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More than just cream cheese

Discovering what’s what in Philadelphia

Shortly before leaving Washington D.C., Pete and I went to a Chinese restaurant where I received this message in my fortune cookie:

fortunecookie2.jpg

I wish it had told me exactly how many steps it was going to take in order to reach our hotel in Philadelphia! The day started off well enough: we had a pleasant 3.5 hour Greyhound bus ride into Philly city centre, and, based on previous experiences, reckoned that the rest of the journey would be equally easy. We’d booked a hotel on the outskirts of the city, so had to catch a train. Ordering the tickets was fun, ‘cos whoever named the place took a bit of a liberty with the spelling. We wanted to go Olney station, so that’s what we asked for, pronouncing it as it’s spelt: oll-knee. “Only what?” said the guy behind the counter. Turns out the place is pronounced oll-a-knee, though where they get that extra middle vowel sound from I have no idea.

So, we get to Oll-a-knee expecting to find a cab to take us (and our bloomin’ heavy backpacks, hereafter known as the BHB’s) directly to our hotel. Next problem: Olney is a tiny station seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There’s not a taxi in sight, so we sigh, shoulder the BHB’s, and head for the nearest main road. “You never know,” we told ourselves, “it might be within walking distance.” Hah. We want 4200 Roosevelt Boulevard; the first building we see on that street is numbered 100. That idea is quickly consigned to the scrapheap, and after a prolonged period of whinging, moaning, and cursing inaccurate maps, we improvise a plan B.

Plan B turns out to be walking to the nearest Dunkin Donuts and falling on the mercy of the bored looking dude behind the counter. Happily he is the helpful type, and he points us in the direction of the nearest bus stop, thus preventing me initiating Plan C: buying up as many donuts as I can afford and eating myself into a self-pitying coma.

The bus arrives shortly afterwards, and we struggle to get ourselves and the BHBs on board. The bus driver informs us that he doesn’t stop near our hotel; we’ll need to walk two blocks at the other end. Two blocks is better than the 40-odd blocks we were previously facing, so we buy the tickets anyway.

The bus is crowded; we are blocking the aisle and the front doorway, Pete, the BHB’s and I. We are also obviously hot, sticky, tired, annoyed and foreign. Then the bus driver does something totally unexpected and entirely welcome. “I’m the bus driver, right?” he asks us with a grin. “I can stop anywhere I want!” And so he did. He pulled up at the side of the road, immediately opposite our hotel, saving us a hot and uncomfortable hike with the BHB's. We will both be eternally grateful for this man's consideration, and reckon some heavy-duty karma is flying his way. Thank you, whoever you are!

Note:

For those of you who are intending to visit Philly yourselves and are looking for accommodation, I do not recommend the Days Inn on Roosevelt Boulevard. Yes, it’s cheaper than other hotels, but the transportation is lousy (requiring one bus and one train to get to the city centre), and it is in a very seedy area. The staff were not as helpful or professional as I had come to expect from American hotels, either. In conclusion: Do yourselves a favour and find somewhere else!

That being said, there was one thing our hotel was convenient for: restaurants. There must have been half a dozen within easy walking distance, which was both good and bad news: good, ‘cos it meant we didn’t have to worry about planning meals way in advance; and bad, ‘cos there were half a dozen restaurants within a couple of minutes walking distance, and I wanted to try ‘em all! To be honest, I’d compiled a list of chains I wanted to try before we’d even started this trip. Sure we get McD’s, BK, KFC, Denny’s and Wendy’s in New Zealand, but there are a whole bunch more I’d never seen: Taco Bell, Olive Garden, Chilli’s, Red Lobster, Applebee’s... the list goes on! Bizarrely, much of my knowledge of American Junk Food Emporiums comes from reading diet blogs. Many moons ago, back in the UK, Pete and I both had some excess weight to shed, and I started reading other people’s stories for inspiration (and consolation). It’s funny how weight loss blogs seem to talk as much about bad food as good.

As you might have gathered, Pete and I love to eat, so the USA is proving a bit of challenge restraint-wise, as it would be so, so easy to go overboard. Food is cheap, plentiful and comes in huge servings, so weight gain was one of the things I was worried about before we arrived (*). I know there are lots of yummy things here that I simply have to try: New York cheesecake, Key Lime pie and chilli dogs, to name but a few. (I also have a hankering for grits, even though I have no idea what they are!) Worst of all, though: biscuits. Not cookie-type biscuits, but the lovely, buttery, savoury version. My obsession with these things is all Pete’s sister’s fault. She had access to a military BX in the UK, so she fed us all sorts of good American things when we went to visit. Unfortunately she neglected to tell me that biscuits are more addictive than crack! And what do I see when we first land? A sign outside Dunkin Donuts advertising sausage & biscuits for 99 cents. I might as well throw my old jeans away now, eh?

(*) I should actually be worrying about my cholesterol levels, I suppose, but cholesterol doesn’t make my bum look big – not directly, at any rate – so I am actually more concerned about whether my clothes still fit than what my LDL’s are doing. Priorities, eh?

