Saturday, May 24, 2014

Philadelphia



This spring is sprouting some fascinating adventures in Tammy World, big and small.  Life continues to be amazing!  With the flowers of May in full bloom, my journey again took me north to the Keystone State.  This time I would make even more of a mini vacation out of it and see even more friends.  As icing on the cake (or perhaps cheese on the cheesesteak), on this trip I would get to visit Philadelphia.

The adventure got off to a rocky start, almost delaying my departure by a day.  Mitchell had arrived on Sunday night and was to leave for Virginia early Tuesday morning to go to work.  I would get up with him then leave for Pa. later that morning.  Those plans were foiled Monday when we both got oil changes for our cars and he decided to get another engine service that the shop was offering on special.  When we went back Monday afternoon to pick his car up several men were standing around his car.  The hood was up and they looked perplexed.  He knew right away the news was not going to be good.  Something happened to his engine during that procedure that essentially blew it up. :(

Tuesday morning was spent making phone calls and trying to figure out what the shop was going to do to repair his car.  It quickly became apparent that whatever they were going to do was going to take time and he would need to rent a car.  Deciding who was going to pay for the rental also took awhile.  Finally, Mitchell found out he would have to pay out of his own pocket for the rental but the shop's insurance company would compensate him later.  They really make your life miserable when they make a mistake and blow up your car.

Apparently cars are not as easy to rent in these smaller cities as they are at major airports.  We called and drove all over town looking for a decent car at a reasonable rate and finally he found a place that promised a suitable vehicle would be ready before 5 in the afternoon.  It was already pushing 3 o'clock so we decided I should leave and my mother would drive him to the rental agency.  I finally hit the highway for the long drive north but Mitchell's interesting, hair pulling day was not over yet.  They ended up having to drive to a nearby city to get the car and made it there just minutes before the business closed. 

I'd never left so late for such a long drive but I felt rested so I knew it would be okay.  When my baby is here I always get a good night's sleep.  I was hopeful that the late start would allow me to miss the rush hour traffic I usually hit around Washington DC or Baltimore, and luckily that was the case.  Except for a minor delay around Richmond at 5 PM, traffic wasn't a problem.  It was after 11 when I finally arrived at my hotel in King of Prussia, too late to see my friends Sophie Lynne and Linda Lewis.  When I found out that Rachael Kruse had been up to visit from Baltimore that night , I really hated having been so late.  At least I'd made it to my destination, against formidable odds, and there was always tomorrow.

King of Prussia, Pa. 
It turns out that my hotel was across the street from the largest mall in the country.  I never made it inside the mall on this trip, further proof that I am not a shopaholic.
Into the City

Wednesday was the day to spend with Sophie and Linda.  My electrolysis appointment was Friday but Sophie had to work the rest of the week and I needed to be home Saturday night so I wouldn't miss Mother's Day.  Of course that meant that Tuesday was my last day shaving that week, but that wouldn't slow me down on this trip.  My treatments so far have really helped so with a little makeup I was ready to go.


Considering that I was staying next to the huge King of Prussia Mall, Sophie asked me if I wanted to go into the city first or go to the mall.  This may surprise some of you but that was really a no brainer.  I've been wanting to go to Philadelphia for years, having only visited that city once as a child.  So off to the big city it was, just in time for lunch at one of Philly's most famous cheesesteak shops, Jim's Steaks.

We decided to use my car for the day's tour but I let Sophie drive because she knows the area like the back of her hand and I figured she would be the better city driver.  It would be enough of a handicap for her driving around Philly with North Carolina tags, but she's a savvy enough driver to pull it off.  Besides, traffic really wasn't too bad in the middle of the day. 

As I found out on my last trip to the Philadelphia area, Sophie is an excellent tour guide.  She pointed out all kinds of sights on the ride into the city.  That area is so rich with history and culture that we could spend a week touring and barely touch the highlights, but Sophie had a plan to show us a few very special places.  Linda had only been living there a few months, having moved down from Michigan, and with Pennsylvania just thawing out from a long, hard winter this would also be her first time getting a real taste of Philly.
 

Our first stop in Philly was at Jim's on South Street and nothing tastes more like Philly than an authentic cheesesteak.  We arrived around noon and luckily the line was not bad.  These places can get very crowded at lunchtime and according to Sophie you have to know how to order there, so we let her order for us.  I was kind of expecting a "Soup Nazi" environment but I found the people working at Jim's to be super friendly.  Maybe it was because they weren't too crowded or maybe they heard my southern accent and took pity on me, but one of the older guys making the sandwiches went out of his way to remind us we were at the best steak shop around and to tell us to come back.


