Friday, August 29, 2008

Sharon, PA

Last week, I took a trip to Sharon (PA) for training. This city in North-West PA (a 6-hour drive from Philadelphia) is a real authentic old-American town that never left the ´70s: a huge difference compared to the East Coast metropolitan cities. Although I wasn’t sure what to expect from this area in the middle of nowhere, I had some interesting new experiences in this local community!

After crossing Amish Country in PA, we arrived in Sharon on Sunday evening. No decent restaurant in Sharon was open, except for the McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and the Applebee´s. On Monday, we noticed the difference with the real world: houses with 41 acres for $ 150.000, and many stores were ‘the largest in the US’ (the largest shoe store, the largest candy store… yeah right).

After our daily training session we had dinner in the Hickory Bar & Grill, a local restaurant with a lot of meat dishes but the only vegetables were salads. (Later that week, I found out that vegetables were not invited yet in this area.) After dinner we arrived in a local bar, with a few bar chairs and three tables, and one-dollar drafts. And it is still (somehow) allowed to smoke in there.

Tuesday was the best day of the week. After training we went to ‘Quaker Steak & Loop’ (nickname: Best Wings USA). Why Tuesday? Because they have ´all you can eat chicken wings’ from a buffet! The menu of chicken wings contains 19 different types with varying heat levels. The SHU values (Scoville Heat Unit, which stands for the units of water that it takes to lose all the heat traces) were on the menu. The most extreme wing is the Atomic, but before you eat it you have to sign a release form! The side dish is fried onion rings, served on a car antenna. I had enough after a few Buffalo wings and many BBQ Honey wings (yes, they were good). And, I added a nice t-shirt to my collection; see the picture below (especially the back)!

Via ‘depression road’, a road filled with closed factories where no one ever comes, the trip continued towards ´The Last Lap´. This bar was, like almost everything in Sharon, all about Nascar Races (even though the closest race track is hours away). As soon as the 11 of us walked into this bar we heard someone say ‘that happens once every few years!’ (a few strangers walking in). My colleague Mark was playing 60´s and 70´s hits on the Jukebox, which made it easy to make friends in this awesome bar. Unique detail: the liquor bottles contained the prices of a drink, making it easy for the bartender to remember.

Wednesday, we visited a nice Italian place (although I still prefer genuine Italian sauce) and Thursday was definitely time to go home…



Sunday, August 24, 2008

The great American outdoors

I enjoyed the great American outdoors the last few weeks. Since I love the summertime, and there are plenty of hills around Philly, it was time to check out the nature side of the East Coast!

I made a few bike tours in <Fairmount Park, a gigantic park just outside of Philadelphia´s center city. Here, you will see the Boathouse Row (with nice lights - like christmas, but they have it on every night), jogging- and biking paths, many monuments, and Wissahickon Creek (or Forbidden Drive): a great mountainbike path next to the river.

Moreover, I did a kayak tour on the Brandywine River, at the Pennsylvania - Delaware border, in a bright orange kayak. Pictures are below!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

King of Prussia Mall

One of the most popular things to do in the US in your free time, is going to a shopping mall. The King of Prussia mall, the largest shopping center on the East Coast, is only a 20 minute drive from Philadelphia's center city. Last Saturday I took a trip down there to see why everyone is so impressed by this mall!

You park your car on a huge parking lot, where you get a cold feeling - all you see is a lot of asphalt and an enourmous ugly brick building. However, take a step into this building, and you'll notice a big difference!

With more than 400 stores, 13.000 parking spots, a theater with 16 cinema´s (including IMAX), two Starbucks, and a tennisstadium, this complex is huge - even for America! When you enter the building, the first thing you get is a map of the complex, and there is a guy in a suit telling you where you can spend your money. Big stores from Macy's, Bloomingdale's and JC Penny's are there, as well as smaller stores like Armani and Hugo Boss. Non-clothing stores are also available: FYE, Sunglass Hut, Radioshack, Borders, Bodyshop... Anything you need. After you've been walking around there for a while you understand why many people in the US max out their credit cards.

After a few hours of shopping, you'll get hungry. It would not be America if someone didn't think of that: three big foud courts host dozens of restaurants, many of which are fast food chains. This was my opportunity to check out the Cheesecake factory: a nice meal combined with a superior cheesecake dessert! The Dutchies should be jealous of this concept!!

Before I knew it, I was shopping for many hours... Time to drive home (with a Starbucks Frappucinno)!

Saturday, August 2, 2008


The US is a country of extremes. Everything is big, much, and far. The climate in this country definitely fits in this description: six months ago, I could not stay outside for more than 5 minutes because of the cold. However, between May and September, it is so hot that you go from airco to airco... Moreover, it can change any minute to extreme thunderstorms with a lot of rain, flooding basements and roads.

Other parts of America are even more extreme. In the South-East, you will allways be affraid of the tornado season. The north has a combination of low temperatures and wind which makes it impossible to even walk outside. And the South-West is a major earthquake target.

I took this picture from my apartment last week: