Over the years I’ve found that wherever you’re travelling, there’s always one or two main travel companies that are relatively cheap which you turn to in order to get from place to place. America was no different…… All hail the Megabus!
Booking a Megabus is a great way to get from city to city in the USA and is far cheaper in most cases than a trip on the railway or a budget flight. They’re even pretty comfortable; with air con, Wi-Fi, power outlets and enough legroom in some seats for someone as tall as me (6ft 4). Knowing this, I booked a Megabus from New York to my next stop Philadelphia where I was going to be spending 3 nights. I arrived in the early hours of Friday afternoon, in the centre of a city steeped in American history and basking in glorious sunshine.
The hostel I was staying at was called Apple Hostel and was about a 10 minute walk from where I was dropped off. Having a large backpack and satchel was tough work in the blazing heat, but once I arrived I was welcomed by some great staff, checked in and met my dorm mates; Dan and Kieran from England and Kyle from Detroit, Michigan. After introductions I soon realised I had somehow developed a layer of sweat and dirt from my short foray from the bus to the hostel. A shower was needed and taken.
Once settled in I learnt that every night the hostel puts on a different themed night to get people to mingle. Tonight was wine and cheese night! Safe to say myself, Dan, Kieran and Kyle drunk the majority of the wine and ate most of the cheese. I don’t know what it was, maybe it was the fact I’d been living on camp food for 8 weeks, but the cheese and wine tasted so good! That night we headed out our hostel, walked for about 20 seconds, and were on Market Street; pretty much the go to place of a night time in Philadelphia with plenty of bars, restaurants and pizza joints. We saw a bar with a sign advertising $2 beers; we were straight in there and didn’t leave till the early hours of the morning. The night was actually one of the best I have had so far in the states. You know that saying it’s not where you go, it’s who you’re with? Well the group of guys I was with were awesome and we chatted all night about various things from Kyle applying to be in the CIA to Kieran driving tanks in the army.
The next day Kieran and I decided to be proper tourists and take in the historical sights on offer in Philadelphia. Firstly we visited the Ben Franklin buildings. These showed how during his time in Philadelphia Ben Franklin used giant printing presses to publish newspapers critical of the British policies in America. You were able to see the whole process from creating the print design to pressing to producing the paper – very interesting, free and well worth a visit. The Ben Franklin Museum displays many of his inventions, travels and philosophical thinking; although not free it is still interesting and has many interactive pieces which probably entertained me more than they should have. After I was done playing we headed to the liberty bell exhibition and I kind of think you can skip this because, well, it’s a bell. It’s really historical and all, but you just walk up to it, say something like ‘yep, that’s a big bell’, take a photo, then leave. There are windows that allow you to view the bell from the outside which I think is a much better option as it will save you time and disappointment. The final stop on our ‘let’s be a good tourist day’ was Independence Hall where the declaration of independence was signed. There are tours of the hall every half hour and although free, you need to collect tickets from the visitor centre across the road as numbers are limited. I suggest doing this early as we had to wait 3 hours for our tour and had a lot of time to kill.
The weekend I was in Philadelphia was also the weekend of the Made in America concert where artists like Beyoncé were performing. During the 3 hour wait we had until our Independence Hall tour we wondered over to the concert following the huge crowds. The concert stage was on top of the legendary Rocky steps, which Sylvester Stallone famously ran up in one of his Rocky films. The concert and stage prevented people from running up the steps and taking that classic photo with your arms up in the air. Kieran was rather annoyed about this; one of the main reasons he came to Philadelphia was to run up those steps. We got talking to some police officers at the concert who said that the stage would be taken down over night and people could run up the steps from the early hours of tomorrow morning. Kieran was ecstatic and planned to go up the steps to catch the sunrise the following morning. In a moment of madness, fully knowing I’m by no means a morning person, I agreed to join him.
That short wonder killed enough time and it was time for our Independence Hall tour.
Above everything else, this was the highlight of my day. This was down to two reasons; number 1 the building itself was bloody awesome and pretty much untouched from the days it was used. But the main reason for my love of the tour was the tour guide. Each tour group is sat in this little room to start with and our tour guide introduced himself and gave a brief but enthralling history of Independence Hall and Philadelphia, which was previously the capital of the USA. He interacted with the group extremely well and asked questions such as ‘put your hand up if you would of signed the declaration of independence’ ………Kieran and I kept our hands firmly down, common, we’re British! We were then taken through Independence Hall and the Senate and at the end I was looking for an opportunity to tip as I was so impressed by the tour we were given. But nope, the guide just said thank you for coming, showed us the exit and waked straight out!
Are you kidding me?! In a country where everyone just expects a tip for something as little as giving you directions, the one guy I met on my whole travels who I genuinely wanted to tip just walks out on me before I had the chance?! I was baffled!!
Once I had gotten over my confusion we headed back to the hostel which was having a movie night later. That night the same group form the night before went out just off Market Street to a cool bar (link) that had giant Jenga, $1.50 beers and $4 cheese steaks, what more could you want? Another great night was had and we headed back to the hostel to sleep with an alarm set for 5.45am for our Rocky Run.