PHILLY AND WASHINGTON
Summer of 2008
Earlier this year a bunch of guys decided to go down to Tom Brown's Tracker School in New Jersey for a week long course in August. They were having some difficulty getting transportation, so I volunteered to drive them down, with the idea that I would take the week to visit a friend in Philadelphia, and spend some time in Washington D.C. It was also a chance to make some real use of the new trailer.
The trip down was more or less uneventful, except for a neat evening in the Unadilla KOA, in New York. Great KOA. (There's a review on the KOA Review page.) A local artist, , was doing a one person concert in the evening and as the evening sent on, began asking for audience members to perform. As was the case last summer, I was traveling with some very talented boys who took her up on her offer and surprised both her and the audience. Cory performed a few songs and Braedon brought out his fiddle after doing a very free form jazz piece on the guitar. The manager came over and asked me whether I was aware of the "campertainment" program that was run by KOA. It seems that you can book yourself free into KOAs if you are willing to provide an evening of entertainment. Gee, I wish I'd known that last summer! We were traveling with a whole band, often giving impromptu evening performances!!
After dropping the boys off in the Pine Barrens, I drove over to Philadelphia to visit and old friend, Dan. He and his wife live in the downtown area of Philly, and the first challenge that we found was that his allotment of parking was not going to accommodate my car and trailer. He decided that the best bet was to use private parking privileges that he had at work. (I'm omitting details here to make sure he doesn't get in any trouble, but the story is too good not to tell.) This parking was in an underground garage to which he had a special pass. So off we go, back across the bridge into Camden, to park my vehicles. Getting into the garage was a bit tricky as I was concerned about height restrictions, which we just barely made. Soon the car and trailer were safely stowed away and we drove back to Dan's place in his car. On the way, and intermittently through the next day, I began to learn things about this parking garage. The first thing I learned was that Dan had parking privileges on weekends, but not weekdays. Now we put the car in on a Sunday, but we had to drive it out on a Tuesday, so I was just a little concerned about it. The next thing I learned was that Camden, in which the garage was located, was was the crime and violence capital of the U.S. I didn't find that hard to believe, as my GPS messed up as I was driving through this fair city, so I got more exposure to it than I was supposed to and than I wanted. Camden, it seems, is also the Heroin capital of the U.S., with people visiting just because of the pure quality of the heroin in that area. Wonderful. And this is where I'm parking my car. When we drove back on Tuesday, I truly wasn't sure what I was going to find. I had visions of it being broken into or towed away be the authorities, never to be seen again. But Dan knew what he was doing and everything was just fine. We did get a strange, puzzled look from the security guard as we were leaving, but it had that "I don't want to know..." look to it which is probably what made it so safe. It was so totally odd to park a trailer there that nobody wanted to deal with it.
My visit to Philly was great. Dan took me to see some historical places like Constitution Hall, and the Liberty Bell. I was in a historical mood, so I found it interesting. Then he took me to a place that served the original Philly Cheese Steaks. This was where Stalone ordered his in the famous scene from Rocky, in fact there's a plaque. In fact there's a statue of Rocky at the bottom of the Natural History Museum steps. I got the full run down on how to order philly cheese steaks. I learned to say "wit wiz", meaning that I wanted my steak with onions and with cheese whiz. Yup, cheese whiz. It was surprisingly good. Other types of cheese are available, but this, apparently, is the original concoction. Using this ordering formula, it was amazing to see them churn these orders out. They must have been serving at least 10 - 15 customers a minute. We sat and ate, then walked it off through the Italian Market, also often used in the filming of Rocky.
Philidelphia is a small big city. It has many of the advantages of a big city, with a very active theatre centre, beautiful city parks, large scale sculpture all over the place, and a base of significant historical origins. It has ethnic diversity, with a China town and an Italian Market, not to mention several others. But it's not that big. Even though we drove around, I could see how it would be easy to bike, walk or drive around just about anywhere. On the Philly side of the river, I never felt uneasy or threatened. It looked like a nice place to live, if you had to live in a big American city.
|An unusual attraction which I strongly recommend to travelers is the Eastern State Penitentiary. Although closed quite a while ago, and really falling apart, it is an interesting guided tour (headsets). The main features include the history of penal philosophy as developed in this prison, Al Copone's stay, and the sentencing of a dog to the prison after it attacked and killed a cat owned by the wife of a local judge.|
Thanks to Dan and Lisa for being the perfect hosts.
After saying goodbye to Dan and Lisa, his wife, I turned on Karen (my GPS) and made my way to the Washington D.C. KOA in Maryland (also reviewed elsewhere in this site). It was supposed to be about a two and a half hour drive, but was slowed down by traffic. The weird thing about the traffic is that it was mainly the result of slowdowns at the numerous toll booths that I had to pass through. Both on the way down and coming back to New Jersey I must have spent over $25 on road tolls, for the privilege of sitting stuck in toll booth traffic. It was incredibly annoying and would be a major factor in my preferring a western vs. an eastern road trip at any time in the future. I'm guessing that (with the trailer) I probably hit about $80 in road tolls for the entire trip.
Washington D.C. was a great 3 day museum tour. As most are free, it's a great way to spend time if you're so inclined. Staying at the KOA made it easy to drive down to a Metro parking lot and take the rapid transit to "The Mall". Once you learn the routine in the Metro, it's easy. The Mall is where most of the Smithsonian Museums are, and is a very safe part of Washington. The most famous museum is the Aero-space Museum, and that's the one I spent a very short time in. I did spend a lot of time in the new Museum of the Native American, which was surprisingly great. Outside of that I went to several Art Galleries (-the Hirshorn is easily overlooked, but fantastic-) and the Museum of Natural History. The Museum of American History was closed but is reopening later this year.
I wanted to spend one day visiting the National Geographic centre and the F.B.I. Building. The web site says that FBI tours start at 8:45 a.m., so I made a special effort to get there early so I could maximize my day. When I got there I asked about an entrance for tours, and the guard said that they haven't had tours there since 9-11. I was somewhat annoyed. Later that day I was in a tourist information office and I mentioned that someone should tell the FBI to update their web site. They laughed and said that they had been told many times and that the White House also still advertises tours on its site and hasn't had them for many years.
The National Geographic building was a let down. I was in Washington about 15 years ago, and I remember it as much more interesting. The one main exhibit concerning early Chinese exploration was O.K. but nothing special. The other exhibits were mainly photographs. Even the museum shop, which had the potential of being truly awesome in the National Geographic building, was very small and unawesome.
But I can't complain because I had three truly packed days. Disappointments were abandon quickly and easily filled with other attractions. Just walking around the city is amazing. The architecture, and city parks are on a grand scale, and reminded me of a Romanesque, imperial quality that the centre of a huge empire would have. Undoubtedly, that's what the Americans are striving for, and the results are truly inspiring and often breathtaking.
I had been a little worried about traveling alone in such an imposing place, but it turned out to be a great location to try on that kind of traveling.