Days: 414-415 (13 August 2015 – 14 August 2015)
Total distance travelled: 109,640.8 kilometres (68,099.85 miles)
Where the fuck is Kennett Square?
That very thought passed through our minds a few times as we were shown our lodging for the next three nights.
It also turns out that Longwood Gardens, where we’d spent most of our first day (and night) in Pennsylvania was only minutes away, and also in Kennett Square as well… only we didn’t know where that was.
We were setting up camp in essentially an empty house.
Owned by our friend Josh, it was eventually going to be renovated and sold, though at present was home to not even he, but another friend who had little and was going through a messy divorce.
Turns out she was away in Boston, so it was just us, a blow up mattress and a whole lot of space (seriously, this place was double storied and had something like five bedrooms)!
With Josh as tour guide, our plan for the day was to hit Philly, however before this we’d planned to take in a bit of Revolutionary War history with a visit to Valley Forge, the location where Washington wintered in 1777-1778 and re-organised the Continental Army into a well drilled fighting unit.
On our way there, we relished in the beautiful scenery that was reminiscent of England with its lush fields and wooded areas, narrow roads and old homes.
Eventually we found our way to the site, I raced in to the visitors centre to scrounge a tourist map, and we got to exploring.
Let me be clear from the outset, Valley Forge is big, so if you want to do it quickly, you’ll need a set of wheels, either two or four in design.
Thankfully we had Josh and his truck, and we pretty soon found ourselves parked at the Washington Memorial Chapel, no relic from this famous American site, but rather, a memorial to one of their favourite sons.
The chapel itself is a beautiful construction, but inside it got even more impressive.
Admittedly one, the rear wall, was a stained glass religious piece, but all of the others (also stained glass), were fabricated to tell the tale of Washington’s life!
As we sat admiring the view, we got chatting to an Italian-American trio who arrived shortly after we.
Turns out it was a ninety two year old immigrant (who insisted on trying to talk to us in Italian), accompanied by his daughter and granddaughter and they’d in fact been visitors to the chapel every Christmas for over fifty years!
We had a good old chat before we felt it was time to move on, but not before we checked out the reconstructed log cabin just outside.
This was a replica of the original huts constructed here by the quartered army, thus offering a brief glimpse into the revolutionary past of the region.
As we continued our tour of the area, we took in various redoubts (areas that had been fortified in Washington’s time) that had been strategic positions for artillery, and/or defending soldiers.
Our final port of call in our tour of Valley Forge is the very same house that was commandeered by the supreme commander of the Continental Army (that would be Washington), and therefore housed him for the duration of their bivouac.
Not wanting the day to get away from us, we continued on to Philadelphia with two key things on our mind.
Lunch, and a visit to Independence Hall.
The former, we took care of with some Greek gyros at Reading Terminal Market (although I’d assumed we’d tuck into Philly Cheesesteaks. After all, when in Rome…), before heading down to Independence Park to see the hall and visit the iconic Liberty Bell.
Turns out you need to book tickets for the hall either in advance, or early in the morning (which we had not done), and for today, they were completely booked out!
There was a slim chance that we could get in after 5pm apparently, if any folks hadn’t turned up to redeem their tickets.
Talk about disappointed!
Still, there was little we could do but suck it up and move on, so we made our way over to the Liberty Bell, intent not to let our disappointment make the afternoon a complete right-off.
After taking it in, we thought we may as well head over to the hall anyway, just to see if there was some way we could talk our way inside.
Well it turns out, there was in fact an area in which one could wait already (this was well before the 5pm we’d been advised), where should anybody not arrive for that scheduled tour, you were in!
It took us less than five minutes, and we were in at the first attempt!
The tour itself was actually pretty good, and say what you want about the Unites States as a nation today, but to stand in the same rooms as such famous names such as Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and co, was pretty humbling.
A quick tour of the original congress and senate building followed, before we made our way towards the river, indulging in some pretty tasty gelato on route (from Capofitto, apparently it had been written up as the best in the US by National Geographic).
Down on the waterfront, things looked like there were ongoing efforts at regeneration of the foreshore.
