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The American History Tour

Exploring Independence

I've always wanted to visit Philadelphia, so was excited that I was finally there! The first area I headed for, of course, was the Independence National Historical Park.

The first exhibit we happened to come across was the Liberty Bell. They've built a new exhibit for the bell in recent years. There's a whole big building with a lot of written info about its history -- both its manufacture and its significance throughout the years -- then finally the bell. I would say that it's smaller than I thought it would be, but it was exciting to see it nevertheless.
Philadelphia_008.jpg The other thing about it that struck me was how crudely it was made. You would expect the bottom rim to be perfectly round and smooth, but it appeared that the edge was very crudely banged out. I guess I wasn't expecting that. The information about the bell was interesting. I don't remember reading in history class about its significance in both the abolition/civil rights and suffrage movements, but the info there about these 2 causes were impactful. It was pretty cool.

As we left the building, we came across an actual ongoing archealogical dig. You could see the foundation of a building or house several feet down. I was surprised at how far down it was. Later we happened to come across another building where the archealogical team was working on the stuff that they found. In this big room were all kinds of pieces of pottery, etc., that they were trying to put together like a puzzle. It looked pretty overwhelming, but we saw some pieces that they had already put together. I asked one of the guys about why these items and buildings were not preserved better than they were. He said that the appreciation of something comes only after many, many years. In other words, we may not appreciate something that we owned, say, 20 years ago, but we would probably appreciate something that was 100 years old. At the time things were thrown away or torn down, it was probably because they just considered it old or useless or junky, and it was time for something new. Interesting...and sad too.

Then we wandered up the street and came across the old Christ Church burial yard where Benjamin Franklin was buried in 1790. This old graveyard was full of old stones, some crudely fashioned, mostly from the 1700's. It was cool to walk around and see all the names and dates, and I tried to imagine the ceremony that took place at that spot at the time of Ben's burial.

Across the street was an old Quaker Meeting House. There was info there about the Quakers, and the most interesting was how they got their name. One of them appeared before a judge for something, and he told him that he should tremble at the responsibility he had to make the right decision in this case, and his accountability before God. The judge said something to the effect, "I'm not the one who should be worried -- you're the Quaker, not I." So an entire religious group is accidently named by some random judge!

On down the street, we came upon Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted. I was very disappointed because we didn't get to go in. You have to get a ticket first at the Visitors Center (where we had been about an hour or two before), but we didn't know that, and they had already given out all their tickets! What aggrevated me was that we went into the Visitors Center when we first got there, and I asked the man for information. He gave me a brochure and asked me if I had any questions. I said, no, I'll just follow the map around town. I didn't realize that I SHOULD have had a question. I'm thinking he should have said at that point that if I wanted to see Independence Hall, I'd need a ticket, and there probably would have still been some at that time. And with the rare and expensive parking downtown, I wasn't going to come back the next day just to see that. Oh well. At least I got to see the building.

East of there was a place called Carpenter's Hall. This was the place where the first Continental Congress came together in 1774 -- the first of the discussions about independence. I enjoy trying to imagine those first people there -- Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, George Washington, and so many others -- and think about the fact that they were standing there at the same place I was, talking about this very important matter. That's fun to me.

From there we walked down to the First Bank of the U.S. It was the site of the country's first Department of Treasury. If front of that building still remains some of the original cobblestone in the streets. It's hard to imagine an iron-wheeled buggy going down those very bumpy rocks. It was hard to even walk on it without turning your ankle! Also, it seemed so odd because the buildings were beautiful and very finely crafted. It seemed to me that the streets should have had some of the same craftsmanship, but what do I know?

We walked around behind Independence Hall and over to Washington Square, where there's a monument commemorating the unknown soldiers of the Revolutionary War. On the monument are the words of George Washington, and he refers to the thousands of unmarked graves within the Square.

We walked back towards the middle of that area and saw Jewelers Row, America's oldest Diamond District (established in 1851). There are hundreds of jewelry stores on that street. It was quite a sight.

