Ann Arbor: For kids of all ages !

29 Jan

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In the Winter months we like to catch up on our visits to local museums, on Sunday we drove out to Ann Arbor to do just that. The Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum is located right downtown in an old brick firehouse; with over 250 exhibits in 9 galleries, it is 4 floors of activity and fun! The museum welcomes adults as well as children; their mission is simple: Inspire people to discover the wonder of science, math and technology. As we came in the door we were greeted with the sounds of children and parents at play, moms and dads coax the kids to do this or that while taking a picture with their i phone. There’s so much to do in every direction, we started at the top and worked our way down. Upstairs in the Lights and Optics area is a string-less harp, pluck invisible strings with your fingers to hear beautiful harp tones created by a laser, walk into a small room and your movement is converted into a shadow of rainbow colors, teenagers have a blast with this. The Discovery Room is all about Michigan; examples of our native animals, plants, flowers and lake fish are all on display.  The Country Store is a recreation of a 1920’s era store, complete with tin ceiling, vintage looking lights and wood plank floor you can put on an apron and work behind the counter or pretend you are a customer picking up your weekly supplies; either way it is a big hit with the kids.  There is a Pre-School Gallery specially designed for children age 4 and younger, we watched through the window for a little bit as the kids and parents played together, nothing but smiles there.

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Another exhibit shows how a building is constructed; One side wall takes you through from studs, to insulation to the finished wall and roof.  I liked the World Around You Gallery, they have piano keys on the floor you walk on to play a tune, just like in the movie “Big”, you can also climb a rock wall here. The first floor was the noisiest with activity; here you will find a water table that kids simply cannot get enough of, what is it with kids and putting their hands in water?  They have a full size ambulance you can climb right into, learn how a traffic light or electric motor works. The building has solar panels located on the roof, follow the process of how the sun warms water for our everyday use. Block Party is made up of hundreds of red foam blocks that allow you to construct your own creation; build something small on your own or work with a few friends to make a house. The exhibits are very well done, no matter your age everyone can learn something here. The basement is made up of a series of rooms that can be used for birthday parties, I saw more than one cake being brought in,what a great idea for a child’s  birthday. The museum was getting more crowded as the day went on, it’s good to see people getting out and visiting, we should all take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy such things.

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If you’ve been to Ann Arbor chances are you’ve been to or at least heard of Zingerman’s.  What started out as a deli back in 1982 has grown exponentially into a food paradise. The deli is still housed in the original charming brick building; here you can shop for gourmet foods like  farmhouse cheeses, estate bottled olive oil, smoked fish, varietal vinegar, salami, hearth baked breads, mustards, jams, jellies, coffee and teas…whew! Whether it is cheese from their own creamery or a Vermont cheddar, vanilla from Madagascar or one of their own brownies, Zingerman’s sells only the best. When you walk in the door you are surrounded by food; on the right are loaves of bread, bagels are slid over wooden dowels in stacks, brownies and cookies are also available. To the left is the refrigerated section, glass cases are filled with the finest meats and cheeses; liverwurst, peppered ham, breakfast sausage and Montreal smoked meat, cheese that comes from cows, goats and sheep. Zingermans deli has an aroma all its own! This is where you place your order  if you are having a meal, menu boards hang from the ceiling, each one dedicated to a particular category; it’s nearly impossible to decide. I always enlist help from one of the friendly employees taking orders, I simply tell them what I am in the mood for, you know like roast beef or turkey and let them take it from there. Today Kris and I were going vegetarian, the woman who was helping us suggested a grilled sandwich with cheese, avocado, tomato, and green chilies for a little kick. For a side we picked a pasta salad and on her suggestion a salad with dark greens, radicchio, dried cherries and a shredded cheese. I paid at the register and we shopped around the tight quarters grazing as we went; a piece of bread with olive oil, a sample of tea, apricot jam, etc. There is no longer seating in the original deli, for that you either go outside when weather permits or you head to Zingerman’s Next Door.

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The main floor of Next Door provides tables for dining and retail sales of coffee, desserts, candy and gelato with an incredible selection of each. We took the stairs to the second floor to the dining areas and waited for our food to arrive, which thankfully didn’t take long. The sandwich was huge, I took a first bite and delighted in the mixture of flavors, the crunch of the bread, the creaminess of the avocado, the rich cheese  and the heat of the green chilies, yum! The pasta salad was delicious, the noodles were cooked just right. I’m so glad we took the suggestion to order the green salad it was extremely tasty.  Zingerman’s Next Door can be a bit of a madhouse, but it’s always worth it to stop in. Here you can sample their incredibly creamy gelato, buy one of their gourmet chocolates, have a fantastic espresso drink or an extraordinary dessert; eat it here or take it home, we’ve never been disappointed. Kris grabbed an espresso to go and we were off to our next destination.

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The University of Michigan  Museum Of Natural History  is located on campus in the lovely Ruthven Museum Building. Completed in 1928 the exterior of the building is constructed of brick and stone, step inside to the view rotunda with its beautiful plaster ceiling, marble floor, and wrought iron railings. The museum showcases Michigan’s pre-historic past, wildlife, anthropology and geology with 4 floors of exhibits.  We took the stairs to the fourth floor to begin. The geology area has an extensive display of rocks and minerals, I love looking at the samples and always marvel at the variety of colors and textures.  This floor also features artifacts from human cultures around the world. Down the steps we went, the third floor is all about Michigan; great lakes birds, native mammals, reptiles and amphibians are all here displayed in showcases.  From the wolverine and squirrels to mallards and an entire family of possums. It’s interesting to see the detail of the animals up close but sometimes I wonder where they all came from….I try not to think about it too much. The second floor is the Hall Of Evolution and focuses on pre-historic life.  Fossils, whale skeletons, and dinosaur bones, this museum hosts the largest display of dinosaurs in Michigan.  Here you can get up close to a real Mastodon skeleton, it is enormous! When you look around, it is hard to believe these gigantic beasts once roamed the Earth. We made our final decent to the main floor where we came in. One more look around the rotunda and it was time to go. Ann Arbor has so much to offer from culture to dining, it’s close by and easy to get to, check it out!

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