We had a little bit of a head wind to deal with, but Abby settled into a book, Mary explored the cabin keeping mom busy and frustrated at times, and I enjoyed the smooth ride northbound. It's very hard to keep a 14 month old cooped up for any length of time.
The visibility was quite poor, but about half way through our flight we managed to cross a little front. After a few minutes of IMC in the frontal clouds, it was a drastic difference in visibilty for the better on the front's back side the rest of the way. In no time we had a visual of the Blue Ridge Mountains ahead and then our destination.
Kristi had been suffering from a sinus infection and as much I tried to plan an early, gradual descent, the final few miles of our approach were quite painful for her. Luckily it didn't last long.
After lunch we decided to head downtown to see what we could find. I had read a little about the area and had some ideas on what I'd like us to do, but we really had no set plans. One of the places I wanted us to visit was The Children’s Museum of Greenville. We found it without any hassle and even found a parking spot right in front!
We found all kinds of cool things to do. The museum had three separate floors and a really exciting array of hands on exhibits that both Abby and Mary could enjoy.
On the bottom floor we found some water play areas. They had one set up so babies could just sit in chairs to splash and play around. Mary managed to get pretty soaked, but had a blast. Abby enjoyed the other water exhibit where she played with little boats in a river and also "engineered" some piping to redirect the water as she saw fit. I think this was both of the girls favorite area.
When you first enter the museum, there is an intricate plexiglass climbing structure that goes from the second floor up to the third.
The Space Shuttle simulator was my favorite. If you sit in the left seat you can try to dock the Shuttle with the International Space Station. If you sit in the right seat you can test your Shuttle landing skills. Abby made a somewhat successful approach and landing to Runaway 33 at the Kennedy Space Center. Hey, at least we both walked away from it!
After the museum we left and checked into the hotel and then went to dinner at Papas & Beer, a Mexican restaurant not far away. The food was pretty good, but of course going out to eat on a Saturday evening is always a battle with crowds. The restaurant was very busy and as well behaved as I like to think my two kids are, Mary definitely let us know she was done for the day! We tried to enjoy a little bit of dinner, but ended up just getting to go boxes and went back to the hotel to call it a night.
All vacations can't be perfect. Unfortunately, Kristi awoke around midnight to find our hotel room had bed bugs! We spent the next few hours changing rooms and trying to get resettled hoping to get some sleep. Other than seeing a few things in the press, we were very ignorant to the bed bug epidemic that has resurfaced especially within the travelling community. We quickly became educated via the internet on what to do and how to deal with it. As frustrating as it was, the hotel made good efforts to remedy the situation and kept in touch with us during the rest of our stay and even once we returned home. I really don't want to write a whole section about bed bugs, but I highly recommend checking your hotel room for evidence prior to "moving in" and reading here and here for more useful information.
We did all manage to get back to sleep at different times and woke up in time to have the wonderful cook-to-order breakfast buffet that Embassy Suites provides all their guests. After breakfast, we got cleaned up, dressed, and headed out to explore the area some more. We decided to head towards the Blue Ridge Mountains and just drive around to see what we could find. Our first stop was a huge granite rock overlook called Bald Rock.
Next we drove on to Caesars Head State Park. From there we enjoyed the overlook views of the lowlands and granite outcropping of Table Rock State Park across the valley. Abby took turns taking Kristi and me for short hikes. We stopped at a Publix supermarket earlier and bought some sandwiches, chips, and drinks for lunch. We found some picnic benches and enjoyed our lunch with some spectacular views.
Mary has finally started walking in the last few weeks, so I guess it wasn't wise to try to confine her to the car and stroller for a day filled with driving around and sight seeing, but she did pretty good. Oh well, at least we did find an area she could walk around for a little while.
After lunch we continued up the road and into the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area a little more . At the end of one road was YMCA's Camp Greenville's Symmes Chapel called Pretty Place. This old outdoor chapel was interesting with amazing views of the valley below from the pews. Apparently, it is a popular spot for weddings and we could see why.
Before getting back to Greenville, we did manage to find ourselves in North Carolina for a bit. We travelled through DuPont State Forest and stopped at one spot to take a little hike to Hooker Falls.
Sunday was a long, but good day. We had dinner at IHOP, which I know isn't fancy, but it was easy and kids eat free! When we got up Monday, the weather was clear, but with high winds that were forecasted to only increase in the afternoon. We abandoned our plans of going to the zoo and decided to just head home.
The flight home was very unpleasant and in hindsight we should have just stayed another night and come home Tuesday morning. I had already forewarned my family that the high winds would make things a little bumpy, but I had no idea what was in store. After a bumpy crosswind take off we leveled off at 5000' This put us occasionally in and out of clouds with light turbulence. Although "light" might not seem too bad a description, it can become very uncomfortable after a while. I asked for and received a clearance up to 6000' in an effort to get above the clouds. Just before we leveled off in the clear, the plane got thrown pretty good near the top of a cloud as we encounter stronger winds aloft. This momentary encounter with moderate to heavy turbulence put a pretty good scare in all of us. I asked to continue to 7000' and we finally found smooth air with a final cruising altitude of 8000'. Now the aft cabin was a mess with spilled drinks, Abby threw up into a bag (luckily we were prepared), and I was frustrated with myself that I had put my family in this unnecessary situation and was just looking forward to getting everyone home. I didn't do anything technically unsafe, but I should have realized that the prevailing weather conditions were not going to make for a comfortable or enjoyable flight. I will NOT do that again! At least everything settled out eventually and even Mary enjoyed the views outside for a while.
We successfully completed a trip to a new place, but it was an adventure literally filled with ups and downs. The General Manager from the Embassy Suites called me at home the next morning to check on us. He let me know because of the inconveniences we experienced they were reversing all our room charges. He also asked us to come back and stay again as their guests. I told him we definitely would and I look forward to taking him up on his offer. We hope next time to visit the zoo and the downtown parks and shopping areas that looked pretty cool.
I want to ensure that I share the true realities of our travels even when things don’t go exactly right, but I don't want to deter anyone from the wonderful world of general aviation. We are still blessed to be able to do these kinds of things and we learn every time new things to consider and how to do it better. I think the family has now recovered and we WILL make more trips soon. I was very impressed with what Greenville had to offer for visiting families, and I look forward to our return.