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What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

Archive for Road trip

Carnegie Science Center: World’s Largest Permanent Robotics Exhibit


Andy, the "RoboThespian"

I married a geek. Three years later, I gestated his miniature. So it’s not a stretch to say that the world’s largest robotics exhibit would be something of interest to these two. But here’s the thing. Even if you’re not a geek (or haven’t outed yourself yet), you’re still going to love roboworld™, the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibition,  at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

On our road trip to Pittsburgh, PA last week, the four of us spent the morning at the Carnegie Science Center. NOTE: A single morning was not enough time. I hated myself for having to rush the kids from exhibit to exhibit.

Bad Mommy: “No more Bernoulli Effect for you! Keep moving!”

WHY did you go there, exactly?

Did you know that there’s a $500 billion emerging robotics industry in southwestern Pennsylvania? Pittsburgh, then, was the natural location for roboworld, which opened in 2009. This $3.5 million exhibition occupies 6,000 square feet, with three distinct areas featuring robots sensing, thinking, and acting.


roboworld at the Carnegie Science Center

Okay, what was so cool about it?

The Science Center is four floors of pure geek revelry, but roboworld is on the second floor. You’re greeted by Andy, the life-sized RoboThespian™, who you can program to speak and move via touch screen.

Along one whole wall is a robot Hall of Fame showcasing robot replicas from popular movies and TV shows spanning several decades. The Boy was overjoyed to see C3-PO and R2-D2, while Matt and I related more HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and Robby from “Forbidden Planet”.

Star Wars

"Can I trade my sister for this?"

Practically every exhibit had some interactive component, so you could spend hours just in roboworld. (But you do want to leave time for the other exhibits, especially the model train village right next door).

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PHOTO FRIDAY: The BIG sandwich at Primanti Bros., Pittsburgh, PA

A week ago today, we road-tripped to Pittsburgh, PA for the long President’s Day weekend. We have much to share over the coming weeks about the BIG things there.

Our first meal was at the original location of Primanti Bros., a culinary institution which was recommended by pretty much everyone. It’s known for BIG sandwiches with a wide selection of fillings.

Matt, always up for a BIG artery-clogging challenge, ordered this hot sausage and cheese monstrosity:


The fluffy bread was the only "light" part of this 'wich!

When you order sandwiches with “the works,” you will get tomato, cole slaw, and – oh yes – French fries. ON the sandwich.

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Where We’re Headed, 2012 Edition

See, the problem with taking frequent family road trips is that it gets to be a part of you, and you end up needing to hit the road as frequently as possible. We didn’t travel anywhere this month. It’s killing me.

However, staying put gave me the opportunity to plan out our next several adventures. Travel planning is almost as fun as the travel itself; without all the back seat fight refereeing. (“Stop singing in your brother’s ear. Let your sister pick the DVD. Give him back the pretzels. Did you just take her last sip? LET’S ALL PLAY THE QUIET GAME!!”)

In a few short weeks, the Go BIG family is wheels up! Here’s what the next few months look like:

FebruaryPittsburgh, PA

The world’s largest permanent robotics exhibition – “roboworld” – at the Carnegie Science Center

The world’s largest collection of Jurassic dinosaurs at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History


Credit: Joshua Franzos for Carnegie Museum of Natural History

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Foxwoods Resort: North America’s Largest Casino

The thing about grandparents is – if they’re the good kind – they will babysit for free. Over multiple days. My parents are the good kind. Matt and I never got a chance to celebrate our 15th anniversary in October, so last week, while my Mom and Dad were visiting from Florida, we escaped for a few days.

Little did Dad know he would also be called into duty as The Boy’s social studies project assistant. I came home to find a soundly-constructed, two-story cardboard Egyptian villa. (Phew.)

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

Matt and I went to the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, CT for three days. With the promise of spa treatments for me, and hours at the poker table for Matt, we knew this would be a destination we could both enjoy.


This is the view from the Pequot Museum observation tower. I was plastered against the far wall with jelly knees, so Matt took this shot.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

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BIGGISH – Wally the Stegosaurus, Pittsfield, MA

Look who we ran into this weekend! This BIG stegosaurus sits in front of the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. We were in the Berkshires for a reunion for the PR company where Matt and I both worked – and met – way back in the Jurassic Period.


