Home is where the heart is, and my heart is wherever I am at the moment
Saturday, May 4, 2013-Springfield, Pennsylvania: Woke from a restful sleep, made coffee and headed into the house to visit with Mary Kate, Alora, Jack and Jim. As a very pleasant surprise my cousin Joe, who owns a renowned pizza shop in Bryn Mawr, showed up with a large Breakfast Pizza. As we were digging into breakfast, my mom’s brother, Uncle Don arrived. We had a great time reminiscing, eating and planning the day.
Cousin Joe and niece Alora have thoughtfully offered to show us about some of the more offbeat and unique Philadelphia attractions, a particularly interesting prospect for me. After all, how many times do you need to see Independence Hall and The Liberty Bell when there is weird stuff to explore?
Our first stop of the day was at Eastern States Penitentiary.
This historic correctional facility is now open to the public in mostly an unrestored state so the visiting experience is raw and as authentic as possible. An electronic tour guide device is supplied and the narrative is accessed through headsets which describe the areas and features of the grounds and personal stories about the prisoner’s daily life. In addition, there were other audio options that one could select for more detailed information. It’s a real nice user friendly way to tour a place such as this at your own pace.
Eastern States was opened in 1829 as the world’s first penitentiary dedicated to reform by penitence rather than simple incarceration. This nationally recognized historic structure has been kept in what is known as a “Preserved Ruin” state. Consequently it was a bit unsettling in some of the more isolated interior spaces. In addition to furnishings, there were even some prisoner belongings that were left by inmates when released long ago. Most areas had deteriorated pretty badly before being stabilized and everything was covered with a layer of dust. Even the air we breathed had the scent of decay!
It is rumored that the penitentiary is haunted and that apparitions frequently show up in visitors photos. Note the two white orbs that hover in front of my dark shirt in the photo above. There was nothing on the lens and nothing floating in the air…..weird and kinda spooky!
Keeping with the theme of penitence, the Gothic hallways have a cathedral look and feel.
And the doors to the individual cells are purposely low as shown in the below photo of a restored space. This requires the inmates to bow down for access in deference to the Lord.
Once inside the sparsely furnished cell, the only light that comes from above is through a small window called “God’s Eye”.
Some notorious characters were housed here such as Willy Sutton and Al Capone…..the later enjoying a bit more posh digs in his small cell do to a bit of bribery.
Following the closing of Eastern States Penitentiary, an historic survey was conducted complete with sonar documentation. It was during this time that 30 partially completed tunnels were discovered. Apparently the many years it took to secretly dig a tunnel from ones cell past the outer wall was too daunting for most or they were legitimately released before the tunnel could be completed. There was only one documented prisoner escape by tunnel when in 1945 twelve prisoners, including Willie Sutton, escaped through an inmate dug 97 foot tunnel.
The terms of sentence were pretty much the same as most prisons or jails of the time. However as a true penitentiary, the release date was predicated upon the demonstrated penitence and “rehabilitation” of the prisoner. It was not uncommon for a remorseful murderer to be released before a recalcitrant train robber.
Great tour but it is time for lunch and since Alora attends school in the area she knew the best place to go. The New Deck Tavern is a traditional Irish bar in the historic college district of the city.
Since I usually try and enjoy authentic local cuisine during my travels, I just knew I had to order a meal featuring Philadelphia Cream Cheese. After the laughter and ridicule had subsided I settled for a Cheese Steak Wit.
Kit and Alora were done putting up with two chuckleheads for the day and since they came down in a separate car, the girls escaped and headed elsewhere. Un-chaperoned, Joe and I decided to head down to the Schuylkill River and poke around Boathouse Row.
This area of the city is where the local high school and university rowing clubs keep their racing shells and practice on the placid waters of the meandering river. Across from this vantage point there is an incredible view of the Philadelphia skyline.
Also in the area is the Philadelphia Museum of Art that non-native son Rocky Balboa made quite famous. As if drawn by a powerful force, I bounded to the top of the iconic steps and stood in the actual footsteps of this famous American.
