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» Thursday, November 12, 2009"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"
Today was filled with interesting events bookended by just plain annoying happenings.
First, we worked this out so carefully. We watched the weather report daily and even by Tuesday, the forecast was for sunny on Thursday, which was good because we wanted to meet Emma Redmer in Philadelphia (it was her day off) and do the tourist thing at the historical sites. Then Ida blew her way into town. More flooding down south, high surf on the Atlantic coast, and as absolutely chilly, rainy/drizzly, damp day in Philadelphia as you could imagine.
We planned to take Amtrak round trip out of the Paoli station just south of us. Good thing we got up early, because traffic outside our door was inching along until we passed Valley Forge, then it mysteriously disappeared. In the middle of all this the oil light in my car went on! This car has been to Providence twice (and up to the Vermont Country Store from Providence once), to Washington DC once, to Owensboro, KY, once, and to Gatlinburg twice and not once has my oil light ever gone on. And of course by the time we got to Paoli station the engine was hot and it's better to check oil when the engine is cold. James said we would check it when we got back. We could add oil if necessary; I always keep some oil and water at the back of the car.
The ride from Paoli to Philadelphia was uneventful. The Philly 30th Street station is gorgeous, in the big vaulted ceiling style of old-time railroad station construction, with a beautiful winged statue which is a tribute to Pennsylvania veterans. As in all big stations, it is full of little restaurants, and we ate breakfast at a place called Cosi's. I had a huge square bagel with cream cheese and some steel-cut oatmeal in a bowl so big James finished it for me.
The nice Traveler's Aide man in the station told us where to get subway tickets and how to get to the subway itself, so we were off to the Independence Mall Visitor's Center to peruse the exhibit about the Underground Railroad while we waited for Emma to get in from New Jersey. Once she joined us, we got tickets for the Independence Hall tour (they're free, but only so many people can go in at one time), then went to see the Liberty Bell. This is proceeded by different exhibits about the Bell, and I did not realize that the name "Liberty Bell" came from its involvement in the abolition movement. The Bell itself is just about the size I imagined it; it's not like going to Plymouth and getting a good look at the rock! (Heck, I think the Liberty Bell and Plymouth Rock are about the same size!)
We had to go through security at the Bell and again at Independence Hall. I'm sorry, I know they're only doing their job and they must butt heads with Stupid Tourists, but they came off as uniformly rude. Even TSA wasn't this sour and impolite.
We had a long wait in the rain (finally retreating under one of the arches you see leading to the wings of the Hall) before being allowed in the building, where there is a short preliminary explanation about what we were about to see, and then we were allowed in the courtroom and then the assembly hall across the way, which you will remember if you've ever seen 1776, where the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitution were written. The only authentic piece of furniture left is the chair on the dais where George Washington sat during the constitutional convention, but it is impressive nonetheless, with a lovely glass chandelier. The courtroom is in the old British style with the "cage" dock for the accused.
The remainder of the exhibit was in the other wing, which featured the printed versions of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation (with Elbridge Gerry's notes on it), and George Washington's copy of the Constitution. The guard here was what my mom would have termed "a hot sketch," and was telling a funny story about how Philadelphia should have actually been in Maryland due to a boundary dispute because the boundary was supposed to be the 40th parallel. Eventually it was declared that the 39th parallel was the real 40th parallel, so Philadelphia remained in Pennsylvania. (I guess this is where Mason and Dixon finally came in!)
Well, we had a lunch engagement. John Baxindine was meeting us at a restaurant called Campo's, on Market Street between 2nd and 3rd Street, so since it was already way after twelve, we headed in that direction. We came upon a little hobby shop on the way and ducked inside for a few minutes. This was the narrowest store I have ever seen: two narrow aisles between shelves on either wall and one central set of shelves! It had a good variety of stuff though: cars, planes, trains, rockets, etc. all stacked up to the ceiling.
Anyway, we had a fun lunch swapping stories. The food was good, too, although I decided to play it safe and just have a grilled cheese sandwich. The soup that I ordered with it was delicious: chicken with pastene in it. Eventually we parted, John heading off to a local bookstore and the three of us heading out to Penn's Landing and the International Seaport Museum. This was a long damp, windy trudge down to nearly water's edge and then down through a little bricked park with notes of Philadelphia firsts until we reached the Independence Seaport Museum.
