After all the excitement of a day yesterday feasting on the rich history of this fine city, we decided to do as we did in Boston and visit the glorious art venues of Philadelphia. Given our location it turned into a matter of a long day of walking between world-class art museums. We headed out around 9am on an overcast and slightly cold morning to our first stop – the Auguste Rodin Museum. This museum housed the most sculptures of Rodin outside of France, including the one everyone knows – the Thinker. What I didn’t know was that this was originally meant to be a small figure atop Rodin’s Gates of Hell. It is supposed to be the figure of Dante reflecting upon the abyss below. However, he decided to also remove the figure, enlarge it and have it as a separate piece – the one the world knows and loves today.
After a moving tour of this museum – we head up the road to the Philadelphia Art Museum. This museum is perhaps more famous for the steps leading up to the front door – for these are the steps used by the character Rocky as part of his training drills to become a better boxer, in the movies Rocky 1- to whatever! Every day thousands run up and down these steps – I wondered how many actually made it past the doors to view what is truly a fine collection of art on par with many of the world’s best galleries. I of course went straight to the impressionists, post-impressionists and even ventured into Cubism and early 20th century material. The museum hosts a great American section as well as a fine European collection 1000 – 1500, and 1500 – 1850. The early time period of this art is of course religious in nature and I was in my element.
After an exhilarating number of hours spent reflecting upon great treasures we left and walked to the Barnes foundation museum of art. Assembled by Albert Barnes between 1912 and 1951 the gallery is home to a world-class collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modernist paintings, with especially deep holdings in Renoir (the most in a private collection in the world), Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso. I was as my wife would put it – a pig in heaven! The collection also includes examples of African art, Native American pottery and jewelry, Pennsylvania German furniture and wrought-iron metalwork. The experience was unlike any other art gallery I have had the great fortune to visit around the world. The art was hung to Dr. Barnes instructions to create what he called ‘ensembles’ arranged according to light, line, colour and space. So we found paintings by van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso hanging next to ordinary household items – a door hinge, a yarn spinner. It sounds horrific yet it does work. By late afternoon, our brains had had enough and we called it quits and walked back to hotel, exhausted but sated, filled to the brim with so much art and beauty.
Today marked the halfway point of our journey and we are off to Washington D.C. in the morning. So far, so good and we are really enjoying our travels, and looking forward to visiting the nation’s capital.
A beautiful piece that caught my eye titled: Cathedral
Wednesday 6 November in Philadelphia was a fantastic day on our American expedition. We had set ourselves the tasks of seeing (at least) the Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell , to continue our tour of the birth of the USA. That we were able to do this and so much more made today a gem. After a continental breakfast we headed out for the short 10 minute stroll to the Independence Information and Visitor Centre. The sky was a clear rich blue without a cloud in sight and while there was a slight nip in the air (it is autumn after all) it was lovely taking in the sounds and smells of China town as we made our way towards the old town.
Having acquired our tickets for the tour of the Independence Hall we joined the waiting group of like-wise eager beavers and were ushered into a small anti-chamber off the main hall to meet our tour guide. Now those reading this who have seen the show The West Wing will know the character C J Craig, played by Allison Janney. Our guide was tall and lanky and had the same sparkling dry wit as Craig and was a delightful and informative host as we made our way into this sacred chamber. We saw the actual place where the Declaration of Independence was drafted, edited and proclaimed. Interesting to note that while everyone thinks the 4th July is the day when the declaration was made – it was actually made on the 2nd July. The Americans celebrate the 4th because it took two extra days for edits to be made and for the document to be printed and hence it has 4th July 1776 on the document.
The hall was also the place where the now 13 independent former colonies of England, having won the war by 1783, sent representatives to thrash out the form of government by which they now would live. The problem was that while they had been united against a common enemy – now that the yoke of oppression had been lifted – former jealousies and rivalries once more surfaced. That a constitution was finally agreed was called by both Madison and Washington the ‘miracle of Philadelphia!’ The marvelous compromise which saw a small colony like Rhode Island agree with a large colony like Virginia was the bicameral Congress system – where all states were equal in the number of representatives in the Upper House – the Senate – pleasing the smallest of the states – and the number of representatives in the lower House – the House of Representatives – was based on population – hence pleasing the more populous states. We were also reminded by our guide that Benjamin Franklin, then 81 and only three years from his death in 1790, played a key role in persuading and cajoling by his wisdom and charm, the most objectionable players in the room. We were to be reminded all day that Franklin was truly the outstanding persona in North America, if not the world, in the 18th century.
