Yellow Van Travels: A Family Travel Blog

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Philadelphia Travel Guide (and day trip ideas!)

We spent a whirlwind 3 days in Pennsylvania. During those few days we drove all over the state and experienced a lot of fun and interesting things. In this post, I've put together the perfect one day travel guide for Philadelphia as well as a few other day trip ideas.


Make sure to start out your day as early as possible. We chose to park at the National Constitution Center for the day. Your first stop should be to the Visitor's Center just across the street from the Constitution Center to pick up your tickets to see Independence Hall

After your tickets are picked up, we suggest going right to the Liberty Bell first thing. The line gets longer as the day goes on. When we went shortly after it opened, we didn't have to wait in line at all. Also when we got to see the Liberty Bell, we were able to easily get around it and have good views. 

If you have early tickets for Independence Hall, head over there right after you finish the Liberty Bell. You need to be at the security line about 20 minutes before the time on your tickets. Check out more info on Independence Hall here. After your tour, there are a few other free tours in the same building that do not require tickets that we highly recommend you visit. 

After Independence Hall, make sure to head back over to the National Constitution Center. There are lots of fun and interactive exhibits. 

The rest of the afternoon, you can spend at Franklin Court. There is a really fun museum, a print shop and a few other exhibits about Benjamin Franklin. We found this to be a true hidden gem in Philadelphia. 

If you have time at the end of your day, make sure to head over to see the LOVE Statue. Usually it is housed at LOVE Park (JFK Plaza), but while they are renovating the park it has been temporarily re-located to Dilworth Park. Reading Market is in the same area and is also a great stop!

Other Day Trips:

If you're in Philadelphia for more than a day, here are a few other things that we did while we were there that we highly recommend you take the time to visit. 

Valley Forge

Valley Forge is just outside of Philadelphia and it is such a great stop! It doesn't take more than a few hours to go through and is so beautiful and full of history. Check out our experience at Valley Forge here


Gettysburg is another beautiful and historic place that you could spend all day at. There is a beautiful museum and fun experiences as well as the battleground itself. If you finish visiting the grounds and museum, check out the cute little tourist town of Gettysburg. Check out our full review here


Located in northern Pennsylvania, Susquehanna is a small town that you have to want to go to to get there. If you are LDS (or even if you're not) going to Susquehanna and seeing the Priesthood Restoration Site is an amazing experience. This was one of my favorite things we did during our trip to Pennsylvania. The surrounding area is absolutely beautiful and the site is absolutely amazing. You can see what we thought by reading our post here.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Franklin Court and the Benjamin Franklin Museum

A couple blocks from Independence Hall is a nondescript brick building, a tunnel like pass leads in to a courtyard where the home of Benjamin Franklin once stood. This area is known as Franklin Court. Franklin Court is managed by the National Parks Service and contains several different areas, all dedicated to the life of Benjamin Franklin. The largest area and the one you will spend the most time in is the Benjamin Franklin Museum.

How to Get There:

If you have parked at the National Constitution Center and are seeing the city center sites around Independence Hall then Franklin Court is just a short walk away. If you are standing facing Independence Hall from across the street you just turn left and walk a few blocks. You will have to cross to the Independence Hall side of the street at one of the lights. There will be sign posts pointing the directions to the various historical sites and you just have to follow the ones showing the way to Franklin Court. Don't get confused by signs pointing toward Franklin Square, this is a different place entirely. 

Be aware that the Franklin Court sites close at 5:00 PM during the off season (September to May). If you are going during the summer check their website for the current  hours. Just make sure to give yourself enough time for your visit. It is best if you can start your historic Philadelphia activities early in the day so you can avoid long lines and have plenty of time for everything.

What You Will See:

The areas of Franklin Court are: the Benjamin Franklin Museum, the Print Shop, the Post Office, the Ghost House, and the Fragments of Franklin Court. Each of these has something to teach you about the life of Benjamin Franklin, but the museum is the most involved and will take the most time.

Benjamin Franklin Museum

Readers who have been following the blog for a while know that I like museums a lot, but because of my own work in the museum field I can sometimes be critical of the educational impact of their exhibits. The Benjamin Franklin Museum however, was one of the best designed museums I have ever visited. 

In the museum you learn about the life of Benjamin Franklin through the lenses of five qualities he prized. Each section of the museum focuses on a different quality with displays, artifacts, and media explaining what Franklin thought and did about each of them. There is a good balance in the museum between different types of information. The animation style they used in their video displays wasn't my favorite, but that's not too big of a complaint.

