Day 8: Iowa to Nebraska

After our visit in Fairfield, we knew that we had long stretches of driving ahead of us — long stretches of driving very. flat. road. through Iowa and especially Nebraska.

We came across interesting things and beautiful scenery:

We made it to Omaha after about 4 hours of driving, with one stop for lunch in between.  I missed getting a photo of the Welcome to Nebraska sign, but got a shot of the city’s welcome sign.

Welcome to Omaha

After we checked in to our hotel, we followed the advice of Yelp and ate at Hartland BBQ.  It was a no-frills place, with pretty good food that left us satisfied and smelling like smoked meat.  Extra bonus was that the kids ate for free! (Kids meal free with purchase of a dinner.)

Hartland BBQ: Half rack of ribs with baked beans, potato salad and cornbread

We made tentative plans to make it to Sterling, CO the next day, which was a little over 6 hours from Omaha.  Two hours beyond Sterling is Denver.  As always, we would see how the day went.

Day 7: Fairfield, IA

Our next stop was to Fairfield, IA to visit some of M’s family.  We had some nice views along the way:

There was another sign (that I missed getting a photo of), that had a graphic of a horse & buggy.  Sure enough, we saw a few on the road:

Amish people riding in horse & buggy

When we arrived to Aunt R & Uncle J’s house, we were transported to a different way of life.  On one side of the road was their beautiful house and the other side of the road was their farm, which they currently raise cattle and grow corn & soybeans.

One of the first things that we got to do was watch Aunt R feed milk to a baby calf, Leroy. Kid C was hesitant and didn’t want to get too close.  Taylor, one of their dogs, was not shy in trying to steal some milk out of the bottle.

Feeding milk to baby calf

Leroy, the baby calf

The girls had a blast exploring the yard.

Kids collecting acorn, rocks & leaves

Later, Kid C even got to ride a John Deere tractor!

We were treated to our first home-cooked meal of our road trip, which was a welcomed break from eating out.  The girls had fun playing with Hunter, the other family dog.  They even took over his bed at one point.

After this stop, we decided head straight for Omaha, NE, skipping Iowa City as we initially planned.  It would’ve added another hour to our total driving time.  At that point, we erred on the side of less driving and were eager to get through Iowa and Nebraska quickly.  We had longer stretches of driving planned for the next few days and were crossing our fingers for good weather and agreeable children.

Day 6: St. Louis and Columbia, MO

St. Louis was another unexpected pleasant stop.  We had great accommodations, ate good food, and had nice outdoor time at Forest Park.

Water Fountain Fun in Central West End

C trying to go in to the fountain

C + pine cone

A + sticks

Picnic lunch at Forest Park - C feeding A

Chasing butterflies

After eating Pappy’s for lunch at Forest Park, we drove about 2 hours west to Columbia, MO.

For this road trip, one of the things I was most looking forward to was visiting my sister and her fiancé in their new home.  It had been several months since we last saw each other.  To get a taste of their life in Columbia was a treat. My sister is an elementary school teacher with a kindergarten & 1st grade mixed class.  I had a chance to visit her classroom, meet her students, and watch her teach.  I was such a proud big sister!

My sister in her classroom

Another benefit of staying with family in a new city is having a local suggest food recommendations.  We had our best breakfasts, so far, at crepes: etc and Cafe Berlin:

crepes, etc: French Toast

Cafe Berlin: The Starving Artist

Cafe Berlin: Chilaquiles

It was so nice to stay with family, in a comfortable home, for more than one night.  Our visit was much too short, but luckily we’ll be seeing them in California soon.

L + A + Cali

Bowl of rocks - kids' favorite thing to play with at Auntie's L & Uncle D's house

Auntie L + the girls

We were also able to re-pack up the van during this stop, so that we could have a view through the rear window.

Re-packed van

Ready to go, we headed for our next stop: Fairfield, IA.

Day 5: (Driving to) St. Louis, MO

Here are some on-the-road shots:

…and some state Welcome signs we saw during this leg of the trip:

Welcome to Indiana

Welcome to Illinois

Welcome to Missouri

We were so excited to see the Gateway Arch come into view!

Gateway Arch

When we arrived to our hotel, the kids did their usual run around the room ritual and proceeded to their favorite activities.  After looking out the window, Kid C finds the hotel paper and pen and starts drawing. (I have yet to get a photo of this, but eventually will.)  Her latest favorite doodles to make are balloons.

Kid A also looks out the window, then wraps herself in the curtains to play peekaboo:

One of A's favorite activities in the hotel rooms - playing peekaboo in the curtains!

Another one of Kid C’s methods of entertainment (thanks to our friend, C. Jamm.), is to put stickers on her face.  This kept her occupied for over 20 minutes during dinner. If you’re a parent of a toddler, you know that 20 minutes of concentrated occupied toddler time (COTT) means that you can eat half or all of your meal, while its still relatively warm, and finish half of an adult beverage!  Sweet.

