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Views and thoughts of a casual traveller

DAY SIXTY-EIGHT – 27th NOVEMBER Part Two Left Amish country and started off for Philadelphia. Had decided to head south of it to Marcus Hook, supposedly drive along the Delaware River. (Haven't a clue why I chose that!) Wrong decision! Map didn't show it was an industrialised area! The countryside changed from farms to more developed, much to my chagrin! Town houses appeared and industrial areas. Nothing much of note, but was pleasant driving in the sunshine. Car still had no umph! When I reached the Delaware River I did find a very small park beside the water between two big oil depot areas. Had Christmas decorations in it and the main area was fenced off for them! Seemed to defeat the object of a park! Could only walk around the outside. Didn't stay, just said hello to river! Not a very attractive area. Headed towards Philly. Really run-down area. Saw some houses that obviously were really nice once, but now lots boarded up and the rest in a bad state. A black area. Was the Chester area. Didn't feel good and I wouldn’t have liked to walk around in it. But then it changed and at Swarthmore it became a mansiontype house area. The name brought back memories of music exams that I always took at Swarthmore Hall in Plymouth! My GPS was taking me inland rather than nearer the river, but having got lost a couple of times (driving round in circles at one intersection!) I decided it was more important to find the hotel. Eventually found somewhere that didn't look dodgy to eat - a shopping mall. Resorted to a Subway! After that the drive was through virtually non-stop shops etc for a long time. Wished on reflection I'd gone to Valley Forge and followed the Schuylkill River into Philly. Could I rewind?! In Philly it felt like a nightmare! I longed for the country! The university area was quite nice though. For some reason the GPS took me to 13th Street rather than 12th and then threw a wobbly! All streets are one way, which makes life interesting. Eventually found the hotel. No parking facilities at it. Unloading places opposite were full so I parked on the corner not quite in an allowed space and took the first lot of bags into the hotel. Not very big building: thin but long. The three guys on the small reception desk were delightfully gay and good fun! (Don't think I missed anything on the Internet when I booked it!) By that time I was feeling quite befuddled! They delighted in telling me I was a wreck! But they were very helpful and appreciated my sense of humour! But a space had opened up so I was told to move the car quickly or I'd get a ticket. Very hot on that around here apparently. Had to drive round the block to get to it, but was still there when I got back. Transferred case to hotel and checked in. One of chaps helped lug cases up to my room. Free drinks and snacks available all day. Breakfast from 7.30-10.30 - well you don't eat that long! They apologised that the room was quite small, but it wasn’t too bad. Didn't compare to the previous b&b of course! Traffic noise quite bad at times. Had a view of some of the skyscrapers from the windows. I had to move the car to a nearby parking lot where the hotel had a special concessions. Had been considering returning it after dropping luggage off, but that would have meant driving back from 12th to 30th Street again and it was the rush hour! I was also not inclined to drive any more until got bearings. I could keep it till Thursday afternoon anyway. Reception chaps persuaded me not to as well! After I parked the car I explored the area a bit. Some nice shops. Lots of eating places of a lowly nature! Seemed quite a nice area. Worked out the street grid system and felt more at home. It was the Washington Square District. Streets were named after trees by William Penn. Saw a bus with Wycombe on – reminded me that Penn was buried in West Wycombe in England.

DAY SIXTY-EIGHT – 27th NOVEMBER Part Two Returned to the hotel for a while, then set off to find Walnut Street theatre. Not too far away. Passed Thomas Jefferson Hospital University. Some interesting buildings. Peter Pan on at the theatre. Was sold out, but they'd had one ticket returned that afternoon. Got it half price. Good seat! Didn't start till 8, so found somewhere to eat. Had flounder, which felt appropriate for the day! That was ok, but the 'grilled' asparagus tips were burnt and the French fries weren't the best! Left the asparagus! Waiter did ask if everything was ok and I mentioned it but he didn't do anything! Perhaps they were supposed to be burnt? Tasted awful! Returned to theatre. It was the oldest in the USA and the oldest playhouse in the English speaking world that has been open non-stop. 1809 I think it opened. Nice little theatre. Peter Pan was described as the Broadway musical, but I would have said it was more like an English pantomime, but guess the Americans don't have them! Peter played by a girl, as in pantomime, and all the usual pantomime bits and pieces. It was good fun and enjoyable. Had two 15 minute intervals for scene changes. The Darling family, Captain Hook and one or two pirates had 'English' accents, but Peter and the rest had American! Captain Hook and his sidekick were good. Lively dance routines and acrobatics. But was not impressed with Americans at the end when they all started walking out before the curtain call. Such bad manners. Cast did a little reprise as well. They were so good and enthusiastic, but must be horrible to do your curtain call and see folk leaving. They indicated the band at the end, but they didn't get a clap. Awful! Chap next to me was itching to get out. Tough! They should learn some respect for actors and musicians! Oo-er! Not all Americans are that bad! Walked safely back to the hotel. Heard on the news that the Governor of Atlanta had asked the population to pray for rain because of drought - and it did! Not enough though.

