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.


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.

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.  


Hiking in the Alps - Day 3 & 4

On our third, and last full, day we decided to tackle two 1/2-day hikes:  one to the start of a glacier and the other a relatively flat walk with views similar to the day before.  As we walked out of Gimmelwald, we descended down and walked along a river, which was fed by the glacier we were hoping to find.  The path was much less populated than the previous day and we saw only a handful of people along the way.  When we reached the hike's terminus, we were the only ones around as far as the eye could see.  We counted waterfalls (14), skipped rocks, built cairns and thoroughly explored this magical place.  The kids loved it and it was a push to get them to leave.

After a quick trip on the cable car up to Murren, we started out on our second hike of the day to Grutschalp.  This route was much more popular and we encountered lots of people out for a quick hike to enjoy the surrounding scenery..  

We caught the train (seen in the picture above) back to Murren and made our way back to our apartment at Esther's to pack up and get ready to leave early the next morning.  Before we left the area, we stopped at Trummelbach Fallslocated in the valley nearby.  The melting snows of the Jungfrau have carved through the stone to create Europe's largest subterranean waterfall.  You take an elevator located inside of the mountain up 6 stories and explore waterfalls 6-10 before making your way down to see waterfalls 1-5.  Truly an awe-inspiring (and chilly) sight!

At the base of the falls, there is a nice cafe with good coffee and snacks on offer.  It's also a great place to get in a game of chopsticks, if you like that kind of thing.

Hiking in the Alps - Day 2

We awoke to beautiful blue skies and fantastic 360-degree views.  After consulting all the hiking routes suggested on the Gimmelwald website, we decided to take Hike 5, the Scenic, described as an easy 1 1/2-mile loop.  

The hike begins near the funicular station at the top of Allmendhubel, so we hiked up to Murren via the steep path behind our guesthouse and spotted some local fauna along the way.

Once we got off the funicular, we discovered a fantastic playground.  The entire area was imaginatively designed including everything from zip lines to groundhog tunnels to a barn with plastic cows to "milk".  

As we hiked, we stumbled upon an inn located in what felt like the middle of nowhere, Pension Suppenalp.  Lunch was served on a patio with an unbeatable view (pretty much the theme of our time in the Alps).  Surprisingly this was one of the best meals of our trip.  I had a traditional Swiss meal of rosti, which is basically hash browns with cheese, eggs, and bacon on top.  The kids topped off the meal with a delicious slice of chocolate cake with extra whipped cream.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the scenery:  the profusion of wildflowers in bloom, the sound of cow bells tinkling in the pastures, the view of the Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger mountains looming above us, the paragliders drifting down through the valley.

We ended the day at the other restaurant in Gimmelwald at the Mountain Hostel.  The restaurant is primarily a pizzeria but there is also a daily pasta special on offer.  The pizzas were delicious and just what we needed after a day spent in the fresh air.  Then we were off to bed to rest up for another day on the trails tomorrow.