Yep, you guessed it! Elated and out of breath I held my arms aloft in that celebratory dance pose and gazed down Ben Franklin Parkway towards Philadelphia City Hall.
I had heard that there were additional items of interest inside the Art Museum but did not notice many of the hundreds that were wandering about actually going through the doors. Most folks were content to dance about the top of the steps with me…..of course most of the other clowns were foreign tourists. I often wonder of the skewed impression that foreigner’s get of American culture from television and the movies. They must now think that we all have beards and live in the swamps while making duck calls.
Walking the few blocks back to where the car was parked we passed an inviting neighborhood tavern and stopped for a tasty beverage…..the perfect end to a perfect day in one of our nation’s great cities!
Sunday, May 5, 2013-Springfield, Pennsylvania: Woke to a beautiful, but cool day. Mary Kate and the rest of the family have planned a picnic for this afternoon. The Philly family is a very close Irish Catholic bunch numbering some 30 folks. It never ceases to amaze us that they readily and willingly gather for a family function with very little notice. The sheer size and diversity of this family always provides a rollicking good time with fun, food, music and laughter…..as mentioned, it is always one of the highlights of our trip!
Folks started arriving shortly after noon and after exchanging pleasantries, we got down to some serious eating…..
The family has a musical legacy passed down from our grandfather who played the banjo and our grandmother who accompanied him on the piano. I have fond memories of visits to Philadelphia back in the 1950’s and gathering for similar family parties where music was always featured. Each one of us kids were issued a kazoo and encouraged to play along which added a festive chaos to the party. A very similar experience occurs when this generation gathers. Check out a video I captured of their jam session.
One of the main reasons to celebrate today was my Cousin Matthew’s 37th birthday.
Everyone had a great time singing Happy Birthday and enjoying not one, but two delicious cakes followed by the opening of gifts.
I really tried hard to capture everyone in attendance on film, or more accurately on ones and zeros. However with such a large and enthusiastic crowd I didn’t quite make it…..so my apologies for anyone I missed.
My Aunt Joan’s side of the family was ably represented by my Cousin Jane and her husband Larry. Their daughter Janelle and friend Charlie were also in attendance.
And from My Uncle Don’s family there was Cousin Mark and his wife Ruth and children Katie and Stephen.
Steve was the young fellow that allowed us to take Marvelous Monkey about the country for his school geography project last year.
And Cousin Joe, his wife Dolores, Veronica and boyfriend, Mike.
And Cousin John, his wife Denise and their children Erin Marie, Owen and Neil.
Cousin Don, his wife Pat and their daughter Sarah.
And Cousin Anne, with her daughter Ali Rose. Anne’s son Tim, an accomplished musician, was seen in the video and her husband Buck escaped before I could snap a photo.
The cousin that couldn’t be there due to distance was Bill and family that live down in North Carolina. It was absolutely fantastic being around such a large and caring family. The diversity in occupations and pastimes provided much to talk about. We only wish we were a bit closer and could see them all more frequently. Especially the offspring as they are a very talented and fun loving bunch…..many perform in regional theater and often put on performances during these family gatherings.
Monday, May 6, 2013-Springfield, Pennsylvania: Today, we have set aside to spend with my Uncle Don and Cousin Matthew. Don picked us up mid-morning then following a stop at the local flower shop we visited my Aunt Mary’s gravesite.
You may remember she had passed back in January and her absence, and spiritual presence, is evident all around. What a wonderful and caring lady who left a legacy of decency evident in her children and grandchildren.
No outing would be complete without a visit to one of my Uncle’s favorite dives. Hymie’s Jewish Delicatessen is in a non-descript building in an area known as The Main Line.
A local landmark for close to 80 years, Hymie’s is world renowned for their Pastrami and for their Pickle Bar. In addition to their incredible coffee, I enjoyed a signature meal…..Corned Beef Latka!
And was it ever good!!!!!!