So, along the way, we’ve developed a few survival tactics to ensure the damage is kept to a minimum:

1 – We sort out our own breakfast instead of relying on the pastry-laden buffets that hotels usually provide. Fruit, juice, yogurt and cereal bars are our staples, and mean that we get at least a couple of our 5-a-day fruit and veggie servings first thing!

2 – If restaurants are inevitable, we look for the healthy options on menus whenever possible. Most Palaces of Cholesterol-Laden Delights have a few non-fried items, we’ve found.

3 – If the hotel has a microwave, we raid the supermarket freezer section and ‘cook’ for ourselves. True, frozen meals aren’t great, but at least they have nutritional information on the packaging, so you can try to make better choices. If we don’t have a microwave we hit the deli counter and salad bar. (We eat at restaurants so often now that supermarket meals actually feel like a treat!)

It seems to be working for us so far, though it might be a while before I’ll have the nerve to get my cholesterol levels tested once we get back to New Zealand!

Have I really just blethered on about junk food for the last ten paragraphs? And you’re still reading? Wow, I’m impressed!

And, just so we’re clear, Pete and I didn’t actually spend our entire time in Philadelphia eating; we did find stuff to do as well. Actually, we received an email from Pete’s sister (the one who started my biscuit addiction) not long after we arrived. She asked:

“Is there any reason in particular that you went to Philly??? Just wondering, Mum and I were discussing it the other day and were trying to figure out what was there.”

It’s a fair enough question, as Philly isn‘t exactly a major tourist destination. To be honest, I chose it for two reasons:

1) It was a reasonable stopping point halfway between Washington D.C. and New York.
2) The Mütter Museum is there.

For those of you who have never heard of it, the Mütter Museum houses a weird and wonderful collection of medical curiosities, anatomical specimens (both real and wax models), and antique medical equipment - some of which looks like it belongs in a torture chamber! I saw it advertised on a website of strange places to visit when I was doing research for this trip, and I was thrilled that we actually got to go there.

I must say though, this place ain’t for the squeamish (this from the girl who watches the surgical scenes on Grey’s Anatomy from behind a cushion!) as some of the exhibits can be a bit hard to stomach. For example:

- The Eye Wall of Shame is a collection of wax models showing horrible maladies and injuries, including a toothpick sticking out of a retina!

- Many severed body parts sitting in jars of formaldehyde, including a collection of spectacularly nasty tumours.

- A skull of a woman with a horn growing out of her head.

- The brain of a serial killer.

- And, most disturbing of all, the corpse of a woman known as the Soap Lady, whose body tissue turned into a soap-like substance due to the properties of the soil she was buried in. (We were particularly concerned by the fact that her mouth is open. Did she die screaming?)

Most of you will be pleased to hear that I couldn’t take photos, but the gore-lovers amongst you may be interested in viewing these pictures from someone who managed to get a peek behind the scenes. WARNING: SOME OF THE IMAGES ON THIS WEBSITE ARE VERY DISTURBING! If you want something that’s easier on the eye, go here instead.

Yes, the museum was gruesome and creepy, but it was also different. If you’re interested in medical history or want to scare yourself silly with the thought of the hundreds of ways in which the human body can go wrong, this is the place to be.

Another unusual item we found in Philly was the Liberty Bell, a famous symbol of the American Revolutionary War. It was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pennsylvania’s original Constitution, and later became an icon of the anti-slave movement.

liberty-bell.jpg
Ding dong! Notice the huge crack? Read on to find out the story behind it.

The bell was made in Britain, at the Whitechapel Foundry in 1752, on the orders of Isaac Norris, Assembly Speaker and the Chairman of the State House Superintendents. His instructions read:

"Let the Bell be cast by the best Workmen and examined carefully before it is shipped with the following words well shaped in large letters round the vizt, 'By order of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania for the State House in the city of Philada. 1752' - and underneath - 'Proclaim Liberty thro' all the Land to all the inhabitants thereof, Levit. XXV/10.'"

The bell arrived, and on September 1st 1752, Norris sent a letter confirming that:

"The Bell is come ashore & in good order."

So far, so good. However, his next letter to his agent read:

“I gave Information that our Bell was generally like & appvd of but in a few days after my writing I had the Mortification to hear that it was cracked by a stroke of the clapper without any other violence as it was hung up to try the sound.”

The blooming thing cracked on the very first stroke! So much for best Workmen, eh? What an embarrassment:

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..........{.._$;_......”=,_.......“-,_.......,.-~-,},.~”;/....}
...........((.....*~_.......”=-._......“;,,./`..../”............../
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............(....`=-,,.......`........................(......;_,,-”
............/.`~,......`-...............................\....../\
.............\`~.*-,.....................................|,./.....\,__
,,_..........}.>-._\...................................|..............`=~-,
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...................................,<`.._|_,-&``................`\

*face palm* When only ASCII art will do.

So, that’s quite enough from me for today. Hopefully my next post will be a little more... I was going to say ‘normal’, but I dunno if I can manage that. Okay, I solemnly swear that my next post will be less gore- and food-filled. That’s one promise I can stick to!

Bye.

Posted by Julie1972 07:39 Archived in USA

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Comments

Buttermilk Biscuits are even better (or worse -- for your cholesterol and waist line) if filled with marmalade before baking. However, a bit hard to find buttermilk here.

by Hrvoje

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