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Trip Report: yk with 9-year-old in Philadelphia; Feb 2022

Trip Report: yk with 9-year-old in Philadelphia; Feb 2022

Old Feb 27th, 2022, 01:52 PM
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Trip Report: yk with 9-year-old in Philadelphia; Feb 2022

Here in Massachusetts, public schools have a weeklong vacation in February. This is our first time taking a vacation out of state in 2 years. My son is 9 and is in third grade.

Three years ago we went to Lisbon
yk's TR: Lisbon with a child, Feb 2019

Two years ago (our last vacation out of state) we went to San Diego
4 days in San Diego w/kid using public transportation

Preamble:
I debated back-and-forth whether we would do yet another staycation, or venture out of our comfort zone now that all the adults in our family have been boosted, and my son is fully vaccinated. I would say I am rather risk-averse when it comes to covid (we haven't done indoor dining since summer 2021) even though we are healthy and not-that-old. But we do see my mom and ILs frequently so we try to be more careful as we don't want to get them infected (despite them being boosted).

In the end I picked Philadelphia given that 1) it is not TOO far from Boston, 2) 20 years ago I lived there for 6 years, so I'm familiar with it, and 3) we can both learn about the American Revolution.

Getting there:
I didn't decide until the Omicron surge was clearly on its way down, which meant all the good airfares were gone. In the end, I booked us on Business class on Amtrak (not Acela) because price was about the same as flying. Wiith business class tickets we get assigned seats AND I can cancel and get full refunds up until the last minute (in case we need to cancel). Also, when you add in the extra time of getting to/from the airports and arriving early for security, it doesn't seem a 6-hr train ride takes that much longer. I also like the idea that Philadelphia's train station is within walking distance to our hotel.

Lodging:
Normally I would rent an AirBnB so we can do our cooking and have more space. I did check the listings but didn't really like what I saw... so hotel it is. Prices are pretty cheap to my pleasant surprise. In the end, I picked the Notary Hotel (family of Marriott) located at 13th and Filbert Street, at the NE corner of City Hall plaza. 8 years ago we had stayed at the Residence Inn next door. I picked it based on price, reviews, and most importantly location. Being right in the middle of center city means we can walk to either end of center city without much trouble (1 mile to each direction). Not to mention it is 1 block from Reading Terminal Market, 3 blocks from the heart of Chinatown. I figured it would be fairly easy to get takeout and bring it back to our room to eat without the food getting cold.

I would give this hotel a 5*. Originally we were assigned a room on an upper floor facing City Hall. No doubt it would have provided a fantastic view of the city. However, I am very sensitive to noise so I asked for a room facing the back instead (13th street). Even though we ended up on the 5th floor, street noise was manageable. I also assume there were few guests in the hotel during our stay (Monday-Saturday) as we rarely heard hallway noise nor noise from neighboring rooms. The rooms are HUGE by city standard. Room service was not available (I assume due to low occupancy) but there is a coffee bar in the lobby. There is also in-room coffee maker and a mini-fridge. The mini-fridge is a huge bonus as we bought granola, yogurt and fruit from local supermarket and make our own yogurt parfaits for daily breakfasts in our room.

Getting around:
I know the city very well and as I said, the reason I picked this hotel is for its location. I didn't want to deal with Septa or ride-share. We walked everywhere... about 3-4 miles each day.
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Old Feb 27th, 2022, 02:58 PM
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Our spacious hotel room at 350 sq ft
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Old Feb 27th, 2022, 04:45 PM
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Day 1 & Day 2

Day 1 Monday (President's Day)
The train ride on Amtrak Regional service takes 6 hours from Boston -> Philadelphia. Even though the train is sold-out, not every seat was taken in Business class, though it was more full after we arrived in NYC. Wifi can be spotty, and our electric outlet didn't work. My son read / listened to audiobook the whole trip. We have checked out numerous kids books on the American Revolution so my son has some background knowledge (the "Who was?" series is great... they have George Washington, Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross etc; he also previously has read the Nathan Hale Hazardous Tales, and I survived the Revolutionary War).

We arrived at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station around 3:30pm. By the time we walked to the Notary Hotel and checked in, it was closer to 4:30pm. Weather-wise, it was the warmest and sunniest day of our trip so we went for a walk to stretch our legs. We passed through Chinatown all the way to Independence hall area where we located Ben Franklin's grave, On our way back we stopped at Giant Heirloom market at 8th/Market streets where we picked up breakfast supplies (fruits, yogurts, granola).

