Day two was about the journey from New York City to Washington DC. The weather channel gives reports by the hour so I decided it was best to leave at 10am as it was not going to rain then and all the morning traffic would have hopefully passed as well. I was driving through the neighbourhood of Howard Beach when I spotted a store called Staples where I got a Garmin and just as well as I never would have found my way without it. We left at 10 and the road was very busy due to road works so there were these intermittent sections where traffic was extremely slow or practically came to a halt but I didn’t mind at all as this was new and exciting.
People drive slowly and politely which is not something I am accustomed to. The speed limit coming out of NYC was 45 miles per hour which is less than 73km/h where at home a highway is 120 km/h. Each side of the highway has seven lanes split into a section for cars only, a concrete divider and then a section for busses, trucks and cars. Imagine that you can choose to drive without trucks – unthinkable! The roads eventually merge but even there the trucks behave. When there was a slow down due to road works, everyone kept in their lane and waited their turn. Not once did someone hoot at someone else, flashed their lights or threw a few hand signs or words shouted out the window. At home all the mini bus taxis would have been driving on the shoulder of the road now cutting in somewhere in front while stopping to pick up a few passengers on the way, sometimes even while the Metro Police is watching. If there was no shoulder or taking an off-ramp a new lane would have been created because obviously whoever planned the roads knew nothing and wasted road by creating a single lane where there could have been two. All the cars would have changed lanes at least 20 times by now because the other lane may just be 20 seconds quicker and flashing lights, hooters and some hand signs come with the territory. A truck would have tried overtaking another truck on a hill so this drive in comparison was extremely peaceful.
The Garmin lady is just as polite. When there is a fork or split in the road, the screen actually splits in two with a picture of the lane you have to be in as well as the road sign. If you accidentally take a wrong turn she just takes you on the safest route where you can make a legal u-turn (which may mean driving around the block 3 miles down the road) to get back on the correct road. The Garmin “tannie” (as I call her) from home does not spoon feed you. She gives you lefts and rights without fancy split screens and when you take a wrong turn she is forever shouting “re-calculating” until she finds a way again and you can just feel her irritation and see her throw a few signs on that screen telling you that you are an idiot.
On route we saw this majestic bridge and now with the Garmin it was safe to just take the nearest exit to go explore. It turned out to be the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that links Brooklyn with Staten Island and it is humungous. You cannot explain the size of it. We found a pedestrian walkway that crossed the highway and stood by the bay/ocean (I can’t ever tell the difference here as there is just so much water everywhere) while taking in the sight of this magnificent steel suspension bridge which is one of the longest bridges in the world before later crossing the bridge by car. We do not have this at home as our rivers are non-navigable so it is not suited for water transport.
We stopped along the road to get something to eat and drink and then took a little detour to Philadelphia in search of the Liberty Bell. Philadelphia is another big city but beautiful and we arrived just after 3pm. You arrive via this big bridge and are then lead into the city where you see the stunning Philadelphia City Hall with a statue of William Penn looking over his city. We found some underground parking in a nearby garage and came out at Love Park which is a plaza in the city centre with a big fountain and love sculpture. In close proximity is City hall, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Masonic Temple and the Municipal Service Building. The streets are filled with public art and there are pieces from games such as Monopoly, Checkers, Chess, Dominoes and Bingo in front of the Municipal Service Building and a giant paint brush as well as airplane statue (Grummen greenhouse) which is a decommissioned plane with plants inside that form a greenhouse in front of the Academy of Fine Arts. We decided to drive to Liberty Park as underground parking is extremely expensive. I was met with another challenge of parallel parking which if you are sitting on the wrong side of the car at the wrong side of the street trying to figure out how best to approach it, reversing in or trying it head on with an automatic car – this can be a very daunting task. I managed to park fine, sort out the pay meter and off we were to look for the bell. We found her in the Liberty Bell Centre and she is a fragile thing (smaller than expected and with a nasty crack in her belly) but heavily guarded and understandably so as she represents independence.
My second challenge for the day was trying to figure out how to put petrol in the car. At home you have petrol attendants who fill the car, pump the wheels and clean the windscreen. Here you have to go to the shop, tell the person the pump number, pay some money for gallons of gas and then go put in your own petrol in a car that doesn’t have a petrol cap. I was a bit slow trying to figure out how many gallons I needed as I still had Rands and litres in my mind but the woman at the counter said $30 so I just handed over a bunch of notes because all the bills are the same size and same colour (and No! shades of… does not count – it all looks the same). We left at 6pm and arrived at Washington at about 9.30pm. It was raining a bit and I was really tired from all the driving so did not have the energy for some night sightseeing but we managed to see the Capitol building, Washington monument and what I guess must be the Smithsonian in the distance on our way to the hotel. This was an interesting and fun day.
P.S. I will post some photos on Flickr tonight. As with any holiday and a digital camera I have 600 photos already (and this was only day 2) but for now it is time to go see what Washington has to offer.