Making the cheesesteaks and serving them up..
Jim's Steaks South Street
We all had our cheesesteaks provolone wit' (with provolone) instead of the classic Cheese Whiz I've always heard about.  One day I might try a sandwich with it but that processed Cheese Whiz is pretty nasty, as I recall from childhood, so I think we made the right choice.  We took our sandwiches up to the second floor to eat and got a window table with a view of South Street.  Sometime I need to go back to South Street at night.  There's block after block of really cool shops and bars, many with live music nightly.  Apparently there used to be a big Punk scene down there but it's still a rock and roll destination for sure. 
Happy to finally get a real Philly cheesesteak
Linda wit' her cheesesteak
Sophie displaying her cheesesteak.
The Star:  Provolone Wit' Cheesesteak from Jim's Steaks...
South Street, Philadelphia
After devouring the juicy, delicious cheesesteaks we walked down South Street for a few blocks then went inside a little corner bar.  Sophie had a couple of surprises for Linda and I before we left the city.  It turns out that this place, Jon's Bar and Grille, was once a home and is the birthplace of Larry Fine of Three Stooges fame.  So the three of us sat down at the bar and ordered a beer.  At this early hour, yes it was going to be that kind of day!
The Three Stooges?

"Weird" Larry Fine picture on the wall at Jon's Bar and Grille.
After having the one draft beer, the three of us left Larry's old home and headed up the street for another drink, I mean piece of history.  Our next stop used to be the Dickens Inn and was at one time owned by the great grandson of Charles Dickens.  Now Cavanough's Headhouse, the bar maintains the look and feel of an authentic British pub.  Here we had a locally brewed cider that really hit the spot.  I'm finding that my tastes are changing and I am enjoying more of a variety of food and drinks now, and am especially becoming fond of sweeter drinks. 
Linda, me and Sophie by the old Dickens Inn sign at Cavanaugh's.
Finishing our ciders, it was time to stroll back up South Street then leave Philly before the afternoon traffic got bad.  I took in the sights, sounds and smells of the city as we walked along the lively street.  There is so much to see and do in the big city and there is never a dull moment, but Sophie kept us moving like a good tour guide should.  This taste of Philadelphia was just what I needed but was also just enough to make me want to come back and spend some more time in this vibrant, historic city.
Philadelphia is shrouded in history.
Sophie and Linda on South Street, by Jim's Steaks.  On the street behind them is one of the amphibious "Ducks" (former military vehicles) that serve as tour buses.  We opted for a walking tour and Sophie showing us how to "Philadelphia drive" in my car...
 
In front of the Sexploratorium, one of the unique shops on South Street (no we did not go in).
Larry Fine playing the violin on the outside of Jon's Bar and Grille
The Comcast Center (the tallest building in Philadelphia at 57 stories)
Valley Forge

We rode around a little bit on our way out of Philadelphia, driving by several more landmarks including Independence Hall and the steps made famous in the Rocky movies.  With Sophie's (Philadelphia) driving, I missed my split second opportunity to snap a picture of the Rocky statue.  Oh well, it had been a fun venture into the city and with Mission Accomplished, we headed back for an afternoon in the more relaxed atmosphere of the suburbs.

After a brief stop at the home where Linda and Sophie are staying, we made our way over to Valley Forge.  Though I'd been to Philadelphia many years before, I believe this was my first time visiting this National Historical Park.  They live just a few miles away but had not been there since winter.  Again, Sophie was the perfect tour guide as we made the driving tour through the vast, mostly open spaces of the famous winter encampment of George Washington's Continental Army. 

The Grand Parade grounds at Valley Forge
I quickly found out that Sophie holds a deep, personal connection to Valley Forge Park.  She has spent a lot of time there over many years and she's also a walking textbook of the events that occurred on those hallowed grounds during the winter of 1777-78.  Linda and I took the crash course as we wound our way through the fields and forests that hold so much history.  Despite learning this in school many years ago I don't think I'd ever gleaned a full appreciation for the importance of this regrouping of our Revolutionary War Army. 
Inside one of the cabins at Valley Forge
We made a stop at the statue of Inspector General Baron von Steuben.  On this day I found out that this Prussian general had been enlisted by Congress to assist the Continental Army and General George Washington at Valley Forge.  Inspector General Baron von Steuben is credited with drilling the fledgling American army into a precision military unit.  It seems that precision marching was the key to victory during those times and Stueben provided the expertise to train our young country's forces to act as one on the battlefield, instead of an army made up of individual units displaying different styles. 

