Family time in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and accidental New Jersey

Diane and I went to Philadelphia on Saturday and the first stop was Spataro’s in Reading Terminal Market for a cheesesteak. When we got to the market (indoors) it was packed, and we shoved through the crowds to look for cheesesteaks. One woman had set up a stall in front of the directory and was selling books about cupcakes. She asked us what we were looking for as we were squinting over her head, and she then told us she had written a cheesesteak book before the cupcake one, and in her opinion the best place was Spataro’s.
Queuing at Spataro's
Queuing at Spataro’s
The stall had a big open kitchen, and as we got closer to the place they take your order you get to watch the cheesesteaks being made. We waited in the queue there for about 20 minutes, and after giving our orders (cheesesteak, cheese type, onions or no onions) and our first names, we moved around the corner and waited for them in front of the grill. There were several people working at the huge grill, one was looking after the meat, another was cutting hoagies (like foot-long sub rolls), and another was putting the cheese and onions in place. Once the meat was ready, it was shredded and the pre-cheesed bun was slapped on top. Then it was just one quick movement to scoop up all the meat, close the sandwich, chop it in half and wrap it in paper and foil. Clutching our hot parcels, we headed to a park bench to eat. As we sat outside the museum of We, The People, we watched a mob of boy scouts being worn out by their leaders. A couple even stopped to ask us where we’d gotten our delicious-looking cheesesteaks. The cheesesteaks were indeed delicious – I had mine with the traditional Wiz.

Suitably full up, we headed to the Independence Mall to take in some history, but not before pressing a souvenir penny and trying a bottle of Dr Physick’s Soda Pop (it tasted of Black Cherry and then metal). We took a look at the Liberty Bell though the glass (the queue to see it “in person” was enormous), and found our way to Independence Hall to take the tour. There were lots of facts about the declaration of independence, the constitution and the bill of rights, and it was an interesting tour for a foreigner like me. The tour guide was very funny and kept asking the crowd questions in a game show host voice.

Dr. Physick Cherry Cola, with squashed penny.
Dr. Physick Cherry Cola, with squashed penny.
Independence Square
Independence Square

After spotting a few tourist characters (jaywalking man in tricorner hat being a highlight) we headed back to the car for the hour-long drive home. This turned out to be easier said than done, and we were denied the chance to go West out of Philadelphia, which resulted in a very brief visit to New Jersey as we tried in vain to find a place to turn around. Finally home, we were greeted by Diane’s nieces (9, 18 months) and nephew (3) who wore us out until dinner time.

Man Jaywalking in Tricorner Hat
Man Jaywalking in Tricorner Hat
Liberty Bell
Liberty Bell
After breakfast on Sunday we escaped from the house just before the bairns arrived and ran some errands. We gave Loomis a good run around to wear him out before we headed to a small farmers’ market close by. We were on a mission to find lime leaves, which unfortunately failed. Loomis thoroughly investigated everyone we met, and was rewarded at a baked goods stall with a fragment of cookie and a fuss. Though we didn’t get any lime leaves we did find veggies for dinner and I got some apple cider (which is what we would call apple juice) which was very refreshing. I also visited a stand run by a lady who has some alpacas. She was selling wool as well as knitted goods, which were all undyed and very soft. It’s easy to see why their wool commands such a high price! We then went to Best Buy to pick up a cheap phone handset and top-up for me as Diane will be out working again soon, and international texts are stupidly expensive! The salesman was very helpful, and I didn’t have to do any setup myself. As he worked away he was asking lots of questions about British life, and he said it was strange to think we didn’t have Thanksgiving here. I explained about Bonfire Night and he seemed pretty interested in our effigy-burning tradition.

The last stop on the way home was at a farm which has a herd of goats as well as their cows. We bought some raw cows’ milk and some goats’ cream cheese, and Diane made cheesecakes at home while I watched a game of American football with her dad. He was very helpful in explaining what the heck was going on, which was very useful considering the interruptions from adverts and the on-screen graphics. The Philadelphia team (the Eagles) won at home. After that the kids decided to bounce around and tire us out some more, and we played lots of games until dinner time. I was given a tour of the garden by the eldest, which included the pool, the adventure trail, the rocks and the treehouse.

We went to Lost River Caverns, which is a set of limestone caves near Diane’s. It is named as there is a river running through and under them and no one has yet found out where it goes. Our guide told us that in the past various experiments had been done to find out where the river went, including dying it with red food colouring, sending an intern down it and filling it with ping pong balls. None of these shed any light on the final destination of the river. The entrance to the caverns was a wood cabin, which contained a gem shop and jewellery making tools and materials as well as the standard gift shop items.

Lost River Caverns Entrance
Lost River Caverns Entrance
Crystal Chapel
Crystal Chapel

We were the only two people on the tour, and saw the “frozen waterfall”, which is a series of stalactites which appear to be draped over the wall. They are white and shiny with the water running over them, and the lighting makes them look quite spectacular. Apparently candle-lit wedding ceremonies used to be held there, as well as dances and other events. This eventually had to stop as people began to understand the effects of a whole lot of candle smoke in the delicate, no-ventilation cave.

After paying our way out of the cavern we headed to the Promenade, an outdoor shopping arcade. We spent some time in Barnes and Noble, and also went to LL Bean where I also picked up a nice cosy flannel shirt (a staple of the American wardrobe).

Next stop Pittsburgh!

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