Next stop was the beautiful two story building used as the Congress House – Philadelphia was the Capital of the fledgling country for ten years from 1790 to 1800 when the capital was then moved to the new city of Washington, DC. And so the Congress – both the House of Representatives and the Senate met in the Congress building – next to the Independence Hall. We were reminded that George Washington was sworn in for his second term of office (from 1792 to 1796) in this building as was John Adams in 1796.
After these two tours – we went to see the bell. Original cast in 1751 for the bell tower of the Independence Hall – it was too brittle and slightly cracked on its first peel. Recast – it was rung on 8 July 1776 at a reading of the Declaration of Independence. It is said to have cracked again in 1824, during the visit of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette. The repairs do not seem to have worked well because when it was asked by the Mayor to be rung to celebrate Washington’s birthday in 1846 – the repairs gave way and the crack widened and lengthened so as to be unusable and what we see today. The bell has become a great symbol for freedom and liberty – it was first called the Liberty Bell in 1837 by anti-slavery abolitionists and the new name stuck. It has been used by groups claiming liberty in America ever since – women demanding equal rights at the turn of the century; the black rights movement in the 60s and the gay pride movement in the 80s. I was interested in the biblical quote inscribed on the bell from Leviticus 25.10: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
All this only brings us to morning tea! We wander over to check out the Benjamin Franklin museum – built near the spot where his house and printing firm were located from the middle of the 18th century. Fantastic tribute to a wonderful man. Franklin was an American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin was a leading writer, printer, political philosopher, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. I’ve read his autobiography before and his works on the virtues and time management and the bettering of oneself, but to see it all under one roof was inspiring. Most people know of him through kites and lighting but if they leave it at that they would be in my humble opinion missing out on the deep wisdom of a true genius. Here is just a taste of the man: It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it; Well done is better than well said; and my personal favourite (which could I imagine be leveled at several world leaders of the moment) – We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.
Lunch was had in the Bourse Food Hall. A building circa 1895 – and one of the first to use steel in its frame. The name Bourse means a place of exchange and this building was the first commodities exchange house in the USA. It now acts as a giant food hall on the lower level and various office space above, including I found out, the Mexican consulate.
In the afternoon we took the opportunity to go on the Big Bus – the hop-on/hop-off bus and have a tour up top resting our feet. Space really doesn’t permit me to mention all the wonderful buildings we saw except to mention the town hall – which extends 167 m up including the 11 m statue of the founder of the city, William Penn atop the building spire. This building took 30 years to build from 1871 to 1901. It is the largest municipal building in the world with 700 rooms. There was a gentleman’s agreement that no building in the city should exceed the height of the hat on Penn’s statue. This was broken in 1987 by the building of Liberty One which soared up 288 m. For the next thirty years until 2007 no major team of any sport in Philadelphia won its equivalent championship, after the city having enjoyed much success in many sports before 1987. It was called the curse of Billy Penn! It was broken in 2007 by the building of the Comcast building. One bright iron worker fixed a small stature of William Penn to the top of this building to restore the fact that no building was higher than Penn’s hat. From 2007 the city has enjoyed sporting success again in many sports. Believe it or not!
Today Tuesday 5 November was a traveling day as we boarded an Amtrak train for the 6 hour journey from Boston to Philadelphia. The day started off cold and wet but by lunch it was a fine afternoon. The train was comfortable and it was ironic to reflect upon the fact that for all the security being endured as we fly – everyone just walked on to the train with their luggage – no checks – no security – yes – our tickets were scanned once we got rolling but the whole system was all so 1980s – and it felt so good!
One of the great things about our trip so far has been the location of our hotels – the ‘Sleep-Inn Philadelphia’ is in central Philadelphia and when we get walking tomorrow – everything is within easy reach – looking forward to seeing the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall among many other places this stately city has to offer. But we also find ourselves in China Town so of course – it was Chinese for dinner.
Boston has many fine museums which are world-class. The top two rated in the city are the JFK Presidential Museum and Library and the Museum of Fine Arts. It was our plan of attack to spend half a day at each on this our last day in this fine metropolis.