DAY SIXTY-NINE – 28th NOVEMBER Didn't get much sleep during the night. First of all traffic was noisy, then noisy folk arrived back about 2am; roadworks were outside so drills started at 7am! Fetched car from multi-storey car park after breakfast and drove through the city to Valley Forge Historic Park. Was further than I thought! The drivers in Philly are virtually as bad as Boston and show no brotherly love at all! Sound their horns all the time - got beeped by someone when the light turned green even though I started off immediately: they seem to go before it changes, when the opposite direction has turned to red! But they are awful! Just as well the streets are one way and have traffic lights or you'd never cross. The Parkway ran beside the River Schuylkill but I didn't have much time to admire it: traffic too busy and mad. Was jammed solid going the other way. Watched fuel gauge getting lower - eventually gave in and put some gas in as didn't want to run out and there weren't any gas stations around apart from the one I found when I overshot the Valley Forge exit and had to find a way to get back! Successfully found the visitor centre. Nice lady on the desk. Chatted about Washington, the encampment, etc. If you don't know the history, look it up! Army camped there through the winter after the British took the then capital of Philadelphia and before the battle of Monmouth etc. Conditions usual for those times: cold, men sick and dying... And that was just today, ha ha! Actually it was cold today with a breeze, but the sun was out! But of the 2,000 men who died most were from disease, not the cold. Looked round the artefacts in the centre and information boards but skipped the film. Drove round the encampment tour road. Some reconstructed log huts (originally they built 2,000 in lines) and info in various places, memorials, etc. Was a very pleasant drive. But wouldn't have been nice back then. Went in the actual building George used as his headquarters. Martha visited there as well. Wouldn't have left Mount Vernon myself! The building was original but artefacts weren’t. Didn't get the same experience as Mount Vernon! But it was interesting. Two ladies in costume there. Lots of little bugs crawling round in passage downstairs. Think they said they were elder bugs (are there younger bugs, tee hee!). Was by a little river (did he have a thing about water as well? Or was it just practical?). Also by it were the remains of the old forge which gave the place its name. (Had taken a detour and driven through the village en route. Nice scattered little place. Had also detoured to drive over a sweet little white covered bridge.) Stopped at the memorial chapel as well. Built early 1900s. Log cabin shop behind it: had an early lunch of soup and bread there. Had free hot apple cider on offer (non-alcoholic!). Nice little old lady volunteers there. One dropped a model of a soldier she was tying twine to in her coffee! Drowned it! There was a Scouting museum there as well in a little building, but it wasn't open. Neither was their second-hand bookshop - just as well! I completed the drive (had felt I had to go there to complete the George experience!) and headed back to Philly. Used GPS and took detour off the main parkway back in case there was still a traffic jam. Drove through a nice area, then through a huge wooded parkland with big cemetery called Laurel Hill. Nice Fairmont Park area. Passed the zoo - not free like Washington's! Was constructed for the Expo a long time ago. I had decided not to keep car any longer. I didn't think I would need it and drivers were so horrible anyway! And parking in Philly was horrendously expensive. So I headed to 30th Street station. Ended up driving in circles trying to find where to return the car! But found it in a basement under the station. So dark! Lines of all the major rental car suppliers' cars. Took a while to find the Budget area. No indication where to take paperwork, keys etc but asked a man who appeared. Had visions of wandering the dark basement area for life, unable to find a way out! No signs directing you. But thanks to him found the elevator. Having successfully delivered the keys, I took the underground train to the Independence Historic area, where I was supposed to pick up the booked hop on hop off Big Bus tour. Got to the stop by the Independence Centre at 1.05. Was told next bus was 2pm! Horrified! Not the frequency it said online! They had changed to winter timetable after Thanksgiving instead of in December. Felt a trade description case coming up! So looked around the centre with its visitor info, walked around the historic buildings, etc. Went in the old courthouse. Philly has so much history. Also went in the Bourse - now a shopping and eating place not unlike the Old Post Office in Washington.

