Overland Expo to TBEX: Philadelphia Blitz

Although you may have noticed this already, let me set the record straight before I share the next few adventures on the Overland Expo to TBEX expedition. I’m an outdoor travel chick. End of story. My wheelhouse is camping, day-hikes, geocaching… that sort of thing.

The open air Dragon Lot in Philadelphia saved us from the no-way-to-park fate we suffered in New York.

However, in order to fulfill some of Fred and George’s travel desires, as well as embrace certain historical education elements, this particular trip had a much larger component of urban adventures than I’m used to.

This is not my strength. It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg scenario… I’m not sure if I don’t like urban travel because I’m not good at it or I’m not good at it because I don’t like it.

So with that preface, when I last left you in the tales of our expedition, we exited Rhode Island with our sights on Philadelphia.

Will brake for PEZ…

For a change, we handled our no-state-left-behind geocaching policy with adeptness, nabbing a Connecticut smiley early and without difficulty. With that goal behind us, we pushed towards Philadelphia… but you can only pass so many PEZ factory signs before your adolescent travel-mates insist on a detour. Given their love of PEZ (George even had a PEZ-themed birthday once…), I indulged the request.

Check out these gems from PEZ history.

Unlike the Ben & Jerry’s stop we made in Vermont, there isn’t a tour to be had here. It’s really just a visitor center but you can peek through the windows to see the factory happenings. For the most part, it’s a chance to view vintage PEZ paraphernalia. As much as this is not my scene, I’ll admit it was oddly appealing, but in a “Huh, go figure…” kind of way.

While this stop wasn’t exactly a life-changing experience, the collection of dispensers and the history of the candy is interesting. It’s also a great conversation trigger for discussion of consumerism and manufactured demand via the appeal of limited edition and collector’s items. Yes, we get into discussions about these things. It was also a nice break from the car and we even scored another geocaching smiley from the effort.

If you happen to find yourself in Connecticut and you’re planning on stopping by, here’s some extra tidbits for your visit:

  • They do charge an small admission fee but it comes with a discount on a purchase… so be prepared for the pressure to buy something.
  • You don’t need much time here so it can be a fairly quick point-of-interest stop that won’t cramp your travel too much.
  • They do have indoor and outdoor seating so it’s actually quite a good place to take a road trip lunch-break.
For the love of PEZ… 😛
Seriously… there are Mr. Bean PEZ dispensers out there. Go fig.

Just a few more stops…

Even though our goal for the night was Philadelphia, there were a few other matters to handle along the way. First was an attempt to just see the Statue of Liberty. George had a burning desire to lay eyes on it even if we didn’t go out to the island and the whole bit. I was very up front with him about my limited patience and ability to deal with New York City so he agreed to a drive-by viewing. I wish I could say this went smoothly. It did not.

Fred. Cooked.

I made the fatal error of trying to get him close by going through Battery Park instead of from Liberty State Park on the New Jersey side. Seriously, I don’t know what I was thinking. It was a colossally stupid move.

With her roof box, Blubaru would not fit in most parking decks and the heavy construction in the Battery Park area meant we could barely even see the statue as we drove around in search of a place to stash the car.

After a valiant and time-consuming effort… and maybe more than a few strong words with a parking deck attendant about whether or not my car would make the posted clearance in the parking garage, we gave up. It was getting late and I’d exhausted our options for parking. I was so mentally cooked by this time, I couldn’t fathom trying to salvage the visit by getting over to Liberty State Park for a better view.

Road-weary George.

So we proceeded with the torture of trying to get back onto the interstate to resume our progress towards Philadelphia. We nudged our way out of the city in the throes in rush hour traffic of course, because I couldn’t have timed it better if I’d tried. We did mange to catch a distant view of the statue from one of the bridges as we crawled along. That was enough for George. He understood that navigating New York City by car is not the way to do go but that we gave it a go. In a way, it was a valuable experience because I tried to warn him of the chaos we’d be in for in the attempt. Seeing it in person was an eye-opener for him.

Once we broke free of the traffic, we still had the matter of grabbing a New Jersey geocache on our way to Philadelphia. Not only was I entirely grateful for an easy Rest Area hide, it turned out to be quite interesting and highlighted an adjacent swamp. The opportunity for unexpected discovery is one of the many reasons I love geocaching but when there’s an impromptu educational experience as well, that’s where the rubber hits the road. (You can’t see me but I’m waving my geocaching pom-poms…)

First Impressions…

It was nearing dusk by the time we finally arrived at our hotel in Philadelphia. After a little respite to get checked in and gather our wits, we set out to see the flags lining Benjamin Franklin Parkway. George was beside himself in geography glory, challenging me to identify the flags and me only doing a passable job at it.