Up early and we found a new place for breakfast where we each had the Eggs Benedict – Irish: you just add corn hash and potatoes to the mix! With our new found confidence in the public transit system – we successfully managed via two trains to get to the JFK library situated on a beautiful parkland overlooking the harbour with views back to Boston. I recommend this place for all history buffs – it was fantastic and better in my opinion then the new Churchill museum in London. We watched a short film outlining the rise of the Kennedy Clan in America from humble beginnings right up to Jack’s nomination as the Democratic party contender for the 1960 election against Nixon. We then wandered around a beautiful set of exhibits outlining his life from then to the fateful end on 22 November, 1963. There were original artifacts (including the inauguration speech made by JFK – with his last-minute changes marked on the pages!) We saw videos from his life in the White House with Jackie and the various crisis to overcome in his brief tenure as President – including the Cuban Missile Crisis and his visits to Berlin and Ireland. While I am well aware of his personal faults and the problems with his marriage which I cannot condone, one cannot but be amazed at the skill and courage of this young President. Hearing his words once more also made me think about the current resident in the White House and how things have changed so much!
We backed tracked into town and made our way in the afternoon to the Museum of Fine Arts – one of the best in the world. Having been to Egypt last year and seen a lot of their relics and artifacts and also last year seeing the collection stored in the British Museum, I was amazed to learn that the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has the biggest collection of mummies outside of Egypt! It also has a fine collection of art from Asia and the Americas but it was its 19th century Impressionist collection I was eager to see. Monet’s, Van Gogh’s, Renoir’s – the list went on and on – I was in heaven. Nothing beats in my mind for relaxation and inspiration a slow stroll around a world-class collection of art! It was a privilege to have had the opportunity to do so today and with our ventures in the morning added up to another perfect day in the USA.
It’s amazing when all the months of planning and thinking and visualising what things might be like come to fruition on a day like today! Our hotel is fairly basic with no breakfast bar offered so we ventured out a bit and found a lovely café close by called ‘Caffe Bene.’ Filled up for the adventure ahead we caught a cab to Christ Church, North Boston, commonly referred to as the Old North Church. Founded in 1722 (planning on how to celebrate its 300th anniversary soon) it is Boston’s oldest surviving Church building and most visited historical attraction. We went not only for the history but for the worship which was beautiful if more plain than I had thought it might be. It was the first time I had sat in box pews and it felt like you were at the opera as you were literally in a box and could only see from the shoulder’s up of your fellow worshippers. The enduring fame of the Old North began on the evening of 18 April, 1775, when the church sexton, Robert Newman, and Vestryman Capt. John Pulling, Jr. climbed the steeple and held high two lanterns as a signal from Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea across the Charles River and not by land. This fateful event ignited the American Revolution.
Following church and the coffee hour after it we set off on the freedom trail: a red brick marked trail leading around the centre of Boston highlighting important buildings, people and places associated with the start of the war of Independence. While not only enjoying the wonderful autumn (or should that be Fall) weather, and enjoying the sights on the trail – I couldn’t help but notice a lot of beautiful buildings in Boston. It was a delight and pleasure to walk the streets of this city. We stopped for a drink at the Green Dragon Tavern – the watering hole for the patriots and revolutionaries. We passed by the State House, the Park St Church, the Old South Meeting House, Faneuil Hall, the old State House, Paul Revere House, just to name a few. Space doesn’t permit me to give a summary of all but suffice to mention that we finished the middle part of our day at the Boston Common which is overlooked by the State House of Massachusetts. Puritan settlers established the Common in 1634, making it the nation’s oldest public park. Charles Bulfinch designed the State House. Samuel Adams and Paul Revere laid the corner stone in 1795. It is truly a magnificent sight to behold.
Having finished the Freedom Trail, we had one more thing on our agenda for the day and that was making our way to the harbour to enjoy the ‘Boston Tea Party: Ship and Museum – A revolutionary experience.’ We asked for directions and figured out how to use the metro system and soon we were on the harbour. We found ourselves taking part in an interactive hour long exciting ‘re-enactment’ of what happened on that fateful night 16 December 1773. We toured a replica of the trading ship of the day and got a chance to throw a chest of tea into the harbour. It sounds like fun and we suppose the tour was designed with children and school tours in mind; but that said, it still was informative and engaging for us big kids as well. There was some high tech displays and the tour finished with a 12 minute video of what happened after the tea was destroyed. While not condoning violence you do get to feel what the American colonies were up against with the British taxation system. It is no far stretch to see how this act of destroying 300 crates of tea destined to be taxed led to the start of the War of Independence some 16 months later. Ironically, after the tour we were led to the tea house where we enjoyed drinking some fine tea!
