After loitering around Connecticut for two and a half weeks, we finally made our leave and began the second half of our voyage. We decided against going to New York City this time around just so we wouldn’t end up spending too much time in Connecticut, which probably would have been smarter now that we know how ahead of schedule we are. But anyway, on with the show.
Highland Lakes, New Jersey
Driving in or around NYC is terrifying. When we are driving and experience a negligent driver who cuts us off, passes us on the wrong side of the road, slams on their brakes really fast, etc, we believe that they are looking to die because why else would you drive like an idiot around a huge vehicle that could easily crush you? People around the city want to die. They cut us off at least four times without even using a blinker to indicate that they wanted to get in front of us. I am amazed that we got out of there without a collision. We did get to drive past the city all lit up at night though as we made our way into New Jersey to visit my cousin and her family.
A night was spent in a Walmart parking lot before we made our way into the woods, where my cousin is living. We arrived later in the evening at their beautiful forested home and went to dinner at Penning’s Farm which doesn’t look like much but is actually a really awesome restaurant, bar, and farmers market all rolled into one. It was a massive amount of amazing food and good company as we recalled more of our previous van adventures and enjoyed my super smiley baby cousin, JJ.
The next day my allergies punched me in the face and I struggled to survive the day but I was quickly distracted from my woes with the second best ice cream in the nation. High atop a New Jersey hill sits a creamery called Bellvale Farm that overlooks miles and miles of rolling hills and quaint towns. I have to admit that it was a relatively dramatic and fairy tale way to enjoy an ice cream cone. From there we went to the tiny town of Warwick, New York to do some exploring and stumbled upon some great finds, the first of which being a small art gallery with some extremely high end artwork and fun little gifts. Not only did they have signed artworks of 21st century masters such as Basquiat, Warhol, Harring, and Miro, but there were also a set of really nice lenses that you can affix to your phone, which we obviously purchased. Further shenanigans included a love lock bridge, a candy store, and a plethora of cute little boutiques.
That evening we set off on our own in search of sustenance via food trucks. Apparently a food truck festival had rolled into town and being the foodie that I am, I was a bit over excited for such festivities. We ended up with chicken strips for Eli and a vegan chili cheese empanada for myself as well as super stuffed and brutally messy churros. After waiting in multiple lines and finally getting to eat, we had to rush off to the next destination, a drive in movie! Neither of us had ever been to a drive in so we were pretty excited and pleasantly surprised by the experience. I think I would almost prefer it to an actual movie theater seeing as you could wear whatever you want, easily bring your own snacks, and talk as loudly as you want during the movie. My only real complaint was that they weren’t offering any old movies, just newer ones that we either didn’t have much interest in or had already seen.
Our final day in the area was mostly spent working and lounging around, as one does. I was still in the throes of my allergies so we decided that it would be better to not go hiking while we were there, even though we were right across the street from a part of the Appalachian Trail. We left later that night to start making our way into Pennsylvania, noting the hints of autumn fast approaching in the changing leaves and cool weather.
We spent the night in a parking lot just outside of Hershey and woke up to the sound of rain drumming on the metal roof, a sound which we have grown to love. A short drive took us into the chocolate capital of the country where we stopped for a chocolate covered brunch at the Hershey Pantry where I got the best Irish cream hot chocolate ever. We poured over our phones, doing what we do best as we planned our daily festivities last minute.
Our plans brought us to the painfully overstuffed Hershey World, where we battled crowds of screaming children and aggressive tourist mothers. In order to keep the trip relatively inexpensive, we opted for the free ten minute tour that was more akin to a Disneyland ride instead of a chocolate factory tour, complete with animatronic candy bars and songs that are guaranteed to get stuck in your head. Again, we prepared ourselves to enter back into the droves of people in search of souvenirs and then promptly left to make our way into a less populated attraction, the Hershey Park Gardens.
