Philadelphia to Toronto Road Trip
This was a rambling road trip that began in Philadelphia, followed by Gettysburg, then Niagara Falls, and on up through Canada to Toronto.
We picked up the rental car in the Philadelphia airport only to get stuck in downtown traffic coiling itself around the ornate City Hall. We had picked the Courtyard Marriott for its historic 1926 era charm and its proximity to downtown, not really considering the inherent traffic issues.
Although it took a while, we scored a reservation at the wildly popular Talula’s Garden. A short walk later and there it was–a vine ensconced hideaway with cozy tables tucked into every corner of the courtyard. Our table was inside the multi-tiered restaurant, giving us a sense of dining in someone’s living room.
We ordered the “Taste of the World” cheese plate, which was as extravagant as it sounds, followed by some rich mushroom cannelloni and cavatappi with short rib and tomato confit. In a word? Yum. Too full to order a dessert, they gave us a complimentary salted caramel and dark chocolate to close out the meal.
The rain clouds were beginning to gather as we walked the slight incline to the National Constitution Center. We started our visit in the impressive “Signer’s Hall” which is filled with 46 life size bronze statues of the Founding Fathers present at that historic moment of the signing on September 17, 1787.
We could have spent the entire day at the museum–so much to see and do–but we forged on through the sprinkling rain across the green to Independence Hall. Although we had already purchased our tickets, we still had to wait in the snail pace of a security line snaking its way around the red brick building.
Once inside the inner courtyard, we sat on a park bench under the natural umbrella of a sprawling tree, listening to a curmudgeonly security guard shout out the next tour times. The tour is a must if only for the moment when you stand in the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed all those years ago. Knowingly committing an act of treason couldn’t have been an easy decision. I think Ben Franklin said it best: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Our walk through history had worked up an appetite, and the best place to solve that problem was at the food halls of Reading Terminal Market.
We zigzagged our way though the maze of merchants selling cheese, meats, fish, herbs, flowers, produce, bread, each offering its own unique scent mingling with the next as we shuffled along with the rest of the throng. Molly Malloy’s was our final stop–vinegar fries with garlic aioli and a couple of Hefeweizens.
That evening we ubered through the gray drizzling rain to the Chart House Restaurant on the harbor. We had wanted dinner with a view, and while the restaurant does have spectacular views of the Delaware River, the rain had dimmed it slightly. Nothing, however, dimmed the taste of the ahi tuna appetizer and succulent entrees of grouper and flounder.
Gettysburg. The drive felt long although it took us through quaint towns along the fringes of Lancaster County.
As we rolled down the main street of Gettysburg, we were struck by its small town charm. Our lodging, The Brick House Inn B&B, was located just a few blocks from the town square with a stone pathway leading you through a quiet garden, past a coy pond with a few lazy fish gliding about, then onto a wrap-around porch lined with rocking chairs. We rang the bell as we stood in the chill then were invited in by Tessa, one of the innkeepers.
We were given the “New York” bedroom on the third floor: a large room with a bureau, desk, en suite bathroom with tub and shower, and settee in the bay window. A light mist was falling as we geared up for a walk into the town. Most of the shops were closed but historical markers along the streets made for an informative walk as we read about the houses being occupied and used as sniper posts, and, of course, the plentiful plaques indicating that Abraham Lincoln passed this spot on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address. In the main square, we tasted cider in Jack Winery’s Tasting Room and even bought a six pack of our favorite, the refreshingly crisp Apple.
For dinner, we decided to avoid the obvious choices in the square and walked down the street to an Irish Pub, GarryOwen. From the Magner’s and Irish whiskey in the bar to shepherd’s pie for dinner, the experience was excellent. We were peppered with cold rain during our walk back, but, back at the Inn, the coffee helped to melt the chill as we sat outside in the rocking chairs enjoying the rainy evening.
Not feeling very sleepy, I found a book called Ghosts of Gettysburg on the shelf downstairs and actually read the entire thing before falling asleep to the sound of the wind and the creaking of the old house. I was relieved that the stories weren’t too scary —more sad than anything else. Lost lives, lost loves, lost time.
Over french toast and coffee the next morning, we discussed the health benefits of going vegan with our fellow vacationers staying at the Inn. A stark contrast to what we would be talking about the rest of the day. Our first stop: the Civil War Visitor Center. A museum filled with extensive exhibits chronicling the war and the Battle of Gettysburg in detail. They even have a restored cyclorama depicting “Pickett’s Charge” created by Paul Philippoteaux in 1884. Weighing in at 12.5 tons, the 377 feet long and 42 foot high painting is a sight to behold.
Rather than join a group tour with a guide, we decided to explore the battlefield at our own pace using the auto tour option that guides you through each location in the order that the events took place. We started at McPherson Ridge where the battle began around 8:00am. The fields were wide, open, and green–completely ordinary except for the gray monuments dotted here and there, rising up from the grass, reaching to the blue sky. Without them, you would never have suspected that anything violent could have ever happened in such a peaceful place.
At Seminary Ridge, we saw the memorials to North Carolina and Virginia as we gazed out across the fields where Pickett led his now infamous charge of 12,000 men on that final, fateful day.
On we went, through Little Roundtop and to places with names that defied the horrors of war like The Wheatfield, where over 4,000 had lain dead or wounded, to Peach Orchard, where Federal cannon had once shattered the day, to Plum Run, Spangler’s Spring–such soothing, melodious names, forever haunted by those thousands who died on that ground, by those who lay bleeding on the warm grass.
Our tour fittingly ended on Cemetery Hill at “The Angle” where the battle ended and what many believe was the turning point of the war. The Battle of Gettysburg had begun on July 1st, 1863 and on July 4th Lee’s army began its retreat.