Speaking of the Jurassic Period…this is Wally the Stegosaurus, so named because this creature’s brain was the size of a walnut. A life-size replica, he’s 26 feet long, 12 feet tall, and 7 feet wide.  Since he’s made of fiberglass, he only weighs 1,200 lbs, versus a real Stegosaurus weight of 6,000 lbs.

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Wall Drug: World’s Largest Drug Store

Sure, you could go see Mount Rushmore on your next trip to South Dakota. It’s BIG, so why not? But if you’re going to “The Coyote State,” you need to visit the Wall Drug, the World’s Largest Drug Store!

And we will. As soon as we get to South Dakota.

In the meantime, I am grateful that Anne at 500 Places With Kids DID go there, and has shared her photos with us! You can read a full report of her family’s visit on her blog.

Wall drug

One of America's top roadside attractions!

At 76,000 square feet, Wall Drug is not only a drug store. The space also contains a gift shop, pharmacy museum, art gallery, chapel, restaurants and other shops.

Wall Drug is an iconic American roadside attraction. I love the history of this place. It opened in 1931, and struggled to stay afloat, until the couple who owned it started advertising “free ice water” on small roadside signs. Now they get up to 20,000 visitors a day in the summer!

Check Anne’s site for a smile-inducing photo of the wall of jackalope heads for sale! Who doesn’t love a jackalope? There’s also this BIG one outside, and of course I had to have a pic on my blog:


World's largest jackalope? Actually, no. That one's in Wyoming.


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World’s Longest Highway; Cycling from Alaska to Argentina

When I tell you that today’s post is about bicycling the world’s longest highway, you will be correct in assuming I’m not talking about me and my brood. This month’s guest post is from Nancy Sathre-Vogel of Family on Bikes, who – along with her husband and two sons – traversed the western hemisphere on bicycles! Their unforgettable 17,300-mile journey took them three years (I’m tired just typing those words). Her twin sons, now 13, are Guinness World Record holders as the youngest people to cycle the length of the Americas.

The End of the World!

Almost unbelievable, right?! Here’s what Nancy told us about their journey:

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

We cycled the length of the Pan American Highway – the longest road in the world. It stretches from the northern edge of Alaska all the way down to the tip of South America. As far as being coerced??? Ummm… you can’t really coerce someone to pedal a bike 17,000 miles!

WHY did you go there, exactly?

Now THAT is a good question. Because we’re crazy, perhaps? Or because it’s there? Or maybe it was because we wanted time together as a family before the kids grew up and flew the coop and no longer wanted to travel with ol’ ma and pa.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

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The Turkey Hill Experience, Columbia, PA

This big, beautiful bovine isn’t the world’s largest, and she doesn’t even have a name. But we still love her, because she welcomed us to the Turkey Hill Experience in Colombia, PA!


They’re not excited at ALL.

Where we went, and who was coerced into going?
Heading to Pennsylvania Dutch Country was a “last hurrah” getaway before school started. I told the kids, “we’re going to learn how ice cream and potato chips are made, and then we get to eat them.” Not a tough sell.

WHY did you go there, exactly?
The Turkey Hill Experience was the last stop on a three-day tour of the “snack food corridor” connecting York, Lancaster, and Chester counties. We toured potato chip and pretzel factories, visited chocolate makers, and searched for whoopie pies. Both York and Lancaster counties have their own “sweet and salty” tour itineraries listing all the companies offering public tours and/or outlet shopping. We visited nine of them!

Even after gorging ourselves on all that, there was still room for ice cream!

Okay, what was so cool about it?

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World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet, Burlington, VT

I’m feeling the love for Vermont this week, in the wake of Hurricane Irene’s destruction. So even though we’re in the middle of Pennsylvania right now, I wanted to share a part of one our BEST family vacations…to Vermont. Thanks to Mara at Mother of All Trips for inspiring me to write about the Green Mountain State this week!

