Why hello there!  Jolie here!  I have not intended to neglect this blog, it’s just that the autumn and winter seasons seem to be our busiest time of the year!  In other words, we’re normal people with normal work schedules, etc!  🙂  I have a few long overdue posts to add onto this blog, because we’ve had a few fun adventures in the past few months.  This entry is going to be about our visit to Longwood Gardens, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.  I decided to make it into a fun roadtrip with some good hole-in-the-wall food and some kitschy monuments, of course!

Being part of a childless couple, I have to admit I have had a Scrooge-like attitude towards Christmas until a few years ago.  I loved it as a child, but as I got older, my parents started to regard it as more of a hassle than a pleasure and that kinda rubbed off on me.  I quite literally was the baby of the family until the age of thirty years, when my nephew Dylan was born.  My entire family really got into a “why bother?” kind of mode.  When Tom and I were first married, I wasn’t even wanting to put up a Christmas tree, but Tom, the sentimental mush that he is, talked me into it, even though he, too, was sort of indifferent towards Christmas.  This all changed in December of 2006.

I always book a long weekend (Friday to Monday) off work during the first full weekend in December.  Earlier that year, I had been at a Yankee Candle shop in South Carolina and talked to the clerk about how much Tom loves candles, but he’s sort of self-conscious about it (and now you all know, hehe!)  And she not only told me that more than half of their clientele was men, but she also told me about the huge Yankee Candle flagship stores in Massachusetts and Virginia.  Intrigued, I looked them up and realized that these stores had Christmas villages in them.  I suggested that Tom and I visit during that fateful December weekend.  And do you know what?  Those tacky trinkets, and hokey Christmas entertainers actually brought out some sentimental Christmas memories in us!  I turned to Tom and said that I was getting choked up because looking at the whimsical decorations and hearing the Nat King Cole Christmas songs in the background was starting to remind me of my childhood and was making me miss my mom.  He said that all of the things there were causing HIM to get choked up because they were reminding him of his childhood and made him miss all of his beloved aunts!  Of course, this sentimentality was all wiped out by the time we approached the next room and were greeted with goofy flashing Christmas lights and a silly, shrill Christmas song playing in the background!  LOL.

But this experience and this feeling had us hooked!  After that, we visited the Yankee Candle flagship store in South Deerfield, Massachusetts every December!  While we haven’t completely become “Christmas freaks” or anything, it’s a really fun tradition that does indeed get us excited about the upcoming holiday!

But in 2011 we decided to do something different…a coworker of mine had been talking about Longwood Gardens just outside of Philadelphia.  Curious, I looked up their website and was blown away by what I saw.  Not only are their gardens stunningly beautiful, but they do a whole Christmas theme during the winter months.  The pictures were so exquisite that I was almost drooling!  While we loved our tacky trinkets, flashing lights and cheesy animatronic singers crooning Christmas songs at Yankee Candle, perhaps it was high time that we “classed it up” a bit!  Of course this meant that we would make a whole road trip out if it!!!  Of course!  🙂

I decided that we would start our journey by visiting the Lou Costello statue in his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey.  We are both big Abbott and Costello fans, so this was a must!  Having never been in Paterson, NJ before, I had no idea what to expect.  It was only when we got onto the ramp to enter Paterson that Tom the Jersey Boy stated, “Paterson is kinda in the ‘hood.”

Yipes!  What can I say other than, errrr, that’s for sure!  🙂  I’m also not a huge fan of urban driving in New Jersey, so I was  slightly overwhelmed by all of the one-way streets, the large amount of unforgiving and fast-flowing traffic and lack of parking.  I basically drove the car around…and around…and around… while Tom got out and got his prized pictures!   Voila!

