If the heat had been following us across Canada, then the cold was certainly waiting for us in America! A little sunburnt from Niagara, we were surprised that only a few miles away in Buffalo city, New York state, we had to don coats, hats, and gloves. Not that Peb minded as his hair clippers had died mid-cut, leaving him with half a head of hair for our hour-long wait in customs to cross the border.
We took a walk around the chilly city, full of beautiful and relatively old architecture, but entirely devoid of humans. I mean post-apocalyptic levels. Our only encounter was with a group of kids who, as I’d been informed about America, loved our accents and kept asking us to say “1975”. Peb tried a local delicacy, a waffle maple chicken sandwich, in “The Lodge”, an awesome cabin-style bar with the Blue Jays on. The Jays are heavily supported by Buffalo residents, reinforcing the impression that Buffalo is more of a Canadian city than an American one.
We commenced our circuit of NFL stadiums at the Buffalo Bills, being massive American Football fans, then on to Cleveland, Ohio, where we saw the Browns’ stadium and checked out the city—a tiny place but with a beautiful city hall that contained the mall. In Ohio, Peb went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we saw lots of groundhogs, discovered that Taco Bell is both tasty and cheap but Starbucks is more expensive than Canada, and found out we could stay at Pilot truck stops, albeit nothing like the Huskies. We also worked out that driving the routes, despite being slower than the interstates, was more interesting in terms of scenery, and had far less roadkill, which had been a depressing point since entering the USA, especially with my love of raccoons.
The autumn colours were in full bloom as we drove through the amusingly named Paris, Calcutta, Liverpool, Palestine, Moon, and the adorable Lisbon. We drove through the hat of West Virginia and entered Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh, steel city, was way prettier than I expected, a few glossy skyscrapers surrounded by water in a Perth-esque manner. We checked out the Steelers’ impressive stadium, and in homage to an NFL advert that used to play during every UK ad break, had a delicious “Roethlisburger” from Peppi’s, where the staff were awesome. We spent the evening in the very European (despite the guy on his mobile telling his 12-year-old daughter to not get pregnant) market square, and watched the Steelers game in local favourite Primanti Bros.
To avoid expensive tolls, we drove on through the back woods of Pennsylvania and made it to the bright lights of Breezewood, a town made entirely of motorway service stations. There, we encountered more people who loved our accents—at least in America nobody mistakes us for Australians, a nationality we’ve been mistaken for numerous times around the world. We had breakfast at an old school silver diner in Breezewood, complete with a chequered floor and red leather booths.
We moved on to Philadelphia, where we recreated the Fresh Prince of Bel Air video in Will Smith’s actual playground, recreated the Rocky movie running up the steps of the art museum, and checked out the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, which hilariously I only recognised from National Treasure. Being in Philly, there was an obligatory philly cheese steak from Café Old Nelson. Philadelphia was a far better-looking city than expected, despite its apparent homeless problem.
As big movie fans, we’ve watched many a road trip film over the years, most of which are set in America. Contrary to what these movies suggest, we quickly discovered that America was hard to road trip. Unlike Australia, it was hard to locate campsites in advance and Wikicamps was entirely useless. Unlike Canada and its delightful, welcoming Huskies, the Pilot’s charged $12 for a shower, didn’t offer free WiFi, and sold t-shirts saying “Keep calm, carry guns”, “You keep your advice, I’ll keep my guns”, and so on. Really.
Not to mention, navigating the complicated road systems and sometimes absent road signs lead us to take many a wrong turn. Added to that, the north east is clogged with toll roads and a 5-minute drive through Delaware cost us a staggering $8. Then another $4 just to enter Baltimore, which paid us into a traffic jam and an almost pileup thanks to some classic North American bad driving, a subject I could rant about for some time.
In Baltimore, we saw the Ravens’ stadium and I met Geico the gecko, and with nothing much to see in the city, we headed to a public swimming baths. The scene of riots not too long ago, Baltimore was a shock, considering I thought segregation in America had ended long ago, yet we discovered that the city was still much divided. A little kid outside the swimming baths amusingly asked us about our van, “Y’all live in this thing? Y’all keep this thing clean?!”
Next, we went to Washington D.C., starting the day at the Redskins’ stadium. Having visited other capitals, Washington was nothing like what I expected, less of a city and more of a collection of impressive buildings set around a giant park. We saw the Washington monument obelisk, the WWII monument (odd to see American dates rather than the European dates we’re used to), the reflection pool, the Lincoln memorial, and the White House.
Outside the White House, we were lucky to be given free tickets to the Fall Gardens tour, one of two weekends the gardens are opened to the public each year, so we got right up to the doors of the White House, which was pretty impressive. There’s no camping in Washington so we headed back Baltimore, where we watched the Panthers beat the Seahawks.
We spent another day sightseeing in Washington, checking out the free Smithsonian Natural History Museum (big room of death, not my cup of tea) and the Jefferson memorial—my favourite of all the buildings in Washington, not just because it’s in Captain America. We saw the Capitol, which unfortunately was under scaffolding, the Library of Congress (more National Treasure), the Pentagon, and Arlington Cemetery.
Across the river, we went into Arlington city (some of these cities are very small, I feel like they’ve missed the word “town”) and struggled to formulate a plan what to do next. To Richmond, to see nothing according to Trip Advisor, or to Virginia, to go camping but with possibly no WiFi to get work done? We took the plunge and decided to go camping in the Jefferson National Forest, so we headed 5 hours into Virginia, where we finally spent a few peaceful days relaxing among the pretty autumn trees. Whew, who knew travelling could be hard work?