Our time in DC was over, and it was time to hit the road to travel America a little more. We headed out of Virginia and through DC, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey before hitting our first stop in Philadelphia. We enjoyed traveling through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and went over quite a few beautiful, old bridges. We also discovered that the northeast is the land of toll roads. (I knew there would be tolls, but was spoiled by my days of the 50 cent toll on Georgia 400…the New Jersey tolls were in the $4 – $12 range.)
Our first adventure in Philly was, of course, the Philly Cheesesteak experience. My friend Tricia had given us advance notice that we had to experience Pat’s King of Steaks AND Geno’s Steaks. (Pat’s claims to have created the cheesesteak, and Geno’s claims to have added cheese and therefore, perfected it.) So, we navigated what seemed like days of tightly packed one-way streets filled with housing, cars parked on both sides of the streets, and pedestrians haphazardly crossing the road. We found the locations and then circled a few blocks in search of a minivan-sized parallel spot (thank goodness Thom was driving). We were shocked by the chilly temps when we got out, but that’s what hoodies are for (except Thom, who laughed at the rest of us packing hoodies.) Although we were hungry, we certainly weren’t going to eat twice, so we decided on a divide-and-conquer style of trying the two places. The girls went to Geno’s and the guys went to Pat’s and we ended up with a variety of provolone, whiz, and wit (with onions). Thankfully it wasn’t crowded (midweek and school was still in), so we didn’t have a line and could figure out how to order correctly. (I understand these places are a lot like the Varsity when busy; if you aren’t ready to belt out your order, then you’re sent to the back of the line.) Geno’s had lots of indoor seating, but we didn’t want to bring a competitor’s food inside. Pat’s had lots of outside covered seating, so we sat on the backside of the restaurant to eat together.
Geno’s had one line for fries and drinks, with a separate line for steaks. While there were lots of specialty sandwiches (with lots of different toppings), we went with the classics. Elizabeth ordered “whiz wit” and I ordered “provolone wit” – plus we got fries (which came with a fork stuck in the fries), a coke, and a birch beer. Over at Pat’s, the guys could order everything at once; Thom ordered a provolone, Alexander ordered a provolone wit, and Brandon ordered a whiz wit – plus they got cokes and cheese fries.
At a glance, Pat’s sandwich looked more like a classic cheesesteak. The meat was thinner/chopped and the sandwich was served open. Geno’s steak was thicker and the sandwich came wrapped up. Both breads were delicious, but Geno’s bread had that extra soft, melt in your mouth feeling. The onions were virtually the same (soft and sweet), and the provolone and cheese whiz was pretty much the same at both places. I didn’t think I would like something “fake” like cheese whiz (and I normally make my cheesesteaks with provolone), but I was obviously wrong. The whiz mixed in with the onions and meat and bread to make something magical. While all the sandwiches were great, I have to say I would go for Geno’s whiz wit if I ever went back (so Elizabeth’s sandwich won). Of course, there were some differing opinions…Thom’s not an onion person (but he did say ours with onions were good) and I think he just can’t admit fake cheese was better than real cheese. The fries were all fine, with Pat’s being a little better. Also, everyone liked the birch beer (and it was a great compliment to the heavy sandwiches).
With full bellies, we navigated out of the inner city and headed into the touristy area of Philly. We went down to Independence Hall and walked off lunch a little before heading to the Liberty Bell. It was intriguing to see this piece of history and learn how it’s been a symbol of freedom for many groups of people throughout the years. It was a little difficult to take a good picture with the bell, because of the crowds and because of the lighting, (it was in front of a large glass window, so it was back-lit). Still, this was a worthy stop as we continued the journey of getting up close to American history.
From Philly, we headed towards our final destination, Glastonbury CT. We marveled at all the industry in New Jersey (when we weren’t counting out dollar bills for tolls), and laughed about the NJ logo “The Garden State” since our limited view featured nothing but smoke stacks, industrial buildings, and ship yards. Some of the industry was intriguing, like a huge complex with railroad cars stacked higher than you could count and for as far as the eye could see. (The quick pic I got doesn’t really do this justice.) The most exciting part of the drive came right after we passed the NYC skyline. Waze directed us off the interstate and right towards NYC, and Thom lost his mind temporarily (I believe his words were “I’ll jump out of this car if we end up on New York city streets” and I believe he was fairly serious about it in that moment.) After a few minutes of serious stress, we saw that the GPS was taking us along the New Jersey coastline (to avoid highway traffic). That stretch of road was absolutely beautiful, and was peppered with exciting views of the NYC skyline.
The day was filled with more fun in the car, including books, video games, and the phone version of Life. We enjoyed lots of tunes again, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, PTX, Slow Children at Play, the Singles soundtrack, Enya, and the Allstate orchestra disc. We rolled into Connecticut in time for dinner, and met Deejay for some “New England food”, which turned out to be an awesome pizza place. (I only think of Clam Chowder when I hear New England food, but it turns out that, in addition to seafood, there’s some awesome pizza and buffalo chicken up there…and the guys combined forces with a bacon scallop pizza.) Lizzy’s favorite thing about the place was a car parked out front featuring a tag that said “Das Vhip”.
Reflections: Elizabeth loved having real cheesesteaks, but she was most impacted by the drive. She felt like she would always remember listening to her Allstate orchestra CD (and her favorite writer/conductor, Brian Balmages) while driving through the mountains at sunset. Thom couldn’t settle on a favorite moment as he enjoyed lunch, dinner, and the liberty bell, but he was most excited about seeing Deejay. Alexander loved the food experiences, as you might expect from a teenage boy. Brandon thought the Liberty Bell was amazing and really embraced it as a symbol of freedom.