The Rest of Philadelphia

We got in the pickup and started driving up towards the very old City Hall. Along the way, we saw the historic Masonic Temple (most of the founding fathers, including Washington, were members there), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (most famous for Rocky running up its steps), and at least a dozen weddings going on in one of the large parks. We ended up driving on down to South Philly, to the "Italian Market" area, which is famous for all its famous sons such as Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Vic Damone, Chubby Checker, etc. (In fact, there was one building that had all of their pictures -- and others -- painted on the side of the building). Anyway, we were driving towards the area, and we turned a corner, and all of the sudden there were dozens and dozens of people, lined up in the streets, cars everywhere. We thought, what the heck is going on? Then we realized that right there, catty-corner across from each other were Geno's and Pat's, both renowned for their Philly Cheese Steaks. I had wanted to try out the original item, although I wasn't sure where to find them, so it was serendipitous to run across them like that. So we went to find a place to park -- not an easy task! We drove and drove up and down all the one-way streets. We ended up parking 22 blocks away! Now I know that sounds like a long way, but it was actually about .6 miles. Anyway, I'm actually glad we parked so far away because we got to walk through all the old Italian neighborhoods and seeing how other people lived. When we were about a block or two away, we ran across an Italian family who were out in their lawn chairs on the sidewalk (that's the only place they could be). I stopped and asked the group, "Could I ask you a question?" The older woman in the group stood up and pointed her finger at me, and she and I said at the same time, "Which one is better?" I started laughing and said, "Boy, you're good!" Anyway, the whole group of them -- about 8 or 9 people -- unanimously said "Geno's" -- so Geno's it was!!

We walked up to the next block where Geno's was located, and started standing in line (out in the street!).
Philadelphia_063.jpg It went pretty fast, and I could tell that the people at the window were cranking them through. I also realized that we wouldn't be able to dawdle at the window (it would be like those VISA check card commercials where everything comes to a standstill because someone wanted to write a check). Anyway, Michael stood in line while I went up near the front of the line to check out the choices. Well, your choices were steak, with or without onions, and with or without cheese (either cheese-whiz [traditional] or provolone). You didn't even get your drink there (you had to go to the next window). So we were ready -- steak with onions with provolone. It was almost intimidating to go up to the window when it was our time. I felt like if I didn't say what I wanted perfectly and quickly, I would be shoved aside! But I said it all ok. We got the food immediately and then went to the next window to get our drink (Pepsi or Diet Pepsi). The only condiment for the sandwich was ketchup (no thanks), so we just sat down and ate it. To tell you the truth, it wasn't all that great (of course, Michael was talking about all the things he would have done to it to make it taste better) -- but that wasn't the point. The point was that I had a traditional Philly Cheesesteak in South Philly! It was fun to just be a part of the craziness.

Biking and Museum

When we drove over near the Art Museum, we we also drove through Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River (pronounced Skoo-kill -- it's Dutch). It was pretty, but more significantly, it had a great bike trail along both sides of the river. So we decided to take our bikes down there the next day so we could ride the trail and go to the Museum.

It was a nice flat trail right along the river, with the occasional long row boat floating by. We rode about 2/3 of one side and came to the Art Museum, so we parked and went in. Of course, I first had to take a picture of Michael up at the top of the stairs in the Rocky Balboa pose.
Philadelphia_016.jpg That was a requirement!

It was a nice museum, with a wide range of eras and styles. My favorite was the European artists from the 1800's, such as Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Degas, Goya, etc. But it also had art back to the 1500's (a lot of middle ages kind of stuff). I enjoyed it a lot.

We went out and ate our lunch in the courtyard (we had brought the backpack and supplies that day). While we were in the Museum, it had started to drizzle. We decided that we didn't care (you have to decide those things, don't you know?!) and just sat there and ate in the drizzle. Then we got back on our bikes, crossed the bridge, and started up the other side. It was drizzling all along our ride, but it wasn't really bad. The good part was that all the sane people had decided to go home, so we had the trail almost to ourselves! The park was very pretty. We rode as far as the trail went, then crossed on yet another bridge, and came back to where we started. We had a good ride.