Don, Kit and I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting and driving about the neighborhood. My Uncle lives on the street where the movie “Silver Linings Playbook” was filmed and he had some interesting stories to share. He was impressed that the production crew was very accommodating to the neighbors and actually used some of them in the film as extras. Some neighborhood homes were rented for the movie and others were used to store film equipment…..my uncle allowed use of his driveway and garage for that purpose. One of the neighbors Mrs. Cappelletti, whose son is a former professional football player, was an extra in the film and reportedly gave Robert DeNiro a hard time about not coming to her home for an Italian dinner with the rest of the cast. Even though the neighborhood had to be cleared during the actual filming, most residents sat inside and watched the production unfold. It was an exciting couple of weeks for a sleepy little Pennsylvania neighborhood.
Later in the day we went to pick up Matthew at his home and drive him to his weekly music class. The instructor was very talented and took a lot of time with the students. We even got involved by banging out a rhythm on conga drums.
Following class we stopped by a local restaurant. Kit and I were way too full from lunch so just had desert, however Mathew devoured his hamburger.
Spent a few hours over coffee and continued to visit with Uncle Don, who always has the most interesting stories about growing up in 1940’s Philadelphia with his sister, my mom.
Take another look at the photo above…..is that a mirrored divider behind my Uncle? Or is this a favorite senior hang out place?
Tuesday, May 7, 2013: I’m up early and joined Alora for the morning run to the Wa-Wa. Nope, not what you think…..Wa-Wa is a local chain of convenience stores that cater to the person on the go. We walked in, ordered breakfast sandwiches from the deli, poured four cups of coffee and left in less than 5 minutes!
Well, all good things must come to an end and we must be moving on. Thanks to Mary Kate for allowing us to dooryard surf in her very accommodating driveway and for being an incredible host. Jack and Jim were off to school, however as we were about to pull out my Uncle Don arrived to join Mary Kate and Alora and see us off.
Thanks Philly Family for showing us such a great time, and remember we are only a day’s drive to the north…..so please come visit!
We were on the road at 1035 and discussing where to head next. After a number of day’s dooryard surfing, we need to dump tanks and restock a few items. Not wanting to pull the trailer toward Philadelphia or go anywhere near New York City, we headed west. Since we did not get to see all we wanted in Lancaster County, we decided to return to Beacon Hill Campground, a short distance away.
As we neared Intercourse, we found the same great parking spot of a few days ago…..as Kit continued her retail therapy, I walked about and snapped photos.
As mentioned the Amish live by a very strict code. Farming must be done by animal power.
If the farm does use gasoline powered equipment, such as a tractor with an implement, the rubber wheels have to be replaced by steel and only moved about the farm by horse or mule.
As noted earlier, transportation must be accomplished by horse and buggy.
And if driven by an unmarried couple, the buggy must be open.
In addition unmarried men have to be clean shaven and married men have to sport beards so there is no confusion. Maybe that is why the Amish ladies didn’t pay any attention to me, you know with my beard and all.
The only other acceptable mode of self-transportation is the ubiquitous “push scooter”.
As a certified bicycle nut, I found these contraptions pretty cool. They are sold in a number of stores in the town and I was very tempted to buy one. Would have made quite the spectacle back home in Maine!
Also it is very common for Amish folks to walk along the road to and from wherever.
The Amish can actually own and ride in automobiles…..they just have to hire a non-Amish to actually drive them. We witnessed a few instances of this, usually it was a pickup laden with farm products going to market.
Meeting back up with Kit we took in the Quilt Museum, and really enjoyed the colors and artistry of the handmade quilts. Most were traditional in design, such as this example.
But some featured unusual geometric designs and vibrant colors.
Or more traditional colors but with unusual patterns that mimic movement such as this example.
Kit thoroughly enjoyed the museum, and I did as well…..much to my surprise!
After another full and enjoyable day in Amish Country, we treated ourselves to an early dinner at The Kitchen Kettle. Continuing our desire to sample regional cuisine, we enjoyed Lancaster Sausage and Shoe Fly Pie. Then it was off to the campground.