Hershey Garden is a twenty three acre wonderland complete with a butterfly house, food garden, and arboretum, plus so much more. It was easy for us to spend a few hours there, wandering around in the rain away from the massive amounts of people. The butterfly house was our first venture. If you purchase tickets to see the gardens, admission into the exhibit is included so we jumped on the opportunity to hang out with some butterflies. We did our best to identify the different types as they flitted around us and took tons and tons of pictures, as usual. The only difficult thing was that the room was butterfly temperature, which means eighty degrees and humid, making it a little bit uncomfortable to hang out in for too long. We lasted as best as we could before moving on the brave the rain in the gardens.
Lucky for us umbrellas were provided, albeit broken, they still served their purpose. We casually meandered around from garden to garden, learning about the various trees, flowers, herbs, and bushes. I got some serious garden inspiration from the vegetable garden but especially from the medicinal herb garden. It’s one of the things that I am very much looking forward to once we are done with this trip.
We made our exodus that evening to begin our journey to Philadelphia, where Eli’s good friend Natalie is living along with her roommate, Rachel. After a rather serious hunt for a parking spot, they took us to a vegan restaurant for dinner where I was overwhelmed with food options, for once. We caught up with each other late into the night before Eli and I went back to the van to sleep.
The next morning, we all stumbled out of bed and made our way to breakfast at what I thought was a castle. So far, I have to admit that Philadelphia has the best buildings. Some of them were very castle like while others resembled the beloved Victorian style that I have come to adore. I was basically drooling over all of the pretty buildings (it’s my favorite part of the north east). We waited a good hour before we got a table and it was so worth the wait. I decided on the house specialty, stuffed french toast, but the restaurant had a ton of other vegetarian options that I struggled to decide between, a luxury that I am really starting to enjoy.
Rachel and Natalie left us to our own devices after breakfast to go adopt a cat so we decided it was time to wander around the city and see what we could find. Of course, the only logical answer to “where should we go?” was the Liberty Bell. You can’t not see the most famous defective item in U.S. history. It was also free, which we can’t say no to. So, we stood in line and went through an extensive security screening before entering the building. We took our time reading the history of the bell, learning about its significance in the American Revolution and how it later became a symbol for equality in the Women’s Rights movements as well as the Civil Rights movement.
A lot of the information provided was about equal rights for people of color and the history of that through our time as a country, including the lives of African American slaves and one of the most famous activists we know, Martin Luther King Jr. After seeing a lot of “American Pride” based monuments that glossed over the injustices that they inflicted on minority groups, it was nice to see that representation and accurate history on one of our country’s most prolific symbols. It also became apparent that the bell was never really structurally sound. The infamous crack first occurred on the first test ring and was later melted down and recast only to crack again shortly after. Any future repairs were hopeless so instead of remaining in the bell tower of the State House, it became a symbol of freedom.
Afterwards, we went in search of dessert because dessert is always a priority. Reading Terminal was recommended to us for such festivities so we braved the crowds once again and it was very much worth it. It was a struggle to navigate through the swarms of other people but there were a lot of really cool little shops to look at. We ended up with some of the best cookies and lemonade we have ever had. It became a little too chaotic for us to hang around there for an given amount of time so we went back to the park near the Liberty Bell and enjoyed our treats in the company of many hungry birds and squirrels before trying to find something else to do.
Not much was catching our interest in the city so we did some wandering and ended up purchasing some food and drinks for a homeless man who approached us before we found my own personal heaven, an art supply store. I ended up leaving with some upgrades to my current art inventory before heading back to Natalie and Rachel’s apartment where we got to enjoy their new kitty baby (who just happens to be the sweetest baby ever), eat pizza, and swear at Mario games.
Philadelphia was very enjoyable for us but it was time to make our way to our next destination. Waking up the next morning was like something out of a daydream for me. The cool beginnings of autumn were prevalent in the van and taking the curtains down revealed the shady trees and beautiful old buildings that surrounded us on a small Pennsylvania road. It was the epitome of north eastern scenery and I was absolutely in love with it. Eli was giving me the side eye as I snapped pictures out of every window so I could capture a memory of it. For me, it was comparable to when we woke up in Yosemite. The moment was short lived though as we packed up our stuff and continued to the next stop on our route as we continue moving south. It would seem that things are taking a turn for the worse as we look behind us at the wildfires in the west and forward to the hurricanes in the south but for now we are safe and everything is fine.