After the first night in our hotel we had an early start! My new roommate Amy and I reunited with the rest of the group in the lobby and, after grabbing a quick breakfast we loaded up the trailer and got on board our taxi for the next 3 weeks – a brand new and very flash Ford Transit van. It seated 13 people but luckily as we were only a group of 9 we were able to spread out a little.
We left Newark and started out on our long journey. After a couple of hours of driving (and our first of many bus-naps) we arrived in Philadelphia – home of cheese-steaks, Rocky and the Liberty Bell. We started off with a quick stop at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but we weren’t there for the paintings. This is the famous spot from the Rocky movies where he ran up the steps during his training montage. We recreated the iconic scene with a race from the bottom of the stairs all the way up to the top, celebrating with a “hands in the air” Rocky cheer. There’s a plaque to commemmorate where Syllvester Stalone stood at the top, and a statue of Rocky in the gardens nearby. After a few touristy snap-shots we headed back to the van for a driving tour of Philly.
We were also able to get out in the centre and wander around the city centre at our leisure, so as a group we decided to pay a visit to the Liberty Bell. All I knew of the Liberty Bell was from the How I Met Your Mother episode where Barney and Ted fly to Phildelphia and try to lick the Liberty Bell (because Barney suggested that nobody would ever have done that before) so after reading through all the museum displays I tried to get my own picture “licking” the Liberty Bell. I also learned that the bell was adopted as a symbol for freedom and liberty by the anti-slavery movement, and that it was rung to mark the signing of the Constitution; and the deaths of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. The bell has a large crack in it but noone quite knows when this happened, and it no longer rings because of it.
We couldn’t leave Philadelphia without sampling a Philly delicacy – a Philly Cheese Steak! We went to a popular shop called Sonny’s – I know it must be well-regarded locally because the line was out of the door! We had a good 20 wait for our cheese-steaks, but the menu was relatively straightforward. You could go for either a chicken or beef cheese-steak, with a choice of 5 different cheeses (American, Provolone, Bleu, Mozzerella or Sonny’s favourite: Cheez Whiz) and either onions or no onions. I forewent the recommendation to go for cheez whiz (I just can’t….) and went for provolone on a beef cheesesteak with onions. It was pretty darn good. I would definitely go back for another but it was also super filling! I was the only person who could finish theirs but I had a real food baby afterwards!
Washington DC Day 1
Shortly afterwards we left the streets of Philadelphia behind and headed onwards to the capital city – Washington DC! We actually went to set up our first campsite first. It was pretty luxury compared to the campsites I’d encountered in England, with it’s own wooden gazebo’d seating area (complete with outlets!) as well as hot showers and lots of clean, flushing toilets. We unloaded the trailer and were shown how to pitch our tents, which we got on with quickly whilst our guide, Ben, prepared our evening meal. It was simple but delicious, turkey mince with sweet potato and vegetables. Rather than having an early night, we loaded back into the van again to head into the centre of DC (stopping only for a quick ice cream treat at Cold Stone Creamery to celebrate Amy’s birthday! I had chocolate cake batter flavour with cookie dough mixed in, it was crazy delicious).
Once in DC we were taken on an interesting night-time walking tour around the National Mall; the area in the centre of the city where all the monuments and memorials are located. We saw (amongst many other things) the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the WW2 memorial – which was a stunning pool with fountains that people sat beside resting their feet in the water. We were all pretty exhausted at this point after a long day so we got back to the van and headed back to camp for a well-earned rest, and a full day of exploring DC and its many museums ahead.
Washington DC Day 2
After a relaxed but still quite early start to our day, we headed back into the centre of Washington. It was a super hot day and I hadn’t really packed appropriate shoes for walking long distances, so I was slightly less-than-psyched at the prospect of walking around the National Mall all day in the heat – as were others in our group. Our solution arrived though – BIKES! You can hire a bike for an hour in the National Mall for $12, which was plenty of time for us to cycle around the monuments and up to the White House. After dealing with the ever-so-slightly confusing hire machine (is everything done electronically now?!) 3 of us set off on our newly aquired city bikes.
Cycling around the National Mall was definitely the right way to do it. The place is HUGE – stretching for almost 2 miles between the Capitol Building and the Lincoln memorial, it would be extremely arduous to tackle on foot (despite having covered some of it on our night tour the previous evening) – especially in the heat and DOUBLE especially since we wanted to check out some of the Smithsonian Museums in the vicinity too. We zoomed around the footpaths surrounding the Washington Monument, weaving in and out of crowds of tourists until we arrived at the White House. I never realised quite how BIG this place is (though I suppose it has to be large to accomodate President Trump’s ego and wig collection) and it took us a full 15 minutes to cycle around, though we did stop to take photos.
After cycling for a little while longer, we decided to stop for lunch and check out some of the museums so we returned our bikes and found a quiet, shaded bench to eat our packed sandwiches. We had tickets for the Holocaust Museum at 1pm, after being told that you would go through the exhibit with an ID card and follow the journey of a Jewish person from 1938-1945, only finding out at the end of the journey whether or not you survived. It wasn’t quite like I imagined; we did receive a Jewish ID booklet at the start of the museum, but on reading it through we found out the fate of our character immediately. (Mine survived after moving to America). I was mildly disappointed that we wouldn’t be reenacting the journey but I also felt a strange feeling of relief that, not only had I survived but that I wouldn’t have to go through the horror a Jewish person would have experienced of not knowing the outcome. The museum itself was pretty big and there was a lot to read. Like, an awful lot. Every exhibit was paragraph after paragraph of horror. I couldn’t take it all in. About 2/3rds of the way through I had to just power through to the end because it was just too much – both the emotional scope of the information and the sheer amount of it. It weighed on me quite heavily for a while afterward; it’s a very powerful place to visit for anyone considering it.
For something a little bit lighter, a group of us decided to head over to the Air and Space museum. There were so many exhibits here and we definitely wouldn’t have had the time to see them all – the day was already getting away from us – so we prioritised the kids section (obviously) where you get to interact with exhbits and conduct mini science experiments with gravity and wind resistance. It was really fun and definitely lightened the mood of the day somewhat!
We also took time to explore a scale model of a NASA spacecraft, which was a lot smaller inside than I would ever have thought. The day got a little more exciting when we were quarantined inside the building when a lightning storm hit outside the museum! We were warned that leaving would be at our own risk – but we had to go to meet the rest of our crew for dinner so we took our lives into our hands and left.
Dominos pizzas were waiting for us on the bus – we happily munched away while Ben drove us across town to the Washington Nationals Baseball stadium for our evening entertainment. I’d never seen a baseball game before – honestly I’ve never been to any live sports match before! It was a very interesting experience; the whole thing lasted about 3 hours and in between each “inning” there was a different kind of whole-crowd entertainment – whether it was a quiz for certain members of the audience or a group of runners dressed as historical presidents racing around the stadium. I’ve never seen anything like it and I’m sure you wouldn’t find that sort of experience in the UK – which is what made it more fun! I don’t know if baseball is necessarily “my sport” – the actual game was pretty dull, but it may have just been a bad example. I’d be willing to give it another shot if I ever go back!
It was a crazy couple of days in Philly and Washington, but the trip was going to just keep on moving so we headed back to camp ready to get a good night’s sleep before the next day’s long travels!