Philadelphia was impressively photogenic.

Getting out to walk and explore felt refreshing after a trying day in the car. It was peaceful and invigorating as we marveled at the enormous sycamores that lined the street. With a multitude of points of interest, there was no shortage of sights to take in and I was blown away by the relaxed, park-like feel even as we strolled next to a six-lane road. Well done, Philly.

After our walk, we headed to the Kite & Key, a pub just a short way from our hotel. I fancied a pint, something I’d not had in awhile being the sole responsible adult on our trip. The kids were up for some fish and chips and I was looking forward to a leisurely dinner with them. It was dark by the time we arrived and packed with hipsters.

After our long day, and being quite sensitive about loud, crowded places in general, Fred was immediately on edge. But given the late hour and my lack of familiarity with the area I pushed him to stick it out so we didn’t end up on a wild goose chase just to get dinner. He made it but he was utterly cooked. Our perceptive server made sure we got the check quickly so we could be on our way in short order.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway was inviting and delightful… and even included a geography lesson.

Independence Hall…

After a good night’s sleep we were ready to get a dose of Philadelphia’s history and sights. Like our time in Boston, we had to pick just a few things to see knowing we were missing a lot of good stuff but that’s how it goes. With the constraint of budget, the boys getting overfull from history, and my inability to tolerate urban travel, we had to hit the high points and move on.

Independence Hall on a clear-sky day

Of course we needed to visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Those are no-brainers for a first visit to Philadelphia. Yet again, we found ourselves struggling with parking. It’s not like the car is a monstrous vehicle even with her roof box, but these big-city environs are simply not friendly to anything remotely outside of mainstream. After some initial trouble, we found an open-air lot. It was quite a relief since it was beginning to feel like another New York-type fiasco was upon us.

The line for the bell was not horrendous but it did require a little bit of wait. The inviting green next to the building was most fortunate as I sent Fred and George to frolic while I held our place in line to see the famous bell. Not that there isn’t plenty to see in the Liberty Bell exhibit in addition to the bell but Fred, ever the comedian, quipped “All this just to see a broken bell?” Spoken like a true teenager, no?

The boys were able to roam while I stood in line for the Liberty Bell. This was very helpful…

Having secured our tickets for the Independence Hall tour before visiting the bell (which you’ll want to do very early in heavier visitation times, by the way), we made our way to the entrance to navigate security and whatnot. Rather than retread basic tourist info about Independence Hall that can be found in countless other places online, I will simply say I was pleased with making this one of our Philadelphia priorities. It’s a worthwhile and stirring experience to stand in the places where the drama of our country’s genesis unfolded. Yes, I’m a history nerd, what can I say?

With me gushing over how cool it was to visit Independence Hall, Fred and George refused to be impressed until I dealt with the hunger-factor that had reared it’s head. So we popped across the street to the Red Owl Tavern for lunch. About as far as I will go into food review mode is that this place was really yummy, great ambiance, excellent service. If you find yourself in need of an excellent place to eat while visiting, this is it. There, done. 🙂

The “Broken Bell” as Fred puts it.
The Signer
Historic courtroom in Independence Hall
After hitting the wall the night before, George was refreshed and ready to explore.
I’ve used restaurant tic-tac-toe to keep the kids entertained for years. This time George used his nerdiness to add his own twist by creating Probability Tic-tac-toe.


The Independence Hall area has a lot to offer within a short walk. After most of our day spent at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, we opted to fill the remainder of our time by visiting Ben Franklin’s grave. There was a geocache smiley to be had and, let’s face it, Ben’s the dude. You’ve got to take a moment to give a bow to an amazing life.

There are many other notable figures in this cemetery to consider as well. It’s a lovely, peaceful walk through the grounds that will give you a little bit of a nature break within the hustle-and-bustle of the city.

Ben’s grave
Christ Church Burial Ground is full of the historic figures that helped shape our country.
Worn headstones at Christ Church Burial Grounds

Moving on…

And nearly as fast as we came into Philadelphia, we left. It was time to head to Maryland and some actual camping. Something I know how to do well…

And now for your moment of green…

A cool, green respite in the bustle of Philadelphia…


  1. Quite the whirlwind of travel sightseeing challenges there! I can sympathize… Nice job working through them and seeing some neat history.

    1. Yeah, we saw a lot of great stuff but it was a big, very full trip. We were run a bit ragged. Don’t think I’ll try that again… :-/

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