This is a swell exhibit of the different facets of maritime history: the Silk Trade and other commerce, undersea diving and research, the Naval history of the area, the world of the sailor, and of course many exhibits about boats or ships, and how they are built. We wandered around this area for over an hour, then about quarter to four headed outside.
Zowee! The wind had been already brisk, but now the flags and pennants were flapping straight outward, ropes and rings rattling and clanging as a cold wind whipped in from the Delaware River. It assisted our walk to the ships by pushing at our backs, but, dang, was it cold! I had left my scarf behind, but prudently tucked my kerchief in my pocket; it kept my neck warm at least, but my ears were freezing because my hat had done a bunk along with my ear warmers. Thank God for the boonie hats.
Emma looked a bit doubtful as we approached the ships; she hurt her knee again recently and was worried about slipping on the deck or climbing about the ship. But we managed fine, considering that with the cold it was almost, as James joked, like we were re-enacting Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. We were all layered, and still all freezing.
The submarine berthed there, the Becuna, is a World War II vintage sub. It is very claustrophobic inside, and the doorsills very high. How men scrambled quickly through them in emergencies is beyond me! I could probably live with duty on a ship, but a sub? Talk about spam in a can.
The Olympia is another kettle of fish. This is a beautiful old warship built in 1892, Admiral Dewey's flagship, which he commanded at the Battle of Manila Bay. The ship is paneled below and painted above, with brass fittings and old-time fixtures includednot to mention big guns smack in the middle of the officer's wardroom and in the captain's and admiral's quarters! James said when he saw the ship originally you could go up to the bridge and see where Dewey stoodhis feet are markedwhen he uttered the famous words "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley," but it didn't seem to be open today, and perhaps not a good day to go up there anyway. :-) (Olympia also served in World War I, and was the ship that returned the Unknown Soldier from the battlefields of France.)
Trudging back to the museum was even harder as we were moving into the wind now. The cold crept into every gap in jacket and scarf. The sky was darkening and the lights beginning to appear along the shore, not only on our side of the river, but across the water in New Jersey. I stopped to take a few pictures of the New Jersey, berthed across the river, then we ducked into the gift shop to buy a couple of things before schlepping back through the "Firsts" park. A kindly SEPTA bus driver took us as far as the 2nd Street subway station, but Emma was walking down to check out something at a shopping area near where she had to take the train back to her home, so we walked along with her. She's in good shape from all the biking she does and was leaving us behind several times!
We walked by several buildings that appeared to be former department stores, and my suspicions were confirmed when we passed one grand old building surrounded by scaffolding and you could look inside the main door and see the big old Strawbridge and Clothier logo, a circular faux-marble bas relief. I wonder what the other stores were? Gimbel's? Wanamaker's? Maybe a B. Altman?
We dropped off Emma at the mall and descended into the subway, taking the train to the 30th Street Station. By the time we got there we were pooped from fighting the cold and collapsed near the McDonald's and had a doughnut apiece and James got us each a hamburger. Our train arrived on time and we were warmly riding back to Paoli station.
But fate had one last adventure for us: the conductor announced the first stop out of PhillyArdmore, I think it wasand the third stop out of Philly, Exton, but never announced our stop! The conductor protested, "But I warned you the station was coming up!" He had, but what were we supposed to think when the train just stopped? It was so dark we couldn't see the station outside and I've been on trains before where they just stop before the station for some reason or the other.
Anyway, he gave us a sort of voucher and we got out at Exton and sat thirty minutes on a breezy platform waiting for the return train. This time we did get properly back to Paoli.
Now for the car problem. But there didn't seem to be one now. The oil is not "max full," but is also not down to the level where you are supposed to add oil. Plus the light didn't come on all the way back to the hotel! ??? Whatever.
Not to mention both of us forgot our room keys this morning and had to stop at the desk for a temporary key!
All's well that ends well, I suppose. Thanks for the chocolates, John! And we still have Emma's yummy homemade cookies left, too!
Also check out Emma's account of the day to check some things I missed, like the kids at the Liberty Bell.
Has everyone seen the Verizon commercial with the Island of Misfit toys characters? LOL.