It was twilight by this time, a time of day I wouldn’t normally choose for a stroll through a cemetery, but it was something we felt we needed to do. A light rain started to fall but the numerous and large trees standing within the National Cemetery provided a canopy for us as we walked from grave marker to grave marker. It was a solemn, sobering end to the day with the final words of Lincoln’s address echoing through our minds: “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…and that government of the people…by the people…for the people..shall not perish from the earth.”
Starry, Starry Night
We left Gettysburg after breakfast on a quest to the unknown. Actually, it’s called Cherry Springs State Park, but no one in Gettysburg had ever heard of it.
We broke up the long drive north by braking for lunch at Skeeter’s Pit BBQ overlooking the Susquehanna River before stopping in the next town for supplies (air mattress, pillows, water, blanket, and a sleeping bag). The drive up the mountain was as long and winding as one might imagine, and the day was drawing closer to sunset by the time we picked up our remote control for our rented observatory. Hungry again, we stopped off in a town called Galeton and ate at a very local spot called Wonder Bar where it just so happened to be “Taco Tuesday.” Although the food was good and the staff was friendly, we didn’t linger.
Next stop, the Astronomy Field on top of the mountain. The circular white roly-poly-esque observatories quickly gave it away. There it was, our lodging for the evening.
Unfortunately, it took a long time to actually get dark. When it finally did, we saw lots of stars, a few shooting stars too–then came the moon like a big, bold, spotlight on the night, a prima donna stealing the stage and blocking out the chorus of stars. As the night grew colder, and we grew more uncomfortable, we decided that we had seen all that we could see, so we packed up our things, drove down the mountain, past the deer and cats that hovered near the road, then finally to the Marriott in the town of Oleon which thankfully had an available room.
After coffee and a quick breakfast, we found a Goodwill drop-off spot, donated all of our star-gazing gear, then drove the hour and a half to Buffalo, NY and on to Niagara. First stop: the American Falls.
The view was unbelievable. The mass. The roar. Little did I realize that this was nothing compared to what was to come.
We drove across Rainbow Bridge through the Canadian border and on to the Marriott Fallsview Resort and Spa, a beautiful hotel, and from our 18th-floor room, we had stunning views of both the Horseshoe and American Falls.
Dinner was at 8:00 at Skylon Tower . We normally don’t buy the tourist trap photos, but this we couldn’t pass up.
Up the glass elevators to the revolving restaurant, we quickly ordered champagne, warm bread, sea bass with hollandaise, and a bottle of 2009 Brunello. Fireworks and cheesecake punctuated the night.
The next morning we took the funicular down to the visitor center. Oddly enough, the most exciting part of the ride was when a spider decided to tap me on the shoulder.
At the fall’s edge, we stood at the corner curve, feeling the cool mist kiss our skin while we marveled at the mass of water gushing over, ton after ton.
Our next stop was the Maid of the Mist (Hornblower on the Canadian side) where we donned thin red ponchos, boarded the boat, and stationed ourselves on the front lower deck. I battened the hatches of my slicker, leaving only a small window for my sunglasses to peek through.
Ridiculous looking? Yes. But it definitely helped when the moment of truth came.
The mist from the American Falls wasn’t too bad. The “mist” at the base of the Horseshoe Falls? A blinding maelstrom of rain. We couldn’t even really see or hear anything through the whirling water and the roar of the falls. Freezing cold with soaked shoes, the boat finally turned around and went back.
We walked up and through the town which, unfortunately, matches the exact description of “tourist trap.” Cheap souvenir shops and corny entertainment filled each block which somehow seemed jarringly inappropriate considering the natural wonder and beauty of the falls.
After some hot coffee and a change of shoes, we drove the 30 minutes to Niagara-On-the Lake, a lovely place full of inns, shops, and restaurants.
The drive from Niagara to Toronto was another long one slowed by pockets of traffic. When we reached downtown, 3 sporting events were taking place that evening and throngs of people barred our way to the Delta Hotel . You would think with so many people at a game it wouldn’t be that difficult to get a reservation somewhere. Wrong. We finally scored one at Trattoria Taverniti, a tiny family-owned and operated authentic osteria on College St. The pasta was fresh, all the sauce house made, and it was the perfect way to end our long day.
After talking about visiting the markets, we opted instead for the Royal Ontario Museum Needing some food beforehand, K found the Museum Tavern Restaurant located just across the street. The food and drinks were unrivaled. Absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious. They use liquid nitrogen to freeze the glasses, so K’s barrel-aged old fashioned and my barrel-aged manhattan were super chilled and every bit as good as advertised. We paired the drinks with their raved-about burger and a should-be-raved about ahi tuna burger, and for dessert, K had a bourbon cocktail and I a whiskey flight. We left for the museum feeling perfectly full, perfectly numb, and perfectly happy.
After some deliberation, dinner that night ended up being at Reds Midtown Tavern, a half mile walk from our hotel. We were seated on the sidewalk patio amid a sprawl of greenery, and again, the food did not disappoint. We didn’t have a single bad dining experience while in Toronto. As a city, there were some disappointing areas, and the museum left a little to be desired, but the food (plus the people) never was.
When we walked back to our hotel that evening, we automatically turned into the lobby whiskey bar, Char No. 5 for one final night of tastings. K ordered an Old Fashioned, and I went in for the indulgent Char No 4, the creme de la creme of the bunch. Our friendly bartender was so nice and appreciated our appreciation of whiskey so much that he brought us 2 extra whiskeys to taste as well, on the house. Still not ready to go upstairs because we both knew it meant the end of our journey, we ordered the Char No 3 to finish out the night.
The next morning, we ended the trip as we began–in a Delta Skyclub.