The museum costs $5.00 for adults and $2.00 for children. You pay at the front desk when you enter the museum building but all of the exhibits are downstairs underneath the buildings and the court yard. You should allow about an hour for the museum, because it is a focused museum it doesn't take too long but there is quite a bit that you can do there. 

Print Shop

The print shop is probably the second coolest thing to see at Franklin Court, so if you are short on time after seeing the museum be sure to go here next. The print shop is on the left side of the tunnel if you are looking from inside the square, there are signs but they aren't always easy to see. The door immediately to the left of the tunnel goes to the Fragments of Franklin Court exhibit, but if you go around the side you will find two doors that go to the print shop, you enter through the one on the right and you will exit through the one on the left. 

The print shop is not where Benjamin Franklin's actual shop was, but it is set up to look like a shop from his time period. National Park rangers run the fully functioning printing shop and will explain all the different parts to you. I think during busy times they might be a little more formal about it, but when we were there there weren't many people so they just answered question that we asked. It is fun to see real printing demonstration. 

Seeing the print shop is free and should take you between 10 and 30 minutes.

Post Office

The post office is on the right side of the tunnel, but it was closed the day we were there so we don't know much about it. Just like the print shop you enter it from the door inside the courtyard rather than the one facing the street.

The purpose of the post office is to commemorate Benjamin Franklin's role as the organizer of the postal system and first post master general. I am told that it still functions as a post office so you can actually send mail from it.

Ghost House

I don't know what goes through your mind when you read the words "ghost house" but it's probably not what it actually is. In this case ghost house has nothing to do with Halloween and is actually referring to the outline of Franklin's old house that use to stand in the court. You can see how large it was because there is wrought iron frame in the exact dimensions of the house. 

Covered holes inside the house frame let you look down on pieces of the actual foundation of Benjamin Franklin's house, and engraved paving stones throughout the court tell you where different parts of the home and grounds were located. 

It is pretty cool to see especially if you have just been to the museum and learned all about Franklin's life. It will only take you a few minutes to walk around see it.

Fragments of Franklin Court

This is a special exhibit run by the National Parks rangers and it is inside the door immediately to the left of the court's entrance tunnel. It turns out that among the many thing Benjamin Franklin created in his life time, one of them was a fire proof house. This building happens to be that house and it has been stripped down to bare walls to show the things that Franklin did to make it fire proof. 

I get the sense that this must be the loneliest ranger job in the city because there is just a single ranger at the exhibit and it seemed like very few people stop to see it. It's kind of cool to see, and really doesn't take very long. It does however involve climbing stairs which means that it is not a fully accessible site. There is no cost for going in. 

Sum Up:

Franklin Court as a whole gives you a great glimpse into the life of one of America's greatest founders. It isn't on the absolute must see list for Philadelphia, if your strapped for time or lines are long then you'll want to focus on Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. But I think if you can make the time to see it you definitely should. It is a great place especially to take kids who may not have liked standing in line al that time for the Liberty Bell this is a place where they can get some hands on time and learn something in the process.

As a side note Benjamin Franklin's grave is located not far from here in the cemetery at Christ's Church. We were unable to visit it on this trip, but I have been there before. Some people like to visit graves, some people don't, do whatever suits you.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia

Right in the middle of historic downtown Philadelphia, is a modern building to house an education center for the Constitution of the United States. Just on the opposite end of the plaza from Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center stands as a place of education about one of the most important documents in American history.

How to Get There:

The National Constitution Center is pretty easy to get to if you are already in Downtown Philly, you can just follow the signs. Or if you have any kind of modern GPS, you can easily find the National Constitution Center. If you would like to park at the National Constitution Center, you can enter the parking garage from Race Street.

What You Will See There:

At the National Constitution Center, there are a few different parts to the center that you can go and explore. Most of the places in the Constitution Center do not allow photographs which is why we don't have a lot photos in this post. There are also some exhibits that are temporary and change quite frequently so be sure to check out their website for more details.

Sydney Kimmel Theater

This theater is a unique, multimedia experience. There are actors that speak in conjunction with video that is projected on the floor and on a circular screen. As of the publishing of this post, the show going on in the theater is called "Freedom Rising" and it is all about the freedoms we have as Americans and how we got those freedoms.

Interactive Displays

As you leave the Theater, you will enter into a circular interactive display that is set up similar to a museum experience. There are lots of interactive exhibits that help you learn about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, their history, and what they look like in action in the world. This was probably my favorite part of the whole Constitution Center.

Signers' Hall

This is one of the only places in the center that allows photos. In this area, you can sign the Constitution and add your name with those of the original signers. Also in this hall, there are life-sized bronze statues of all of the original signers of the Constitution. 