Princeton Bound

We left Philadelphia and decided to drive on up the road to check out Trenton, New Jersey. When we got there, we saw that it was actually a crummy little town. BUT I saw that if we continued on up the road for another 10 miles or so, we would come to Princeton. As soon as we started leaving Trenton, the landscape started getting prettier and the homes fancier. The town of Princeton was gorgeous, and then we saw the campus. It was very old and very spread out, with lots and lots of trees, but it was probably the most beautiful campus I had ever seen. The buildings themselves were just random, with lots of trees in front, so I never could get a good picture to share with you.

In the campus area there was also a very trendy little shopping area that reminded me of something you might see in Carmel or something. Very cute. We didn't stroll the streets at tha point since it had passed from drizzle to rain, but we enjoyed driving up and down the streets. At one point, we saw a courtyard area with hundreds of chairs. It only took me a minute to figure out that that was graduation day. As we continued to drive along (it was around 4:45 at that point), we started seeing people, including a couple in caps and gowns, walking toward that area, so we figured we'd better get out before the traffic got too crazy. I felt a couple of emotions when I saw the graduates -- one was "wow, good for you for graduating from Princeton", and the other was "bummer that it's raining on your graduation day".

Random Road Report, Part I

When we were driving into Philadelphia, I had seen there was a toll road going in from New Jersey. As we got closer, we saw a sign that said the toll was $3. We commented on how that was on the higher side (tolls in the San Francisco bay area usually run $1 or $2). But we were in for a shock. When we came to the toll booth, the guy said $9! After we composed ourselves and asked why, the guy said it was because our dually pickup was over 7,000 pounds, and if we looked at our registration, he could prove it. I don't know if that was true or not (although it probably was), but he had a real smart-mouth attitude so it made the $9 payment even harder.

The next day when we went into Philly, I looked on our atlas and saw an alternate route that wasn't green (the designation for a toll route), so we decided to go a little out of the way to go that direction. Again, we drove up and saw a toll booth -- good grief! Michael asked this guy whether the other guy was blowing smoke (we had wondered whether or not the other guy had decided to just take advantage of some Oregonians). He said, "no, it's based on weight." Michael said, "well the weight is not on our registration like the other guy said, so what is it based on?" This guy was a smart-mouth too, and he said "do you want to talk to a cop?" Michael said "YES!" Great.... So we pulled over to the side, ahead of the booth, and waited a couple of minutes for a couple of New Jersey cops to come over. We had a nice conversation (I told Mike to be nice!), and I guess neither one of the toll guys were blowing smoke, so we decided we would go ahead and pay the toll, even though it was a rip off. We couldn't figure out how to drive back around and pay. The cops were already heading back to their cars, so I yelled at one of them to ask him where we turn around. He looked around a bit, and I could tell by his demeanor that he realized there was no easy way to do it, so he said "just go on this time." YEAH! Our toll average just decreased to $4.50! ;-)

On to something else -- between Clarksboro NJ (where we stayed) and Trenton NJ, it seemed that there was a Dunkin' Donuts about every mile. I couldn't believe how many we saw -- and wondered how they were all supported! (Of course, we did our best to support the local economy and got a few donuts ourselves!).

There are a lot of "townships" around this part of the world (as well as boroughs and cities). As you come up to a directional sign, in order to save space, instead of saying "township", it will say "Twp of ---". That makes me laugh every time, because I see the word "twerp" there. (OK, maybe it's just me). ;-)

Off to Washington

We visited Washington DC about 6 years ago, and saw a lot of stuff, so we had decided that we probably wouldn't stop there this time. We thought it would be too hard with the fifth wheel, and too expensive to find a park close to DC. However, it was difficult to be so close and NOT go, so we decided to look for an RV park. We found the perfect place, not too far from DC, not too expensive, and close to the bus and then metro rail, so we were going to get to go after all.

