Top 8. The crowd was on fire, and I think this was my favorite fighting game to watch!

Ryan received a medal, as he has every year he has attended in one way or another:

That was the end of Combo Breaker, but we still had a few fun Chicagoland activities planned!