Sum Up:

The National Constitution Center was a great experience. It is definitely worth a stop if you are visiting the other historic sites nearby. Tickets for adults are $14.50 for adults and $8-$13 for kids depending on age. It was a great experience that really reminded me about what the Constitution and Bill of Rights really mean and what they look like in action today. 

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Chalk The Block at the Riverwoods

Every year in September the Riverwoods outdoor mall in Provo, UT hosts one of my favorite events, Chalk the Block. Artists from around the area come to do their best drawings in parking stalls at the Riverwoods in support of a good cause. We have attended Chalk the Block three years now and this coming weekend (September 22-24) will be our fourth time.

How to Get There

The Riverwoods mall is located in the northern most part of Provo just before the mouth of Provo Canyon. You just take University Avenue north in Provo and the mall will be on your left. There is a large sign with electronic screens on it at the entrance. 

It is not hard to find, but during events parking can be difficult. This is especially true of Chalk the Block where all of the parking spaces at the front end of the mall are being drawn in by artists. Normally it is best to turn left at the entrance sign and head west until you get the the parking lot for the movie theater and try to park there. If you luck out and find parking it is just a short walk across the parking lot to the mall. If you don't find parking follow signs to the overflow lots where they have shuttles to bring you back to the mall.

What You Will See

You will see lots of amazing chalk art. Beyond that it is hard to say, you can see many different types, styles, and themes of art at Chalk the Block. Depending on which day you go will determine how finished the drawings will be when you see them. If you go on the Thursday you won't see much done but you will see lots of artists working on their pieces. If you go on Saturday most of the pieces will be done so you won't see much of the drawing taking place. 

You just walk up and down the rows of parking spaces looking at the different drawings. There are many different skill levels at the event so you will see all kinds, including special "featured" artists who get large spaces and do more complex drawings. Some drawing will be "perspective" drawings and will have a certain place where you should stand to appreciate the full effect. 

Here is just a sampling of what we have seen at Chalk the Block:

Sum Up

Chalk the Block is a really fun free family activity. It is great for kids because so many of the pictures are often of things kids like. It is hard to predict what the weather will be like in September in Provo so make sure if it is hot that you bring water with you. Of course since it takes place in a parking lot the event is fully wheelchair and stroller friendly. Plan on at least and hour or two to see all the drawings. 

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

The LDS Priesthood Restoration Site

A place becomes sacred because of what happens there. Gettysburg which I wrote about last week, became a hallowed place because of the sacrifice men made while there. It became sacred because of what was lost, in contrast the area formerly known as Harmony, Pennsylvania is sacred to the Latter-day Saints (Mormons), not because of what was lost but because of what was restored there. Priesthood, the power of God given to man, had been absent from the earth for centuries and in this nondescript corner of the world it was brought back. For more on the history please see this link.

The LDS church has just recently done a full scale rebuilding of the site complete with visitor center/chapel, rebuilding of the Smith and Hale homes on their original foundations, and easier access to the river. Having served as a missionary in Northern Pennsylvania when there was still nothing but a single monument and earthen mounds over the foundations this recent visit was very emotional for me.

How to Get There:

The chances of you ever just happening to be passing by the Priesthood Restoration site are extremely slim. The town of Susquehanna, Pennsylvania where it is now located is very small and out of the way. You will get to the site on Highway 171, it is on this Highway so that is the only road you can take to get there. Depending on which direction you are coming from you might come in on I-81 which is the closest interstate to the site. A lot of people will likely come from New York because they will be visiting other LDS church history sites in the Palmyra area. They will come South on I-81 and the head East when it junctures with Highway 171.

In the old days there use to be a small parking lot next to granite shaft that memorialized the event of Priesthood restoration and that was what you would see first. With the reconstruction of the site there is now a beautiful chapel on the property that has a visitor center inside it and much larger parking lot. You will the see the church, you can't really miss it, but you might miss the driveway which runs along the steeple side of the church. 

What You Will See:

Visitor Center/Chapel

When you park in the parking lot the visitor center will be the doors on your far right, next to the statue depictions of the Priesthood restoration. Enter through these doors and you will immediately be greeted by missionaries who will help you know where to go and what to do. Immediately inside the doors is a scale model/map of the whole site. You can press buttons along the outside edge to have a light highlight different areas.

When we arrived at the visitor center they were just ready the begin a tour so we went right in to the movie that shows a dramatized version of the events that happened here. The movie is the beginning of the tour. The film is about 20 minutes long and is actually quite good it is a new film that was made especially for this new visitor center and both Meagan and I really enjoyed it. 