When we got set up, we just had about a half day, so didn't want to go into DC that late. Instead, we headed for Prince William Forest Park, a national park (that I had never heard of) that was close to Quantico Marine Base. They had a 7-mile scenic loop and bike trail there, so we took our bikes.

When we got there, we thought it looked a little hilly, but not too bad. But they had a cool set up. Around most of the scenic loop, it was one-way traffic on a two-lane road. The right lane was for cars, and the left lane was just for bikes. It was nice to ride that far without having to worry about cars.

The hills were pretty balanced at the beginning. We would ride for a bit on an uphill, but then there would be a little downhill soon in order to recuperate. It was all working out well. I think there were probably more uphills than downhills, because on the other side of the park, we found ourselves in a very long downhill. I've never gone so fast on my bike! I hit my brakes a few times just to slow it down, but I smelled burning every time. It was exhiliarating, but also a bit scary (especially considering my not-so-long-ago bike crash history!). But all good things must come to an end, and there was a huge uphill after that. We ended up walking our bikes halfway up.

Into DC

The next morning, we took the bus to the Metro Station, then the Metro into DC. I must say that DC has one of the best mass transit systems in the country -- easy and quick. We bought an all-day pass so we could go anywhere we wanted.

When we came to DC before, we had seen all the usual stuff -- the White House, Capital, Smithsonian American History Museum, Lincoln Memorial, etc. My goal on this trip was to see some of the other stuff we hadn't seen before. Our first intended stop was the Ford Theater where Lincoln was shot. But after getting off the Metro and walking a few blocks over, we found out it was closed for renovation. Bummer. But right across the street from there was an old hotel where Lincoln was brought and was cared for until he died. They had all the original stuff in the same room -- including the bed he died in. Again, I just stood there and imagined what it was like that day and seeing Lincoln lie in that bed, and all the chaos in the room. It was interesting being there.

We got back on the Metro and rode two stops down to the Smithsonian area. However, our first stop there was the Holocaust Museum. Matt had been there before and had recommended it. And even though it sounded very interesting, I knew it would be pretty heavy. (When I told Mike that we were going to start the day with where Lincoln was shot and then the Holocaust, he said, wow, this is going to be a fun day). ;-)

The Museum was very well done. It was very realistic and didn't pull any punches. As I was walking in, I told Michael that I hope by the time I leave to have the answer to one question -- where was the US during all this? Well, I got my answer, but I wasn't too happy about it. I found out that there were several attempts made by various senators, citizens, etc. to bring in refugees. But because of the rampant antisemitism in the nation's leadership, they came up with all kinds of excuses why we couldn't take these people in. There was even a ship full of Jewish refugees that had escaped who were at our port, but we wouldn't let them in. I was pretty disgusted by the time I left. But even though it was a pretty heavy morning, I would recommend this museum to everyone. I don't think we should ever forget what happened.

When we left there, we walked over to the World War II Memorial, located between the Washington Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. When we were here six years ago, they had just done the groundbreaking for this memorial, so I obviously hadn't seen it. I hadn't even seen a picture of it, so wasn't sure what to expect. But it was very nice -- very well done. And it was bigger than I had imagined. There was a big fountain area, surrounded on the two sides by the Atlantic struggle, and then the Pacific struggle on the other side. Then there was a pillar around the pool representing each state. I'm glad I got to see it.

After that, we headed over to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. It was pretty cool to see representations (and/or the real thing) of all our space history -- like the module that landed on the moon, the space shuttle, the nose cone of various Apollo moon flights, etc. It was very interesting to go through there (even though there were a bazillion teenagers in there at the same time on their end-of-school trips).