DAY SIXTY-NINE – 28th NOVEMBER Returned to the stop for the bus - none in sight. A trolley was there – a lady said it was same company. Open topped bus due at 3! But I could take the trolley. Stayed on it for the whole 90 minute tour seeing it was getting towards the time they stopped (4 o'clock) and infrequency of transport! Scuppered my plans to do half today and half tomorrow (24 hour ticket). An interesting tour - only four of us on it. The two male visitors were talking loudly on their phones for the first bit while guide was trying to give his speel. So rude! Nearly said something to the worst offender behind me, but just gave a look instead! Passed the various historic places. Lots of sculptures around. Also loads of lovely murals - they've discovered they stop graffiti! The Museum of Art building was impressive – a huge mall leading up to it was constructed to be like the Champs Elysees. Rodin museum there as well. All fountains had been turned off for the winter, which was a shame. Lots of old buildings in a French style. Saw the Mint - no free samples! Huge City Hall building - biggest one in the US, built when it was the capital. Third largest Chinatown area in US - have seen the two bigger ones in San Francisco and New York (gosh, seems ages ago!). Went past the boathouses on the River S with their sculls. One chap out rowing/sculling. Apparently they train here for the Olympics etc. Really is a nice area. The waterfront area looked worthy of further exploration with various boats/ships. Saw the largest Quaker Meeting House - William Penn was a Quaker. They accepted all faiths, which is why Philly grew so much, as opposed to Puritans in other places. After the tour I wandered past the building where the Liberty Bell is housed and saw it through the glass. Then explored the shops. Not exactly aimlessly as I knew where I wanted to end up! (Broad Street to see if any tickets were left for the musical Drowsy Chaperone - had sounded good from reviews.) But I didn't know what was where in between. Had grown to like numbered streets - you know where you are! It was nearer to my hotel on 12th Street than I’d thought (but didn't go there at this stage). Things are walkable here. Went in Macy's, which was decorated for Christmas. Failed to find a Christmas lights display with organ music I'd heard of. Nice shop though. Came across the town hall by accident as well while exploring. Didn't embark on a tour as it was close to closing. (Nice touch to have bus destination signs alternating with Happy Holiday ones - had had that in Washington as well.) Found the theatre - Academy of Music - where the musical was. Actually it's an opera house, the oldest in US still used for its original purpose. Home to the opera and ballet companies. Known as ‘The Old Lady of Broad Street'. The musical was just on for a few days. Doors were closed as was the box office. Notice outside said it would open two hours before show (didn't say anywhere what time that started!) for Rush tickets. Scuppered my plans again! Had been going to pop into box office, then go to hotel a couple of blocks away to crash out before setting off to find somewhere to eat. Had to spend 40 minutes wasting time wandering round instead! Went in the Kimmel Centre for the Performing Arts - impressive building with glass roof. Has a theatre and a concert hall inside - the latter the Verizon Hall where I'm going tomorrow night , my last night here! Was thinking I should retire early that night to sleep and adjust time pattern, but Simon Rattle was conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra and could not resist seeing him live! Excellent way to end my stay in the States and at last a classical concert!! Only taken me ten weeks to find one! So had booked a ticket online before I left the hotel this morning. Collected the ticket from the box office, had a quick look around building and went in their shop to browse. The concert tomorrow is a big Schumann oratorio, little performed these days, that I don't know. Needs 200 singers! Should be interesting. There were only a couple of seats left when I booked. No Rush tickets for that! I continued to wander round, sussing out eating places as well. A church was having a community dinner, but decided hadn't better gatecrash! Eventually the doors to the theatre/opera house opened. There was a small queue. Got a ticket centrally in balcony two - there are three balconies. Headed back towards hotel - it was now dark. Stopped at a place to eat. Had paella - but it was a spicey one rather than the saffron rice one we have at home. Was nice apart from that!

DAY SIXTY-NINE – 28th NOVEMBER Freshened up in the hotel and headed off again. Was feeling somewhat tired, having had lack of sleep, so Drowsy Chaperone was an appropriate thing to see! The balcony was so high! But I wouldn' t like to be in one above it! Mountaineering experience required! I t was a lovely old theatre (opera house). So beautiful. And it has been restored to its original state. The ceiing is painted and all looked lovely. But it had pillars so some seats had a restricted view. Mine was good. The huge original chandelier had been removed and sent to France for restoration - would take a year. (Thought of that Only Fools and Horses programme where they take one down‌!) The musical was lighthearted fun. I wouldn't say it was the most inspiring I've been to (what can compare to Les Miserables!) but it was good. The audience was appreciative. Still some folk (why is it always the ones at the front?!) got up and left during the curtain call and the last little bit. No comment! But at least this time most stayed and applauded - even for the orchestra! (Band, more properly! Not many of them, but good!) Retired to hotel and crashed out!

One of the reconstructed houses at Valley Forge Historic Park

Inside the house

The National Memorial Arch in the historic park

My last US covered bridge

The house where George Washington lived

The rear view below, and, left, the station

Inside the memorial church at the park

Back in Philadelphia: Independence Hall. The motto ‘all men are created equal’ was born from this site, which was the birthplace of many of the US’s most historical documents, including the Declaration of Independence

The Old Courthouse

Philly too has its Chinatown

The view to the Museum of Art

The view from the Museum of Art

Structure by the river, by the Art museum

Some street views

Particularly impressive, the colourful designs are projected onto this building at night