 

Thankfully Lou looks content and at home in Paterson!  Tires screeching furiously, we took off to Clifton, New Jersey to Rutt’s Hut for some hot dogs (called “rippers”) and french fries.  I, of course got french fries and gravy, because I’m Canadian!  Funny story, when Tom first came to visit Canada, we were out for dinner with my sister and brother-in-law.  The waitress asked Tom if he wanted gravy with his fries and he just sat there staring blankly.  I was about to nudge him and say “Tom!  Do you want gravy on your fries?!?!?!”  when suddenly my sister said “Oh that’s right!  You guys don’t usually put gravy on your fries in the States!”  I had no idea up to that point!  After visiting the States for my entire life, I hadn’t made that realization!  Another funny story about fries and gravy.  Once I was at a diner in NY near our house and I asked for some gravy on the side with my fries and the waitress brought out marinara sauce, which I know that some people call “gravy” around here.  LOL.  OK, that’s all of the “funny” fries and gravy stories I have for you guys, try not to be too disappointed!  🙂

Rutt’s Hut is something of a northern New Jersey institution and has been around in some way, shape or form since 1928.  Tom’s dad used to work in Clifton and I can imagine that he would have come to this place every now and then for a lunch break.  It’s charmingly old school and everyone in the place, staff and patrons are most friendly.  Their hot dogs are called “rippers” because they are deep fried and this causes the casing on the weiners to rip.  And hot damn!  They serve fries and gravy!!!!!  One thing though, it’s a cash-only establishment WITHOUT AN ATM ANYWHERE IN THE NEARBY VICINITY.  So bring cash, if you go.  All I’ll say is that we learned this the hard way and ended up in typical Jersey construction congestion, just to get some freaking cash!  I’ll describe this lunch in one word:  yum!

With our stomachs full of delicious rippers, fries and gravy, we were on our way to Montclair, New Jersey to see the birthplace of Buzz Aldrin!  We have all of the Neil Armstrong monuments from our Summer 2011 road trip so why not Buzz?  We pulled up to a quiet, posh neighbourhood with beautifully manicured lawns, grabbed a shot or two, and took off!   Nice place!

 

We are huge macaron fans and wanted to pick some up at a bakery in Montclair that was supposed to have them.  Unfortunately our GPS led us to a very foo foo shi shi downtown area that was just exploding with pedestrians and parked cars.  The verdict?  Forget about it!!!  We left macaronless (oh the horror!) and headed toward our hotel in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.  Our hotel was a bit strange in that it was attached to another hotel and in order to get to our room we had to check in through the *other* hotel and walk through this crazy series of maze-like hallways.  Not the most intuitive thing, but you get what you pay for and we paid $50 on Priceline!  lol.

We had to actually *reserve* a time to go to the Christmas gardens so we had about a half hour to chill in the hotel room before we made our way to Longwood Gardens.  Wow.  Just wow.  The beauty of this place literally took our breath away.  It was also stupid crowded, but people were pretty polite and respectful.  Every square inch of that place appeared to be very thoughtfully placed.  It was unbelievable.  I have no words, you just have to see it for yourself!

I told you it was beautiful!!!  🙂  Of course this now means that we want to go back this spring…and again at Christmas, in addition to Yankee Candle Factory, which we kinda missed, despite the stunning beauty of Longwood Gardens.  That’s what you get when you go on adventures!  After a few brisk and chilly hours of going indoors and outdoors, we were pretty tired and hungry so we stopped at Gino’s for supper.  Apparently Gino’s was quite a Pennsylvania fast food institution in the 60s and 70s.  Sadly all of the restaurants eventually closed and only recently did they bring one Gino’s back for nostalgia’s sake.  It was very tasty, everything a fast food joint should be!  We’ll be back!

The next morning when we woke up, Tom decided to give his new Kindle Fire  a try.  He downloaded a book about Joey Ramone and curled up happily with his new toy!

Is this the end of the adventure?  Oh no!  I wish I could say that it was!  OK, so after we checked out of our hotel, we headed to nearby Phoenixville, Pennsylvania to see the original theatre that was a major part of the 1958 film entitled “The Blob.”  Tom and I are both huge fans of these types of movies, so this would be pop culture gold for us!  It did not disappoint!

Uh oh!  Watch out, Tom!  🙂

We really liked Phoenixville.  It reminded us a little of the city where we live.  It appeared to be an old industrial city that had become down on its luck and was currently going through a renaissance with artsy shops and charming eateries popping up on the main street.  The people were really friendly as well.  We were informed that every year the townspeople build a great big phoenix out of wood and then burn it down in a huge city-wide celebration.  They were going to be burning their current phoenix on the following weekend and encouraged us to come back for the celebration.  Unfortunately we were too busy to attend.  Bummer!  We’ll have to catch it some other time!  Here’s the phoenix!  Cool, eh?