Once back at our hotel, we were able to do our laundry, write and post some postcards, write our journal entries and complete this blog. All in all – a fantastic day in Boston. Tomorrow – stay tuned as we hopefully visit the JFK memorial library and the Museum of Fine Arts.
After all the fun of yesterday’s tour of Bangor, Maine and hearing all things Stephen King – today was a travel day to Boston. We had a leisurely breakfast, packed and checked out of the hotel and got them to ring us a cab at 9.15am (our bus is leaving at 11am from the bus depot – about 15 minutes away – I just want to get there early) The cab dispatch operator said it wouldn’t be too long – I bet you can see where this is going – so we sit and wait; and wait; and wait. At 10am I get the hotel staff to ring again and I am informed they will be there in a minute – 10.20am we get our cab and we are at the bus terminal at 10.40am – just really in time to check in and line up to ensure a good seat! It all worked out but still I’m learning after multiple trips overseas that you just gotta roll with the punches and go with the flow. Enough of the minor grips – the weather is glorious – not many people on the coach so I have a spare seat next to me and watch the passing countryside on the 4.5 hour drive to Boston.
We get a cab to our hotel and are checked in by 4pm – we know that we have missed the last hop-on/hop-off tour for the day so decide to walk a few blocks up from our midtown hotel to the Prudential Building (built in 1964 and 230 metres high) which has on the 50th floor a skywalk where you can enjoy tremendous views of Boston and its surrounds. It also has a small theatrette where we watched 4 short films on Boston’s history; it’s immigrant past and people; a beautiful view of the city from above and a lovely piece on the diversity of the children of the city. It truly is a magnificent city. We head down again and have dinner at what I suppose is a Cambodian outlet called Num Pang Kitchen. They have the best spicy lentil soup and a great rice and pork belly dish and a great side of roasted fresh vegetables. While eating we are able to plan tomorrow and write some postcards. Back to our hotel and sort out our laundry and finish up the blog – reset the clocks (end of daylight savings tomorrow) and look forward to a day out in Boston – starting with attending worship at the Old North Church – the very one from which two lanterns were lit in the steeple and Paul Revere took off on his famous ride.
A set of shots from the skywalk observatory – 230 metres above Boston
Friday 1 November was always going to be one of the highlights of our trip. For today was the day we did our Stephen King tour in Bangor, Maine. I apologise to all readers who are not King fans but my Mum and I are serious fans and we were bubbling with excitement as the weather cleared and we waited to be picked up. Our group ended up being 11 plus our driver/MC Jamie – an over-the-top extrovert – a Bangor born and breed local – the son of the owner of SK Tours – the only Stephen King approved tour in Bangor. Our three and a half hour tour took us around the town highlighting places and things mentioned in King’s books and featured in the movie adaptions. Of course the highlight were the stories Jamie told of Stephen and his wife Tabitha and how they rose from being a poor starving struggling family with two infant kids, with Stephen writing in spare hours from being a lowly paid English teacher. His first book, Carrie was the break-through and the rest is history. At the end of the tour we were shown his house -and next door – the guest house purchased. One of his guests was JK Rowling – author of the Harry Potter books – and Jamie reminded us that the two of them – Stephen King and JK Rowling are the most popular living writers on the planet today – Rowling worth over a billion and the King’s half a billion. One of the things pointed out is that the King foundation has sponsored and given a lot to the town of Bangor over nearly forty years. Stephen has a great love of Rock and Roll and has purchased a radio station in Bangor – which is completely DJ run and organised.
We spent time in the 400 acre Bangor cemetery – the place where Stephen King often walked and thought about his stories and where, as we were shown, he often got his character names – including both that of ‘Georgie’ and ‘Carrie’ – familiar to fans of his King’s work.
A lot of the spots shown were in relation to the book and movie ‘It’ – a story about an evil creature living in the sewers of Derry (King’s fictional town based on Bangor) which came out to feed on children every 27 years. The creature takes the form of a clown named Pennywise and we were taken to the street corner where the child Georgie was lured to his death down a storm drain. A photo opportunity was inevitable.