Although we thought about getting takeout, when we walked past chinatown we noticed most restaurants were quite empty. In the end we decided to do indoor dining. (Philadelphia required proof of vax during omicron surge, but rescinded that mandate 4 days prior to our arrival.) We ate at a Japanese ramen place called Yamitsuki ramen on 11th/Arch. I had ramen (it was so-so) while my son had curry tonkatsu ("very good"). Dinner was $33.

Day 2 (Tuesday)
Most museums are closed Mon/Tue. We picked this day to visit Franklin Institute. ($88 for HP special exhibition, which includes the rest of the museum) When I was doing pre-trip research, I found out they are hosting the world premiere of a Harry Potter exhibition, which opened the weekend before. Due to its popularity, I purchased our tickets in advance. It was shocking to see how many people were there for the exhibition (it was sold out for the day). I was even more shocked to see so many people, kids and adults alike, dressed in Harry Potter merchandise. I'm a Gen X and although I did read a few of HP books, I was probably a bit too old when they came out so I never caught the craze. Anyway, the exhibition is really quite something, though it was simply too crowded, especially during a pandemic. We would have spent more time there if it hadn't been so crowded.

The rest of the Franklin Institute was interesting too. We ate lunch at the cafe which I do not recommend. Choices are few and pricey (most are kids foods such as cheeseburgers, pizza, mac & cheese). We spent $20 on a small bowl of mac & cheese (it was about 1 measuring Cup), 1 bag of chips, and a vegan kale/farro salad. Altogether we spent 5 hours at the museum.

The Academy of Natural Sciences is right next door so I thought we could go there, except that it is closed on Tuesdays. Since most other museums are closed as well, we walked all the way back to Independence Hall area and visited the National Park Visitors Center to pick up a map, as well as the Junior Ranger activity book. My son has been to a number of National Park places and has been collecting Junior Ranger badges since he was 5? At the Visitors Center there are 2 movies — one by the NPS and one by the City of Philadelphia. We watched both. By then it was around 4pm so we walked over to Liberty Bell Center (free). There were hardly anyone there (park rangers outnumbered visitors) and we got the Liberty Bell all to ourselves.

For dinner, we returned to Chinatown and tried a chinese noodle place called Nan Zhou Hand Pulled Noodles at Race/10th streets. We each had a bowl of noodles and we shared a plate of chinese greens. Dinner was $42. On the walk back we passed by a dessert place called A La Mousse. Tempted by the displays, we ended up spending $20 on 2 slices of cakes which we ate back in our hotel room.

Last edited by yk; Feb 27th, 2022 at 05:21 PM.
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Old Feb 27th, 2022, 05:21 PM
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Day 3

Day 3 Wednesday
At the NHP (National Historic Park) visitors center yesterday, the park ranger told us to try to arrive at Independence Hall (free) by 9am, in order to join the first guided tour at 9:15am. Despite our best efforts, we didn't arrive until 9:15am so we had to wait around for the next tour at 9:45am. The park ranger was great though, asking our group (at least half a dozen of kids) lots of questions and handing out NP trading cards. The tour group is limited to 17 people. The tour lasted 30 minutes, we spent 15 minutes in 2 rooms, the court room and then the assembly room. The latter is where the Declaration of Independence and the USS Constitution were debated, voted on and signed. Congress Hall next door was open (where the Congress met until 1800 when the Capital was moved to DC), but the "Great Essentials" exhibit was closed.

We then visited the "Presidents House," an outdoor site which highlights slavery, then on to the National Constitution Center (free for us as we have NARM membership). I have to say, the NCC is a bit too advanced for my son (even more me!). They have a 15-min live show about the Constitution (there were no more than a dozen of us inside a big space), and the interactive display upstairs is really detailed. Anyone who has a strong interest can easily spend half a day there reading all the displays.

It was quite a nice day so we ate lunch on a bench right outside the NCC. We bought a caprese sandwich ($6.50) to share from the Giant Heirloom market earlier in the morning. Afterwards we walked over to Betsy Ross House. ($13) I was a bit skeptical (think: gimmicky) but we both enjoyed it a lot. My son, having read the book on Betsy Ross, seemed to be blown away by the fact that we were in HER house, and we stood in the same tiny parlor where she received George Washington. The house offers self-guided tour or audio tour. We chose self-guided; there were displays in each room. When we got to her first floor shop, we met "Betsy" – a role-playing actress. Since we were the only visitors, we chatted with her for a good while, asking her about life during the revolution and her business etc. It was really informative and my son loved it.

