Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Ecstasy of Religion

After the escapades of the bus station, I was relieved on my arrival to Philadelphia to find that although a big city, it had a relatively small central area that was easily walkable and as such I could avoid public transport.

I had 5 nights and 4 days in Philly, ample enough time to walk the giant park which had lots of statues, see the famous Eastern state jail (fantastic exhibit, my must see of the city), visit the liberty bell, roam the hallways of the Anthropology museum (real mummies!) and generally have an informative, educational and relaxed time. Now, I'm not fantastic at taking pictures, but I have been making a concerted effort since my arrival in the states, especially in San Francisco when I was joined by Amanda and in Philadelphia where there was so much to see. But the gremlins were in the machine. On my last evening, on a hostel organised ghost walk, I got chatting to a lovely Irish girl and I recalled a rather interested statue I had seen at Penn's landing. It was a large bronze affair, one side depicting lots of sad Irish people digging up foosty potatoes and the other, lots of happy bronze Irish people coming off a boat supposedly in America. I think the idea was meant to be hopeful, but to be honest it was a bit sentimental. However what made it funny (and lets be honest when is famine not?) was someone had put a real potato next to a bronze spade. I, in my maturity, had taken a photo of this and went to show it to this Irish girl I had met because of course being Irish she would love that kind of thing.

Imagine my dismay on looking at my camera to discover not only had it deleted my photos from Philadelphia, but also all my photos from the West Coast of the states as well! (Apart from Vegas. Of, bloody course, the one place I didn't like!) I was dumb struck, I fiddled with the damn thing for ages, but I cannot work out how it managed to delete just those photos and it has been working well since. A mystery. My mind will just have to be picture enough, and these words I type here my aid memoire (fortunately I keep a diary which is slightly less irreverent and more descriptive).

Despite that great disappointment, my time in Philadelphia was very enjoyable and I would have to say it was a lovely city and very historical (or as much as Americans can manage with their young country).

My next stop was another iconic American city- Washington DC. And again, I must stay what a great city. As a poor traveller, I love this place as although the hostel is pricey, it is in keeping with the rest fo the East Coast, but everything else here is free! The Smithsonian museum is in fact about ten different museums and a small red bricked castle and they are all free! There are countless instantly recognisable monuments and buildings. It was a poor travllers hogs heaven- everything was walkable, lots to see and do without spending a penny. So did I mention there were a lot of free things?

2 days here is definitely not enough as each museum deserves half a day at least. I chose carefully and on the first day I went to see the holocaust museum. It was due to open at ten and I arrived at 945 thinking I would have to meander around a bit waiting fo the doors to open, but to my surprise the queue to get in was around not one, but two corners! I finally got an entry ticket with a timed entry slot at 1245! However, I was not put off and decided to spent the rest of the morning visiting such (free!) monuments as the Lincoln Memorial. Unfortunately, disaster struck. My back which had been troubling me a little of late and it decided to kick in and I was unable to walk much further than the museum cafe where I was forced to take lots of ibuprofen and have a cake.

Later after a significant rest, I returned to the museum highly anticipating the exhibit and feeling a bit better. After another queue for security I finally made to the entrance, my goal in sight! And the fire alarm went off. Now as you have heard a crazy white supremicist guy killed a poor security guard last week so when the fire alarm went off about a thousand Americans went 'OH MY GOD ITS A BOMB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' and ran out the emergency exit.

It wasn't a bomb. Someone lent on one of the thingys. After some standing about in the rain and then some standing in line again for security I finally got in. And it was worth the wait. I spent almost 3 and half hours there, what a fascinating place. I would have stayed longer, but it closed! What was remarkable about it was the fact it didn't go "And then America joined the war and everything was fine". It was honest about the immigration policies both pre, during and post war. Very good, five stars. Worth the 1st, 2nd and 3rd wait.

These delays meant further museum-ing that day were abandoned until the next day. I decided to be adventurous and go to a museum off the main drag- a forensic pathology museum according to my book. Well, my book lied. It was on an army base- on arrival at the base a man asked for ID and he had a very large gun! Frightened that I had prehaps made a bad decision about my educational development, I then I couldn't find the building or anyone to ask for help. And then my back kicked in again. I abandoned the museum search and had a bagel. I decided to stick to big places and decided to go see the Capitol Building and thw White House etcetc. It was all going well, I was hobbling slighly, but things were being seen and photos being taken when suddenly the sky went dark. A rumble from the heavens and then as if God turned the tap on, the rain came down. I was standing by the White House and there was no shelter. I tried to get out my umbrella to discover it was broken and kept falling down. I realised then it was too late. I was wet. I abandoned all attempts to try and stay dry- there really was no point and began hobbling back to the hostel. Of course by the time I got the hostel, I was literally soaked to the skin and the rain had stoppe dand the sun was out. As I dragged my poor little semi-disabled self into the lobby, I got the strangest looks from the receptionists.

Bizarrely, this event steeled me for action. I whipped on some new clothes (pants and all- I was that soaked) and stepped out again! I would conquer DC if it killed me! This new enthusiasm was perhaps helped by the fact that, on return to the hostel, I was in so much discomfort I raided my medication supply and took my second to last codeine tablet. With this new lack of pain (and inhibitions) I was ventured forth! And went to the National Cathedral. Yep, I went to America's national church stoned. And it was good.

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