exerpts from a travel journal: i lost my heart in… new jersey?!;

It’s probably fair to decree this US Week around these parts, as I have the better part of 300 photos and twenty pages of journal to share. I’ve had a fantastic week away, and one I hope you don’t mind me taking some time to relive. More photographs, as ever, on Flickr.

3rd September 2009
Philadelphia, PA

I still can’t believe I threw up on the plane.

Blame it on this ongoing exhaustion, which has made my bones ache for too long; maybe blame it on two cans of Coca-Cola in quick succession with that strange mutated corn syrup gloop they add to soft drinks over here. Whatever the reason, I touched down in Philadelphia with vomit on my face. My apologies to the gentleman in seat 6E, but thank you for being nice about it.

I hadn’t been nervous about this trip at all. As you will recall, my last flight out of Europe was something like 27 hours in length so I figured a short hop across the Atlantic was going to be a breeze. I know that I didn’t get enough sleep, but as I showed up at the airport extra early I was reassigned an emergency exit seat with a ridiculous amount of legroom. It felt like a good sign. It seemed that most of the flight were transferring on to Las Vegas, and the mood was buzzy. The food was pretty dreadful (a choice between the twin evils of cheese sauce and mashed potato), and there was a charge for the headsets you needed for the in-flight movie. $5 for some Sandra Bullock rom-com? Nae thanks. I figured I was fine with my book and my music, until my headache started to build and attempts at mile-high sleep failed as usual. I got by until our final descent though – admittedly the worst time I could have picked to fall ill.

It meant I had to face Immigration with a pale face, smudged eyeliner and damp patches where I’d had to sponge down my jeans. Airline travel on a European passport is generally hassle-free thanks to free movement between member states, so the stern faces of US Customs & Border Protection are their own kind of ordeal. I remember when I traveled to New York thinking I was smarter than the average, I wouldn’t have a problem… but even then, I didn’t tick some box-or-other and they sent me to the back of the line. In Philadelphia, still nauseous, I got the sharp end of somebody’s tongue when I stumbled into the wrong queue and then I struggled as a stony-faced official tried to trip me up on departure dates and profession. “So these friends – where did you meet them? Oh, the internet? Is this like a ‘relationship’?” I still managed to be the first to receive the magic stamp on my passport though, permitting me entry to the US and the welcoming arms of Rachelle Renee.

I’ve said before that it’s the little details that fascinate me. Tired as I was, I marveled at the road signs and billboards and listened as Rachelle and her mom tried to give me the tour. We took the interstate, and saw the Walt Whitman Bridge, and I was able to take my time to nap before we settled on a dinner plan.

A couple of hours in America and I was already two states down, as I was promised Cheesecake Factory across the river in New Jersey. With a name like that, the bacon cheeseburger the size of my FACE was only ever going to be a precursor to the glorious main event: a huge slab of chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake, to go, into a spectacular rose-coloured New Jersey sunset.

new jersey sunset

245. Cheesecake

* * *

Before I tell you how I lost my heart to Princeton, NJ, the beauty of the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware cannot be overstated. Dorinda, our uncomplaining taxi and tour guide for the day, was taking us the scenic route. First, a breakfast of leftover cheesecake and American gameshows. Twitter tells me there was once a UK version of Cash Cab – where do I start the campaign to bring it back?!

We drove out, via Newport and the River Road along the Delaware, to Washington Crossing – where George Washington and his troops crossed the river to fight the British at the Battle of Trenton. The commemorated crossing apparently took eight hours, which we found a little hard to get our heads around (not least because there was now a bridge just to the right of where we looked across to New Jersey through a haze of sunshine and trees).


The various little townships that make up the River Road are popular with commuters to New York or Philly. They’re a maze of wide porches, stop lights and stars and stripes. I leaned forward to get a picture of a yellow school bus, just like in the movies.

Princeton, and particularly its record store, were the day’s main attraction. The mystique of the “Ivy League”, and a beautiful little town full of boutique shops, just made me fall in love with the place – perhaps round about the time Rachelle found me a colouring sheet in Panera, where we had lunch, featuring alumnus David Duchovny.

Princeton Record Exchange is the sort of record shop we don’t really have in the UK anymore; rows and rows of CDs and vinyl, jazz nerds flicking through the stacks and scruffy-haired ten-year-olds picking up AC/DC albums for $2.99. You don’t need a list of my purchases, but they were many despite myself! We joked that I should buy a t-shirt, and somehow I ended up with both a free shirt and record bag courtesy of the store owner. Big love from this blogger!

Hanging wit’ my BFF outside J-Crew, sippin’ on a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (what will it take to bring this delicious, autumn-flavoured treat to Scotland, huh guys?) I felt like something of an all-American girl. Shame the clothes were so expensive, and I’m not skinny enough to pull off that preppy catalogue look. Undaunted, we double-backed to a stationery store that had caught our eye and we must have spent an hour leafing through gorgeous paper and card. I came away with the pieces to assemble a scrapbook from my trip, courtesy of an adorable and enthusiastic sales rep who loved my accent. I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to do with the paste and something I can only describe as a scraper, but she did say that if she could do it…

246. Ma Crew

And then there was ice cream – such ice cream! Lemon and mint, rich creamy chocolate and a delicious orange sorbet, and the smell of fresh coffee. Like the t-shirt on the wall proclaimed, I ♥ NJ. With or without Springsteen.