A transplant recipient’s guide to Omaha on a budget

I never blogged about our “vacation” days in Omaha. See, insurance pays for Patrick and one parent to travel for care.. but if daddy comes, too, then we worry about airfare costs and sometimes that means staying a few days. We were  beyond bored of our usual Omaha/Ronald McDonald House activities. So Brian declared that we should make it a vacation and try to find new things.

Sometimes circumstances lead you to discover things you might not try otherwise. Like today I had roasted red pepper hummus, veggies, saltines minis and chicken nuggets for lunch.. something i may not have ever planned for lunch if not for short gut and oral aversion and food allergies. But back to travel. Brian did his homework and here are a few discoveries.

Old Market

One of the things that you may not guess about our family because I’m not exactly fit is that we are a fitbit family. Especially on vacation. Brian loves to walk. I love to walk with my family. And so we walk. So of course, when we arrived in Omaha, after unpacking and dinner, we went out for a walk. We heard often about a place called Old Market when we were living in the city. But it was brutal winter and bitter cold for walking and we were too poor and immunocompromised for eating out. So we didn’t go.

Visiting Old Market was high on our list going back. It’s a pretty nifty few blocks of downtown Omaha. Lots of dining, some shopping, and on every other street corner, a musician. Not the creepy of musician begging on the street that you aren’t sure if you should cross the street. Just honest to goodness musicians with their instrument cases in front of them. A drum line. A girl in a flowy white skirt hula-hooping to her friend’s music.

Patrick was in his adaptive stroller and we learned that the combination of cobblestone roads and staircases made this the trickier way to explore the street. (Most businesses had ramps on one side, but few had them on both.) But it was a fun adventure nonetheless. Maybe someday we’ll have time and money and healthy immune systems and we’ll find a place to eat there. A few caught my eye.

http://www.oldmarket.com/

Henry Doorley Zoo

Omaha boasts one of the world’s  best zoos and, though we visit every trip, we never feel we have seen it all. It changes with seasons and because the habitats are so real, the animals in view are always changing, too. We spent Thursday morning there in beautiful weather on their spring break, so crowds were bigger and we stuck to more outdoor exhibits, caught the seal training, walked around the rhinos.

http://www.omahazoo.com/

 Lewis and Clark Monument

Right before returning home in February, Patrick and I went for a drive. On a whim, I followed some historical markers and we ended up driving to a historic monument in the bluffs above Council Bluffs, Iowa. My little Utah heart that grew up looking down on the Salt Lake Valley from various vistas leapt for joy to find an overlook of Omaha. And I knew I needed to bring Brian back.

So, Thursday evening, when we had just enough time for a drive after dinner, I directed Brian up to the monument. His reaction was almost the same as mine. And of course, Patrick did what he did last time. He started exploring. He noticed a set of stairs and a little trail going off to the side of the monument. We resolved to come back and explore that trail. Because we grew up in the Utah mountains and that is what people who grew up exploring mountains do.

The next day, we packed a crazy little dinner of ham sandwiches and pringles and jell-o cups and we headed out in the late afternoon to explore. We set our watches and checked our fitbits to know how far we’d gone. And we started walking.

We walked around this sometimes steep, often narrow and overgrown but clear train that followed the edge of the bluff. And then we got to where we could see the trail led down into the subdivision at the bottom of the hill. And we turned around and we went back thinking that it was nice, but a bit of a bust.

On the way back, we learned that the actual destination was DOWN the bluff. Down a nice steep incline by the railroad tracks, at the base is a spring. So if you ever want to go hiking there and you don’t mind really steep trails, so explore. It was a bit too much for us with Patrick and my asthma that hates hills. At least this trip. But do go. Especially if you can go in early spring. That was the perfect weather for a hike.

We picnicked overlooking the city. Patrick ate most of his ham sandwich. As much as most other kids would have.

http://lewisandclarktrail.com/section1/iowacities/CouncilBluffs/monumentpark.htm

Strategic Air and Space Museum

Of course, morning were still nippy so we didn’t want to hike in the mornings. Instead, we took a field trip out to Ashland, NE to visit the Strategic Air and Space Museum.

My father-in-law is an engineer. He loves planes. My husband grew up loving planes. This is one he’s wanted to explore for a long time. And it was awesome to let him take his son and share that same love of planes.

The museum has two hangars full of planes, mostly old military planes. Brian can name most models by sight. His eyes light up as he tells me stories of what they were used for. Patrick loved peeking in cockpits and engines and playing with the flight training demo. Though he’ll tell you we didn’t let him ride in any planes because we didn’t have quarters to put in the little ride on planes they had. (You know, the kind you find in front of grocery stores.)

After spending the whole morning in the museum, we bought a parachute toy in the gift shop and Patrick and Brian took turns trying to get it to fly off in the wind on the front lawn.