C entertained herself during dinner by putting stickers on her face

The next day we planned to eat breakfast at crepes: etc. which was right around the corner from our hotel, then walk around Forest Park.

Day 4: Louisville, KY

We left Cincinnati in the late afternoon and arrived in Louisville, KY after driving 2 hours.

Welcome to Kentucky

What set the tone of this part of our trip might have been the condition of our hotel. We experienced a classic example of a worse case scenario for online dating – appearing much better on screen than in reality. Everything seemed outdated and there was a layer of dust on a leather chair in the room, which made us question the overall cleanliness of the place. The Galt House Hotel felt like it had its heyday in the 80s.  The vibe made me think of being way-off-the-strip in Las Vegas.  Luckily, we got to see a nice sunset and had a view of the Ohio River from our room.  The bellhop was helpful and the location was in walking distance to some restaurants at 4th Street Live.

The one restaurant we had on our list to try was Lynn’s Paradise Café featured on a few Food Network shows.  The food was good and the décor was kitchy-crazy.

Lynn's Paradise Cafe

Lynn's Paradise Cafe - interior

Lynn's Paradise Cafe - interior

Animal & dinosaur figurines on each table

Kenny's Kentucky Scramble

From the Kids Menu - biggest pancake ever

We spent about 20 min playing with the parking lot animals.

Parking Lot Frog

Parking Lot Hippo

Parking Lot Cow

After breakfast, we were ready to move on from Louisville and braced ourselves for another 4 hours to our next stop: St. Louis, MO.

Day 3: Cincinnati, OH

Cincinnati, what a pleasant surprise you were.

Maybe it was because we arrived into the city when there was still daylight.  Maybe it was because the weather was better than what we got in Pittsburgh.  Maybe it was because of the live music we heard at Fountain Square.  Or maybe it was all because of your Skyline Chili.

Whatever the reason, thank you for the memories:

View from our hotel in Cincinnati, OH

M+C+A near Fountain Square

Contemporary Arts Center (CAC)



Skyline Chili

Eating a 4-way (spaghetti, covered with chili and beans, topped with a mound of shredded cheddar cheese)

M + C at Union Terminal

Union Terminal - interior

C + A at Duke Energy Children's Museum

Next stop: Louisville, KY

Day 2: Pittsburgh, PA

The first day of our road trip was supposed to start at 10:00AM.  I’m not sure how I thought we’d be able to move out of our temporary apartment, pack up our van, get ourselves showered, fed and… oh yeah… get our 2.5+yr old and 15mo old fed, dressed and in the best mood to travel by 10:00AM.

We ended up leaving Jersey City at 1:00PM.

Our van packed to the brim - Yikes!

We made a quick stop at Grandma’s house, about 45min west of Jersey City and then continued our road trip headed for our first stop: Pittsburgh, PA.

Sleeping Kid A

Sleeping Kid C

We stopped for dinner somewhere near Penn State and rolled into Pittsburgh after 10PM.  It was 45 degrees, raining, and we had a hard time figuring out the roads (read: we got a little lost).  Exhaustion and nerves definitely got the best of us that night, but we were relieved to finally check into our hotel near Station Square.

The next morning, we woke up to these views:

Near Station Square (Pittsburgh, PA)

"So, this is Pittsburgh?"

Unfortunately, we scrapped the plan to visit Fallingwater because of the cold and rainy weather.  Also, it would’ve added nearly 2 hours to our total driving time that day (which was already going to be about 5 hours) and we didn’t want to risk our sanity so early into our trip.

With 5 hours worth of driving time ahead of us, we were anxious to get out of Pittsburgh and get to Cincinnati, OH.

So it begins…

We are about to embark on a cross-country road trip with our two girls (Kid C & Kid A), who are both under the age of 3 as I write this.  Team Norén (M+T+C+A) will be moving from Jersey City, NJ to Ventura, CA.  When we tell people this, reactions vary from excitement, worry, excitement and worry, with the occasional undertone of “What the H are you thinking?!” 

Driving at somewhat of a leisurely pace, we plan on taking nearly two weeks until we reach California.  M & I planned the bulk of our driving around afternoon naps.  We will stop for meals and sleep in hotels along the way.  Take a look at our route and leave a comment with suggestions of where to eat, what to do, what is a must-see site.  Thanks to the suggestion from our friends L & V, we’re planning on checking out Fallingwater once we arrive in Pittsburgh, PA.

We want this blog to capture our cross-country travels — both the joys and challenges that we will encounter along our 2-week journey with our two toddlers in tow. We think it will be a cool keepsake for our family, too.

If this blogging thing works out, it would be great to include future adventures (i.e., adventures in potty training, adventures in parenting two toddlers, etc.)

But first, we’re going to focus on the next day and a half to wrap up loose ends and pack up our van.

ETD: Friday, September 30, 10:00AM EST.