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15 June 2011

Philly Pride, Lehigh, and White Castle

Day 23: Sunday, 12 June 2011
This day we drove from Philadelphia to New Jersey. It's not a long drive, if you look at the map, but our journey today took all day, thanks largely to an unexpected traffic jam in Philadelphia. We left around 11am, after another wonderful breakfast prepared by Miss Laura :) After saying our byes, Ueli and I drove into the city so that he could see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

As I drove into Center City, Market Street east of City Hall was blocked by a police car. Hmm, so I'd just head to the next street over and take that across. Good in theory, but that street turned out to be only one lane and was so jammed with cars that it took 20+ minutes just to move a couple blocks. Insanity, what was this? I moved over to another street, hoping to avoid whatever was going on, but then, BAM!, more traffic! The drivers were honking everywhere and people were yelling out of their car windows to get out of the way. (Man, Philly drivers are really rude!)
I ended up driving us near Penn's Landing and headed south along the riverfront, which soon became jammed with traffic as well! I called Maya to see if she could look up what special event was going on, and she told me that it was the Pride parade that day. Great. I tried to park the car in a lot but it was a $12 flat rate so no deal. I ended up loading onto the freeway and doubling back onto the 676 west to 30th Street Station, where I swooped into a free parking space on the street, and Ueli and I simply and quickly took the subway into the city. We got off at 5th St. and walked to the Liberty Bell, which had a bit of a line outside, but it wasn't so bad because the Pride parade had a stage set up right across the street, and a couple floats passed by blasting music and throwing out beads into the crowd.

Ueli swallowed his chewing gum when the woman inside asked him to spit it out. I powered us through the Liberty Bell, then we went to see Independence Hall. We had no tickets, so we couldn't go inside, but at least we got to walk around for a minute. I'm sure these sites don't have nearly the same significance to Ueli as they do to an American like me (yes, I still claim USA nationality!), but they're still worthwhile destinations either way. We were going to watch the rest of the parade, but it had ended. Damn. So we subwayed back to the car and I drove us north. I took side streets and small highways, to avoid paying any tolls. It's just not in my nature to pay to use a freeway. And the small back roads are much more scenic anyway.

We headed north to the Lehigh Valley, and to Bethlehem, where we visited Lehigh University. I texted my friend Brian, who went to Lehigh, and he helped guide Ueli and me to the spots around campus that he lived/worked at, and to a couple cool places off campus to get some food at. It was already summer break, so the campus was nearly deserted. A campus cop stopped next to us as we were walking and asked what we were doing. He was nice, though. The campus is on a hillside, with plenty of nice buildings connected with scenic footpaths; I can imagine it'd be a great place to study. We then walked off campus to find the Goosey Gander, a deli that Brian highly recommended. After walking around with no luck, we headed back to the car and drove off, but Brian insisted that we really try to go there, so I turned around and we searched again - turns out that the deli was closed on Sundays during the summer :(

I drove us for a few miles into New Jersey. It was already the late afternoon as we crossed the Delaware River. I saw a toll plaza on the other side and got nervous that I'd have to pay a toll, but no tolls were collected. And all was well. Hungry, I stopped at the nearest McDonalds, not to eat, but to use their wifi. You see, we had just entered New Jersey - and we were now in the promised land of White Castle Burgers! So I googled the closest White Castle, which was about an hour away, and we headed straight for it. The rural road we took swept through valleys with quaint towns and beautiful trees. A stream flowed on one side of the road as it swept through some forested valleys. Wow, I thought, New Jersey is really the most beautiful place that we have visited so far!

We were about 40 minutes into the drive to White Castle, when suddenly, it appeared: A White Castle! Surprised but still determined, I slammed on the brakes and pulled into the parking lot. Triumphantly, Ueli and I walked in. There was a group of guys there who looked like they were part of a football or high school sports team; they had ordered two "crave cases," which contain 30 White Castle sliders each. The cashier who took our order was a nasally-voiced 19-year-old who seemed artificially friendly but still nice. Ueli ordered 6 sliders, all with cheese, and I ordered 7 (original, bacon ranch, bacon cheddar, and a chicken slider). Ueli gave his name as "Willie" and I was "Charlie" - I didn't know that they asked for names! Otherwise, OF COURSE Ueli would have been Harold and I would have been Kumar!

Well we got our sliders and inhaled them. Yum yum yum! White Castle is pretty nice, and the food definitely satisfies your cravings. I would put it at the same level as Jack in the Box in terms of food quality, which is pretty good (for the price) in my book. Ueli then ordered 3 more sliders afterward so that he could try a larger variety. The teenage cashier who took our order then came out to wipe down the tables, and he asked us where we were from.

"Switzerland and LA," I responded.

"I've been to both of those places," he shot back, trying awkwardly to express his interest, which seemed genuine.

I then told him about our trip… or at least I began to, when he had to take a drive-thru order through his headset! He ran back in then back out to continue. He sounded surprised when he found out that I had already graduated college - I guess he must've thought I was only 18-20 years old too. Heh heh, I guess I'm not so old after all :)

Feeling very satisfied after our visit to White Castle, Ueli and I drove onward to the house we were staying at, in Paramus, New Jersey, a short drive from New York proper. There are a lot of confusing freeways and tollways in northern New Jersey, and the exits are not clearly marked as you drive along. It's a confusing place to drive around, but the roads are all in good condition. We were staying with a family friend who has a large house in a very pleasant suburb (all the neighborhoods in New Jersey we passed through were surprisingly and incredibly pleasant!). We arrived around 8:30pm, but most of the family was out at a party, but her oldest son Darren was there to answer the door (after a few doorbell rings and phone calls). We were soon settled in, and the rest of the family arrived from the party. We then watched the Dallas Mavericks defeat the Miami Heat to win the NBA Finals. It was now late and we went to sleep, each in our own bed in the guest room!

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