That training had paid off by May 1778 and from that point on the Continental Army was able to hold its own against the formidable British Army, eventually allowing us to win the war and gain our independence.  Such pieces of history lie at the very heart of why the Philadelphia area is so key to what we know as American freedom.  Besides, you cannot drive a half mile in those parts without coming across at least one place where George Washington slept.  Washington was a very accomplished general and later president, but he must have really slept a lot.      

The Three of us with Inspector General Baron von Steuben
Sophie poses with the General.
Linda and I looking casual, not exactly in precision drilling formation.
King of Prussia

I also learned that the connection between the Prussian Inspector General Baron von Steuben and Valley Forge is where the neighboring city of King of Prussia got its name.  Speaking of King of Prussia, our next stop was for refreshments at Rock Bottom brewery in the huge mall there.  This was my second visit to Rock Bottom and going back makes me wish I'd signed up for their preferred customer card on my first visit.  In a way it was fateful that I didn't as that card became a card for Sophie, who has since gone full time, and as a regular there she really needs it.  I do get the feeling that I will be back though.  Next time I'm going to make sure to take time for the full tour of the vast King of Prussia Mall, although Not going into the mall on this trip is further prof that I am Not a shopaholic.  :)

Sophie and Linda at Rock Bottom

Early start at Rock Bottom....a large craft beer can be a formidable challenge.
Dinnertime was closing in so we decided to leave the mall vicinity and head to another local establishment I visited on my last trip, McKenzie's.  As fate would have it, this would be our last stop of the evening.  One the way to the restaurant we made a brief stop by the bookstore where Sophie works.  It was really cool to meet a few of her coworkers and I even bought a book about Valley Forge.  I didn't think of it at the time, but with Mother's Day approaching I ended up giving the book to Mom.  This means that we Both get to read it and she will eventually give it back to me anyway. 

McKenzie's is known for great drinks and great food and we arrived on a mission to partake of both delicacies.  Sophie had to work the next day and we'd already been out about 8 hours so I knew it wasn't going to be a long night.  So, when we sat down we went ahead and ordered dinner and I decided to switch from beers to my new favorite drink, Martinis.

The Three of us at McKenzie's

Ordering with my reading glasses, and the awesome Striped bass dinner ,with pink martini.
The dinner was really awesome and the company was even better.  I had a great time that day with these two ladies, who also happen to be Vanity Club sisters of mine.  We had some good conversation and quite a few drinks as darkness fell on the Philadelphia suburbs and the place began to get crowded.  I think we intended to leave a couple of times but decided to stay a little longer.  Eventually the dinner crowd thinned out and the night crowd arrived in time for music trivia.  At least it wasn't karaoke, although I've heard Sophie is quite well known for her karaoke skills.
Sophie posted before, during and after pictures of me on Facebook.  Ordering with my reading glasses was the before, this was the during, and since it's my blog I don't have to post the after, lol.   I Was wide awake when pictured here with our fab waitress...
We were definitely on our last drinks, having proclaimed that on the last round, or the one before.  Sophie was driving so she was keeping it cool and I do believe Linda was getting a little buzz, but me being the out of state visitor blinded by the big city lights, I wasn't leaving anything on the table.  As fate would have it, the three of us won the first round of music trivia as Team Vanity Club.  The prize was a jumbo pitcher of draft beer. Oh boy!    
The pitcher of beer got three boob approval.
Sophie photobomb with some empty glasses.
Sophie says No More!!!
As Sophie put it in her blog, they poured me back into my room a little after 11 pm and I was worn out so I washed up and went right to bed.  I woke up after about 4 hours and couldn't go back to sleep.  It must have been the alcohol or just decompression from a long, exciting day, but I did get some rest and later another hotel breakfast.  My plan for Thursday was to go by their house and get a makeup lesson from Linda, who is an accomplished makeup artist, while Sophie was at work. 

The house is being put on the market and there were some people there cleaning so I missed the opportunity for my makeup lesson with Linda.  Saturday, if there was time, I would go back over for my lesson on my way home to North Carolina but Thursday was going to be another big day followed by the all day fun of electrolysis on Friday. 

The first half of this May adventure in Pa. had been awesome and this blog entry has gotten so big that the rest of the trip will be continued in Part 2.  I want to thank Sophie for being such a great Philadelphia tour guide and thank her and Linda for an awesome day.  Both of them are super people and being able to spend time with good friends like this makes these road trips I've been fortunate to take lately really special.  I can't wait to go back to the Philly area later this year but you'll need to stay tuned for the rest of the story about this fabulous trip.


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