Doing Hard Time

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

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Flag of United States  , Maryland
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Howdy folks,

I would like to say that we had a good night's sleep, but the car alarm that started at 5:30am and never stopped killed that dream. I got up at 6am to have breakfast and we just had to get up and start the day. The continental breakfast wasn’t great and we tried to go over to the Hampton Inn next door to steal their wifi, but it didn’t work. Should have had breakfast there instead…

We weren’t sure of the plans for the day, but we had a CityPass so we decided just to follow along with that and see as many as we could. I had no idea where to park so we ended up parking in the middle of the city for a jaw dropping $26. It was only 10am, so we vowed not to move the car until we had to. First we checked out City Hall which lies in the center of Philadelphia, but is now surrounded by much higher skyscrapers which limit its view. Nearby was a posh hotel which was renovated out of a large meeting hall and the presentation was exceptional. It’s always nice to look inside rich hotels and sit down in the lobby, they are always different.

We went to have a look inside the city hall and found that the building was actually built around a large courtyard and wasn’ t as impressive as we had thought. It was possible to go to the viewing tower, but as it isn’t the biggest building I couldn’t see a point. Walking north we passed a public space filled with giant board game pieces and next to the art institute was a giant paintbrush and a full sized plane crash with a greenhouse inside the fuselage.

In most big cities they have trolley tours where they shuttle you around a course of the big attractions and Philadelphia was the first city we did one in. We hopped on the open window trolley and stopped a few miles down the road at the Eastern State Penitentiary which when opened was the first modern jail in Philadelphia. It was a revolutionary building when completed in 1829 and had a radical design. They believed that in order for a prisoner to be truly penitent, that they needed time to think about what they had done so they built a small cell for every single prisoner and they were in lockdown for 23 hours a day in complete silence. The system was eventually abandoned and the prison doubled in size and quadrupled in numbers due to increased demand with prisoners sharing cells and common areas. The most famous inmate here was Al Capone albeit only briefly. Due to old age and high maintenance costs, it was eventually closed in 1971 and reopened as a museum in 1994 as a stabilized ruin and the audio tour was really great.

It wasn’t far to walk to the Art Museum down the road which is the famous scene of Rocky running up the stairs and dancing at the top. Tourists still do it today and there is even a statue of Rocky nearby. We went inside, but unfortunately time was running out for us to take a proper look. The trolley arrived, so we jumped on to tour the rest of the loop. We went back through the city out towards the old town where the Declaration of Independence was signed at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell rang out the news. Because we were on the bus, we didn’t get a good look, but I wasn’t so interested anyways.

We journeyed back to the City Hall where there is a square with the famous LOVE sculpture. It was onto our last point of the day at the Benjamin Franklin Science Museum. The observation deck was closed due to the incoming storm, but we had a look at the exhibits including electricity, aviation and sports science. There was a huge steam train in the basement and apparently they had to dismantle the stone wall in 1930 just to get it inside! Steffie was particularly impressed by being able to walk through a giant model of the human heart.

The clouds turned to rain so we rushed back to the car to grab our laptops and head to Starbucks to find out what our next move would be. It started bucketing with rain, so we ruled out camping and decided to find a cheap place on the way to Washington DC instead. Neither of us was in the mood for cooking, so we went out for a nice Chinese banquet and left more than full. Driving out of Philadelphia was wet and slow because there were a few accidents on the highway. Our motel was just past the big city of Wilmington and we were just happy to find it and check in. It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep that was for sure!

In the morning, I had some time to Skype with Simon and talk to Joel about our plans for Washington DC. We could have driven out to his house from that point, but then we would have had to drive all the way back in to see the sights so we booked a hotel on the outskirts of the city instead. That meant that we didn’t have so far to drive and we could just have an easy day.

We left the hotel in New Castle at 11am and stopped in at McDonalds for a salad for lunch. Instead of travelling along the I-95, we drove along Highway 40 just south of it and crossed over the Susquehanna River Bridge which was quite large. We had to also buy some supplies because it had been ages since we did proper grocery shopping so we spotted an ALDI supermarket and went in to pick up some German food and a bit of booze as well. It was nice because we didn’t have to rush around doing things and we could take our time. We stuck to Highway 40 and drove into Baltimore where we were going to stop at the waterfront and take in the views, but both of us couldn’t really be bothered with parking and traffic. So we passed the famous John Hopkins Hospital, Edgar Allan Poe’s grave and the Oriole’s baseball field and joined onto the I-95 again.

Before we found our hotel, we stopped at the Maryland Information Center and got some information on our upcoming adventures in Washington DC. We checked into our motel at Laurel around 4pm and had a nice relaxing evening having a few drinks and making car park pasta. Sometimes cooking in a car park really attracts some people and we had a New Yorker come over and talk to us for 10 minutes. He said that he was planning on getting a 4WD and going up to Alaska. I guess that the idea of having no commitments and just hitting the open road has a romantic appeal, but in reality it is hard work and unless you are totally committed, the stress can drive you a bit crazy. Each to their own!
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