Monday, 16 March 2015

Trek America Day 1 and 2: Philadelphia & Washington DC

I wasn't going to do any posts till I got back but I'm writing them as I go anyway so may as well publish, I will update with pretty pictures when I get back.

On Sunday night I met up with 2 guys on my tour in the hotel bar, Jonas and Sun.  We had a few drinks then went to bed.  I knew I was sharing my hotel room with Sarah but she hadn't arrived by the time I went to sleep so I left her a little hello note on her bed (that sounds a bit creepy) and conked out. 

When I woke in the morning it was a bit like Christmas Day when you wonder if Santa has been, I was excited to see what my roomie would be like!  I am lucky and she's lovely and we have hit it off well.  We got ready, had breakfast and joined the rest of the tour in the hotel lobby. 

My group is made up of 9 of us from a variety of places, we have Sarah from Wales via 10 years in Australia, Genevieve (I don't know why that has underlined itself, Gen must be special) from Australia, Julie from Belgium, Jonas, Daniel and Simon from Denmark, and Sun and Jisu from South Korea.  Our ages range from 31 to 20.  Ben is our Tour Leader.  After an hour or so of formalities (introductions, signing waivers, filling in forms etc) we were ready to hit the road.  First stop: Philadelphia!  The only thing I know about Philadelphia is it's where the Fresh Prince came from and they do Philly Cheese steak sandwiches.

Ben had given us printed maps of the local area and a little suggested itinerary.  We started with a quick stop off at the famous Rocky steps (I say famous but I've never seen the movie so I'm a bit uncultured here).  Unfortunately they were closed off because of a film crew, and there were several paps around.  There appeared to be a famous person hidden behind some umbrellas having their photo taken next to the Rocky statue.  I hung about and was rewarded with a sneaky glimpse of the man himself, Sylvester Stallone! So cool. I managed to get some pap shots myself with my sneaky zoom (I knew it would come in handy one day!).

The excitement of seeing a real life famous person over, we headed to see the Liberty Bell and have a tour of the Independence Hall, which was originally the capital of the USA. I feel bad but I really wasn't interested in this so have nothing to report about it. 

After that we headed to the Reading Terminal Market which was a huge undercover market selling loads of different freshly prepared foods.  It was built in 1892 and is the nation's oldest, continuously operated farmer's market.   Most of us opted for the cheesesteak (when in Philly!) which was pretty bloody yum.  We then had a quick jaunt to JFK plaza where we took tourist photos underneath the LOVE sign before heading back to the van for our drive to Washington DC.  Oh I almost forgot but we also saw Jesus. 

We checked into the hostel at Washington before heading out to look at the monuments. We are staying at the HI DC hostel which is very centrally located.  The girls and boys have been split into 2 10 bed dorms.  The dorms are nice enough (though the beds are covers in plastic which reminds me of an elderly people's home), there's a really big lounge area and TV and pool table.

The monuments are quite humbling really, the Vietnamese war monument is just a black granite wall with all of the names of the fallen soldiers etched into it.  It's polished granite so you can see your reflection into it.  The memorial was met with resistance as it didn't really celebrate the war efforts (to be fair what was there to celebrate), so at a later date they added a further statue of 3 soldiers looking at the wall of names (interestingly a causican, afro-american and hispanic- no Asian american).

There's also the Lincoln memorial, a huge white building with a massive statue of Abraham inside.

The Korean war memorial, 19 statues of soldiers opposite another polished granite wall with the faces of the dead soldiers etched into it. The 19 soldiers are reflected onto the wall, making 38, which is apparently the latitude at which North and South Korea are divided. 

There's a huge statue of Albert Einstein which we took a group photo on.

There's also a massive memorial to WW2.  This is very different to the other 2 war memorials, it's very grand and has a huge fountain in the middle.

After our monument tour we headed for our first group dinner then back to the hostel.

On day 2 we unintentionally split into a girl and boy group as we'd shared dorm rooms like that so made it easier to plan the day.  The hostel provided a make your own breakfast of bagels, toast and cereal so I stocked up on 2 bagels and a muffin (fatty boomboom), we grabbed a map and headed out to explore.

Our first stop was the White House, which in my head I pictured to be surrounded by a huge lawn set back from the street, it is much closer to the street than I thought and not very private!  There was a bit of commotion and suddenly a motorcade pulled up which we found out later was the Irish PM come to visit Obama for lunch on St Patrick's Day.  We saw two further motorcades, each more extravagant and secure than the last and it was determined one was VP Biden and the other was Obama himself on his way to lunch. Cool!  Took a White House selfie, see below. (I own a business..What's your business?...a selfie stick making company... Oh how's that going?....yeah I can really see myself enjoying it)

We went up the Washington obelisk, we got lucky with tickets as they'd all been distributed for the day but a school group leader took pity on us and gave us his spare tickets which we were every grateful for. This was cool as the obelisk is over 500m tall so you get great views across Washington DC.

Next we headed to the museums, there are over 7 Smithsonian museums all along the same road and they're all free and awesome.  We headed to the Air and Space one which was very informative and interactive (space just blows my mind) then the art gallery which was beautiful.  I wanted to see the Natural History Museum too but we had a bit of culture fatigue by this point so went for lunch in Chinatown.  I am a bit gutted because the boys went and said it was brilliant, so I shall have to return!
The final stop of the day was the Ford Theatre where Lincoln was assassinated.  You can actually see the spot he was killed but there was a rehearsal in the theatre this day so we weren't allowed in.  However there is a mini museum and exhibition which we strolled round (I am very ignorant to American history so didn't know anything about Lincoln but he seemed like a good guy, he abolished slavery and stuff) before heading to the pub for a cheeky St Paddy's day beverage.

I had a nap at the hostel then we met the boys in a bar, drank green Budweiser and played darts.  In the USA they play it differently, it's called Cricket (I can't work out why, am I being thick?) Basically you have to hit 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15 and the bullseye each three times (though if you get the double or triple ring that is your 2 or 3).  We were pretty evenly matched (I.e all pretty rubbish) and it was probably the longest game of darts ever but fun nonetheless!

We finished the night in Chipotle where I got berated for ordering a kids meal with chocolate milk. I love chocolate milk! also had a something about mary moment and managed to get sour cream in my hair. Oops.

Some observations:
Americans are obsessed with accents and think the British and Australian ones are especially "cute".
There's many homeless people in Washington DC.
The roads are terrible and there really is steam rising from the roads like in the movies.
The "restrooms" are not private, there's gaps between the doors so you can see people doing their business. The toilets are also really low and shallow so you can really examine your deposits should you so wish. That Gillian McKeith would love it.
The food portions have been disappointingly small. 
Hostels are not as bad as I thought they would be and actually quite fun, I feel like I'm on a school trip (ironic as I hated school trips)
Being in a culturally diverse group is great and fascinating, apparently I say "rubbish" a lot and I had to explain what that meant. The Aussies say "heaps" a lot.  In Wales they say "who's coat is that jacket?" and "I'll do it now in a minute". I love stuff like that.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant!!! Although maybe you think the portion sizes are small because you are ordering kids meals?!xxxxxxxx

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