Arlington Cemetery

From there, we got back on the Metro and rode over to Arlington Cemetery. It was very impressive. It was incredibly well-maintained (which I was glad to see) and a very beautiful cemetery. Of course, we walked over to see JFK's grave.
East_Coast_058.jpg I had forgotten that Jackie was buried beside him. They also had two of their babies that they had lost buried there with them. The eternal flame was burning, and it was a very respectful area. In fact, one of the random tour guides had taken his people up there to the burial area and started talking to them, giving them some factoids. After he was done, this guard came up to him and really chewed him out, telling him that next time he was to talk to his people away from this area first, before he gets there.

We headed around the corner from there to see where Bobby Kennedy was buried. I was surprised to see how understated that gravesite was -- just a small cross and marker.

Finally, we walked over to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For some reason I had imagined that the Tomb would be near the front as you walk in, but it was way the heck over on the other side. I also did not realize until we walked up on it that there is a big arena-type memorial there that can seat quite a few. Anyway, we started seeing some people running over to the Tomb. Since the Changing of the Guard Ceremony takes place only every 30 minutes, we figured that it was just about time (we don't wear our watches -- it's a "vacation thing"). Sure enough, we had to wait only about 5 minutes. First of all, the soldier's walking was a thing of beauty. It looked like he was floating on air -- it didn't even look human. And the changing of the guard ceremony was amazing. You can tell it is steeped in military tradition -- very formal and deliberate. The entire ceremony takes about 10 minutes. When you consider that they do this every half hour, it's quite impressive. Of course, I took lots of pictures (on my photosite), but I also went to You Tube to see if there were any videos of this. If you're interested, you can look at this special report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XiuZRb_4UU There are also other videos on that same page if you're interested. I would definitely tell anyone going to DC that this is a must-see.

Well, I just read through this DC section and realized that yes, I did have a "death theme" going -- Lincoln's death, Holocaust, WWII Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. Hmmm.... But it was a really good enjoyable day. Go figure.

Random Road Report, Part II

As we were travelling to DC, in the short trips across Delaware and Maryland, we saw something interesting. In those two states they have what they call "Service Areas". These consist of gas stations, restaurants, etc., and they're in the broad middle of the highway, between the two lanes. You enter those areas by exiting left, then you just drive right back onto the freeway. I thought that was a clever idea, although I realized that the space is limited and the only way to get your business in there would be to enter into a contract with the government -- kinda stifles free enterprise, huh?

Of course, I ranted on and on about the tolls to get from New Jersey into Philadelphia. However, that was nothing! When we left NJ heading to DC, we had to pay a toll to go across the bridge into Delaware (we did finally deduce that no matter which direction you go, you have to pay to get out of NJ). We were in Delaware just a few minutes, and then we had to pay a toll to get into Maryland. Again, just a few minutes in Maryland, through Baltimore, we came to Virginia, where we (you guessed it) had to pay a toll. Then right before we got to our campground, we entered a toll booth and paid to go about 300 feet to our turnoff (thank goodness that one was only $0.25). All in all, in 2-1/2 hours of driving, we paid a total of $25.50 in tolls!!! Now you would think after all those toll roads, the roads would be perfect, as smooth as glass -- WRONG! They were some really lousy roads -- so I'm not sure what they're doing with all that money!! (OK, enough ranting).

One cool thing they have in DC is regarding their commute lanes. Those of you who have lived in or visited California know that they have commuter lanes (diamond lanes) that only those cars with 2 or more people can use during certain hours. They have that in DC too. But the cool thing is that there is a 2 or 3-lane barriered-off section in the freeway median area that they use for that. But what's even better is that these median lanes all go IN to DC in the mornings and OUT of DC in the afternoons (there are gates that help make the switch). So in other words, this system adds 2 or 3 lanes to the freeway during commute times. It's still incredibly crowded, though. Given the quality and ease of use of their mass transit, I know I'd do anything possible to not drive around there.

Finally, we were in a county park outside of DC and saw a game of kickball going on. It was evidently an adult co-ed league. It looked like a game of baseball, running bases and all, except that they pitched and kicked a big elementary-school-type red rubber ball. We sat and watched them for a while, and it looked like a lot of fun. I thought that was interesting -- adult co-ed league kickball.

