Monday, August 30, 2010

Vacation Recap - Pittsburgh, Day Three

Tuesday was our last day in Pittsburgh. It was another dreary day, but supposedly the rain was supposed to hold off until the afternoon, so we figured the zoo was in order. It's normally not the cheapest of activities (the family of, I think, one senior, two adults and three kids in line next to us was over $70!), but thanks to our membership at the zoo in Rochester, we got in for FREE. Woohoo! And while the Pittsburgh zoo is a nice zoo, I'm sort of happy we didn't have to pay. See, it's sort of a unique zoo in that they try to make the habitats as natural as possible. There are lots of wild grasses and things are built into the naturally hilly landscape. I'd have to think it's also an older zoo, because there are a lot of old rock walls separating people from animals. The biggest issue with all of this is that it gives the animals a lot of places to hide, and it's hard to get your kid in a stroller in any sort of reasonable position to see a lot of the animals. Jacob probably would have been in and out of the stroller all day anyway, but we HAD to pick him up a lot of the time because otherwise it was impossible to see anything. Even the monkey house makes me nuts, because the enclosures are a couple stories tall, with the observation area being about halfway up. They've slanted the windows in such a way that any kid near the ground can see almost nothing, and adults have to do a serious lean to see any monkeys hanging out on the floor. Annoying. I'm also a bit perplexed about how lazy the animals are there. Last year when we were there it was a HOT day, so I'd expect laziness. This time it was not, and yet the animals just weren't all that interesting. Odd. We did manage to see both the male and female lions very well, a glimpse of a snow leopard, a decent view of a tiger, some relatively active elephants, and some giraffes. The monkey house was disappointing, as half of them were sleeping and the other half weren't very visible--orangutans at the bottom of their enclosure, and gorillas either sitting or hiding out in their natural habitat. It was all fine, but just not quite the sizzle you hope from a big-city zoo.

However, the whole second half of the zoo is generally well worth admission, at least for our family's tastes. The zoo includes the PPG Aquarium, a lovely, modern aquarium with many cool features. Here's a picture of it from the walkway above...

The entrance has lovely waterfalls and ponds, and if you look at last year's post you can see the picture I took of Jacob in front of the otter statue. Here's the 2010 version, complete with baseball swing:
Once inside there are many tanks of unique fish--creepy sea dragons that look like plants but seem to be a bit like giant seahorses, turtles, eels, crazy colored starfish, an octopus (which, considering Jacob's obsession with octopi, was a little disappointing considering it was suctioned to the near upper corner of the tank, almost out of sight), and some really fun and active penguins. Unfortunately, a lot of the tanks are set up in a way that it is really hard to get a good picture considering darkness and flash reflection. There's also a two story aquarium with massive fish, and this lovely walkthrough rainforest-y type area heading down to the lower story (you come in up top, thanks to the hilly landscape). On the way down there are more tanks, including one with a stingray that really seemed to like Jacob. He swam right up and even tried climbing the glass so we got a great glimpse of his belly and mouth. Here he is...

Down below there's also a stingray tank with a crawl-through area and open tanks to touch the rays. We didn't trust Jacob to do the crawl-through on his own yet, nor did the big kids in it seem willing to move for a little guy. Maybe next time. On the way to this area, Jacob had a massive run-in with a woman walking through this open area. As usual, he wasn't watching where he was going, and he ran smack into her and fell hard. Then shortly after the picture below, he stepped off the step leading up to the touch tank without watching where he was going and fell HARD. Really hard. On tile. Poor kid, he is so clumsy. He was not a happy camper...until we walked him into the store, that is. Fortunately he had so much fun playing with the stuffed animals that he didn't end up begging us to buy him one, even though at that point we probably would have. He fell so hard that people actually came up to us after asking if he was ok. Ugh. Anyway, here he is in between falls checking out another stingray...

Outside of the aquarium are the polar bears and sea otters, as well as a giant shark tank that can be seen from the outside (see below) and from a giant walk-through tunnel down below. It may be a little hard to see, but depending on your screen brightness you may see a clear-as-day view of a shark!

There was one part of the zoo that we didn't get to last year due to rain and our schedule. It turned out that it was a pretty cool part. There were sea lions, and here's Jacob playing on a statue nearby. And yes, Craig is on the phone in the background, one of only a couple times I had to give him the "glare" to get off the phone and stop working!
This isn't a great picture, but Jacob loved the slides in this section. They had two smaller ones for little kids, and a few bigger ones (as well as a massive rope net climb) for bigger kids.

Again, this might be hard to see, but here are some river otters. The one on top seemed to be wanting to go for a swim, but kept settling back down. The one on the bottom (lighter brown) just kept snuggling in and trying to find a comfortable spot. We watched them (plus a third) for a long time hoping someone would swim!

Across from the otters were beavers, and beyond that there was a walk-through deer area and an aviary, as well as goats, sheep, a camel and a llama. By the time we got through all of that, it was nearly 4pm and it was time to head out. Jacob was beat and so were we...but a 5-1/2 hour drive still awaited. Ugh.

Jacob fell asleep almost immediately, and I drove the leg out of Pittsburgh. We got to the Grove City Outlets and decided to take a quick break to check a couple things there. Jacob woke up just as we got there. Definitely not a long enough nap for him, but it was late in the day so I guess it was just as well. Twenty minutes and one gift purchase later, it was back in the car for another hour or so. Our plan was to stop outside of Erie to eat at a Cici's Pizza, which if you've seen their commercials, you know is a fantastic pizza-pasta-salad buffet, all for $5. We ate at one when we went to Florida when I was newly pregnant, and it was HEAVEN after a long flight and with my bottomless pit of a stomach at that point in the pregnancy. I've been wanting to get back to one ever since (and now there's one in Syracuse, too!), and we made sure to schedule this one in. We ate a ton--though my stomach wished it was bigger because there were so many good pizzas, including mac & cheese pizza, buffalo chicken, and so many other pizzas I rarely get to eat because Craig is a pepperoni kind of guy--and eventually headed off. Craig drove the tough span from Erie to Buffalo because I needed a break. We kept Jacob occupied with the DVD player, among other things, and ended up driving to my parents' house for yet another break and to pick up some things I left with them after the picnic on Saturday that I didn't want to drive all the way to Pittsburgh with--namely, a huge portion of my cookie cake and Jacob's lacrosse sticks. It was a nice break but it also meant we didn't get home until after midnight. Fortunately Jacob fell asleep right after we left my parents', and stayed asleep once we got home. Whew.

It marked the end of a long journey, but our vacation still had one more day of togetherness left...more on that soon!

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