My Ben-ja-min Frank-a-lins!

Trip Start Jun 24, 2012
Trip End Sep 21, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Our sleep last night that's putting it lightly. Through some feat of forward planning, our private double room was located smack bang in between two giant dorm rooms, and opposite another, all of which were occupied by the Portuguese school group, and they spent THE ENTIRE NIGHT running backwards and forwards, singing, shouting and bashing the doors in. I know I sound like a properly grumpy granny, but jeezus they were annoying. And we were tired!

We called it quits at 5.30, showered and got ourselves ready to leave. We ended up heading out of the hostel at 7.30am, and walked through the bustling commuter crowds to the train station. The journey took us over 45 minutes; we needed to stop loads to catch our breath and rest our poor shoulders. There were points when I didn't think we would make it (drama!) and that we'd have to get a taxi, but our frugal-ness prevailed and we eventually dragged our butts into the train station and collapsed onto the floor

I sourced us a croissant and some apple juice for breakfast and in no time at all, we were loading ourselves up on our train to Philadelphia. I was a little nervous getting on the train today, with it being the anniversary of 9/11 but aside from some extra security in the form of adorable sniffer dogs, the trip was uneventful. 

We travelled through D.C, Baltimore Maryland, and Wilmington Delaware and into Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (really ticking off the states now) and the countryside was lovely. I sort of wish we'd done a trek on this side to get out into the countryside (probably somewhat influenced still by my reading of 'A Walk in the Woods') so that we really got to experience it; however, we'll be coming back to do New Orleans, so no reason why we can't do this part too. 

When we got to Philadelphia train station, we were stopped and questioned by two police officers before they let us through. It was probably the harried, tired, giant-backpack-iness of the pair of us, combined with the 'guiltyface' I can't help but pull whenever I see Authority Figures. It's like a really dodgy tic, even though I've never done anything to look guilty about! Still, by the time we'd gotten our bearings, the tiredness had given out and I refused to walk to find the hostel. Instead, we got a cab, and ultimately I was glad we had, as it would have taken us ages to find it. 

The hostel was down a particularly dodgy-looking alley, and just had a tiny door opening out into the street. Straight away we knew it was a bit weirdy; the guy said we were too early to check in, but could drop off our bags and go into the city if we wanted...and then proceeded to talk at us for about half an hour about all the hostel rules, as well as things to see in Philadelphia. The rules included having to put a sticker on some velcro on the bed so that the staff didn't chuck out our stuff, and the fact that the lights were on an automatic time out. Still, it was the ONLY hostel in Philly and we were only there for two nights, so we weren't too worried. 

We headed back out into the alley and decided to go and get tickets to see Independence Hall. We only needed to walk for about 10 minutes - regardless of how good/bad the hostel is, it is right in the centre of things - until we were at the Liberty Bell and the city's visitor centre. We exchanged our code for our tickets (which are free, but timed) and it gave us enough time to grab some late lunch of hotdogs. We then popped over the grounds to the building which houses the Liberty Bell. 

The Liberty Bell is iconic in the American psyche; it represents a symbol of American independence, as there is an old story that it was rung on the July 4th, 1776 to mark the vote for Independence (although actually it wasn't rung at all, but for some reason this has stuck). It also has a large crack in it, although I haven't yet been able to find out the significance of this, or whether it is just the age of the bell. 

The bell was pretty cool, for an old bell, and the amount of American tourists swooning over it was funny. It made me think of which artefacts in Britain attract the same amount of romanticism, and I can't really think of any! We had a look around at some of the exhibits accompanying the bell, and I collected my National Park Stamps (yeah!) and then we headed over to Independence Hall. 

Independence Hall was where both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were debated and adopted, and again is held in reverence by the American People. It's really small - compared to what we were expecting, anyway - and is by the American definition, an old and historic building...coming from the UK, though, it looked in really good nick!

We went through the ridiculous security (again!) and joined a tour with a really animated guy who gave us the low down on what went on in Independence Hall - George Washington! Benjamin Franklin! (which, by the way, I find it nearly impossible to say without mimicking Flo-Rida) - and then we were allowed into the Assembly Room, where the dudes all sat and signed for their Independence. It was actually pretty cool, as they'd left it in situ, and there were people in period dress, so you could really get a feel for it. The building itself is beautiful - lovely red stone and very symmetrical - very much like Philadelphia, actually, which is laid out in neat little blocks and is very small and tidy. 

After our tour of Independence Hall, we walked down Market Street, where most of the shops were, and past Philly's modern city hall, to the JFK Plaza where the famous 'Love' sculpture is. Once again, we were surprised at how small it was; I think we've been spoiled with GIANT GRAND America over the past few months, and now we're in the tiny states everything seems tiny. 

We took our obligatory tourist photos of the sculpture and then walked back through the city to the Reading Terminal Market; a big indoor market with hundreds of food stalls of every imaginable type. We'd seen it on Man vs. Food months ago, and had it on our lost of places to visit whilst we were in the city. It did not disappoint - there were stalls of grocers, butchers, chinese food, chocolates, italian food, bistros, indian food, bakers...just everything. We bought some truffles from a huge chocolate stall called Mueller Incorporate (and I chipped in to help an adorable kid who wanted a lolly and didn't have enough cute!) and decided we'd pop back tomorrow to fully take advantage

We snaffled our truffles whilst walking back into the older part of the city, past the US mint and a jail right in the middle of the city that looked like a skyscraper, and found ourselves at Christ Church Burial Ground, where Benjamin Franklin is buried. We paid a couple dollars to get in and have a wander round, but it was absolutely tiny, so didn't take us long. Some fun facts I found out about Benjamin Franklin though:

 - He's one of the founding fathers, and is on the $100 bill, but was never president. 
 - He was, amongst other things, an author, politician, scientist, musician, inventor, and satirist 
 - He was a major figure in the American Enlightenment

You'll thank me if he ever comes up in a pub quiz. 

We moved on from Christ Church and continued walking around the little city. We passed Betsy Ross' House, where the lady of the same name sewed the first American Flag. So much history in this tiny little place! We ended up at a street called Elfreth's Alley, which is the oldest continually inhabited street in America (since 1702), and is the cutest little chocolate-box street, with flags, flowers and multicoloured houses. We popped into a tiny little museum in one of the converted houses, and carried on through, walking back past Christ Church to find a store to buy some stuff for dinner. 

We got back to the hostel fairly late and were finally allowed to check in. We hauled our bags up the narrow staircase to the one room, and were shocked to see that there were 28 beds there. We'd booked for a dorm room, but there was only supposed to be 12 beds - this place was packed tight like sardine cans. We duly put our receipts up on the beds we chose and headed down to cook ourselves some pasta. We stayed down in the kitchen for a while, reading some reviews of the hostel, which were pretty crap...apparently the owners can be nasty if they don't like you and one girl said they'd been private messaging her on Facebook to demand she take down her review. People were also complaining about the massive room that isn't advertised anywhere...pretty dodgy. Still, we ate our pasta, made good use of the wifi, and then decided to head up to bed just before 11pm whilst the lights were still on. 

When we got up there, we found a small asian girl in the bed opposite us cuddling her macbook to her chest like a teddy whilst she slept....strangely cute in a decidedly odd way. Sure enough, we'd just gotten into bed when a guy came in and switched all the lights off, so we called it a night and settled down to sleep. 

Deej x 
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