Sunday, October 19, 2014

{Fall Break 2014} All aboard!!

In late summer, I had signed the einsteins up for memberships into the Heartland Flyer Kids Club. For $10, your kiddo gets a Heartland Flyer tee and a free round-trip ticket aboard the train. 
We cashed the kids vouchers in for round trip tickets to Gainsville, TX and back on the first day of fall break. 
Emma had a good guess what the "mysteriooo" was going to be this time - her nosy personality had put together the clues pretty well, but Evan was still pretty clueless as we set off that early morning. 

By the time we arrived (and found parking!) at the Oklahoma City Amtrak Station, Evan had successfully figured it out, and they were both sooooooo anxious to get aboard the train.
Amtrak OKC
We had been here once before for the Disney train that came through, and I was surprised Emma remembered it! They climbed the stairs to the platform, and off they went!
Our seats were in the "Gainsville" car - they try to organize you by destination. We were upstairs with about 10 other people - it was AWESOME!

I took this picture on my phone using the panorama feature. I filmed past John, and then he traded me places and filmed the rest. Talk about a selfie pro! ;)
Ussie. 
The Lego Castros came along for the ride. 



Pauls Valley station. Adorable. 


A couple hours later, the einsteins were ready for lunch. I had packed us all a small lunch for the trip. We were saving the diner car for the dinner ride back. 

We finally arrived at the Gainsville station!
The weather was PERFECT! We could NOT have planned it any better. It's always a little nerve wracking for me to travel without my vehicle, but I had packed as many "just-in-case" items as I could in our backpacks, so we were as prepared as we could get. 
Our first item on the agenda was to go to the Frank Buck Zoo. It's about a mile walk from the station, and it's a cute walk, too. It takes you right through the old downtown shops. We saw so many cute shops, including one with 3 real live kitties inside, but 4 Castros with backpacks in breakable little shops sized at about 12 feet wide did NOT sound financially do-able, after we would have to pay for all the things we flung off the shelves with our bags like a great dane in a tea shop. 
But, Oh! they were ADORABLE!!
At the last intersection before the zoo, we reached the Gainsville sign. 
...and what a beautiful backdrop that is, too....
We crossed underneath the highway and into Leonard Park, home of the Frank Buck Zoo.

Now, I have to say, our original plan was to ride the train down, spend the day at the zoo, and ride the train home. Good plan, but, that wasn't gonna happen. And I'll tell you why.
The Frank Buck Zoo is really cute, and really nice. But it's also really small. Like, get done in an hour small. And that's if you take your time.  The admission is pretty cheap, and the people are super nice, and they have a pressed penny machine (a must-have for the travelling Castro clan). 
And, of course, these:

Evan loves to find cool things and ask me to take his picture with them. It's pretty much the only time I get "real" smiles on camera anymore. 
And anyway, they're uber cute, right??



Lucky for us, most of the animals displayed their bathroom habits for us. At one point, the lamas took turns mounding piles of poo on the grass for us. They sure like to turn it on for the GoPro!

Emu- did NOT poop for us.
 This little guy was so cute. Really wanted to take it home with us. I guess that's why he was in a cage...






The zebra reminded me of Dobby, waiting for the giraffe baby to drop food so that he could gobble it up. 



This tortoise was so cute! he was chomping the grass like a cow!!
Hurry and grow, Buckbeak! ;)



The "petting zoo" portion of the zoo was unlike any other I had seen. You buy goat food at the feeders, but the only petting you do is through little windows. 
I guess it's kinda like a McDonalds drive thru - without wrappers and bags. 


Texans and their stars again...

The zoo was fun, but we still had a looooooong time before the train came back to pick us up. Luckily, the zoo is inside Leonard Park, which has a huge playground (and, when in season, a little train!) inside it. The kiddos played there for a long time, while hubby and I sat. and talked. and thought. and relaxed. 
It was good. 

Once they were done, we headed back towards the direction of the station. 
We stopped at Braums for shakes and fries, and then headed out to walk the historic tour of Gainsville
We saw so many breathtaking houses on our walk, restored or being restored, or in need of restoring. We saw beautiful lawns, cobblestone walks, wrought iron fences, and wrap around porches that would take your breath away. 

In restoration
Acorns on the sidewalks
Old church set in the middle of the neighborhood
Tree bench! <3 td="">
We forgot to research this on the train ride back, but we found a flood line that was really interesting - because that would mean a LOT of the houses (most of which have basements) would have been flooded as well!

Historic Tour sign
On our way back to a quick stop at the train station, we found this sign, pretty interesting. 
A quick rest at the station...


and then it was off to the neighboring park to play a little bit more before the train came. 

Evan said this was the best park. The double slides. 

This sign (and others) was in a small memorial park that talked about the famous (and controversial) 1862 Great Hanging at Gainsville. It was built on the site of the big tree that many of the men were hung from. (The tree is no longer there)
Emma researched that one all the way home and some more even the next day. It's a good "let's talk about it" event that opens our kids eyes to history that seems so bizarre today. (or is it?)

We made one last stop before the station - a geocache that Evan found on his own.
And then it was time to wait. 
In the wall of the Gainsville station
When we heard a train whistle blowing, we knew it was still too early to be ours, so we hurried daddy to put a penny on the track. (We had told the kids about this earlier in the day)


As the train went by, the einsteins grew more and more excited about the penny and what it would look like afterward. Even the other travellers were getting giddy about it, listening to the eager little voices. One woman told us, with a glint of way back fondness in her eyes, that her husband used to do that when they were younger.
We could hear each wheel go over the penny. A "thump-thump" sound that accompanied each and every wheel on that train that went on forever!
Look, Uncle K! A Maersk!!
When the train had finally left, our penny was a flattened piece of glitter on the rail. 



The instapic
The way home was quieter and relaxing. We were so exhausted from the miles of walking we had done!
I kept waiting (wishing?) dementors would come and start attacking the train. 
Late that evening, Emma & I went down to the cafe car to grab some hot cocoa. 
They were out, so we settled for apple juice. 
And the clickety-clack soothed our sleepy bodies all the way home.

Thinking of taking this day trip?
I heard that there are taxi-type vans that you can hire, but I don't know anything about them. 
If you decide to go the on-foot route - Prepare for walking - at least a mile there and a mile back, plus the zoo. 
If it's a weekend, many of the stores downtown may be closed, so you'll need to find something to fill your time with if you can't stretch out 6 hours at the zoo!
The trains are VERY punctual - and they will leave you behind no matter WHAT. Be ready to board!
The trains are also very spacious as far as seating. Little ones will do well with space, and even though the Heartland Flyer doesnt have wifi, they have plugs, so you can charge your phone before and after. 
The adult fares vary with the day, just like airplane tickets. We spent a small fortune on the two of us, but it could be because we bought them the day before?
It was really fun!
I think if we do it again, we may try Paul's Valley. They have a toy and action figure museum there, and the train station was the CUTEST one we saw!
Have YOU ever taken a train trip on the flyer? Let me know where you went & what you did!!

XOXO, H.

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