Then, we went and found the entrance to the state park next door. Didn’t go in, but bookmarked it for next time. We took a little drive through Ashland itself because we love small towns and were hungry. Then we took country roads back into Omaha. Again, hoping to find a quaint little place to eat. But we ended up at Five Guys instead. After several days of eating kids meal hamburgers (Yes, you read that right. Patrick, started eating burgers this trip.) this was one burger Patrick had no interest in at all. Kids and their tastes.

http://www.sasmuseum.com/

Donut Stop

Have I ever mentioned that finding little bakeries is a favorite foodie activity of ours on vacation? Donut and cupcake shops hold a special regard for us, especially. So when Brian found an all-night donut shop in Omaha, he knew we needed to go. After our hike above Council Bluffs, we took a meandering drive to our room through that city. And, along the way, Brian declared we were in the right neighborhood for donuts.

I can’t really capture the essence of this place in words. It was NOT the seattle donut shops we have frequented. It opens in the evening and stays open all night till morning. The stop itself has two big display cases full of a decadent assortment of donuts. And behind the case, two little old ladies frosting trays full of donuts more for the night. Our order was rung up on an old fashioned cash register that popped up our totals on numbered tiles and dinged when the drawer opened. The walls were adorned with pictures and souvenirs from Hawaii and an abundance of pictures of cats.

It was one of the most quaint and unique bakeries I’ve ever been into. We all think the donuts were amazing. Especially Patrick, who suckered me into letting him have his cake donut with pink strawberry frosting on it, even though I knew his belly might complain later.

I’m sure we’ll be back.

http://www.yelp.com/biz/donut-stop-omaha

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Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge

Saturday morning, we drove through the traffic of a St. Patrick’s Day parade. We needed a less busy place to spend the morning and Brian needed some more steps. There is a bridge that crosses the Missouri River from Omaha to Council Bluffs. There is also a park on either side, both of which are worth a visit on their own. But our goal this morning was to walk across the bridge.

So, we grabbed some Taco Bell. (Waffle of the waffle taco was another hit for Patrick.) Then we bundled up against the Nebraska wind, put Patrick in his stroller and away we went. It was one of the colder days we experienced there so Patrick ended up wearing Brian’s hoodie.

It was fun and peaceful to be out for a walk above a river. Even if Patrick was in a grumpy mood and didn’t want us to hold hands or push his stroller one-handed or do any other number of things that made him feel out of control. After a week of walking, I knew I needed to do more walking when we got home. I was sore and tired. But it was fun.

And when we got to the Iowa side, we walked down in their park to the riverfront and let Patrick out to run for a little bit before heading back.

http://omaha.net/places/bob-kerrey-pedestrian-bridge

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Pizza in the park

For lunch, we met some friends at a park. It was one of the most perfect weather Saturdays of the year. The kids (with help from dads) played on the playground. And for lunch, we grabbed some pizza from one of our favorite unique-to-the-area pizza places, Mama’s Pizza. I highly recommend the chicken club pizza.

http://www.mamaspizzaomaha.com/

Pioneer Courage Park

Saturday, after enjoying an amazing roast pork dinner provided by volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House, we checked out of our room and moved to a hotel. We wanted breakfast and a smooth checkout since we needed to leave for the airport around 6 a.m. on Sunday.

We went to a hotel in downtown Omaha and, of course, after checking in went out for a walk. We walked past the ball park and arena and a mural that I don’t know how I didn’t notice was there until just this trip. The end destination was a place called “Pioneer Courage Park.”

The original address we were aiming for was a different sculpture park that we really need to go and see on another trip. But we found our actual destination almost by accident and were so glad to make it there.

Omaha was kind of a gateway for pioneers settling the American west. Especially Mormons. And many people know to travel back and visit Winter Quarters and the Mormon Trail Center. (https://www.lds.org/locations/mormon-trail-center-at-historic-winter-quarters). However, I think I’m going to add this park to my list of recommendations to those interested in that history.

This is an enormous bronze sculpture of a pioneer wagon train. Yes, a train. Several wagons. It is HUGE! You look across the street and there is a herd of buffalo across the street. As I understand it, go a little further and you’ll also find a flock of geese. Anyway, I have never seen the varied stories of the pioneers that settled the American West so completely and emotionally depicted all in one place. This sculpture was amazing.

And Patrick got to chase a bunny rabbit in the dark and jump off of slabs of rock. So we all had fun.

http://www.visitomaha.com/listings/First-National-s-Spirit-of-Nebraska-s-Wilderness-and-Pioneer-Courage-Park/57322/0/#.VRHXnI54rV0

We got back to the hotel and Patrick was greeted by the desk clerk with a gift bag full of toys. As we checked in, she asked what brought us to Omaha. She didn’t expect “transplant followup” as an answer. And she went out of her way to add some extra love to his day. People are amazing.

So – There you have it. How to vacation/staycation on a dime while immune compromised in Omaha, Nebraska. It was fun to come back to the Ronald McDonald House each day and tell the staff about where we’d been or where we were going and hear the interest in their voices about the places we were discovering that they hadn’t even been to themselves. It felt so good to be doing something DIFFERENT while we were there. Making some memories of our own choosing there. Kind of claiming the city for our own.

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