Thursday, 8 September 2016

Road Trip: Toronto to New York City to Philadelphia

Every year, as the short summer dwindles down, I end up asking myself: "Did I make the most of it?" Last summer, I didn't do as much as I had hoped, and that left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. So this year I was hell-bent on crossing a few things off of my bucket list. One of those things was making the most of a long weekend by tearing out on an adventurous road trip. 

Challenge accepted. Next stop: New York City and Philadelphia, PA. 

I had forgotten how much fun it was to plan a trip like this. From the moment I booked the first hotel I had a month and a half, which meant a month and a half of scouting different routes; a month and a half to check out where we should stop for the night on our way to New York City; and a month and a half to dream about the Ford Flex Limited that Ford Canada was going to lend me for the trip (what colour will it be!?). Needless to say, I was pumped.


The month and a half countdown had counted down and the day was here. Terrina, her son Caiden and I (Chris, if we haven't already been introduced) were loading up our beautiful blue Ford Flex Limited. In true fashion, Terrina was busy rearranging the way I had packed the car, and I was busy arguing with Caiden about whose packing method was better. Caiden was shocked when he found out the Flex had a regular household outlet for powering his doodads (no car charger needed)! We passed the time in heavy traffic Instagram-ing shots of us flexing our muscles in the Flex while singing along to our favourite songs on the radio.


When we finally broke free of the traffic I opened up the 365 horsepower 3.5L EcoBoost (cue the Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor ape grunt) just a little as we headed south to the border. I soon found out that the Ford Flex Limited and myself had a lot in common - we are both ruggedly handsome, have strong hearts, are surprisingly techy, and, most importantly, we are both beautiful on the inside. 

We stopped for gas twice along the way; once because we needed it and the other to fill up on the gloriously cheap New Jersey gasoline. We drove 760 kilometers right through the Holland Tunnel to the front door of the Marriott on West Street in Manhattan. I handed over the keys to the Flex and we checked in. 

TIP: Staying in Manhattan can be expensive but if you want to see a number of sights during a short stay, then you need to be in the middle of the action.

After a quick rest we headed out to explore - umbrellas drawn. The first thing that stuck out was One World Trade Center and the Oculus, which according to the locals happens to be a "very expensive train station."


Walking in and around Manhattan we stumbled upon St. Paul's Chapel. What caught my eye first was the graveyard just past the gate with a long wavy path. I went in first, pulling away from the shelter of the umbrella as big drops of rain started falling off of the tree, totally messing up my hair. Along the path there were a couple signs explaining the history of the chapel and how much adversity it had faced throughout its many years.


We had a quick visit with the FDNY Ten House squad and then walked across the street towards the World Trade Center memorial pools. It was raining a bit harder now, I knew it was going to be tough to get a good picture so I hung back under the shelter of a small tree. At that moment, two people I love very much created the perfect shot for me.


Just outside our hotel we found ourselves in the historic and scenic Battery Park. From there we walked towards the pier and found ourselves gazing on the fairest lady of them all. The Statue of Liberty had just lit up, almost as if she knew we were coming. 


After the excitement of seeing the fair lady we decided to tour the city in our Ford Flex. We hopped in and with the help of the GPS were able to see Central Park, Times Square and the Empire State Building, along with a few more familiar sights in short order.  It was a great way to finish off the day.


The next morning I woke up with a plan to cross two major items off of my travel bucket list. The first: experiencing the 9/11 Memorial Museum. 

Have you ever heard of flashbulb memory? Its when you are able to remember exactly what you were doing when a life changing event occurs. September 11, 2001 was definitely one of those days. 


I was 18 and sleeping when the first plane hit. My dad woke me up and turned on my TV and from that point on I was glued to it. I recall watching the second plane hit; it felt like the world had stopped turning.

The museum's atmosphere resembles a mixture between a library and a funeral home. We realized that there is still a lot of hurt buried deep down from that very dark day. We held each others' hands a little tighter after every exhibit and I swore that someone was cutting onions nearby, because my eyes got a little watery at times. It must happen often to the patrons of the museum, because there are Kleenex boxes at most of the exhibits. When I had researched the museum on the line, it had said it should take about two and a half hours to see everything. We spent four and a half hours soaking everything in like a sponge. 



After we finished up at the museum we grabbed a quick bite to eat and started driving. We were on a mission to get to Philadelphia, where the Fresh Prince used to spend most of his days. We were determined to make it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in order to cross the second bucket list item off: *trumpets playing* the Rocky Steps! 

We pulled off of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and into a free parking spot, Philadelphia Freedom indeed. The situation got very serious after we posed with the Rocky statue. Caiden had challenged me to a racing duel up the very popular steps (perfect activity for a 34 degree day). I used my Usain Bolt-type speed to dominate the race and make it to the top victorious. I danced around and threw punches into the air repeating "I am the greatest" over and over much to the dismay of my opponent, who I saw as a much smaller Apollo Creed. After my celebration at the top was over (and yes, that did take awhile) we celebrated a bit more with an ice cream and hopped back into the car to find our hotel.



We stayed at the Loews Philadelphia. It was lovely with very friendly and helpful staff and a heck of a view, if you ask me. 




The next day we were going on a free tour of Independence Hall and visiting the Liberty Bell, the real "belle of the ball." We had wanted to see both of these attractions when we were in Philly last September to see Papa Fracessca, AKA the Pope, but the entire city was shut down for the occasion.




As for the tour, it wasn't very long but it was full of rich history and the odd chuckle. Certainly worth every penny of the "free" price tag. Also, if you answer a history question right you get a free trading card. Caiden caught on quickly and collected a good stack. 




Before leaving Philadelphia I had to do one last thing: mow down on an authentic Philly cheese steak sandwich with mustard, provolone and mushrooms. You know it was good. 




We left that day with a feeling of accomplishment. I felt like we made the absolute most of our long weekend and we had made some amazing memories together. Road trips are good for the soul. 

About the Author

Chris Williams is the founder and creator of Real Man Travels. Connect with Chris on Twitter.

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