48 Hours in Indianapolis

It’s almost time to wrap up this summer, and it’s been so full of wonderful things that I’m really not ready. We’re not quite there yet, however, and we squeezed in one last mini-vacation this week.

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Mutsy, the stuffed dog that I’m holding, made it back to Indy this week; this time with Jonah

When I was a kid, maybe around ten or so (I’m guessing based on the photo of my sister and I above), my parents took us to Indiana to visit The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. We stayed at this amazing hotel where they’d turned old train cars into rooms. I actually remember the hotel more vividly than the museum, but my parents have always talked about what a great museum it was. Our kids love children’s museums and we’ve visited them pretty much everywhere we’ve taken the kids.

We arrived in Indianapolis on Sunday evening and had museum tickets for Tuesday, but hadn’t really done much planning for Monday. We knew that it was the eclipse that day and that it would be about 90% in Indianapolis, but we didn’t have glasses and didn’t have a definitive plan. We’d talked about visiting a place called Conner Prairie (weird fact, I kind of love historical make-believe museums – it takes me back to playing pretend as a kid) but I failed to realize that it wasn’t open on Mondays (or Tuesdays or Wednesdays, for that matter). Fortunately we had a backup plan and headed out to the Indianapolis Museum of Art 100 Acres Art & Nature Park. I guess it would be redundant to mention its size, but it’s a huge natural park full of sculptures. The only problem is that it was roughly 90 degrees and humid in the blazing sun. The kids enjoyed climbing on sculptures for a little while, though.

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He’s pointing out the skeleton’s butt, if you can’t tell

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After maybe an hour or so, Jonah had reached his breaking point and was thirsty and wanted to return to the hotel (foolishly we brought no water with us on the walk), but I knew that the eclipse was starting around 1:30 and didn’t really want to head indoors yet. We managed to find a (gorgeous) visitors center with A/C and a drinking fountain, not to mention stylish chairs.

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The kids perked up a bit after cooling off, and we finally decided that maybe it was time to head to lunch and figure out the eclipse thing from somewhere else (we didn’t have glasses anyway, only paper plates with pinholes) but once we walked back towards the car we saw people gathering in the open area for the eclipse, and I just couldn’t leave. Jonah was beside himself; he wanted to leave SO badly, but I had some snack bars in the car and that bought us a little time.

By some miracle, we met a woman named Jennifer who was there alone and was more than happy to share her pair of eclipse glasses with us. She said that she’d gotten them late in the game and felt that she ought to share the good fortune. We hung out with her until the eclipse was at its peak, and then we called it a day. The kids didn’t stay interested throughout, but whenever Jennifer would offer them another peek they would run over eagerly.

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Clearly staring right at the eclipse. Parenting fail.

We left the park and squeezed in a late lunch at a cute place with delicious food that accommodated us five minutes before close, and the frosé allowed me to forget about the beastly heat from earlier. The rest of the afternoon was a bit of a bust, since it was roughly 3:30 and raining and everything we were interested in doing was either closed due to weather or closing at 5:00 anyway. We ended that day feeling sort of lukewarm about Indianapolis as a destination, but we hoped that the museum would make up for it the next day.

We got up early on Tuesday and arrived at the museum before it even opened (K and I high-fived about this, because as anyone who knows us well can verify, we aren’t early to anything). This place is incredible. First, the Dinosphere, which is oddly beautiful and dramatic. The “sky” changes color from deep blue to magenta, clouds pass overhead and storms roll in with pretend lightning and thunder, the moon appears and comets fly across the sky. I didn’t count the number of dinosaurs, but I’d guess there were at least six or seven large ones and a number of other smaller ones. Some of them were even real fossils and not casts (according to signage). There are actual paleontologists at work in a lab on site and K talked to one while he worked on an actual t-rex bone.

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The kids can also take part in a “dino dig” nearby. At the end of the day, Jude and Vivienne declared that the dinosaurs were their favorite part of the whole museum.

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Next came the trains. They have a real steam engine along with lots of model trains, and Jude could barely pull himself away. He climbed into this tunnel below a larger model and followed that little train back and forth, back and forth within the tunnel for probably ten minutes. He was in love.

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Then came the space exhibit, which was made up like the kids were inside a shuttle or the ISS.

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I can’t even handle that tiny person (Vivi) inside a giant (yet child-sized) space suit.

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I don’t even remember what this next exhibit was called, but it was related to National Geographic and featured an Egyptian tomb, a shipwreck, and the Terracotta Warriors. Vivi is measuring a canon at the bottom of the ocean.

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We had lunch in the food court, which was surprisingly good and full of natural light, and everyone was ready for more. We headed to an exhibit on China in which you board an airplane and exit into a world of Chinese shops, restaurants, parks, and even a panda nursery.

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Notice Vivi doing tai chi along with K and the instructor, while Jude carries around a baby panda

Next we went up to the Playscape, an area for kids ages five and under. It didn’t blow me away, but the kids loved it (and I’m not five, so maybe that’s why). There was a machine that moved balls through pneumatic tubes and pathways, and Jonah couldn’t get enough of it (it was his favorite part of the whole museum – he always gravitates to interactive machines and loves to observe how things work). There was also a really nice climber that all of the kids enjoyed, as well as a sand table that I found to be rather serene and that Jonah also loved.

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We briefly checked out the dance exhibit, as well as a science room that was heavily sponsored by Dow and didn’t seem to be quite as broad or interesting as I would have liked (although the kids liked the water table, and Vivi loved driving a pretend tractor across a video of farm land), but we didn’t linger long in either exhibit. We ended with the circus exhibit, which did not disappoint.

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We closed the museum down, and I can’t say that I’ve ever opened and closed a museum (or any attraction, for that matter) before. It was seven hours of fun and we didn’t even make it to everything (but not for lack of trying). The kids were totally engaged throughout, and never melted down or asked to leave, which says a lot about how great this place is.

When we finally returned to the parking ramp and strapped them into their car seats, they were all asleep before we even started the car. We decided to risk an epic meltdown and wake them up to eat dinner in downtown Indy rather than trying to find some crappy chain restaurant in farm country on the drive home. We’re so glad we did. Although they all hated the idea of waking up and going anywhere they all perked up in the restaurant, and despite the swanky, hipster vibe at Nada, the service was awesome and they were great with the kids! Our server even brought three extra donuts at the end of the meal. I feel like the way a restaurant deals with an exhausted family with cranky small children after seven hours at a museum says SO much about an establishment. The food was awesome, and I wish we lived a lot closer.

When we go back to Indy we have Conner Prairie and the riverwalk on our agenda, and we’ll probably do a little more planning next time, but it was absolutely worthwhile and a great way to close out our summer travels.

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