Charleston - Boneyard Beach

One of the highlights of our trip was a boat trip out to Capers Island and Boneyard Beach.  The beach got its name from the large pieces of driftwood lying on the shore that look like the bones of some long forgotten prehistoric animal. 

The trip out to the island winds through tidal creeks where we saw dolphins, egrets, and osprey while we learned about the unique eco-system that exists in these waters. 

Our guide was fantastic and was a huge part of what made the trip so great.  A former school teacher, he took a real interest in the kids and explained everything clearly without dumbing it down.  He even stopped along the way and hauled in some crab traps, showing us both the difference between male and female and between the species that co-exist here on the ocean floor.

Once you arrive on the island, you are free to wander around on your own.  We walked along the shore playing in the waves and scaling the larger pieces of driftwood.

When it was time to return to the mainland, we did so reluctantly with a few treasures in hand.  Jack was thrilled to get the chance to pilot the boat part of the way home while Ava took the time to relax and grab a little nap.

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Charleston - Things to Do

While there is nothing wrong with heading straight to one of the many beaches in the Charleston area, there is a lot to tempt you away from the sand and surf.  Our first stop was Fort Sumter National Monument, located on a small island in the harbor.  The site of the first shots fired in the Civil War, this is a great mix of history and gorgeous scenery.  

Reached after a quick ferry ride, you can listen to a short ranger talk or immediately begin the self-guided tour, which takes about 45 minutes.  There is a museum which tells the story of the construction of the fort, the events leading up to the confrontation between Confederate and Union troops on April 12, 1861, and the fort's continued role in the conflict through the end of the Civil War.

After you've absorbed all the history you can at the fort, head back to shore and be sure to tour the museum at the Visitor Education Center.  It provides a broader look at the issues and disputes that caused the Civil War.   

If you go, remember to bring a light sweater as it can get chilly on the ferry and out in the harbor.  Also, be sure to register for the Junior Ranger program at the visitor center before heading out to the fort.  The kids complete a questionnaire while exploring the fort and return it to the ranger at the visitor center.  In return for their efforts, they are awarded a junior ranger badge.  Many national parks and sites offer this program and it is a great way to keep kids engaged and excited.

A short walk from the Visitors Center is the South Carolina Aquarium.  The aquarium is newly renovated and a great stop for anyone with kids.  There are many exhibits on offer:  Madagascar journey, with a close-up look at ring-tailed lemurs and other animals native to the island, a touch tank with wonderful educators on hand to answer questions, a 6,000-gallon stingray tank where you can purchase shrimp cups to feed the rays, and so much more. 

  Feeding the rays

Feeding the rays

The highlight of our visit was a trip to the aquarium's sea turtle hospital.  This is an add-on to the general admission ticket but well worth the price.  The hospital is home to many different types of sea turtles who are too sick or injured to survive in the wild.  Here they are nursed back to health until they are healthy enough to be released back into the ocean.  Seeing these creatures up close was fascinating and the kids talked about this for weeks after our visit. 

Just over the Ravenel Bridge in Mt. Pleasant, Patriot's Point is home to the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier, the USS Laffey, a destroyer and the USS Clamagore, the only Guppy III submarine preserved in the United States.  We spent the better part of a day here exploring all the ships as well as the aircraft still housed on the deck of the Yorktown.  You can tour each of the boats at your own pace, with or without an audio tour (available for an additional fee) and there are plenty of volunteers to answer any questions you have.  A cafeteria serving meals and snacks is on the Yorktown or you can bring a picnic and have lunch at one of the many tables provided overlooking the docked ships and the Ravenel Bridge.

Idea for Spring Break - Charleston

With a snowstorm bearing down this weekend, I've been dreaming of April and spring break.  One great trips we took as a family was a week in Charleston, South Carolina.  It was everything we work looking for:  warm, not too far from home (we drove), great food, and lots to do and see.  We broke the trip up and spent two nights in Williamsburg on the way down, but we loved Charleston so much we opted to change our return plans and spend an extra night there.

We had some Marriott points to use so we chose to stay at the Residence Inn, which is about a 5 minute drive from downtown Charleston.  The hotel was great and it had everything we needed for a long stay:  our room was a suite so the kids were in a separate room for sleeping, a hot breakfast was served every morning, there were laundry facilities on-site and best of all, a heated saltwater pool. 

Over the next few posts, I'll be highlighting what we did, where we ate, and a few great day trips we took. 

Warfare and Chocolate - A Boy's Day in Paris

Whenever I plan out our daily itineraries for a trip, I usually allow 2-3 hours for a museum visit.  Much more than that and it degenerates into an unpleasant experience for all of us.  So when we approached the Musee de l'Armee, I assumed we would be out in time to grab a quick lunch and move onto the next activity.  Little did I know that not only would we eat lunch at the museum, but we would spend another 2 hours after lunch exploring their extensive collection.  This was a love-at-first-sight place for Jack and we had to drag him away.  He still talks about it and recommends it to anyone we know who is traveling to Paris.  

The collection extends chronologically from medieval armor all the way to the 1960's nuclear arms race and includes Napoleon's stuffed horse, a large arms and armor collection, miniature dioramas of many famous battles, and a huge array of cannons.  There is also a kid's audio tour available which Jack really enjoyed.

Afterwards, it is a short walk to a branch of a great chocolate shop, A La Mere de Famille, the oldest sweet shop in Paris.  There is a delicious selection of chocolates, hard candies, marshmallows and ice cream available.  It's the perfect place to grab a snack or to dangle as a reward to buy you a few more minutes in your museum of choice.  

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Lunch with a View

I've had a couple of family members visit Paris recently and have eagerly given suggestions, wanted or not.  I don't know if it is because it was the first place in Europe I visited, but Paris is one of my favorite cities.  We travelled there with the kids a few years ago and I was delighted to discover that it is just as enchanting for kids.  Ava says that she wants to live in Paris when she grows up and whenever we ask the kids about locations for upcoming vacations her answer is always "Paris."

In looking up recommendations, I went through all of the photos from our trip and thought I would devote the rest of this week's posts to some of the more successful outings we had during our time there.  

There are lots of places to eat around the Eiffel Tower but they tend to be a.) expensive or b.) touristy or c.) expensive and touristy.  Looking around for something which was d.) none of the above, I found a recommendation for Cafe Carlu, the cafe in the Cite de Architecture museum.  It is about a 5-minute walk from the Tower and you can eat in the cafe without paying admission to the museum.  The food is very good, as all Paris museum cafe food tends to be, but the real reason to come is for the view.  The cafe has a patio with several tables so you can enjoy your meal overlooking this fantastic sight.

The picture below illustrates another benefit of eating here. It is relatively crowd-free so there is always a table on the patio available.  

Even if you don't make it here for a meal it is still a great place to grab a snack and rest up a bit before continuing on your day.  Also nearby is a carousel, fountains to dip your feet into, and Cineaqua, the aquarium of Paris.