So Pittsburgh was done and forever behind us. And it was now time to head on back to New York for all sorts of fun. But first, how in the world to get home? Flying is expensive… and wasn’t even all that pleasant last time. Train? Just as expensive. Bus? Yuck.
We decided to rent a car and rock our way through Pennsylvania. We’d really make a trip out of our big return to the Big Apple.
Fun fact: There is a Manhattan, Kansas. They call themselves the Little Apple. No one in New York knows there is a Manhattan, Kansas, and that, frankly, is hysterical.
But I digress.
Flight 93 Memorial
Our first stop was Shanksville, Pennsylvania. If you’ve never heard of this little town, it’s for good reason. It’s literally nowhere. And that’s a big part of its story. Shanksville is the town where the fourth plane (Flight 93) crashed on September 11, 2001. And now it is the home of a rather impressive memorial.
This little tiny town put together such an incredible display. If you’re ever in or anywhere near Shanksville, I highly recommend you come for a visit. The memorial was a tremendous combination of informative and emotional, which is unusual for many of the memorials I’ve seen. There was everything you could imagine about the passengers on the plane, a simulation of the final moments of the flight, and several recordings of messages left on answering machines by passengers.
The answering machine messages were terribly painful to listen to. It was so raw and intense, you truly felt the tension of the moment.
Growing up in New York, 9/11 causes an extra level of discomfort. I still shiver when I look at the skyline, knowing that it is not the one I grew up with, and contemplating how bizarre that fact is. I was thoroughly impressed that a quaint memorial in the middle of nowhere was able to capture such profound emotions so well. I would recommend this memorial to everyone.
Harrisburg Museum Visit?
And then we hit the road again. Next stop: Harrisburg for the Civil War Museum. But before that, lots of quality time on the road with my beloved… because there is a whole lot of time and nothing between Shanksville and Harrisburg.
Travel tip #5: Check and recheck every website for places you want to visit. 🙁
We found the museum on an app listing activities for road trips. And the site stated explicitly that the museum would be open until 8PM. But apparently we should have checked the museum’s own site, since there were special winter hours. It was February and the museum closed at 5PM.
The time: 5:08
The Harrisburg Bathroom Romp
Our epic travel fail then led to the low point of our journey, as we traversed the city of Harrisburg hunting for the one place that would allow us to use their restroom. This very unpleasant town was filled with store after store and gas station after gas station that lied about their bathroom status.
In each place I saw an employee hiding behind thick glass who looked absolutely terrified. It was quite the introduction to the state’s capital. Harrisburg, you made a bad first impression on the Jaffes.
But at least it was raining…
Finally, some angels (reluctantly) allowed bathroom access, after a half-hour of searching. We then headed over to the Capitol Building to take some quaint Harrisburg pictures so the city wouldn’t be a full waste… and we hightailed it out of there.
Harrisburg, we are not fans. And Pennsylvania, well, you disappoint me.
Philadelphia, Here We Come
And off we went to Philadelphia for some Chinese food, some late-night touring, and then the big return to New York.
I’ll say this about Philadelphia: We got there way too late to really appreciate the city, but it did more than enough to make us want to come back for more. We obviously took a minute to have a look at the Liberty Bell, which is pretty sweet, but the overall mood of the city was just fantastic.
From the moment we arrived, we saw buildings lit up in a gorgeous and impressive fashion. The city itself was super attractive and it just felt like a nice place to spend time. I’m sorry we didn’t have more. But thank you Philadelphia for redeeming Pennsylvania, even if just a little bit.
Pittsburgh, you bore me to tears. Harrisburg, worst place in the world to need a bathroom. Shanksville, you’ve got a fantastic memorial and literally nothing else. Philadelphia… we’re not quite done yet.
Verdict: Beloved Road Trip
Now, lest I give you the impression that the mighty Pennsylvania road trip was a bust, please note that I absolutely loved the journey. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. No, not because there were so many beautiful things to see along the way. And not because the trip was filled with a whole assortment of magical experiences in great American cities. But because taking a road trip with my absolute favorite traveler partner made all the difference.
Hours on dull roads together were fun and exciting. We created beautiful memories out of everything from random stops on the road to three-minute massage chairs in gas station rest stops. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s the main point of a road trip anyhow.
If I may, here are five tips I’d offer for a successful road trip (based on some of our finest and lowest points along the way):
5 Tips for a Successful Road Trip
1) Plan your food very carefully. It’s more complex than you may think. Things spoil. Things give you bellyaches. Other things make a mess of the car. Think about everything in advance, before disaster strikes. You’ll never regret it.
2) Check every official website. Don’t rely on what some other website tells you. Check opening days and times from the source, so you won’t be high and dry, stuck with nothing to do in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
3) Any chance to go to the bathroom, just go. I never thought I’d find a city where it would take a half-hour to find a bathroom. But it happened. Learn from my mistakes. When you get to a rest stop, force yourself. Do not hesitate. Not even for a minute.
4) Don’t be afraid to adjust plans. You might have a fantastic itinerary or a very rigid schedule. You’d, of course, prefer not to uproot something… but then you drive past an alligator park or a gorgeous lookout point. Stop, and follow where things take you. There’s so much joy lying in being flexible and allowing life to take its own course.
5) Travel with the right person. This one cannot be expressed enough. This trip was very imperfect, yet amazing, memorable, and I would do it again in a second. Any trip, even an extended hunt for a bathroom, can be fun and exciting with the right person.
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