One of the many murals in the city, which help prevent graffiti

DAY SEVENTY – 29th NOVEMBER It was such a wonderful last full day here. I think someone 'up there' must have a sense of humour! Having failed to find a classical orchestral concert or choir concert despite trying for ten weeks, suddenly everything happened on the last night! Began to feel like the massive ending to a musical! But back to the beginning… The road works started at 7am again, just below my window! And the chap in the next room was coughing his heart out. So much for a quiet lie-in. Had an email from Ian to say my car battery at home was flat! Good grief! If no-one's taken it for an occasional spin for ten weeks the brakes will be seized as well! Not an auspicious start to the day! Gave up on the lie-in idea. Reception offered to move me, but I am only here for one more night so didn't seem worth it. After breakfast walked to Macy's. They have a Christmas lights show every other hour, but had failed to see where yesterday – I should have looked up when in the grand court! (The area where there is an open space above the ground floor - first floor to USA.) They have a complete wall of lights from the first (UK or second US) floor height up to the hugely high ceiling of the building! Stood on the first/second floor and watched the 10 o'clock display (on every other hour). Nice Christmas music and lights tell out various stories like the Nutcracker and Frosty the Snowman. About ten to fifteen minutes long. Very pretty! And the huge organ pipes on the first/second floor were illuminated as well. They have the biggest organ in America - the Wannamaker organ. Discovered there were daily concerts at noon and on a couple of days at 5.30, including today. Decided to return for noon concert. Wandered round the store and found their Christmas village on second/third floor and wandered through it. Quite big - you walk through the streets of London as automaton models depict the various scenes from A Christmas Carol. Quite impressive! Father Christmas at the end! Didn't have my picture taken with him though! Felt really Christmassy by that stage. Eventually walked on to the Independence Visitor Centre to get a ticket (free but timed) to see Independence Hall. It was 11am by then and the tour time was 11.20. It takes 40 minutes, so I wouldn't get back for the lunchtime organ concert - decided I would go to 5.30 one. Went in Liberty Hall and saw the Liberty Bell close-up - complete with crack! Overrun with kids. Security checks on all main buildings here as usual. Hope they enjoyed looking at the weird contents of my bag! Went to Independence Hall east wing for the guided tour. Very nice lady park ranger guide. (Always seems weird having the park service in charge of historic buildings!) Only a small number in my tour. Met a young couple from England. Had an initial talk in the building for about twenty minutes. Very good, not at all boring. She gave a potted history and said she'd tone down the British bit seeing we were from England! Then we went first into the court room area for more history, then into the room where the representatives of the thirteen states met. Set up as it would have been, with the actual chair George Washington sat on, and all the other chairs were 17th century ones as well at the tables. Was able to imagine it quite well, guide so good at telling what happened. Hadn't realised Thomas Jefferson's first draft had been changed by the lawyers! Had originally been done on the 2nd July, which was to be Independence Day - but thanks to lawyers changing it it wasn't printed till the 4th, which was the date put on it, so hence the date it's celebrated today. Could imagine George sat there and what he would be thinking! As there weren't many groups going round they were spaced out and not rushed (unlike Monticello!) so we got to go upstairs as well to see the State room and another room. A 1972 harpsichord played period music! But the long table, chairs and utensils were authentic to the time. I got talking to lady guide at end after everyone had left. Discovered I wasn't mad after my experience at Mount Vernon! She had had the same feeling of sadness! She was a George Washington 'fan‘. Had an interesting chat with her. Perhaps we were both mad! Eventually left there and walked towards Penn's Landing (waterfront area). Forgot to say yesterday I went in the former Second Bank of America building where there are now portraits of everyone from history. I wasn't happy with the way they dismissed George! Walked past the building again plus other historic buildings and museums.

DAY SEVENTY – 29th NOVEMBER Reached Penn's Landing. Deserted! Could see a ferry boat on the other side (Camden, later described by the guide on the bus tour I picked up as a major crime area!) but it didn’t seem to be running. Could see the two huge funnels of a liner rising from the distant port. Walked to a barquentine moored to the left of the area, but couldn't go on board. Sat looking out over the Delaware River: Only one tug boat on it! Then walked along waterfront. Had a look round the Seaport museum shop and the bits in the foyer but decided against paying to see rest! Walked on further to the old submarine, plus USS Olympia and a huge sailing warship. Didn't go on board – they were part of the museum. Meandered back to the area where buses go from. Still had time left on my bus tour ticket but hadn't used it that morning as inconvenient. Had walked everywhere. Worked out it was going to be ages before the bus arrived at that stop - so walked back towards the visitor centre again. These hop on-hop off tours are all very nice but the timing is too long between to get most advantage out of. Stopped at Christ Church - now Episcopalian. It was where George etc worshipped. Sat in his seat! A chap gave me a chat on the history of place. Men were working on building. Apparently today was the first day it had been visible for many months as it had been under scaffolding. Good timing! Looked good now. What would have been stained glass windows in other churches were deliberately left as clear glass to let the sun in to flood the building and allow folk to see out, unafraid of the world outside - or something like that! Made it so lovely and light. It is still a very active church. The organ was being overhauled at the same time! The case is original but the actual pipes etc are early 1900s. I found the Arch Street Meeting House – the biggest Quaker meeting house - where they come from a wide area to meet and decide their views on matters, as well as being a local meeting house. Another chap gave me the history and explanation of how they ran things. There was an all original meeting room full of benches - no pulpit as no minister etc. Wondered how I'd manage with no music in a service! The second meeting room at the other end of building (men and women met separately) had displays in it and information boards - a lot about Herbert Hoover's mission to Poland. Walked past the Christ Church cemetery where various famous people were buried - you have to pay to go in, which didn't feel right! But you can see Benjamin Franklin's grave by the railings. Walked to where tour bus/trolleys left from. My 24 hours were officially up, but not having been able to take advantage of it all morning I felt cheated! So as I wanted to go to the Museum of Art quite a distance away and a bus was about to leave I tried boarding and got on ok! The bus was full of doctors in their twenties, all there for interviews for residency at the hospital! The bus tour guide was pretty dreadful! He thought he was God's gift and kept making awful jokes. But he pointed out different things to the chap yesterday. Saw the penitentiary building from the outside. It is now a museum . Built like a huge castle. It had running water etc before the White House did and electricity. It was the first penitentiary, so called as those imprisoned were not just to be punished, but were supposed to become penitent for their crimes. Don’t know if it worked! I got off at the Museum of Art. I was flagging by then, probably due to my headache, which had now stopped aching as I’d dosed up on painkillers, lack of sleep and, at that moment, food! But I decided I had better go inside. Had a shock at the price. I had thought it would be free! It was $14 dollars, or $22 if you wanted to see the Renoir exhibition as well. Decided I didn't like him enough for that! The most expensive place I had encountered. I wouldn't have gone in if I'd known! Such a contrast to all the free museums in Washington. But it was far from other places so I wandered round it. Saw Van Gogh's Sunflowers dowdier than I'd imagined! Sunflowers are bright not mouldy mustard coloured! As well as paintings and sculptures they have rooms set out in various styles scattered around. I found them interesting. There was some modern artwork at the museum that reminded me of the Tate Modern. Not my cup of tea! But that was just one section.There was also an armour section and photos. But was really flagging by then so didn't stay too long. (I’m sure it was also partly the thought of the long flight back home the next day!)

