We only had a day or 2 in Philadelphia, so there was really only 1 thing to see & do. The Rocky steps. It’s impressive, that even though the film was released in 1976, there are still people selling t-shirts, and teenagers running up the steps and pumping their arms in the air at the end (well, the ‘size’ of certain tourists, meant there wasn’t too much running). The steps are actually at the Museum of Art, but I think that gets lost a little (i.e. even if you google maps Rocky Steps the museum comes up), and we didn’t bother going inside either – even though it has had a huge extension and is meant to be very impressive - we just didn’t have the time or inclination to shell out the $25 on a ticket. So, once Meg & Gogi had sauntered up the steps, we headed off to the State Penitentiary that had been recommended to us.
Interestingly, the prison was the template for multiple prisons around the world, as it used a wagon wheel type layout, with corridors with prisoners coming off a central point (so that the guards can see down each corridor from one central part). But more interestingly the prison was pretty much in the same state as it was finally closed in 1971. They had tidied up a few of the cells, but it was eerie seeing a lot of the building simply crumbling, with paint peeled, and broken cell doors, toilets, etc (you can see why they filmed 12 monkeys here). They even had a mocked up Al Capone’s room as it had been at the time, known as Park Avenue, because of its luxury – including a radio, book shelf, armchairs and carpet. People are still unsure why he got such special treatment when he was pretty much gangster number 1 at his time of incarceration there. That evening we hung around with Meg’s cousins, enjoying their hospitality and local knowledge (not that I’m sure Gogi enjoyed their dog’s friendship so much!), before heading off the next day for New York, via the ubiquitous Philly steak sandwich.
We were naturally hesitant about taking Milton into central Manhattan, so decided on finding a commuter station, to park up for a few days, and simply get a train in. Caroline, a friend of mine from Australia very kindly offered to let us stay at hers in the East Village, so that was a god send. I hadn’t been to NYC for about 10 years, so it was great to be back. Whilst we naturally ticked off all the tourist stuff, we actually much preferred being around Soho, Greenwich, Little Italy, with its constant goings on, its art, great little stores, etc. And Caroline took us on a great trip over the water to Brooklyn & Williamsburg which gave a good insight into the areas that are being renovated for those that can’t afford/can’t be bothered to live in Manhattan. One of the impressive sights for me, was the 9/11 museum. In previous trips I had actually been up the World Trade Center in 1999, and then saw ground zero in 2005, so to be back to see its current iteration was quite something. The museum was huge, and 2.5 hours in we still didn’t get a chance to see it all. And it was quite a chilling experience, having all the memories come back of that day, and the chaos that ensued. Very sombre, but well worth a visit (particularly as they offer free tickets on Tuesdays after 5pm).
On our way to Ohio, we stopped off at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water house, pretty much one of the most famous houses in the US. It was pretty rammed full of tourists, but we managed to get ourselves onto a tour. It is an amazing looking house, and definitely a place I wouldn’t mind having (and would fill it with all of the Wharton Esherick items we saw in his house!). But, it does seem to have quite a few leaks, and with the cost going from a $30k budget to $115k final cost (in the 1930s), perhaps I might need to scale back my ambitions…
With spirits high from nearly a week solid of soft beds we were feeling pretty good, we soaked in a few more days with with Stef and her little guy and then it was time to hit the road again. It was northwardto the nation’s capital. I had stayed a month in DC last year when I was nannying but to be honest I hadn’t seen much (life is tricky when you’re getting paid a lot of money to look after a scary little kid). We continue to get more and more casual with Milton and where we park him. We pulled into a Planet Fitness parking lot near a train station and just parked up there for the duration. No one minded (until the 4th day when we were getting ready to leave and there was a lovely little note asking us to move, fair enough).
The weather left a little to be desired, alternating between extreme heat and downpours but we trudged on through. There’s a lot to see in DC, more than we could probably get around to in a few days, and honestly more than we could be bothered to see. But we managed to see a few museums and walk the mall as well as take in some documentaries from the AMA doc festival. The most unexpected success from DC was the NEWSeum, yes my friend a museum dedicated to the news, it was fabulous. We stopped by Wednesday and were delighted to find our tickets were good for two days so we came back Thursday for a few more hours. No one can say America doesn’t do museums, historical locations, random “interesting spots” well, we really do. This museum was top notch and organized perfectly. My favourite was the Pulitzer exhibition, they had every photo had had ever won the Pulitzer Prize, a lot of the them were hung and all of the were searchable with touchscreens including the stories behind them from the people who took them. They also had an extensive exhibit about how the Vietnam War changed news forever, it was all very very good.
