The dinosaur part of the museum is the bit that the lady at the desk recommended as a must see and it was incredible. We walked into a giant jungle where the sky changed from dawn to dusk in about a half and hour and was filled with skeletons and smells and sounds and interactive screens and surprises around every corner. You could participate in your own dig as well as peep into the palaeontologist's lab, like a hamster cage, it had a glass wall and you could see what there were doing in there making little resin skulls and labeling bone fragments and spreading around cedar chips, there wasn't even a sign that said don't feed or poke the paleontologists so we stopped and talked to him through his little window. Well, actually Ella went running off to do a skeleton puzzle while I talked to him, but he told me about the Dracorex Hogwartsia (literally meaning "Dragon King of Hogwarts".) This dino found in South Dakota looks remarkably like a dragon and even made the cover of National Geographic.
We played on through salt water aquariums, model trains and a full scale engine car, and the underside of a colored glass sculpture before I realised we'd been there an hour and hadn't left the first floor yet.
Over the next three hours we moved through more floors with ease running up and down the spiraling ramp that surrounds the massive glass Chihuly sculpture (the largest permanent installation in the world).
At one point in our exploration when we ventured into "The Power of Children: Making a difference" exhibit. I knew it was for kids a little older when we walked in, but I figured I'd be ok if I perused a bit with Ella in tow. It was good for her to be exposed to a little activism early, but then the next thing I know there was a lady beckoning as the last seating for the play at the secret annex was "right now!" and if we wanted to see the show we should go there immediately and Ella was pulling me by the hand into a room and then she was asking questions about the door in the wall and all the things in the room and next a dozen of us all sat down on little squares of wood facing a small stage with a single wooden desk.
It all happend very fast and then the lights dimmed and a very distinguished, thin man with far away eyes stepped onto the stage and introduced himself as Otto Frank. For the next seven minutes he told us about his daughter Anne and her diary, what had become of them in the annex and after the soldiers took them away and I with my young daughter fidgeting quietly in my lap completely lost any shred of composure I thought I might keep. After the actor stepped out of character and asked for any questions, we ducked out and I found a box of tissue just outside the door and grabbed a handful while I dabbed the mascara from under my eyes and tried to stare at the floor walking fast past the Ruby Bridges and Ryan White exhibits. I couldn't bare to even glance at them and stepping back into the jubilee of children running all over was such a shocking contrast I still had trouble grabbing hold of myself. I was thinking next year I'll visit the Ruby Bridges exhibit that I could hear when we walked past; recorded children's voices yelling insults from the front of the construct school house "We don't want you here! Go back where you came from!", and the year after the Ryan White exhibit. Finally, I was jolted from my own thoughts when until Ella yelled "Wonderwoman!" and took off running.
Oh yes, there was a whole superhero section including the Batmobile from the latest movies and super hero dress up and then there were race cars and doll houses and polar bears and water clocks. I practically had to carry Ella to the food court to make her eat before we ventured onto the (insert dramatic music here) FOURTH FLOOR! The food court was an awesome kid/family friendly cafeteria where Ella ordered macaroni and cheese, smiley shaped french fries and chocolate milk and I had a very fancy chicken salad (with apples and celery in it) and a pasta salad totaling like $12.00. This was the exact moment I fell in love with Indy.
THE FOURTH FLOOR (insert dramatic music here) Oh what joys ye beheld. We found a tree house, a fancy play house, a giant mirror fun house, the biggest game of connect four I've ever seen, a kaleidoscope you can stand in, an arcade, tea with the three bears and a full sized carousel. We nearly overdosed on fun.
By two o'clock I was exhausted and Dan was calling for us to drive back downtown and pick him up. I bribed Ella out of the fourth floor and to the car with promises of swimming at the hotel after picking Dan up which we did until we were wrung out and napped in the room. You'd think the fun would end here and we'd commence with something boring but oh-no this family is serious about fun. After our rest we dressed for dinner and made our way back downtown to a great Japanese place where we gorged on sushi, exotic veggies and assorted meats. Dan found if you want a good rare lamb chops you must find a chef that has the courage to serve raw meat (or fish).
We walked off dinner with a stroll through the convention center to contribute to the card houses which will be destroyed by convention goers flinging change at them on Saturday night (all proceeds to Christel House International.) We built a little three story facility out of donated Magic cards next to the edge.
Not done having fun yet we decided on a leisurely stroll to the giant fountain we glimpsed earlier in the day. We found the "giant fountain" to be the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Monument Circle. The impressive scuplture/fountain is surrounded with trees and blossoming flowers at the bottom and stairs climb up to a higher deck where we found a door to a little office that was closed where you could pay a dollar to ride the elevator to the observation deck during the day or climb the stairs to the top for free.
As the piece de resistance we took a dusk carriage ride with a driver that looked alot like Jude Law through the vibrant streets and past the canals before heading back to the monument where the city was lit up and women in sparkly cocktail attire met men in smart summer suits for drinks at the sidewalk cafes. We strolled back past restaurants and pubs with bustling lines outside and steam pouring up through the manholes and hotels with door men hailing cabs for more sparkly people and too soon we found our car and drove our sleeping kid back to the hotel in preparation for Saturday... the biggest geekfest day of them all. Stay tuned for Gen Con 2008 the Day of the Costume Contest!