DAY SEVENTY – 29th NOVEMBER While I was at the art museum I walked to the nearby river and saw the boat houses there in closer detail. Right near the museum at the water’s edge are some classical buildings that apparently are or were part of the waterworks – used in the American version of Monopoly. Opposite the front of the museum is a statue of George Washington on a horse… only he’s wearing a Prussian uniform! Apparently when there were some celebrations recently they said they must have a statue of him, and someone had just completed one of a Prussian chap and said he could change the head for that of George Washington instead. So that’s what was done!! Another reason he could have been sad! What a cheek! But in Philadelphia local boy Benjamin Franklin is the wonder boy of history. In their accounts of history at that time poor old George doesn’t get much of a look-in, presumably because he wasn’t local and came from Virginia! Everything is Franklin! I walked to the 'Rocky' steps at the front of the museum (used in the film, with a statue of Rocky at the bottom! It had been at the top but the museum objected!) and as I did so the next trolley came along. I had wondered how I was going to get back to the hotel, but seeing it was there I hopped on and it went within one block of the hotel later on. Needed a rest before setting off to Macy's again! Not many on the bus – a young, slightly manic black tour guide this time! More different info and places pointed out. It’s worth doing the tour twice round! He actually let me off slightly further along Antique Row than the normal stop - at the end of my street! Very kind. Only one short block to walk. As we'd gone past City Hall the guide had pointed out barriers and stalls being set up - he said the Christmas tree was being lit tonight. I had seen lighting of other trees listed online previously but not for here. I asked at the hotel desk but they knew nothing and were miffed they didn't! Poured through the day’s papers together, but still found nothing. They couldn't find anything online either. I retired to my room and searched on my PDA - discovered it was today (other places it is normally a Friday, not Thursday) at 5.35 - bang went the Macy's organ concert again! I only had half an hour to freshen up and recover before setting off to City Hall again to get there about 5.15. I grabbed a French pastry (naughty and sweet but boosted blood sugar level nicely!) from the hotel snack area and a drink and set off. In the plaza outside the City Hall there were dignitaries, a choir, etc gathered on small stage. I arrived just in time for the proceedings. A lady introduced everyone - the mayor, etc. The Fire Chief seemed popular and got applauded! Fun-looking big black guy in his uniform. Looked great! First Miss Pennsylvania sang a Christmas song, complete with crown! Not a bad voice actually. Then five stars from the Fats Waller musical Ain't Misbehavin' sang a medley (due to be on here in December). Great black singers. Then the choir - from a high school for the performing arts - sang. They were really good. Then the lights were lit. The tree in Love Park across the road was lit at same time. (Some of the lights didn't work on that one. You’d think they’d check!) I wandered round the few stalls there. Free kids' crafts etc going on. Free coffee by Starbucks as well! The trees around the plaza had filled with hundreds of chirping birds that flew in en masse. Not sure what they were. Starlings came to mind, but too dark to see. But as they swarmed between trees it was really impressive! Wandered across to Love Park - actors were doing a play reading of A Christmas Carol. Got my free roasted chestnuts (yummy! Love them!) and sat and watched for a while. Took some night pictures of the area, then wandered to Macy's. They'd announced there would be choir there. So much free entertainment! There was a quartet dressed in Victorian clothes singing Christmas songs in the Grand Court inside. They were excellent. They were followed eventually by the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale. Wonderful! And not only were they accompanied by a piano, but the organ was also used! Even better! I heard an hour's music there, and I'd missed a quarter of an hour. Excellent value for free! Had free drinking chocolate and a cookie as well! I was stood towards the front at the side (kids and parents were sat on floor) and an NBC camera man appeared and came and stood by me at one stage. He filmed some of the boys' choir, scanned the kids on floor - then next thing I knew he'd swung around and transfixed the camera on me as I was there enjoying the music, etc. Kept it there for what seemed like ages! Good grief! Only a couple of feet away. Yuk! Trust I didn't make it onto the screen!

DAY SEVENTY – 29th NOVEMBER I realised the time when they eventually finished (didn't want them to!) and hastily disappeared off to find something proper to eat. Found a fish restaurant nearby and grabbed a quick salmon meal before walking up Broad Street to Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Centre. I arrived with ten minutes to spare! I had picked up leaflet about the Kimmel Centre the previous day. The two halls are built on rubber pads to absorb the street and subway vibrations! The Verizon Hall is shaped like a cello. Looked really interesting, and looked good as it was all in wood. But I did wonder how those in the tiers could see anything! I had an excellent seat on the floor (well, you know what I mean!) only nine rows back. So close to Simon Rattle it was great! He really was so lovely. I just couldn't believe my favourite living conductor was here for my last night! I was told by the lady next to me they'd wanted him as their conductor here, but failed. He and the orchestra were performing the same Schumann oratorio (about a Peri wanting to get into Paradise) at Carnegie Hall the following night. It was a very lyrical oratorio. The soloists were wonderful, as was the big choir. The orchestra was excellent. It was a wonderful evening. I was glad they had supertitles as I'm not that hot on German! It was a glorious end to my final night. Had three 'curtain calls' (do you call it that without curtains?!) and a standing ovation. Sir Simon was just so lovely, gracious - his face just beams! Wished I could see him conduct Beethoven live! Walking back from the evening’s concert there were a couple of chaps right behind me who were chatting about rental cars. We passed an area with loads of cars in with 5 something written on a board. Apparently it’s a place (there are several around) where you book in on the Internet to hire a car for a few hours, or however long. You join the organization and get a key that opens any car, so book your time online and turn up and get your car. Quite cheap, they were saying. Sounded a good idea! If I’d known before might have taken advantage for a few hours! It really had been the perfect last night - and most of it just discovered by chance! The atmosphere at the tree lighting, concerts etc was wonderful. But it was going to be difficult to settle down to the mundane life after all this! I had Friday morning to potter around so would try to get to Macy's for the noon organ concert - what else could stop it!