After leaving DC we were heading towards Philadelphia to see some family and run the Rocky steps, but on the way we stopped at yet another Atlas Obscura location, Wharton Esherick’s House/Museum. A beautiful and interesting museum dedicated to his work, it gave Jonathan the desire to cut up more wood of course, so I told Jonathan he could buy something if he could find it, but on further inspection a stool along costs $6,500 so I rescinded the offer.
We’re finishing up our 5th full month on the road and that means Jonathan’s visa is nearly up so we’re winding down and figuring out what’s next, more to come.
This week we have been spoilt rotten. And I won’t lie, I could get quite used to it!
My parents came out to visit us in Asheville, and treated us to a night in a hotel. As much as we said we would allow ourselves a hotel stay a few times a month, there has invariably been extra expenses, that have meant we haven’t really been able to justify the unnecessary luxury. So, to have a room offered to us, we were not going to pass it up! Having a proper bathroom, with nice towels, and an air conditioned room really was a luxury…
Asheville itself was a nice little place to hang about for for a couple of days. We wandered around town for an afternoon, and the next day had a look round Biltmore Estate. It was the home of one of the Vanderbilt’s kids (read, ‘rich’) who seemed to spare no expense in building a huge castle/chateau’esque place in the forest. It was most impressive (even though, if I’m honest, so are half the stately homes in the UK), and it’s always interesting to see how the other half live. I’m definitely building a secret entrance to the man lounge, via the double snooker room, in my next house….
After we said our farewells to the family (via the a final ihop fill-up) we headed east to meet up with Meg’s friend Stef in the Outer Banks (home to Kitty Hawk – where the Wright Brothers first flew their plane). We stopped off for a night in Raleigh, North Carolina as it was meant to be quite a small city. Whilst we didn’t get to wander about too much (or felt that we were missing much by not wandering about), we did get to enjoy some really good music. The pig pen theatre company and You Won’t were truly a pleasure to listen & watch. Check them out in a town near you.
When we got to the Outer Banks, it was again, time to just relax for a few days. Enjoying the air conditioning, fast internet, a washing machine, etc, etc. One thing we did manage to finally do, was put on our decals for the outside of Milton. The vinyl has been sitting there taking up space for weeks, so we finally plucked up the courage to put them up. I think they look great – although bang goes the idea that we were going to be quite ‘stealth’ with our faces essentially stamped on the side & back of the vehicle. Well, I suppose we might as well just accept it and invest in that Dukes of Hazzard horn after all.
With car troubles sort of behind us we went on to the true Antebellum south. As a massive Gone with the Wind fan I was excited to be in Rhett country (who care’s about Scarlet?). We started in Savannah, where Scarlet’s posh mother was from, and it was very beautiful, there’s bit of a rivalry between it & Charleston as they’re so close and both clearly courting the same tourists. The Spanish moss of Savannah was very charming but the city itself was very small. We walked around it quickly, had some delicious pizza and accidentally took in a children’s performance of “Big Fish” (we left quickly when it was finished before anyone had a chance to question who the two random adults attending a children’s performance were).
From Savannah we headed to Charleston, Rhett Butler’s hometown and clearly the jewel of the south, it’s stunning and has more historical building than you can shake a stick at. Small yes but very charming. And as a bonus there was a Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, my favourite ice cream in the world from Columbus Ohio. We spent a few days strolling around the city, cycling about, taking walking tours and generally enjoying ourselves. The biggest problem Charleston has is parking, especially RV parking. We found the Charleston Visitors Center has rv parking in their garage but that was a bit pricey for us for more than one night, then we realized there was some sort of fluke in the system, and the road all along the sea didn’t require a parking pass. Milton fit perfectly in the spot and we were happy to have the sea breeze at night and the sun to charge our solar panels during the day.
After finishing at Charleston we headed westward stopping in Madison, the town too beautiful for Sherman to burn, and misfiring at a fake Gone with the Wind “plantation”, but over all a very charming southern week.