Days: 413 (12 August 2015)
Total distance travelled: 109,488.8 kilometres (68,005.44 miles)
There we were, outside our Airbnb pad in Hyattsville, Maryland, awaiting the 10am arrival of our friend Josh (met whilst in Peru).
We were set to spend a day at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum before heading up into Pennsylvania, however half an hour later and there was still no Josh.
Another thirty minutes, and still no sign… he had warned that the traffic could be bad, but eventually, somewhere between 11 and 12, a huge twin cab utility (I guess in the states it would be called a truck) pulls up, and there he was.
After some time in DC cruising the streets, it was soon apparent that finding a park was going to be a bit of a bitch, so we made some revisions on the fly, deciding to head directly up towards Pennsylvania, albeit with a brief detour via Baltimore.
Our brief abandonment of the motorway was to take a peek at Camden Yards, a Major League ballpark and the home of the Baltimore Orioles (which truly was a beautiful stadium) before continuing on our way.
Eventually we crossed the Maryland state line, finding ourselves at last in Pennsylvania, another of the original thirteen American colonies.
We were actually about an hour away from Philadelphia, where we initially thought we’d find ourselves, but Josh had generously offered to take a few days off work and play both tour guide and chauffeur for our time in the state.
He had an idea for the night, which was a visit to Longwood Gardens to take in their summer light show known as ‘Nightscape‘, so we thought it would be a sound idea to check it out whilst the day remained light, and grab ourselves a quick lunch at the same time.
Okay, so what the hell is Longwood Gardens then (we’d never heard of it before today)?
It turns out it has a history involving one of the wealthiest families in all of the US, the Du Ponts (who made their fortune from black powder), more specifically, Pierre Du Pont who purchased the property in order to prevent its trees from being felled for lumber (at least that’s what our brochure advised).
It’s now run as a vast collection of gardens which are open to the public, and is one of the premier botanical gardens in all of the United States (according to Wikipedia), which also lists it as the home of one of the worlds greatest conservatories (greenhouses).
We grabbed a quick bite which was generously, like the entrance tickets minutes earlier, paid for by Josh (we had no idea what the entrance fee had been until I googled it) before moving on to explore the park, the first stop having been the former Du Pont (and Peirce family before them) home, which now serves as a museum.
After a few minutes exploration, we were back out into the fresh air and wandering the nearby woods.
Outdoors, the air was mild and the light struck is in piercing beams as it occasionally wormed its way through the lush leaved canopy above.
The sighting of a stunning red Cardinal got us excited, before we first spotted, then made the climb up into a wonderful, purpose built tree-house.
For what purpose? Why bird watching of course!
We utilised the attached information booklets (and there may have even been binoculars if I recall correctly) to spot five strategically placed bird boxes amongst the trees… sadly there were no additional bird sightings, but it was still a bit of fun.
Back down at ground level and a little further along the path, we checked out yet another tree house, before taking a stroll through a completely different area of the gardens known as The Meadow.
As one might have expected, it did indeed match the name, a series of mown paths that crisscrossed this open expanse, allowing us passage through the long grasses.
It was a beautiful place through which to stroll and soak up the rays of the late afternoon sun.
In fact, after so many days in and around big cities, it was nice to be able to really enjoy this lovely countryside, although we soon discovered we were not alone.
We’d already spotted many bird species, as well as some stunning Monarch butterflies, but as we strolled The Meadow, we also saw the odd Hare (or was it a Rabbit?), as well as a huge number of Groundhogs… which was pretty cool for us, having never seen them before!
A couple of rolling hills later and we found ourselves at a gorgeous old farmhouse, apparently built sometime in the mid 18th century.
Despite the late afternoon hour, to our surprise the doors were still open, the former house serving as both museum and interpretation centre for The Meadow to help explain some of its flora and fauna.
By this time, with Sun low in sky and casting a golden glow over everything, it was a pretty beautiful place to be, so it was most certainly not a labour to discover we now had to traipse our way back across The Meadow.
With the shadows long, we decided to take in both the Italian Fountains and the Conservatory before they’d be surrendered to the night, and ultimately to the light show.
The fountains, by the sheer fact that they were the closest, came first.
To think that this display of water features is as old as it is, and was built for a private property (although Pierre Du Pont did have his grounds open to the public) was a reminder of the vast wealth that this family possessed.
It also highlighted his mischievous side, one particular set of stairs also doubling as a fountain, upon which Pierre would love to assemble children (as if for a photograph), before turning the fountains waters on and giving them all a wet arse!
On the topic of wet, our next destination was the Conservatory, where Josh was particularly keen for us to see the bathrooms and their amazing vertical garden walls.
Housing somewhere close to six thousaand plant species, this was easily the biggest greenhouse we’d ever set foot in.
You could readily see, as you wandered from section to section, from tropical plant rooms, to bonsai, to ballrooms (seriously, there is one in there), why this place was so highly regarded.
This incredible greenhouse, even had the capacity to grow tropical fruits (such as Pineapples) during the depths of the Pennsylvanian Winter!
We strolled the water lily ponds as the Sun did finally set, before deciding to head back to the main dining area for a beer before the light show kicked off.
And when it did, we picked up where we’d left off, back at the lily ponds.
The night was by now taking over, and this meant the light show was by now in full swing and we decided to quickly change our plans and take in the topiary garden which had disappointed us in daylight.
It was a little better by night, a good array of lights making some of the trees seemingly dance, however it was when back at the water lilies that we had our first wow moment, and it had nothing to do with the light show.
With the setting of the sun, one of the formerly closed lily flowers was now in full bloom!
Now, it was time to be wowed by the lights, and the Conservatory wasn’t a bad place to kick things off.
It wasn’t the entire park that was included in this nighttime extravaganza (for example, the original house and The Meadow were not a part of it), but there was certainly enough.
We wandered through rose gardens, around large ponds and watched trees come to life in the night.
It would have been amazing for kids, and was pretty cool even for us adults.
Eventually we called time on our Nightscape experience, after all we had been at Longwood Gardens for five or six hours by now.
Some chilli fries, spicy wings and a few beers at a local bar rounded out, what had been a pretty cool and unexpected first day in Pennsylvania.
* Tickets to Longwood Gardens ‘Nightscape’ exhibition cost $27.00 for adults (19+) with lower prices for students and members.