The illuminated organ pipes and Christmas light show at Macy’s

A display of handbags shaped like dogs at Macy’s!

The Liberty Bell

And the other, cracked, side

The rear of the Independence Hall

And inside

Where George Washington et al would have sat

An upstairs room

The long upstairs room

The statue of Commodore Barry outside the Independence Hall: the Father of the US Navy

A not very attractive welcome to Penn’s Landing!

The Irish Memorial, overlooking the Delaware River. Built at a cost of $3 million and opened in 2003, it marks the sesquicentennial of the Irish Starvation of 1845-1852

The waterfront area

Boats in the area

USS Olympia and the submarine USS Becuna

The Christopher Columbus Memorial

Christ Church, where George Washington and his colleagues worshipped

Christ Church, where George Washington and his colleagues worshipped

George Washington’s pew, where I also sat! Intriguing that some folk in the boxed pews would have to sit with their backs to the preacher!

The large Quaker meeting house

A rear view of the Museum of Art, taken from the banks of the Schuylkill River

Boathouses on the river

General shots of Philadelphia

Some of the performers, these from the musical Ain’t Misbehavin’, at the lighting of the Christmas trees ceremony

The mayor gave a speech‌ can’t remember if this is him!

The lights lit!

Father Christmas, left, was happy!

The tree in Love Park, just across from the other tree

The actors, albeit blurred!, reading from A Christmas Carol

Alas, somebody hadn’t checked that all the lights would work!

Kids playing with light sticks on front of the tree

The surrounding area

The TV cameras were there

The carol singers at Macy’s

The carol singers at Macy’s

The Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale

And another TV cameraman!

The audience‌ and eagle!

Verizon Hall, shaped like a cello

A rather blurred view of the shape! How would those at the back of the upper tiers see?

DAY SEVENTY-ONE – 30th NOVEMBER Something I have never noted down is the concern felt by a lot of Americans over the influx of Hispanic people into the country, now outnumbering the black population. They are concerned that a large percentage – about 77% - don’t speak any English and there is an increase in the use of Spanish as the main language in many places. But on to my last day. Felt shattered when I awoke, not having had much sleep yet again, but after breakfast set off walking to Washington Square, several blocks from me. Nothing much to write home about! A little park area and the tomb of the unknown soldier. Then headed for the Visitor Centre again. As I was feeling tired, I watched the half hour film called Independence. As I’ve said before, poor old George doesn’t get much of a look-in here! Was all Franklin and Adams. Thomas Jefferson did get a bit of a mention! Quite interesting how you get different slants on history depending where you are. I had been trying to remember what we were taught of the American Revolution when I was at school. Would have been nice to go to the South and get their version of the Civil War! But that seems so recent compared to OUR civil war! Set off in search of St George’s United Methodist Church – the first Methodist church founded in the USA - 1769. Found it right beside the ugly Benjamin Franklin Memorial Bridge. (They nearly demolished it to build the bridge.) It was actually open! Workmen were inside the rooms adjacent to the church doing what I thought was decorating, but they were doing the reverse and trying to find how the building had been decorated originally. I was still allowed in to them and looked round the many exhibits there. Francis Asbury, the first bishop of the Methodist Church, served here as pastor and the artefacts included his Bible and a silver chalice that Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, sent St. George’s in 1785.Then saw the old meeting room, and a school room, set up as it would have been then. The church itself was upstairs. A chap was there putting up some Christmas garlanding from the balcony area. Went into the balcony and saw the organ. Asked if I could have a go. He turned it on for me and after a while left me to it! So had a good session playing it! Felt less tired at the end! Returned to the rooms and saw some more exhibits. Some old musical instruments there, including something I’ve forgotten the name of, but an old machine that could play hymn tunes etc. Nothing new under the sun! It was as a result of the evangelistic leadership of the church in the late 1700s that a large number of Black Americans were drawn to the church. They were forced to sit in separate pews and their eventual walkout over this resulted in the formation of the Black Episcopal and Black Methodist Espiscopal Churchesone of which I went to in Washington! I headed back to Macy’s for the noon organ concert. Walked along Market Street to get there, looking in shop windows as I went. When I reached Macy’s I had time for another quick browse and got a visitor’s store card! At noon there was in fact another showing of the Christmas lights show, which I watched yet again, and the organ concert took place afterwards. Got chatting to a couple of ladies also watching and listening from the balcony area. I remember it was an interesting conversation but can’t remember why and what they told me! Heck, finally brain dead after all this time! There were also Victorian clad carol singers before and after again. I explored the store some more – was asked several times by people for directions to parts of it! It was easy to get lost! But was fun trying to find your way around! (I had been asked for directions as usual various times while over here. Most of the time I was able to help. Wonder why they pick on me to ask?!) Got a little poinsettia brooch that was half price, plus my card reduction, to say I’d got something there. Resisted the temptation to get a dachshund handbag for Audrey! Some lovely clothes, but oh so expensive! And didn’t have room anyway! Had my last meal in Macy’s – they had a special lunch offer and it included a cup of clam chowder! How could I resist! Actually it wasn’t the best clam chowder, but it was a good way to end the visit.

