Washington DC. That’s where we are for the next 4 nights. The new home of The Donald, we saw one of his old homes yesterday at Atlantic City. Boarded up with big “CLOSED, NO TRESSPASSING” signs plastered all over it. The Trump Taj Mahal, Casino and Resort looking magnificant, spectacular, gigantic, soleless and incredibly sad all in the blinking of an eye. We’d spent the day in Atlantic city as it was a short train ride from Philadelphia where we were staying. We’d seen a fair bit of Philly on our first day there including (more) revolution and civil war monuments and the Super Bowl at one of the city’s biggest sports bar. Didn’t really understand what was going on but we got to drink beer and eat lots of American food while soaking up the Atmosphere! We saved the two most iconic Philadelphia things for our last 18 hours in the city cramming them in before leaving our West Philadelphia digs for our short train ride to this Union of States capital city.
It was clear as soon as we arrived that Philadelphia was most famous for 3 things: The Liberty Bell, Rocky Balboa and Philly Cheesesteak Sandiches (I know, I was also shocked to find little about the fight Will Smith had in West Philadelphia that scared his Mum so much that she sent him to live in Bel Air). Philadelphia is also the one city that connects to Atlantic City by rail, billed as the Vegas of the East Coast, I was mainly attracted to the town by Springsteen’s iconic ballad (god knows why, the tune is hardly a ringing endorsement for the beach side resort) and the HBO TV series “Boardwalk Empire”. Having left only a few days to explore the city we hadn’t definitely decided to visit, however, until after the end of the first day when we managed to see all we wanted to in a shorter time than expected. Independence National Historic Park, which lies in Philly’s Historic District, is nicknamed America’s most historic mile. It was here that the US constitution was drafted, amended and finally signed and the hall where all that happened still stands today with the chair that George Washington sat on still in place at the head of the conference room. It was here too that Washington first lived as president and his house, or at least the floor plan and some walls, are still present and house the walkway towards the Liberty bell viewing centre. The Liberty bell, an 18th centry bell once used to call the Pennsylvanian Assembly together, has been adopted as a sign of Independence for all Americans and has been used as a symbol for struggles from the wars of Independence to the civil rights movement thanks to an inscription reading “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land.” The bell has a huge crack down once side and so has been silent since the end of the 19th century rendering it mearly a symbol of freedom for the land of the free and its people. After doing a number of national tours for people to see it (only see it, no touching – or licking for any How I Met Your Mother Fans!) it is now housed permanently in a purpose built facility slap bang in the middle of Independence Park opposite Liberty Hall and the modern looking visitor centre (good work town planners!) We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon visiting the rest of the park that includes America’s first bank, Parlimentary buildings (Philly was the seat of government in the early days of the Union), the Benjamin Franklin Museum and the US Customs house. All very interesting and stirred enough sentiment for the most reluctant patriot (not that I’ve met any reluctant patriots yet) to reach for their star spangled banner I’m sure.
The other two Philly musts were completed in a much shorter time. The Philly Cheesesteak because it was to delicious to even think about slowly savouring the baguette sandwich filled with slices of flame grilled steak a choice of provolone, American or whiz cheese and onions. It’s lucky we only tried them on the last night as I might have just spent the whole time in Philly eating them and not doing anything else. In fact, I’m pretty gutted that we decided to eat food while watching the Super Bowl as in hindsight I’d mutch rather have had a cheesesteak for dinner and just enjoyed the “football” game with some drinks in the sports bar. That’s not to say it wasn’t an enjoyable feast, just these cheesesteaks are gooood! Forget them banging on about the independence, all their museums should just be filled with information about food, I bet there are a lot of Americans who agree with me! The Super Bowl experience was also good fun, even though we had no real clue about what was going on. Just a bunch of blokes running into each other for 3 hours. But the Americans sure know how to make their sports into spectator friendly events: Long enough to get drunk or eat ALOT of food, peaks and troughs of excitement meaning you don’t have to focus on the game the whole time and lots of loud music and lights. What more do you need? Again I’m not sure they could do it on a rainy night in Stoke!
On our last morning, and still full from the copious amount of fried food the previous days, we headed out for the last of Philly’s most famous exports: Rocky Balboa and, more specifically, the iconic steps he used for training on his way to becoming a wold champion over night (only in America, and I guess only in Hollywood). We jogged down from our Airbnb to Philadelphia’s museum of art, to whom the steps really belong (how annoyed must they get with philistines like us running up them everyday!), where we found a statue of old Sly Stallone infront of his 35 steps complete his Converse Chuck Tailor footprints on the top one. Humming the highly motivating music we hammered up and down them a few times, perhaps not as quick as I should have, no where near as fit as I was 12 months ago and took in the lovely view from the top in toward the centre of Philadelphia. There were a couple of other people doing the same thing, so I didn’t feel too daft posing for pictures at the top!
All of that crammed into the few days we had in Philly leaving enough time for our afternoon jaunt to Atlantic City. I’m not too sure what I was expecting, between Bruce Springsteen describing it as an desolate place regenerating itself and Boardwalk empire amplifying its glamour and excitement I thought it would be either an Americana utopia with lights and music creating a party atmosphere or a desolate bleak seaside resort struggling to keep up with the competition of the modern world. In reality it was both, the 4 mile board walk that connects the buildings with the beach was immaculate, wide and picturesque allowing views of both the New Jersey shore and the multi story hotels. We first arrived and walked through Cesars casino themed with caricature Wild West (complete with gold mine [subtle] and run away train track) its was lively and fun. When we got out to the boardwalk and on to the beach, the place looked amazing, all the glitz and glamor you’d hope for in America. As you scratched beneath the surface though the place seemed strangely and sadly haunting, as if the buildings weren’t really there, perhaps it was just because it was a Monday afternoon in the off season, but it just had the feel that something wasn’t quite right. We discovered trump tower at one end, all boarded up and shut down: it would be too obvious to say a sign of things to come, wouldn’t it. It was at the far end of the boardwalk. The rest of the section quiet too, apparently suffering from the lack of people Trump’s Casino used to bring over. We spun round and headed back down from where we had come, into the sun set walking down as far as the casino that has taken on much of the Taj Mahal’s business (a quick google showed that The Taj Mehals sites directs you strait to this other casino). Neon lights, huge video screens music blaring, again it seemed so jovial yet so sad. I still can’t quite work out what it was that made it seem that way. The boardwalk was nice, the beach lovely. I’m sure and I hope on a Friday night in the summer the place fulfils its ambition as a playground for America. But after three hours on cold but sunny Monday we had had enough, I’m glad I’ve seen it, but I’m not sure I’d come back.
So now we are in the supposed calm and consistent seat of government of the worlds foremost democracy. Except the bloke who used to be in charge of that magnificent mad house whence we came is now in charge here! Lets hope there are enough safety nets in place and it survives till Saturday!