Our last stop in Old City is Franklin's court where there is a ghost structure of Ben Franklin's house, and also the Ben Franklin's Museum. ($7) The printing office unfortunately is closed (due to covid). We visited the museum, which is manageable in size. Since we have read about Ben Franklin's life in books, the museum more or less reinforces our knowledge, from his humble beginnings (he ran way to Philadelphia) to all his inventions and innovations (establishing fire brigade, the first hospital etc), and of course later on, his involvement with the revolution.

We were really tired by then, but given it was such a beautiful day (sunny in the 60s) and knowing that the rest of our stay was going to be cold/rainy, I persuaded my son to walk to Rittenhouse Square by bribing him with ice cream from Scoop Deville at the Bourse building. Let me just say, coming from Boston where they is no shortage of ice cream shops, I am stunned by the lack of ice cream places and shocked by the prices. We each had a small ice cream cone and it ended up being $15! On our way to Rittenhouse Sq, I pointed out to my son the apartment building where I had lived. Every center city resident seemed to have the same idea as Rittenhouse Sq was packed with people enjoying this spring-like day. We rested for around 45 minutes before my son begged me to return to the hotel.

My son requested to return to Nan Zhou Hand pulled noodles for dinner, so we did. This time he had scallion pancakes and dumplings; I had another bowl of noodles (this time I asked for knife-cut noodles instead of hand pulled ones, just for comparison). Dinner was $27. After dinner we walked over to Macys, just in time for the Wanamaker Organ recital. Full confession: in the 6 years I lived in Philadelphia, I never once stepped inside the Wanamaker building to check out the organ. It is magnificent and i urge you to read about its storied history. It is considered as the world's largest pipe organ.



Assembly room inside Independence Hall

Parlor in Betsy Ross house where she received George Washington

Wanamaker organ inside Macy's at 13th/Market streets.


Last edited by yk; Feb 27th, 2022 at 05:24 PM.
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Old Feb 27th, 2022, 06:03 PM
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Day 4

Day 4 Wednesday
Chilly grey skies greeted us; temperatures have dropped 35F overnight from close to 70F the afternoon before, to barely above freezing this morning. No matter, we took a brisk, 1.5-mile walk to Independence Seaport Museum on the Delaware River, pausing at the Irish Memorial en route. We used our NARM membership to get in for free, but we paid $20 for the 11am USS Becuna tour as my son has never been inside a submarine. There were just 4 of us on tour (which was good, given how claustrophobic it is inside the submarine), and our enthusiastic tour guide led us on an hour-long tour of it. Back at the museum itself, we were the only visitors there all morning. Some of the exhibits feel a bit dated, but nonetheless interesting.

Our next stop is the relatively new Museum of the American Revolution (free with NARM) which opened its doors in 2017. We had some sandwich and chips in the cafe, then went for the introductory film. The exhibit is upstairs in a counter-clockwise direction, starting with life as a colonist in the mid 1700s. I have to say, the museum experience is top notch. The displays are attractive, words are large enough to read from a distance, and just the right amount of multimedia. When you're tired of reading, the next stop usually is either a visual or audio segment. There are also multiple tableaux, and interactive displays. You can go in-depth at some of them, or not. I also liked how they include the minorities in the narrative – women, slaves, native indians. Often when we visit Revolutionary sites, we hear the same stories (one if by land, two if by sea; or "shot heard around the world") yet others in the story were forgotten. Another film is upstairs about George Washington, and at the end you get a BIG REVEAL (not sure if I should give the spoiler here?) Anyway, I was very impressed by this museum and I highly recommend it.

On our walk home, we stopped at Bassett's ice cream ($5 for a small) at Reading Terminal Market before – my son's request – return to Macy's for another Wanamaker Organ recital! This time we found out there is a organist cam next to the organ console, where we can watch the organist play on a screen. It was a different organist this afternoon, and at the end of the recital, he invited us to the console so we could see it with our own eyes and answered our questions. My son said that was THE highlight of this trip.