So many stories told by Jamie and even if only half are true they painted a picture of a great American author and his family, who although not perfect, were generous to the town which provided so much of the background to the stories which have entertained so many around the world including my Mum and me.
It’s an interesting fact that many people don’t really think through the itinerary for how it might play out in reality and today is a case in point. We are to fly on a 6am flight (Thursday 31 October – Halloween) from Buffalo to Boston. Sounds reasonable until you realise that you need to be at American airports two hours before hand to allow adequate time for everything in the land of the free and paranoid. So this means we are up at 2.45am – checked out and on a shuttle by 4 and at the airport by 4.15am. Luckily there are not many at this time of the day so we check in our bags in 20 minutes and are through security in 15 minutes. Now we have to sit around for an hour or so – Tim Horton’s (lovely Canadian breakfast chain I have grown to appreciate) to the rescue again as we have breaky and board our flight. A rough flight to Boston and we are early arriving at 7am. We get a cab to the South Station Bus depot where we know we have a 2.15pm bus to Bangor, Maine. We are able to check our luggage into storage and tackle the main agenda item for the day – getting me a replacement jacket as I left my one and only one in a cab at Niagara Falls! There is one Big Men’s store not that far from South Station and so off in a cab we go at 9am thinking it will be open. We get there and realise that no – it doesn’t open for another hour! Have I mentioned that it is now raining and a bit cold and chilly. We find a Starbucks – as you do – and waste a bit of time and see out the window this beautiful building. Upon a closer look it’s the Royal Historical Museum for National History – of course closed but still a beautiful sight. Next to it is a striking Congregationalist church – so we have managed to see a little bit of beauty while we wait.
I get a jacket and back to the Bus Station. It is a lovely building with a domed roof and nice art on the walls as well as the obligatory American flags. By the time of the 4.5 hour bus ride to Maine – we are pretty tired and both fall asleep on the rainy ride to Bangor. Why Bangor you may ask – well it’s Stephen King country and this is the real heart of our trip – our tour tomorrow – Friday – of the sights of Bangor (upon which King’s fictional town of Derry is based) which are mentioned in the films and books of one of our favourite authors.
A quite meal in a chain restaurant near the hotel and we are both ready for bed by 9pm. Another great day in our American saga!
Today, Wednesday 30 October, we had a leisurely sleep in to 7.30am and down for a lovely breaky at 8.30am. Pretty standard fare but the views of the Horseshoe falls to be had made up for it. We check out at 10.30am and get a cab to the Rainbow bridge and walk across from Canada to USA for the princely sum of $1 Canadian dollar to get through the turnstiles. While it was overcast you still get a good view of the falls on the bridge. On the American side we go through customs again and then organise ourselves a cab to our next hotel in Buffalo New York near the airport for our flight to Boston on Thursday. Now I have travelled in Asia and Europe and had some scary rides but this guy had a death wish and I suppose an internal desire to break every speed record on the way. After some close calls we made it safely to our hotel right next to the Buffalo airport – so we can get – wait for it – our 6am flight to Boston on Thursday. This means a 3.30am rise – 4am cab – and the whole check in and security thing again but at an ungodly hour. I am hoping that not many will be there. But as I always say, “If that is the worst thing to happen today – it’s been a good day.”
Bridal falls on the left and the Horseshoe on the right
After 4 hours sleep at our hotel in Toronto we are up, dressed and packed and walking down to Union Station. We stop at Tim Horton’s for breaky and make our way downtown in the early crisp morning air (7am) to the imposing Union Station building next to the CN Tower. We think we are catching a train to Niagara but no – as the theme of changed travel plans continues – we are on a bus due to a new bridge being built somewhere. A lovely hour and 40 minute coach ride in the fog – (if someone asks me what I saw in Toronto – I will say – nothing – it’s dark and foggy!) – we arrive at the depot in Niagara. We decide to stretch our legs and walk the 6 miles into the falls – (mistake!) Most of it was fun – level and eventually a view of the two famous falls – Bridal and Horseshoe – but the last 15 minutes was up a steep slope to our hotel and we collapsed onto our beds for a bit. The falls do not disappoint and we have a great afternoon getting up close and personal. 168,000 cubic metres of water goes over the falls every minute – it may not be the highest or biggest in the world but damn it sure is spectacular! Great day.