Our last week in the U.S.A. was the perfect way to end our road trip. We were so spoiled staying with Aunty Jill (A.K.A. JillyKen or JK) and Uncle Kenny in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, we must repay the favour one day…or perhaps we should bulk order some groceries to restock the fridge and pantry as we ate them out of the house!
They have a big, beautiful farmhouse around 160 years old; cosy, creaky, full of character, you feel instantly at home the minute you step through the door. It helps that they’re such hospitable hosts too. Also thanks to my cousins, Gavin, Colin, Tyson and Ian – who miraculously happened to all be home while we were – for making time to see us.
In 2000, my family spent an entire summer at their house, swimming at French Creek State Park, rowing on the pond, eating cookie dough ice-cream and we even went to our cousin’s school for the day, just for fun. The memories of that holiday are so fond and fresh, it’s still one of – if not the best – family holiday we’ve ever had.
I had wanted to show Tim all the places we went to on that trip but as we discovered, the past is, more often than not, irretrievable and places change…especially after 17 years. An example: we returned to the Amish Farm & House that my family and I had visited all those years ago and although you can still get the grand tour of the house, school and farmyard, they’re business-orientated now and you get a more twenty-first-century experience. If you want, you can pose for a selfie with a life-sized Amish mannequin, making sure to add the hashtag the photo #amishfarmhouse on social media to win credit for the gift store. Sadly, there’s also a giant Target that’s been built next door so its parking lot now sprawls over what was once beautiful countryside.
But what did I expect, really? Besides, we still had a fun day out. The highlight had to be our senile tour guide who trailed off mid-sentence a few times and we’re pretty sure he nodded off, for a quick second, standing up. It was torture trying to stifle our laughs.
Roughly a 2-hour drive from their house, JK and Kenny have a house up in the cooler climate of the Pocono Mountains. Picture the setting of Dirty Dancing and that’s the Poconos. We loved our four days here spent walking in the nearby parks, swimming at the lake, playing board games or jigsawing (heaven). I even got into cryptic crosswords!
Our hiking experiences were interesting. Let’s just say orienteering isn’t my strong point, despite being in the boy scouts for years. JK and I (yes, she’s taking some of the blame here) got ourselves, plus Kenny and Tim lost on a woodland trail in Hickory Run State park. We’d hoped to finish the walk before the heavy rain set in but because of many wrong turns, we were caught in a huge downpour.
The next hike we decided upon was Glen Onoko Falls, near Jim Thorpe. It’s listed as “moderate” on the state parks website and one of the best hikes to do in the area. So, JK and Kenny decided to come along as it wasn’t going to be too strenuous. We were fooled.
Most of the climb up is on rocky, slippery terrain and at times you’re scrambling up the side of a waterfall on your hands and knees. The views are worth it and you can see why it’s a popular hike but the numerous danger signs warning that “people have died on this trail” were a tad daunting. JK was a little hot and bothered at the top, so we had to keep splashing her with water and fanning her with our hats. Kenny refused to use a stick to help on the descent and low and behold, face planted the rough ground after tripping on some rocks. At this point all I was thinking was I’ll be in big trouble with Mum if they’re badly injured. But we made it!
Back in Birdsboro, we caught up with family. We went to watch Tyson play ice hockey one night. That was fun! Sitting rink-side was also a break from the intense humidity that Pennsylvania experiences around this time of year. Another night we took my little cousin Jackson to a baseball game: the Reading Fightin’ Phillies vs. the Bowie Baysox. It was a minor-league game but (in my opinion) a lot more fun than a Major league; tickets and drinks are cheaper, there are loads of free giveaways and no one acts like they know a thing about anyone playing, so Tim and I fitted right in.
Being only an hours drive away, we took a day trip to Philadelphia. As luck would have it, a good friend of mine, Francesca, was in the city for one day too, so we had to meet. Philly is a diverse city and we noticed it as soon as we stepped off the bus and went to grab lunch at the Reading Terminal Market. The place buzzes with people from all different places, races and walks of life. There were hundreds of cuisines to choose from but we opted for the most East Coast American meal we could find: Pennsylvania Dutch style sandwiches from ‘Dutch Eating Place’, which happens to be the #1 place to eat at the market, and devoured the most gigantic and delicious sandwiches we’ve ever eaten.
The birthplace of liberty in America, Philadelphia is home to countless historical landmarks but so much else as well. Some of the highlights for us were chilling in hammocks at Spruce Street Harbour Park, photographing down at the waterfront along the Delaware River and jumping like Rocky on the steps of the Museum of Art. And of course, catching up with a great friend.
On our final night in PA, we had a bonfire dinner at Colin and Crystal’s place, which is just gorgeous. Crystal has the keenest eye for interior design. We had a delicious “hobo dinner” cooked on the bonfire (basically all your food in a tin foil baggy, heated in the embers) with toasted hot dogs and ‘smores for dessert. The perfect, all American, last night with my East Coast family.
So, before jetting to Colombia, we had two days in Washington D.C. Gavin kindly put us up in his downtown bachelor pad. It’s a great location, within walking distance to all the main sites. On our first night, we had a few hours before closing time to visit the National Geographic Museum. It was actually a little underwhelming. We thought with it being National Geographic it would have been incredible, matching its reputation but it seems they allocate all the good stuff for the touring exhibitions and magazine. There are two areas to visit: a room which is aimed more at kids and a room which exhibits one themed collection, changing every few months. We saw a collection of Shark photographs. The most interesting part of the museum is in the lobby where they display the history of National Geographic through an interactive time line with artefacts from famous expeditions and information on legendary photographers for the company. We could have seen that part for free! Oh well…
As we didn’t have a lot of time in D.C. we toured the iconic monuments with an early evening run. Tourism + exercise, it was perfect. A potential business idea, perhaps?
Our full day in D.C. was the day of the eclipse. Again, we were kind of underwhelmed. Are we too hard to impress? Even a solar eclipse can’t do it! The funniest part was watching the hoards of people on the street all looking up to the sky with their glasses on (looking a bit dorky) and some even with cardboard boxes on their heads.
Our final night in the capital ended with an impromptu quiz night at The Shaw Tavern where we came an embarrassing but not surprising, last place.
A big, big thanks again to the Weise family for hosting us; for providing some home comforts before we jetted off to more foreign lands.
More photos from PA here