That night we tried a different chinese restaurant on 11th street between Arch & Race called Tom's Dim Sum. We shared the pork soup dumplings (xiao long bao), a plate of chinese greens, and five spice beef. Dinner was $42.
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Old Feb 27th, 2022, 06:24 PM
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I always enjoy your trip reports - I can't believe your son is nine already. Sounds like it was great trip all around (the hotel room seems really large for a central city property)

I hope to do a 3 or 4 day trip to either Philly or Boston in the Fall mainly for revolution/colonial sites. Haven't yet decided - was semi leaning to Boston but your TR has given me a lot of good info and Philadelphia is moving up on the list..
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Old Feb 28th, 2022, 02:30 AM
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Great trip report. love all the details and photos. Interesting that M-yk thought organ recictal was highlight. Music lessons paying off? Or maybe his talent will be music.
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Old Feb 28th, 2022, 04:37 AM
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Thanks for another great TR. it seems like we get to see the baby turn into a young man as we read along.
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Old Feb 28th, 2022, 05:23 AM
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Thanks for the trip report. That was so nice of the organist to invite you to see the console. The whole trip sounds like a great experience to share with your son. He is a lucky boy.

So you were in Philadelphia and did not have a cheesesteak???

Last edited by schmerl; Feb 28th, 2022 at 05:26 AM.
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Old Feb 28th, 2022, 06:30 AM
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Day 5/Day 6

Day 5 - Friday

Today is our last full day in Philadelphia. We started off with a visit to the Mütter museum ($35) for my own interest. The museum website recommends children 10+ to visit; I considered this and thought my son would also find it interesting. Well, I was wrong. Some of the initial exhibits he really enjoyed (iron lung machine, marie curie's inventions), but once we got to the "meat" of the museum, he really didn't enjoy it, though he was by certain displays (eg the soap lady, the Mutter giant, the various pins/needles/buttons etc that were retrieved from patient's airways).

Afterwards, I gave him a choice between Penn Museum (ancient artifacts) or Academy of Natural History, and he chose the latter. This was the museum that we tried to go on Tuesday only to find it was closed.

En route, we stopped for lunch at Bao-logy, a modern Taiwanese eatery at JFK/19th streets. Indoor dining is closed and you have to order everything online, but they have a few tables and chairs outside. We got 3 types of gwa baos (pork belly, king mushroom, slow cooked beef) for $15. They were really delicious but we were frozen to the bone eating outside.

Admission at Academy of Natural History was $40 for the 2 of us, which I found it rather steep, considering it isn't that big and it's rather dated/tired-looking; on the plus side, the museum was fairly empty. The main level is mostly dinosaur exhibit while second floor has dioramas. There was a short film about how dioramas are made and the process of taxidermy, which was quite interesting. The top level has a space with small live animals (mostly insects and reptiles).

By mid-afternoon we were both rather wiped out so we went back to the hotel where I took a power nap. Around 5pm we set off again, this time to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where they have extended hours on Fridays and pay-as-you-wish admission. We stopped quickly at Rodin Museum for a look outside, then continued on to the Rocky steps. The sun was about to set and we had a nice view of the city from the top of the steps.

My son isn't into art, but he obliged and we zipped through the museum to look at several masterpieces. (this museum is the only place where I went many times while I lived here) I made a point of showing him the Marcel Duchamp urinal... ummm I mean "Fountain." My son wanted to see the armor collection so we ended our visit in those galleries.

We had a long walk back to Chinatown for dinner. Given it was Friday night, many places were packed. We checked both Tom's Dim Sum and Nan Zhou hand pulled noodles and decided they were too crowded for our comfort. Eventually we decided on a Japanese restaurant, Kabuki Sushi, at a stone's throw from our hotel. My son had chicken katsu, I had vegetable tempura udon. Both were really good. Dinner was $42. When we returned to our hotel, it was noticeably more lively in the lobby ahead of the weekend.

Day 6 Saturday
Our train was not until 1:20pm so we still have the morning free. Except that most places don't open until 10am which wouldn't give us much time to visit. My solution to that was hopping across the street to the Septa Transit "Museum" where they have some history about their street cars and an actual trolley. You can imagine our disappointment when we arrived only to find that it is closed, even though I had checked its website beforehand which clearly states it opens at 10am on Saturdays. The security guard informed us that Septa changed the hours just the day before, and she was just finding that out when she reported to work this morning. So, with a little over an hour to kill, we took a walk to South Street, saw the Magic Gardens from the outside (it opens at 11am), and wound our way back passing the original building of Pennsylvania Hospital from the 1700s (established by Ben Franklin and Dr Thomas Bond).

