The next travel phase of the trip was something special for me: Amtrak Acela. It's the closest thing we have in this country to High Speed Rail, and it was a destination by itself for me.
I arrived at Union Station with plenty of time, so I had a nice, relaxed breakfast at Au Bon Pain, yet another dearly missed thing from the east coast. I had not realized how expensive things are in Seattle, though; a breakfast sandwich, pastry, and coffee cost *far* less than they would out here. Sadly the Corner Cafe Bakery in Union Station did not have the whoopie pies that I drooled over in Denver. *harumph*
Got in line at the correct gate, the drug and/or bomb sniffing dog being the only security (Non-intrusive *and* effective! Someone page the TSA!), and boarded the train. Wow, was it nice. Lovely, well-kept leather seats, and the overhead compartment easily held my huge suitcase! Nice and smooth ride, with great scenery. Could we get this service everywhere, plzkthx? Seriously, it was even better than I had imagined. I cannot fathom how anyone would fly where Acela goes. We even did a fly-by of a station packed full of commuters. I had often seen a train roar past as I was waiting, and it was kinda awesome to be on the other side of that.
Got off in Philadelphia, where geeksdoitbetter
was waiting for me. We made our way along the river through Fairmount Park. I remember seeing those boat houses from the highway countless times, and now I got to see them up close. After cruising up and down for a bit, we found a nice garden spot near the museum to just sit and take a break and chat.
Found a decent enough place to park the car, and went to DiBruno's Market for a lovely lunch. This is one of those places that has a great Italian market full of lovely cheeses and such, all with samples alongside, and deli and sandwich counter downstairs, and then upstairs has a huge bonus eat-in lunch area with even more awesome sandwiches as well as a hot meal bar. Seriously, the chicken marsala was total yum. Recommended!
We next headed over to the US Mint. On the way, we stopped at Naked Chocolate, where I fell to the temptation of drinking chocolate. Sadly, I went against my first instinct and passed over the unadorned version for the "salted caramel" one. Mistake. It was 99% salt and 1% caramel. Yuk. Oh, well.
Also on the way is when I started noticing just how nice and walkable downtown Philly was. I had seriously forgotten just how much I enjoyed it! This was further enhanced by the fact that I now had a reference point to see just why I didn't like Denver's downtown that much. Denver had much longer blocks, and much less human-scale building at ground level. Further, Denver's streets are a weird mix of light timings for pedestrians: instead of the bog standard "cross with the light", Denver sometimes would do that, but sometimes there was a dedicated walk period, sometimes it was an all-way walk, and sometimes it was mixed! You never knew until you saw it cycle! Not fun.
And this is also where I had my next comparison of transit systems. Philly apparently has a trolley system underground that connects with, but is distinct from, their subway system. I didn't quite grasp this at first, and it was a little disconcerting actually riding it. Still, the connection was painless, and the trains were much better than walking. I also didn't remember the Philly underground system being so grimy, though.
We did get to the Mint with no problem. The tour turned out not not to really be a tour as such. It was just a big hallway with signs and windows. Which, fine, was still interesting. There was some neat stuff there, and some machines in operation. I loved seeing the big stacks of coiled metal sheets which are all accessed solely by robots. But it was, as Cicely described it, a bit of a "bring your own fun" experience.
From there we cabbed it back to the hotel, and Cicely took the opportunity to just nap and hang out. I headed over to Reading Market. Sadly, many of the shops were closed. It turns out that not only are most of the Amish shops only open Wed-Sat, but it was Yom Kippur, so another large segment of the shops were out of the running. Still, there was enough open to be interesting; I got some lovely, lovely apple cake slices, and some outstanding chocolates. One was this huge brick-like construction of marshmallow on top of caramel, all inside in a thick dark chocolate coating. OM NOM NOM NOM
Went back to the hotel, and just in time, as the skies opened up thoroughly right as I got there. Hung around with Cicely a bit, and we headed over to Giovanni's Room. Seattle has lost its last gay bookstore, which I miss dearly, so it was great to give them some business (especially as they've had some construction woes as of late, apparently!). Resisted many, many items, bought a few random ones, including a copy of A Bear's Life magazine (this will appear again later).
From there, it was off to Dim Sum! Yes, Cicely had done the unthinkably awesome and found a somewhere that is not limited to Sunday afternoons! Woot! Had a decent enough dinner. Met many people there, some new friends and some old. Had a great time!
At this point, our friend James drove us back to Cicely's car, and we dropped me and my belongings back at the hotel before she drove off home. I was so happy to see you, geeksdoitbetter
I'd considered going to Dave & Buster's, since they're open late, and they are yet another thing we don't have out here, but was way too dead to actually do anything but crash.
Next stop: New Jersey