On the Wild Side

Trip Start Jun 12, 2012
Trip End Oct 18, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Monday, September 17, 2012

Howdy folks,

It was a strange feeling waking up after 5 weeks being only the 2 of us again. We didn't have any plans for the day, so we just checked out a few options and left the hotel at 11am. We ended up driving down the New Jersey Turnpike because it was the quicker way out even though we had to pay the $6 toll. We decided to spend the day at Six Flags because we hadn’t been since Illinois and we had season passes. After forking out $22 for parking (WTF!), we arrived through the turnstile gates at 1pm and into a world of good family fun. Six Flags is a pretty well run theme park chain and many of the big rides are the same. We hit up a few of the rollercoasters first, but I didn’t really have the stomach for them for some reason. That isn’t to say that we didn’t go on any others, but I didn’t enjoy them as much. The Green Lantern ride was crazy as it was a stand up rollercoaster, but very uncomfortable.

We ended up leaving after 6 hours and we didn’t have any accommodation booked for the evening, so we thought about boon docking. Basically if you have a campervan or RV, you can go up to a Walmart or truck stop and ask to park overnight. We haven’t done any before because we’ve been able to camp and because we don’t have so much privacy in a minivan. After finding the local Walmart, we parked around the back out of the bright lights and set up our sleeping bags in the back seats. It was only 10pm so we had a bit of trouble getting to sleep, but there were only a few people hanging around because it was a huge parking lot.

Around 1:30am, I was woken up by the local security guard who told us that normally they only let RVs boon dock, but it would be ok if we drove around and parked at the front of the store. I thanked him and we moved the car and got a somewhat reasonable sleep. I can’t say that sleeping in the car is on my list of highlights, but at least I can say that I’ve done it!

In the morning, we were up at 7am before anyone was around and jumped back on the New Jersey turnpike. We stopped at a Burger King for breakfast and toilet stop before driving into Camden, New Jersey which is across the river from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We were there early so we parked at the aquarium and took a walk along the waterfront up to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Apparently Camden isn’t known for much but producing Campbell’s Soup and having a giant HMV tower with Nipper the dog. There was also a big battleship docked at the harbour which is a floating museum as well with a tribute to the Merchant Navy in WW2 nearby.

Once the doors opened to the aquarium at 10am, we went inside to take a look. The ticket was part of the CityPass for Philadelphia and the aquarium had 4 different areas including their main tank, touch tanks, hippos, jellyfish and outdoor exhibits. We watched 3 divers enter the main tank and give a talk about scuba diving and communicating underwater. Apparently they don’t have to worry about the sharks because they only feed 3 times a week! It was cool to see the hippos underwater and touch the leathery skin of the small shark as well.

Once we were done, we drove across the toll bridge into Philadelphia and out to the zoo on the other side. Philadelphia has the oldest zoo in the United States and it was a reasonable size for being so close to the city. We spent a good 3 hours walking around having a look at the playful river otters, giraffe, horny Galapagos Island tortoises, snakes and bats. They had quite a few different animal species, but the big cats were pretty lazy. The best one was probably the Asian Brown Bear which was stalking around the enclosure.

Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the United States, but also one of the most dangerous cities I’ve been to. I felt safer in New York City and Detroit than I did in Philadelphia! We drove into North Philadelphia to find a McDonalds to book a hotel and we entered into a very poor black neighbourhood. The McDonalds was part of the service station and we were the only white people in there! There were even pro-black and pro-education billboards on the walls and police security cameras. I ordered a burger and I’m pretty sure one guy just nicked it straight as the woman brought it out! Luckily I got another one and we quickly booked a room and got out of there. I’m not saying I felt unsafe because it was an black neighbourhood, but because of all the sketchy looking people just sitting around watching you drive by.

We drove straight down Broad Street through downtown which was full of narrow one way streets and out to a hotel nearby the airport. The wifi wasn’t working there, but we were at least glad to have a proper bed for the night and a TV for distraction!
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