For lunch, I got a Philly cheesesteak from Reading Terminal Market, my son opted for spaghetti. We brought it back to our hotel room to eat. The cheesesteak was a foot long and despite having walked 20 miles in the past 5 days, I could only finish half of it. (Spoiler alert: I saved the other half for leftovers the next day and neither myself nor my DH died from meningitis). That was the end of our trip as we checked out and walked the 1 mile back to 30th Street Station to catch our train home.

Thank you for reading and I am happy to answer any questions you may have!

My son checking out the iron lung at Mütter museum

Evening View of Philadelphia skyline from the top of Rocky steps at Philadelphia Museum of Art

Details at Magic Gardens

Last edited by yk; Feb 28th, 2022 at 06:35 AM.
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Old Feb 28th, 2022, 07:47 AM
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Nice report, and timely, as we're planning a trip there in the next few weeks. Thanks.
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Old Feb 28th, 2022, 09:53 AM
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Wonderful TR, yk! Thanks for sharing so much detail and great pix. That your DS loved the organ recital the most is so interesting....how will this affect his piano practice?! Nice that you had a good weather day as well. Another brava, yk!
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Old Feb 28th, 2022, 12:12 PM
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Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts
I was really glad we made this trip! Even though I lived in Philadelphia for 6 years, I saw/visited way more places during these 6 days than those 6 years.

February in Philadelphia is definitely tolerable, especially if you live in cold(er) climes! Temperatures that week ranged from around freezing to 68F, we had sun, wind and rain, so definitely pack layers and an umbrella! The best part is the lack of tourists. I'm sure covid has a lot to do with it, but Feb is also low season, so you're not elbow-to-elbow with visitors. [Although several states, MA, CT, NY etc all have the same Feb vacation week, PA schools do not get that week off besides Presidents Day Monday.] E.g. Independence Hall doesn't require advanced ticket booking for Jan and Feb apart from presidents day weekend. And if you are fairly fit, you really can walk everywhere within Center City and not have to deal with public transit or ride share.

Costs
I am used to traveling frugally by finding the best deals and locking in prices way in advance. However, this was pre-pandemic, when life was simpler with fewer surprises. With covid, I want to be safer with cancellable bookings and to be more in control.

Train tickets (2 business class r/t) $400
Hotel (5 nights) $1000
Food $ 380
Sightseeing (for 1 adult/1child): $210 (we saved close to $100 with our NARM membership)

So altogether it was a $2000 trip which I consider fairly pricey for a short hop to Philadelphia from Boston. I could have driven but I don't like the idea of just myself driving the whole way there and back, not to mention potential wintry weather. Besides, hotel parking is close to $50/day. We also could have gotten coach train tickets for much less, and we could have eaten at cheaper places as well. But considering we haven't really done any traveling for 2 years, I say this was worth it for our comfort and peace of mind.
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Old Feb 28th, 2022, 02:35 PM
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Thanks for your trip report. It has given me lots of ideas for our next trip to see our daughter in NYC. We may do a side trip to Philadelphia, to give us all a break.
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Old Feb 28th, 2022, 08:33 PM
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The only thing I know about you is....

You are a Rockstar Mom.
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Old Mar 1st, 2022, 08:26 AM
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Thanks to everyone who took time to read my TR and for all your lovely comments.

now on to April vacation... where to?
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Old Mar 1st, 2022, 12:57 PM
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Nice trip report and lovely photos. Can't believe m-yk is 9! It was fun to catch his enthusiasm over the different sites you visited. Sounds like you splurged on all the right things. As others have commented, it makes me want to plan a trip there, haven't been in a while. Part of my family lived in Rittenhouse. Thanks for sharing your trip.

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Old Mar 3rd, 2022, 06:42 AM
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Enjoyed your trip report. I’m an hour from Philly and when I would take field trips there I was always saddened that 99% of my students had never been to the city except for a sporting event or concert. You are an awesome parent!
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Old Mar 7th, 2022, 01:20 AM
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I really enjoyed reading your report. It is someplace I would like to visit.
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Old Mar 7th, 2022, 06:15 AM
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Enjoyed your report yk and I'm amazed that your nine year old son willingly visited so many museums and other historic sites and actually enjoyed them Kuddos to both of you.
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