So next we decided to drive to Frackville, Pennsylvania to grab some lunch when, uh-oh!  We hit a fork in the road!

After choosing the proper tine of the fork, we were on our way to Frackville.  Whew!  Check out the wonderful retro-ness of the Dutch Kitchen!

Below you see our late lunches:  I had turkey croquettes and mashed potatoes and Tom had a roast beef dinner.  For dessert we split a piece of shoofly pie, because that’s a local specialty.  The lunches were spectacular, the bread they gave us was out of this world!  The shoofly pie tasted like black licorice.  If you like black licorice then I’m sure you’d love this pie, but if you’re like me and don’t then…well…you know!  I’m a pie-maker and this was a very well-made pie.  Next time we’re in the area, I’ll try a different pie, like apple!  🙂

Our next mission was to go almost next door and get a picture of this creepy statue that was in front of a now-closed creepy hotel.  We’re talking broken shutters and a snarling dog chained to a chainlink fence kind of creepy.  The statue is of a pioneer woman and her child, but they both look very strange, hence an unofficial nickname of “Granny and tranny.”  LOL.  I love it!  Apparently this statue is occasionally painted all sorts of strange and garish colours.  Go figure!

You would think that it would be easy to get *right next door* to this hotel, eh?  Errrr, not so much!  They were situated on a busy road with a concrete divider, so we had to take this crazy roundabout way to get there, and then of course our GPS was leading us on all sorts of non-roads and former roads.  Kinda scary!  There was a chainlink fence around the whole place and a scary woman was wandering around on the property, so we weren’t going to fool around here.  Tom took the prized shot of Granny and tranny and BAM!  We were off!

This is the part of the adventure where our energy was flailing!  We drove for quite some time and were becoming rather caffeine deprived and I was getting irritated because the bright sun was right in my eyes.  Even with a GPS, driving on unexplored territory requires good concentration and we were starting to get tired and slightly cranky!  At one point I even drove over a concrete barrier, which then caused us to worry about the car.  Yowsers!  Our spirits were lifted once we found the Joe Palooka monument on what was called “Palooka Mountain” and then we finally found a gas station where we could caffeinate!  We take our caffeine consumption very seriously!  🙂  It was then that we realized that we were hitting the “Pennsyltucky” part of the state!

Guns and alcohol in the woods!  A charming combination!  LOL.  Uplifted by both caffeine and the discovery of the Palooka monument, we spent the next hour or so driving up a narrow, steep uphill, corkscrewy road looking for a hidden concrete village of houses and buildings that has been abandoned since 1924 and remains in the woods.  Unfortunately, I left off a key point in how to find the place, and it was starting to get dark so our search was unsuccessful!  I have to tell you that the little town we passed through was ultra-creepy.  The kids playing on the street even gave me the creeps!  Then the piece de resistance:  an old lady was running her lawnmower *on the paved road*!!!!!  Someone else online talks about looking for the concrete village and encountering a “camo’d guy blasting Paul McCartney’s ‘Silly Love Songs’ from his ATV” and after that everything got weird…all the way up to his car not working when they returned to where it was parked.  This place sounds totally creepy and weird!  Therefore we’ll have to go back some time soon!  There’s so much more that I *need* to explore in Pennsylvania!

But we’re still not done!  🙂  Next stop?  Scranton, Pennsylvania!  We had to see the bust of Jason Miller, who was the priest in the movie “The Exorcist.”  Apparently his ashes are sealed in the bust’s head!  Crazy!  After that, we had one more stop!  We had to see a seafood restaurant that was shaped like a pirate’s ship!

Whew!  Then we drove home!  What a fun weekend we had!  So I conclude this very longwinded blog (shows me for taking a six-month hiatus from it!) with two random pictures.  The first one shows our car illegally parked…all to get the perfect picture.  What can I say?  We’re badasses!  🙂  The second picture is one that I found hilarious.  We were driving on a pitch black, empty road when suddenly I saw a lit up sign ahead!  For what?  Serenity Massage, of course!  What a perfect place for a massage!  Some random creepy road!  That sounds legit, doesn’t it, folks!  🙂

OK, more on our extremely backlogged adventures very soon!  I promise!  🙂

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