On the 3rd day of our USA Road Trip we left New York nice and early so we missed the rush hour traffic, which they say is between about 6:00 am and 10:00 am (although over there pretty much any time feels like rush hour) – however 6:00 am was still fairly clear. We headed south towards Washington DC however couldn’t drive past Philadelphia without popping in to see 2 attractions I suggest you don’t miss!
We arrived quite late in Washington and checked in to the Capital Skyline hotel. The hotel was OK – nothing fancy (if anything just a little out-dated, just like the Skyline in New York) but at least had parking with security cameras which was nice as it looks like it’s in a bit of a rough area of the city – with pretty much no where to eat! The only nuisances were that there were constantly police sirens going off as there was a station or car depot nearby and on the second night they had an art exhibit which made it really hard work to get in to the hotel… They had a ticketed event so we had to pretty much queue to get to the reception and up to our room – not well organised at all!
This was also our first example of what you might call the weird side of American cuisine… Now I’m not sure if this is normal over there but we ordered apple pie with vanilla ice cream, which in itself by the way was delicious. The weird bit was the massive slab (and I mean slab – it wasn’t just a little sprinkle) of melted cheese on the pie.
USA Road Trip Day 3 – Philadelphia
We had 2 activities planned for Philadelphia, with the first being a visit to the Eastern State Penitentiary which I can’t recommend enough, for anyone interested in culture, art, criminology, architecture, the macabre, history, paranormal activities and anything in-between.
It was first opened in 1829 and was in operation for 142 years, during which time it had some notable inmates. The first, and most famous by far, being Al Capone – you can see his old cell which was full furnished and actually looked pretty nice. I am not sure if it was actually like this, as they claim, or if it has been done up a bit for the benefit of visitors.
The other notable resident however was my favourite and I almost didn’t believe it… Pep the dog! This wasn’t a criminal nickname like Jack the Hat, he actually was a dog who was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for murdering the Pennsylvania governors cat… They took his dog mug shot, and even gave him a cell! I learned in my time in America that often the phrase “only in America” generally has no real meaning as it is a country very similar in views and customs as Europe, however you might on this occasion be excused for saying… Only in America!
If you look in to this case a little further however there was a deeper meaning, and he soon became a favourite amongst the prisoners as a pet – He was actually sent here by governor Pinchot as a therapy dog to help with rehabilitation (something the governor had seen in a prison in Maine). Pep had become a little naughty at home, chewing the sofa to pieces and as such the governor thought, “I can kill 2 birds with 1 stone here!” The cat murdering story was supposedly a journalistic fabrication.
The map you are given is pretty good, but to make more sense of the most logical way to go around the site I would recommend the audio tour (something I must admit I don’t usually like as I prefer to mooch about at my own speed, which is generally speaking quicker than an audio tour). We were here just before Halloween but sadly missed out on a chance to check out their Halloween event… I hear is pretty good though!
Whilst in Philadelphia (especially for someone like me who loves zoos), it would be a crime not to see the first zoo opened in the USA (chartered in 1852 and opened in 1874). When you first enter the zoo it is a very modern zoo, especially when it comes to their aerial walks for animals such as orangutans, tigers & pumas, with I believe plans to also open them up (or perhaps they are already open – I wasn’t 100% clear on this) for their bears. As you head deeper in to the zoo the architecture gradually changes and you can see that it is not only a work in progress (even after so many years) but also that there are signs of its history everywhere.
For a metropolitan zoo it really is very nice, and surprisingly spacious, with all of the usual suspects on display. However there are also a few less often seen species on display here including the beautiful douc langur, majestic bald eagle, unusual crocodile lizard, rare golden toad and downright ugly (but strangely cute) naked mole rat!
USA Road Trip Day 4 – Washington DC
The fourth day of our USA road trip started off early and was set to be a hectic one! We first had tickets to go up in the Washington Memorial, but decided to go and see the Lincoln Memorial first (which is a lot further than it seems), however both are worth seeing up close, and the Washington memorial must have tickets pre-bought before hand – you can order these with no problem from outside the States but give yourself plenty of time as they get sent out in the post… The views from up there are spectacular to say the least and the tour down in the elevator is pretty cool as you see the inside of this obelisk with plenty of carved stones.
From these memorials which also includes the reflecting pool and impressive World War II Memorial, it is a short walk to the Smithsonian complex, but we wanted to be back at the hotel around lunch time for our afternoon / evening activity so only had time to see the Natural History Museum (which is a shame as the Air and Space Museum is also meant to be really good). As seems to always be the case when we go to a natural history museum the dinosaurs were off display (except for their t-rex head), so sadly I can’t comment on that part of the collection. However I must say that the taxidermy collection is far better done and well preserved than that of the Natural History Museum, London.
There is so much more to the museum than just dead animals and bones (when we were there they did also however have a massive marine exhibit including a giant suspended whale), but there are also a few live insect exhibits, a mummy (which was the first one I have actually seen in person), as well as some really good space related and geology exhibits… including the hope diamond (one of the rarest diamonds in the world, steep in history).
Finally came the reason for us wanting to leave the Smithsonian fairly early… Any USA road trip should include at least 1 theme park, and we chose a cracker for our first one – Six Flags America, with the added bonus of being there for the opening night of their fright fest, which is incredible! A whole new step above anything we have seen in the UK – the showmanship of the intro performance made the night beyond special.
However for starters we spent a good few hours before this started just enjoying the park, which wasn’t too busy, so our longest queue length was about 5 minutes, and we managed to get on every single roller coaster! I must say that Jokers Jinx (especially at night) is the best roller coaster I have been on in the world, whilst mind eraser (which is a decent coaster) is an older more rickety feeling version of nemesis inferno at Thorpe Park. If you have been to Thorpe Park in the UK another coaster which will be familiar, and so should be expected to be great is Apocalypse, which is almost identical to Swarm, but has the bonus of being a stand up coaster (the first time I have been on one of these). Finally there are 2 more coasters which I need to mention, but need to make clear that I am scared of heights and absolutely terrified of falling. As such the superman ride of steel coaster scared the pants off me – it is HUGE! But then we decided to have our first ever go on a lying down coaster, in the form of the Batwing. This was one of my most terrifying experiences in all my years (that is until we went to Seaworld and got on the Manta Ray that is).
This park however really comes to life at Halloween in the evening, when the monsters come out to play and the scare mazes open up. Once again we had time to go to all of them (except for perhaps one) and even though the saw maze at Thorpe Park is great, it has nothing on these. They are all original, incredibly well decorated and full of brilliant actors… If you are in the area around that time, there’s really no better way to kick off your Halloween season, and I’d love to go back one day!
This night was then the last night we had in Washington before we headed even further south for the next day of our USA road trip – more zoos on this trip coming soon!