Foul weather is predicted for tomorrow so after taking care of the tanks, I disconnected everything but the power cable and buttoned up everything else to help ensure a relatively dry departure in the morning.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013: Up to dark, cloudy and drizzly weather. After a nice breakfast and a bit of computer time, we were once again on the road heading to the northeast. But not before Kit could peruse the offerings of a gift shop next door and make a donation to the local economy by purchasing a couple of very nice wall quilts
Underway at 1130, we rolled through the back roads of Amish Country where we passed a one room schoolhouse with children at recess during a lull in the rain.
They appeared to be playing baseball with a homemade ball and a stick…..and having the time of their lives!
This area is so picturesque that one could fill a book of photographs depicting a much simpler and relaxed way to live.
Decided to head more northerly and parallel the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border through the Delaware Water Gap. We came this way three years ago when returning from our 2010 Excellent Adventure. Normally this National Recreation Area would require a lot of exploration and picture taking, however it is raining pretty hard and there is an outside chance we could make it home tonight…..so we decided not to tarry and just keep trucking along.
On PA-222 we head in the general direction of Allentown. The rain is heavy and unrelenting reducing our speed even more than normal…..at this rate of advance we are only averaging about 35 miles per hour. Still on the back roads we piece together PA-100, US-22 and US-33N heading toward Stroudsburg, PA. From here we jump on US209 and head for the Water Gap and New York State.
The Delaware Water Gap is a long gash through the Appalachian Mountain Range created by erosion from the Delaware River. As a National Recreation Area, it is a very popular wilderness destination for the millions of folks that live in the large cities to the east. However, mid-week and this early in the season combined with the terrible weather makes the drive through this beautiful oasis of mountains, forests and rivers pretty desolate.
Punching out of the Water Gap at around 1530, and comfortable we are far enough to the north to avoid the NYC effect, we merge onto I-84 heading east. Within a few minutes we were crossing the Hudson River into New York on the Hamilton Fish Newburg-Beacon Bridge. Yep, look it up…..ah, the wonders of naming a bridge by committee.
Keeping to I-84 we rolled through Connecticut and crossed the Massachusetts border at 1930. Since it was increasingly obvious we would not make it home at a reasonable hour and not wanting to drive at after dark in foul weather we started looking for a place to hunker down for the night. It was about this time that we remembered our old “Port in a Storm” (pun intended) on the Massachusetts Turnpike…..the Charlton Travel Plaza, a layover spot we have used in the past.
History has taught us to avoid the truck parking area as it is not level and most truckers use this rest stop for…..well, a rest stop so the noise level can be quite high. We pulled into a well-lit area at the back of the automobile side of the plaza and positioned the rig so it was tilting up but relatively level from side to side. Since it was almost 2100 and we were pretty beat, we just cleaned up and crawled into bed.
Thursday, May 9, 2013: Up early following a very restful and relaxing evening. As I made my way inside for a couple of Starbucks I noticed it was still quite cool but the rain had abated. However, thick clouds forecasted more unsettled weather to come.
We decided to have breakfast at the travel plaza Mickey Dee’s before hitting the road. We are only about 200 miles from our dooryard and will certainly make it home tonight so we sent a text to the Maine family to alert (warn) them.
On the road at 0945 we stuck to the interstates as we made our way northeasterly. A funny thing happened as we left the Mass Pike. The toll taker at first asked for $1.45 for the relatively short distance we had been on the toll way…..however when he scanned our ticket it came up as $5.05! Asking if we had stayed overnight at some point along the route we had to admit that yes, we had. No problem, he said…..we are now charging for that service. So for all you RV’ers out there it now cost $3.60 to camp on the Mass Pike…..still a pretty good deal!
Soon we were on I-495 around looping around Boston. We then connected to I-95 which dumped us into New Hampshire at 1140 and ten minutes later we viewed this welcoming sight!