There was a seemingly new roller-rink (as in old school roller-skate park), boardwalks, all of which lead us towards the Spruce Street Harbor Park and the Independence Seaport Museum.
This area was a real mix of old and new.
Side by side you had new hipster style floating bars and eateries (built from old shipping containers on re-purposed barges) next to pieces of American naval history in the form of the USS Olympia (launched in 1892, the oldest steel warship still afloat) and the USS Becuna, a submarine and relic from both the Second and Cold Wars.
Wandering back amongst the streets of Philly, we paid our respects at the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin, who was laid to rest beneath a surprisingly unassuming headstone before thinking it wise to beat a hasty retreat from the city before rush-hour hit us (yes, rush-hour is one of the great American oxymorons given how slow the traffic usually moves at this time).
Back in the relative peace and quiet of the countryside surrounding Kennett Square, we decided we could all do with a beer, so made our way to the Victory brew-house to sample their wares and grab ourselves a feed for dinner at the same time.
In fact we realised that we’d already tried a couple of their beverages at Longwood Gardens the preceding night, but given the range of the brewery, we opted for a couple of tasting selections to give us a better grasp of their whole range.
Of course when beers on the menu, it only seemed proper that dinner came in the form of three pretty tasty burgers!
It was a wild start to our next day… well wild in the sense that we had no idea where Josh was when he hadn’t shown an hour after the time he’d agreed to collect us, and that we had a visitor in the form of an inquisitive deer.
Eventually he did show, and we had a bit of a local day, taking in a few bits and pieces closer to home.
Sarah’s love of mushrooms saw us stop in at Phillips Mushroom Farm (indeed the Brandywine Valley is famous for its mushrooms, even holding a mushroom festival ever year), checking out their varieties, huge range of mushroom related products and even sampling our first ever mushroom coffee!
The effect of the mushrooms blended with the coffee was such, that no milk or sugar was necessary, as it somehow reduced the bitterness of it, despite it being straight black.
A beautiful farm was next, where a friend of Josh’ worked as both caretaker and horse trainer.
Such was the money in this place, that the stables held horses that had placed in the famous Kentucky Derby, but for us the highlight was the beautiful vegetable garden, in which we were afforded free reign to pick what we wanted.
We munched on fresh tomatoes as we picked a few more, as well as onions and peppers (although we didn’t both pick and munch on the onions), before checking out the impressive house that was the centrepiece of this place (based on the wall art, sailing, as well as horseracing was a passion here).
With our days in Pennsylvania running short, we figured it time we finally had a crack at that local culinary ‘icon’, the Philly Cheese Steak, although for this particular lunch, we didn’t head back into Philadelphia at all.
I had obviously not done my research at all, as to my surprise it wasn’t a steak smothered in cheese as I’d expected (Sarah knew what we were getting into), but rather a sub (a hot dog style bread roll) filled with shaved beef, yellow American cheese and whatever other condiments you desire.
We let the local order, so he mixed it up a little with the toppings to let us sample it several ways (so mixed up in fact, we even had one with chicken instead of beef) and see what we preferred.
Despite it using cheese whiz style cheese (that horrible stuff that can be squirted out of a can), it tasted better than expected, and at least we can say we did the Philly Cheese Steak in Philly… only we didn’t!
Well, close enough…
Our time in the state founded by William Penn was coming to a close, as the following day we had a new destination, New York City, the ‘Big Apple’, but we still had time to squeeze a little more time out of Josh and Pennsylvania.
An afternoon visit to the Brandywine Creek followed (one on our last morning as well) so we could allow his dog ‘Keith’ to have a bit of a run around and burn some energy, then it was time to share a final meal together.
Josh apparently had half a cow in his freezer, so we fired up the grill, made some salads, organised some beers and a little extra company, and had ourselves a barbecue on a gorgeous late summer evening.
Our time with Josh was now done, another wonderful person we’ve met on this incredible journey who’s been so generous to us with both time, lodging and just general hospitality!
The biggest city in the United States awaits, and by early afternoon on the following day we sat on board a bus headed there…
* Entrance to both the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall were free, however tickets to the hall should probably be reserved in advance!