On To Virginia

We headed on down into Virginia, through Fredericksburg and Richmond, and on down to the Chesapeake Bay area. After we dropped off the fifth wheel in Gloucester Point (and paid a toll to get there!), we took off south of there. We drove through Hampton and Norfolk (and saw the Navy base and the big ships there), then on down to Virginia Beach. We went out on the beach there in VB -- it was really a nice beach. It was really long and really deep, and the sand was perfect.
East_Coast_079.jpg I went down and put my feet in the water. It was pretty cold, but there were lots of people in it. But I'm still having a hard time seeing the Atlantic Ocean as an ocean -- there are no stinkin' waves! I'm used to the west coast where there are always waves. It's weird!

While we were there, we kept seeing lots of tents being set up, along with nets and markers. When we asked what was going on, we found out that there was going to be a big Sand Soccer tournament that weekend. I guess people from all over the world come to that beach every year to do this -- people from 6 to 60. Here I've never heard of Sand Soccer, and all hundreds or thousands of people do this all the time.

Colonial Williamsburg

The next day we headed over to Historic Williamsburg. I did not have a clear understanding of what this was until we were there. Basically, this is the historic district within the City of Williamsburg. Anyone can walk down the street, since this is a regular city street. However, you pay an entry fee to be able to go into the various buildings. It was worth it.

I found out that several years ago, this was a deteriorating section of the city. However, in the early 1900's, John D. Rockefeller thought that this area was worth saving, and put millions of dollars into restoring it. All these buildings were from the 1600's and 1700's. There are some original buildings, and then others have been restored in various degrees. Anyway, now it is like an entire city. It's about a mile long, and about 3 streets wide. On every street are various shops and taverns like they were back in the day -- everything from the blacksmith, cabinetmaker, apothecary, gunmaker, silversmith, shoemaker, wigmaker, cooper and on and on. And these shops are filled with workers producing their wares in the manner and with the equipment of the 1700's. (And in the carpenter's shop I got to play a harpsicord -- very cool!). There were also houses of noblemen, with their kitchens outside of the main house (because it was too hot), and the slave quarters out back. We attended a local trial held in the courthouse in the manner it would have taken place, and went into the armory where all the guns and ammunition would have been kept.

We also went into an Episcopal Church that George Washington and others attended, and that is still used today. Each pew had a little wall and door around it so that people could bring in a little container of coals to keep them warm. The women sat on one side and the men the other. The pulpit was elevated so that the people could see over the little walls, and it had a little "roof" so that the sound would bounce off and down to the people. I sat in one of the pews, and it was cool to think that George worshipped there.

At that time, the state capitol was also there in Williamsburg, so we saw where the legislature met (the House of Burgesses). Later in the day, they put on this drama where the Governor showed up and put more restrictions on the people, because of the Boston Tea Party. Some of the leaders, including Patrick Henry, were standing up for their rights. At various times during the afternoon, they re-enacted various vignettes leading up to the Declaration of Independence. It was really very cool and I would recommend everyone visit there.

At the edge of this historic area, we also saw the College of William and Mary, the second-oldest college in America (behind Harvard), founded in 1693. It's amazing that this is still an active college, more than 300 years later.

I have 71 new pictures of all this adventure on my photosite. I've made an album #2 for ease of viewing.

Random Road Report, Part III

Something interesting we saw all the way from Richmond to the Bay area was that almost all of the off-ramps and on-ramps had red and white striped barriers available to let down. When we finally got to the Bay area, we asked about it, and it's for hurricane evacuation. In case of evacuation, they can shut off the ramps and head everyone out of town going the same direction without worrying about someone coming up the ramps.


Well, it was very fun and very interesting to look at American History through the 1600's, 1700's, 1800's and 1900's. It was a lifelong goal for me to go to all those areas.

We're heading off to Fayetteville, NC to see our son Scott, so more later.

Posted by semitte 19:31

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