DAY SEVENTY-ONE – 30th NOVEMBER I then walked further out along Market Street towards the Rittenburg Square area of shops and explored a few streets. Diamond shops there - didn’t get one! But eventually it was time to return to the hotel. Walking back to the hotel it was nice that the last bird I saw was a robin! Had been one of the first, and now the last. And sparrows, of course, who are still intent on taking over the world! In the hotel I sank into a settee in the lounge for a short while before asking desk chap to order a taxi. Took my train and plane tickets out of my case, realising I had foolishly put them in it! Initially I couldn’t find them, which started a mild panic! But dug them out after not too much of a delve. Had had to use the expanding feature of my suitcase – no surprise there! The taxi journey to 30th Street Station was another mini tour, through the residential expensive area of Rittenburg Square. It didn’t look that impressive! Arrived with plenty of time to spare. The board said the train on time. A long queue of people were waiting for it when we were summoned to line up at the particular steps. They let us down to board – but no train! It was a little while before it arrived and the platform was full of people. Only a couple of doors opened near the front of the train, but there were no seats on that part of the train free, so we all had to trudge all along the long train to the back. Horrendous with all the luggage I had. The conductor suggested I leave my luggage half way along train, which I did willingly, and ended up sat at the back of train about seven coaches away! The journey was only about an hour and the train was fast. There was a novelty! Was intrigued with the couple opposite. He looked like one of those fat sheriffs or something from TV programmes and she had dyed black hair with thick rimmed glasses, a bit like a Hollywood wife or something. The interaction between them was fascinating! A different kind of people to those I’d encountered up to now. He talked on his phone for a while and that was intriguing as well! Oh, and the scenery wasn’t bad as well, although a bit boring at times! Passed a couple of large rivers and areas of water with lots of Canada geese. On arrival at the Newark Airport train station, I took the elevator up to the Airtrain and caught that to Terminal Three along with another couple flying Continental, but they were going to Manchester. I was directed to a queue for automatic ticketing machines to get a boarding pass. (Ian later said there’d been a manual desk check-in when he went, so don’t know if things had changed in the meantime.) As I’d expected, because mine was a ‘paper ticket’, it asked for me to contact an airline rep. She asked if I was a staff member. Explained I’d won the ticket! She entered something and it printed my boarding pass. Had to check in both my case AND my shoulder bag because they counted my ‘pillow’ as carry-on luggage! Rats! Had breakable things in the bag so was a bit worried. Two little things did end up getting broken – a pen I wasn’t worried about, but also my lovely sand dollar I’d found on the beach in Monterey. Was upset at the latter. It was smashed to pieces. It had been so lovely to have found it at my feet. Can’t replace it or the moment. It had been free but one of my most treasured possessions from the trip. My puzzle book was also in the bag, but don’t think I would have used it anyway. I bought a magazine to read as the puzzle book and other book were inaccessible, but didn’t look at that either! Got something to eat while waiting as had a couple of hours to waste and looked around the shops. Announcements at the gates were not clear – a complete mumble! Went to the gate to give in my visa waiver form, so I would be ok to return to the US! (Can but hope!) The plane was stated to be on time, but we boarded a little late. I had a window seat on the left of aircraft and there was a nice Welsh girl on the aisle seat – and no-one in between! We were delighted! There weren’t many spare seats on the plane so we were lucky to have the extra space! Chatted to her quite a bit at the beginning. Ironically I was fine with the whole flight, but she had a hard time at take-offs and landings and just hid her face in the her hands at both times. Felt so sorry and sympathetic for her.

DAY SEVENTY-ONE – 30th NOVEMBER There was a slight delaying on the runway and we took off forty minutes late. The flight was estimated to only take 5 hours 40 minutes. Sounded quite short compared to the journey over and not at all bad. We were given a meal as soon as we took off and reached cruising height. (Another meal!) Then they dimmed the lights. The film being shown was the same Harry Potter one as I’d seen on the flight from Toronto! Rats! So listened to music for a while before trying to get some kip. Didn’t succeed (did drop off once but something in me jolted me awake as I did so!) but did get some rest anyway. There was a baby yelling for quite a while on and off during the flight so no-one got much sleep anyway! After only about two hours or two and a half the lights came on and it was time for breakfast! Good grief! Just as well there wasn’t much – a croissant with butter and jam and a bowl of fruit and a drink. I was sat on the good side of the plane. As we left the airport and flew over the USA it was wonderful and so beautiful to see all the lights. They looked like golden strands with jewels between. Then went up to Nova Scotia, where the lights were fewer but it was still interesting. Not so much of the grid patterns up there when you did see a town or city. But it was when we hit the ocean I decided to try to kip.

