Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day Three

The final day of our weekend getaway was fairly low-key. We started with a trip to the Jewel to (finally) buy an I-Pass to make driving on the Chicagoland tollways a bit easier…and then proceeded not to need it at all on the way home. Oh well…at least it will be ready when we go back up in May!

We had planned to walk around the Chicago Botanic Garden on the way home, but wind chills in the single digits made that a less than appealing prospect. So instead, we stopped by the Chicago Baháʼí Temple to marvel at its architecture:

We also drove through the city, just so we could see the skyscrapers:

Of course we had to stop for a moment so I could walk along Lake Michigan. Have you ever walked on frozen sand before? It’s a weird sensation!

And, as always, we stopped for lunch at Portillo’s, where I had my favorite, the Italian beef (dipped, of course!):

So that ends another road-trip wrap-up. It was a pretty short trip compared to what we’re used to, and we didn’t get to do everything I had planned, but it was still a fun getaway!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day Two

Last Saturday morning, we finally got a good look at the snow that had fallen the day before. What we couldn’t really see from our seventh floor hotel room, though, was all of the ice, because once the snow stopped, the freezing rain and sleet started! So we decided to just hang out in the hotel and visit Frosty Faustings, with some breaks to watch cable TV, because I had no desire to get back behind the wheel!

We were there as the event began for the day, and we started by checking out the games Ryan was working on (including, as he calls them, the “old man games”).

Of course we walked around…you never know what you’re going to see at these events!

We had plenty of time to play some games. A new favorite of the children was Them’s Fightin’ Herds, while I enjoyed a track and field game that was about as far from a fighting game as you can get…that figures!

For the first time ever, I even bought a piece of event merch…it turns out that if you slap a logo on a Chicago skyline, I can’t resist! (Also, Frosty Faustings has the most awesome logo ever!)

Of course I had to get a picture of the Fab Five:

And of the crowds in general:

We saw the cosplay contest finals…I’m always impressed by how creative people can be!

We ended up going back up to our room to watch the stream of the Tekken 7 finals on my phone, because the one downside to Frostys is that you can’t hear the commentary in the ballrooms, and we really wanted to hear what Tasty Steve had to say!

Up next: A little sightseeing on the way home!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day One

It’s that time again…time to look back at another winter weekend trip to Chicagoland!

Last Friday, we were up extra early in attempt to beat the expected winter weather out of St. Louis so we could meet Ryan up north in Wheeling for Frosty Faustings. And we did beat all of the weather on the way up (even though Moose’s school ending up canceling classes for the day!). It was a fairly uneventful drive, even though it was a bit nerve-wracking for me, as I don’t usually drive in that part of the Chicago suburbs, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

It was nice and cold when we arrived at the Westin, but still pretty much clear, weather-wise, if not clouds-wise:

I’ve never stayed at a Westin before, and it was quite nice from the moment we walked in the lobby (the infused water was especially popular with the children!)…I especially loved the Lego model of the hotel they had on display!

The room was also nice, although it felt a little small compared the giant room we had last year at Frostys!

We took only the briefest of walks through the tournament area, because we realized that all of the things we had planned to do over Friday and Saturday would have to all be accomplished on Friday, thanks to an impending snowstorm.

Our first stop was the Brookfield Zoo. Just as we did last winter, we had an amazing visit, where we witnessed some new-to-us animal behavior (did you know that camels bark?!?), and enjoyed a walk around a very empty zoo. And the snow held off right until we left.

Then it really started coming down. We had tickets to Medieval Times, and it took us over two hours to drive from the zoo to the castle…traffic was horrible, and driving was very sloppy! We did finally make it, though, just as the castle doors were opening, which was a relief!

I didn’t pay for the VIP experience this time, but we had the best seats we’ve had yet…the second row, and right in the center. We also supported a different knight for the first time…instead of yellow, we were cheering for the red and yellow knight from the County of Perelada. As always, we had a great time, even though, as always, our knight didn’t win…at least our side won this time, and Bunny caught one of the carnations, which means that all three girls have now received one!

And then the harrowing drive back to the hotel. About a half foot of snow had fallen in just a few hours, and it was a mess. But there wasn’t much traffic on the way back, and everyone on the roads was content to go slow and careful, so it may have taken a while, but at least there was no pressure to keep up with traffic, which made it much easier to stay on the road!

Up next: Saturday spent at Frosty Faustings!

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!