Where we went, and who was coerced into going: I admit, the initial lure to Vermont was Ben & Jerry’s factory tour. And while we did go there, while staying at the amazing Smuggler’s Notch resort, we also stayed in Burlington for four chock-full days of fun. I learned about the world’s tallest filing cabinet after the trip was already planned, but naturally managed to squeeze it into our Burlington itinerary!

Filing Cabinet

Rocking the rust!


 Okay, what was so cool about it?

The cabinet was built in 2002 by local artist Bren Alvarez. The 40+-foot cabinet is actually a stack of 11 metal filing cabinets, in different colors, welded together. The elements have obviously taken their toll, so the rusty tower can’t be long for this world. There’s a total of 38 drawers, on purpose. Alvarez was commenting on the number of years that bureaucratic paperwork accumulated by a proposed beltway project that would have run right through the neighborhood where the cabinet stands.

We didn’t stay to see the filing cabinet for very long. In fact, the kids didn’t even get out of the car. (This was a year before the Go BIG fever infected our household.)

Besides, we had too much other fun stuff to do in Burlington! Our favorite places:

North Beach, even though the waters of Lake Champlain were chilly. The kids will swim in water at any temperature, and the sandy beach was warm.

The ECHO Lake Aquarium Science Center, which sits on the waterfront. ECHO (Ecology, Culture, History and Opportunity) features over 70 live species of marine life, more than 100 interactive experiences, seasonal exhibits and participatory events.


ECHO Burlington

A unique perspective of a fish tank at ECHO

A lake cruise aboard the Ethan Allen. We enjoyed a buffet lunch and a 90-minute narrated tour which brought us to the central and deepest point of the lake, and along Burlington’s coast.

Lake Champlain Chocolates factory tour, where we enjoyed divine hot chocolate at the café. We left with factory seconds of broken chocolate-covered pretzels. (Not surprisingly, they just as good when they’re broken.)

Lake Champlain

"I can't see anything through this thing!" No one can, sweetie.

 The Vermont Teddy Bear Company, which is technically in Shelburne, just south of Burlington. The tour guide explained how teddy bears are made, from cutting fur, sewing, stuffing, to dressing. Of course we ended up in the gift shop making our own customized bears, which were presented with a birth certificate, bow tie, and travel box.

Vermont Teddy Bear Company

Watch out...sometimes, we're all in a cheesy mood at the same time.

 How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list): 9

The filing cabinet in itself only rates a 4. But as an all-around family vacation destination, Burlington is a 9!

Hey you! Go BIG!:

The world’s tallest filing cabinet is on Flynn Avenue in Burlington between Pine Street and Foster Street. But whatever…just go visit Vermont!

For tourism and trip planning info, visit:

Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce

Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing






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One Last Hurrah….

We’re headed to Pennsylvania this weekend for one last getaway before school starts next week. As giddy as I am for the return to school days (cue angelic harp music), I’m sad that our traveling will be curtailed for the next several months. The Boy begins middle school, so it’s even tougher on him now to miss days and make up all the work.

So we’re going out with a bang and a BIG cow (or two)! The focus of our trip is the new Turkey Hill Experience in Lancaster County, an interactive, museum-ish tour that the ice cream company opened this summer. The kids will get to milk some (not real) cows, and we’ll all get to stuff our faces with ice cream.

Turkey Hill

Credit: TurkeyHillExperience.com

Speaking of face-stuffing, we’re also going to visit several other food factories in the area. York, Lancaster, and Chester counties are full of them; the area is known as the “snack food corridor.” So, Points Plus be (temporarily) damned, here’s the calorific countdown for the next several days:

Revonah Pretzel Bakery, Inc.

Snyder’s of Hanover



Martin’s Chips

Wolfgang Candy

Turkey Hill Experience

Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery

Wilbur Chocolate Co.

Hey, on an unrelated but exciting note, have you seen us profiled on SecondAct.com? Please take a look at our Florida trip on the “My Vacation” page! Our photos of Splitsville and the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa, the Mirror Lake Shuffleboard Club in St. Pete, and the Sea Screamer speedboat in Clearwater live on in this article on our road trip over the holidays. We were thrilled to be included, despite the fact that it’s a site for “Boomers.” I guess at 41, I’m encroaching on that phase, huh?

Speed boat

Remember our freezefest on the world's largest speed boat?


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