Wow…..nothing better than coming home to Vacationland after four months on vacation! To celebrate our homecoming and to get a little walking around time in, we decided to visit one of our favorite Maine stores, Kittery Trading Post.
This is their 75th anniversary year and lots of doings are planned so check out their website. If you are an outdoor enthusiast and if Kittery Trading Post doesn’t have that you’re looking for, then you just plain don’t need it!
After a couple hours of retail calisthenics, we were getting hungry. It has been over four months since we have enjoyed fresh authentic Maine seafood, and what do you know…..The Weathervane Restaurant is right across the street!
Had to dig into some fresh Haddock and Maine Clams…..fried of course! And enjoy a refreshing Shipyard barley-pop……the official nectar of Maine.
After a great meal, we needed to walk it off a bit, so……back across the street to Kittery Trading Post once again. This routine could develop into perpetual motion and we may never get home.
At 1445, we poured ourselves into the truck and headed north toward Brunswick. Arriving a little over an hour later in pouring rain we took a tour of Maine Street. (Yep, our main street is spelled Maine Street…..pretty clever, huh?) Not much has changed, however in a town of 22,000 folks not much usually changes…..a fact we really like. There is a new Police Palace being erected out on US-1 and a new home being built on a lot a short distance from us, but everything else remains the same.
It is kind of a surreal feeling walking into a home you have owned for 28 years after being absent for a while. Everything looks familiar but a little unfamiliar as well. The most startling realization is how big this place is. Going from 176 square foot living to 1,750 square foot living is a pretty dramatic change!
During the last few miles on I-95, we did a quick wrap up of the past four months. This is the fifth consecutive Excellent Adventure RV trip so we talked a lot about the future. We currently have 61,918 miles on the trailer, are looking at buying our third set of tires, and have spent 613 days living in the rig. Basically the trailer has received a lot of use and is nearing the end of its on road service life. Besides…..Kit sez we “need” a bigger one (sound familiar, Vince?). So some of the options are:
- Sell truck and trailer and travel more conventionally.
- Take a year off and enjoy a full winter in Maine (not likely!).
- Buy a new truck and trailer and fully commit to many more winter RV trips.
- Bite the big bullet and go to a monster mega-bus motorhome (not likely, as well!).
Time will tell!
To amplify the above, I received a forwarded cartoon a few weeks ago that pretty much sums up the average Americans association with wheels.
Yep, chronologically we are on the last line and every so slowly moving to the right…..gotta cram as much active living as possible in before we hit the end of the cartoon!
One more photo before I close for 2013. Not even sure where this was taken, but I liked the composition and cloud formations. However I never could work it into the narrative of the journal so I’m just gonna plunk it in right here. I think it perfectly represents what the open road means and the unlimited possibilities for exploring our great country by RV…..hope you do as well!
So, until 2014’s Excellent Adventure…..goodbye and have a great summer! Love you all!!
Length of Trip: 124 Days
Total Distance: 10,097 Miles
Total Fuel Used: 1,019 Gallons
Average Fuel Economy: 9.9 MPG
Highest Gas Cost: $4.69 in San Diego, CA
Lowest Gas Cost: $2.94 in Dragoon, AZ
Highest Full Hook-up Camping Cost: $50.00 in Del Mar Beach, CA
Lowest Full Hook-up Camping Cost: $17.00 in San Antonio, TX
Freebie Camping: 26 Nights, “THANK’S FOLKS!”
Kit’s Corner: As always, we had a lovely time in York and Philadelphia with the Byrnes Family. They are always so hospitable and happy to see us; we look forward to our visits with them. We missed Aunt Mary but her spirit is with us all. It’s great to be home! We’re enjoying seeing our family again and getting reacquainted with our friends. We’re also reassessing our travel plans for the future. This little trailer has been nice but, I figure, if we have to get a new truck then we may as well get a new trailer or some other shelter to tag along…. Stay tuned….
PS…..Do you notice how she always gets the last word? Wait, no she didn’t, I did, Yea-Bill
PSS…..No you didn’t-Kit