If you arrive in between film showings you will have time to look around the visitor center before your official tour begins. It is a very impressive visitor center, one of the best I think I've been to. With my degree in instructional design I tend to look at visitor center/museum spaces with an eye towards learning, and in particular interactive learning. This visitor center focuses just on the events that took place here in LDS history, so it is not super large but you could spend a significant amount of time if you do and read/watch everything. 

Site Tour

Once you finish the movie a set of missionaries (either two sisters or a senior couple) will take you on a tour of the site. You will see the statues outside and then go past the sugar maple bush where historians guess the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood took place. Then you will pass under the highway in a tunnel that will take you to the Smith and Hale homes. 

The tour will take you first through the Hale home and then through the Smith home. I won't go into all the history here because I want you to go there and learn it. But I will say that these homes are beautiful restorations. They don't know too much about how they would have exactly looked inside, but they have mostly used real period pieces to furnish them and taken their best guess based on records at what they would have looked like. 


When you finish the official tour you will be free to walk around the site at your leisure and this is when you can visit the cemetery which is just a short walk away. In this cemetery you will find the graves of Emma's parents, the Hales, and the first child of Joseph and Emma who died shortly after birth.

You can see the cemetery from the Smith house where your tour ends, but finding the graves can be slightly tricky if you don't know where they are or what you are looking for. If you get lost just ask the missionaries, they can help you. If you are walking from the Smith home just keep left and head almost all the way to the far end of the cemetery. Look for two new looking headstones, the reason you are looking for new ones is because the old headstones have been encapsulated in more modern ones in order to preserve them and you can only see the new side when walking from the home sites. 

The two Hale headstones are easier to find because they are together, but one you do the grave of the Smith baby is just a few plots away.

Old Monument

As I mentioned before this granite shaft with a relief carving of John the Baptist restoring the Aaronic Priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey used to be the memorial for the entire site. It is still impressive and has an important history of its own. It was purchased in 1960 using funds donated by boys who held the Aaronic priesthood from around the world.

Sugar Maple Bush

 You can stop at the sugar maple bush on your way back to the visitor center. The words bush is a bit of a misnomer in this day and age because people probably think of a single shrub. It is more of a grove, and if you have visited the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York this will probably remind you of there. There are paths and benches through the area making it a good place to walk, sit, and ponder. 

Susquehanna River

You will have to drive to the river site which is either at or near where the baptisms of Joseph and Oliver took place. The river is actually very close to the old monument, but a railroad line runs between them making it so you can't walk there. For this reason it is often the last place people visit at this site. When you leave the visitor center turn left onto the highway. A short way down the road you will see a large blue sign showing you where to turn to get the river. You follow this road over the railroad tracks and then to the right until you reach the end of the road and the head of the trail that leads down to the river.

The trail will take you down to the river to the area where it is likely that Joseph and Oliver's baptisms took place. This a peaceful and beautiful spot to visit and to stand for a moment and ponder.

Sum Up:

This is a great site to visit. There is no cost for visiting and it is excellently set up to help you understand the history of the site and the doctrinal significance of it to the Latter-day Saints. All the trails are fully accessible so it is fine to bring strollers and wheel chairs on them, although I don't think they can get them inside the houses. You should expect to spend anywhere from 1-3 hours here. 

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell

No trip to Philadelphia would be complete without visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. These are two of the most historic sites in all of Philadelphia and they so key to the beginning of our American history.

How to Get There:

Once you get to downtown Philly, there are a few places you can park. The easiest places are at The Constitution Center (that is where we parked) or there is a small lot underneath the building that houses the Liberty Bell. 

For Independence Hall, you will need to go first to the Visitor's Center which is right next to the Liberty Bell. Go to the National Parks desk and you can get tickets to Independence Hall. Tours start at 10:00 and go every 30 minutes or so. 

For the Liberty Bell, be sure to go early to get in line at the building. As the day goes on the line can get very long. 

What You Will See:

At Independence Hall, you will first meet in a small waiting room where a park ranger will give you some information about the hall and introduce you to the site. You will then go to the main hall and see first the court room and then you will be taken to the room where the Constitution was signed. In each room, the park ranger will give you some more historical information and context for each room. After you tour you will exit the hall and then you can go to two of the other parts of Independence Hall. Those other parts do not require tickets. 

The Liberty Bell is housed inside of a small building. After going through security you will go through some nice displays that give the history of the Liberty Bell and how it is still a national symbol today. At the end of the display, you will see the actual Liberty Bell. Again, if you go early it won't be too crowded. But just be warned that the lighting for the bell is not that great so pictures do not turn out that great. 

Sum Up:

Make sure you stop at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall on your next trip to Philadelphia. For each place make sure that you come early and for Independence Hall make sure you get your tickets early. 

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