St George’s United Methodist Church – the oldest in the US in continuous use

St George’s United Methodist Church – the oldest in the US in continuous use

The original meeting room

St George’s United Methodist Church – the oldest in the US in continuous use

The original Sunday School room

The current church upstairs

The organ!

A last street view, outside, I think, Macy’s

The organist giving the concert in Macy’s. Couldn’t get close to the organ due to railings.

A final shot of Macy’s Christmas light show

DAY SEVENTY-TWO – 1st DECEMBER On reaching the UK it was just light enough to have a great view all along the south coast of Ireland (is that in the UK?), where there were just some fluffy clouds, but mostly clear. Then it was over Wales. More cloud there but saw the Brecon Beacons etc. Saw the Severn Bridges between the clouds, but then we hit really thick cloud. Thought at one time we were going to land in fog, which was a bit unnerving, but we got through it in time to land at Bristol in clear visibility. It had been my first night time flight but I found it quite enjoyable. We were the only plane arriving. There was a long queue to have passports checked and only two people checking them. Then the wait for luggage took for ever! Apparently this is normal there. After what seemed like hours I remarked to the lady next to me that it was just as well we hadn’t been on a Jumbo jet! At which the carousel ground into action and cases started appearing. Should have said it earlier! The lady in front turned around and told me I had excellent timing! We’d all got a bit fed up, having landed early and then being delayed. Apparently it can take an hour to get through passport checks and luggage collection! Good grief! As I said, we were the only plane in! Going through customs there was a little red arrow pointing to goodness knows where if you had something to declare, or the green channel as usual. It was totally unclear. But there was no-one on duty anyway so everyone went through the green channel! Ian was waiting and had brought my car up. I decided he could drive, although I was feeling ok at the time. But the long drive home made me feel so tired. But just as well he did drive, as coming out of the airport parking area there was a roundabout and I suddenly realised I would have gone the wrong way round, although I’d been telling myself to remember to drive on the left when back! I knew I was back in England as the moment the plane touched down it started pouring with rain and was blowing a gale! So got wet walking to the terminal. When we arrived home, instead of ignoring me as I thought they would, the cats were all over me! As soon as I sat down Rolo was on my lap purring and Rani was being all silly and pleased! Still doing it more than a day later! After a short interval I went across the road to see my friend and neighbour Audrey and Charlie (my surrogate dog that I walk). He was delighted to see me and went mad! Had been utterly shattered when I got home, so after that had lunch (how many meals was that?) and then tried cat napping, but ended up giving up on that score and decided to unpack. Started with the bag then the case. Categorised things into pamphlets/book, souvenirs I bought to keep myself, gifts for other folk (to be sorted in due course!), clean clothes and washing. Place looked like a jumble sale by the time I’d finished! Then it was time for yet another meal! In the evening I was still shattered, but tackled my emails and ordinary mail. A mountain of the latter, mostly holiday firms sending me stuff for next year! Groan! No money left at the moment to think about that! Also Christmas catalogues and information about events that had already gone as I’d been away so long! But the first thing I opened was information about retirement homes in Cornwall! How depressing! Am I that old? I thought I had a few years to go yet! I actually got quite a good night’s sleep and woke about 7.30 feeling tired, but after breakfast was feeling ok, so decided to go to church. Decided I would try driving. Had to relearn all the controls in my own car!! And despite telling myself to drive on left etc yet again, I pulled out from outside the house and as I drove round the corner I met my neighbour coming the other way bumper to bumper. Wondered why he was on the wrong side of the road until Ian asked whiyI was! Suddenly realised that despite everything I was on the right hand side! Good grief! The brain doesn’t want to know about driving on the left. Had to tell myself to keep on the left the whole way to church in the next village, but I still went on the right when I rounded another corner. And I forgot to depress the clutch every time I slowed down. Too many manual cars! And I looked up to the right instead of the left when I went to look in the rear view mirror! Unbelievable! It all felt so alien! Yet in the States I adapted straight away to driving on the right etc. Also found it difficult to gauge the distance from the hedge and other cars on the left. Hoped it wouldn’t last too long!

DAY SEVENTY-TWO – 1st DECEMBER Ilayed the keyboard and organ for the service (used a chorus I’d sung and learnt at the Black Methodist church in Washington). At least I knew where all the stops were on them! Was greeted by some individual folk and welcomed back by them, but hardly anyone enquired about what I’d done on trip. No big deal at all! Began to feel most hadn’t noticed I’d been missing! After the service I actually felt quite alone as everyone else chatted among themselves and I felt quite strange about being back. Almost unreal. Began to wish I was back in some of the American churches I’d been to. But then two friends came over and chatted and actually wanted to know some details of my trip and things started to feel better. I did a little bit to the parish magazine that afternoon, discovering how bad my computer was and that the capacitor was about to blow up! After lunch I took Charlie for our first walk for ten weeks! It had been raining in the morning again and bitterly cold, but the sun came out briefly for the walk. Started pouring again later in the afternoon. So good to be back – not! Met a few folk from the village while out who welcomed me back and chatted, so Charlie got rather bored stood around and gave me withering looks! Spent virtually all of the next two days beavering away to finish the parish mag and then seemed to get jet lag the day after I’d finished, when I stopped!. It had been a wonderful experience. I would love to return and see all the friends again one day not too distant and perhaps see some of the states I didn’t get around to. I will have to enter more competitions! THE END!!!!

USA Trip, Part 7