Visitors to the bustling business and cultural
center of the US State of Pennsylvania - Philadelphia - have a treat in store for them. Regarded as America's most diverse destination, the city's attractive architecture and historic origins blends superbly with the scenic countryside beyond its borders, resulting in an enjoyable overall holiday.
From New York it's just a short journey using Amtrak's fast train service from Penn Station to either Philadelphia's 30th Street or Central stations. Or, you could look at flying direct to Philadelphia on British Airways from London stopping over there en route from South Africa or fly SAA to Atlanta and a connecting flight, later.
At least a two-day stay is recommended to explore the city before hiring a car and driving to Valley Forge and Bucks County. Most car hire companies are based at the international airport. Useful web sites, I found, were are
www.libertynet.com for Philadelphia,
www.bctc.org for Bucks County and www.valleyforge.org
for Valley Forge
You can get to know historic Philadelphia well on foot or take a regular city bus tour, if you prefer. There is a wide selection of restaurants and a novel medical walking tour has
recently been launched. Early evenings, the Liberty Lights attraction - sound and light - is a "must".
Valley Forge is less that two hours' drive from Washington, DC and 40 minutes from the Philadelphia International Airport. It is an area of natural beauty where fishing, horse-back riding , hiking and bird-watching can be pursued.
Immaculately maintained historic homes such as Mill Grove, first American home of John James Audobon, and Waynesborough, the ancestral home of General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, are open to the public for viewing.
There is a National Historical Park where George Washington and his troops spent a bitter winter of 1777-78 training for battles which ultimately turned the Revolutionary War around.
Joggers, cyclists and walkers frequent this area now and in the surrounds of the 3,600 acres of parkland, and beyond, are historically significant sites, a plethora of museums and 34 estate gardens.
To the southwest is Brandywine Valley and the popular Brandywine River Museum - a Civil War-era grist mill converted into a modern museum - and a restaurant with a river view. This tranquil
neighborhood is home to Longwood Gardens and a museum and homestead of the the world-renowned Wyeth family of artists.
Mill Grove, both a museum and wildlife sanctuary, is a living memorial to John James Audobon, a
talented artist who attempted to draw all of the birds in America, life-size.
While living in the house, he invented a simple "wire armature" to "hold" the freshly-shot birds in life-like positions, enabling him to recapture them more easily in his
Since 1953, more than 180 species of birds have been sighted at the Audobon Wildlife Sanctuary, but several only sighted once.
The 30-acre Chanticleer Gardens is devoted to the art and science of horticulture. Not far off is Skippack Village, an important stop on the rural trolley route of the 1900's, now housing 70 antique shops.
An intriguing attraction is the Wharton Esherick Studio museum which has 200 of the late artist's paintings, woodcuts and sculptures on display. The building - itself a fascinating work of art - is one which Esherick spent 40 years enlarging.
Delightful places to dine are spread throughout the region, with shopping malls and various stores in abundance.
An hourly limousine service is offered from the airport to Valley Forge hotels and major car rental agencies.
A drive through the picture postcard Bucks County takes you to green pastures, rivers, covered bridges, romantic inns, art galleries and shops selling specialty collectibles. Two of the most interesting towns are New Hope and Doylestown.
New Hope is where renowned author, Pearl S. Buck once resided. She died in 1973 and her home is now open for viewing. Interestingly, she was the first American woman to win the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes.
From this town, you can take a leisurely trip aboard a mule-drawn canal boat, experiencing life as it was in the 1800's
www.canalboats.com. Also, taste some of Pennsylvania's award-winning wines at the local winery. Odette's is a pleasant place for lunch, afterwards to meander through antique shops in the main street.
Peddler's Village is a few kilometers away in Lahaska, where I stayed for two nights. It is surrounded by gardens, restaurants and a host of quaint country shops
Doylestown is where you'll find the James A. Michener Art Museum www.michenerartmuseum.org. nestled inside a reconstructed building that was once Bucks County's prison.
Almost opposite are the unmissable, towering concrete castle houses of the Mercer Museum, containing collections of folk art, furnishings and implements of early America
Henry Mercer erected the buildings with the help of unskilled laborers - an incredible achievement in his time.
Further down the road is the amazing Fonthill Museum, his home where he amassed countless world treasures on his travels which are now on view
Bucks County is about an hour's drive from the Philadelphia International Airport.
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