Hi, Iain here. The non-Philpott. Driving along a misty Virginian Blue Ridge Parkway above the clouds at almost 2000ft, it's hard to believe that only 2 days ago we were in a bustling New York City, saying goodbye to our hosts - Janet, David and Mormon - and to our first state, to begin our long journey across the country.
Trekking down the Manhattan Broadway, with all our cases and backpacks, our first stop was to pick up the car. There, we really did meet a lady with the patience of a saint. Here we were, 3 guys who couldn't know less about cars if we tried, trying to choose our set of wheels/home for the next 25 days. She offered us so many choices of brands, different engines, saloons, SUVs, convertibles, petrol, diesel - all off which were met by the same reply: "Will we be able to plug our music in?"
After an hour of umm-ing and ahh-ing in the office upstairs, she agreed to take us downstairs into the 'STRICTLY STAFF ONLY' warehouse so we could see the cars for ourselves. And there she was. A black, Chrysler 300, gleaming patiently in the corner.
Leaving Alamo, we couldn't believe our luck. We were finally on our way and everything had gone so smoothly - despite a nervous breakdown and a change of driver needed before we even left the garage. Our plan for the day would involve visiting 5 states - with no accommodation even sorted yet for that evening. The time was already 2pm (7pm GMT), so we left New York and headed across the water to New Jersey.
We swung by Tony Soprano's (he wasn't in), filled the car up with supplies then headed straight for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for for our Philly Cheese Steaks! En route, we researched the top ten places to eat them and in the end, narrowed it down to two - Pat's and Geno's - as they were directly across the road from each other.
We ended up in Geno's, lured by the lights and the sexy Cadillac parked outside. I've never seen so much cheese and meat put in such a comparatively small amount of bread.
As we were sitting outside complimenting Geno's on having 'the best cheesesteak in town', the Philpott's realised that there was only one way to tell for sure if it was actually 'the best cheesesteak in town'...
Standing in the queue to Pat's 'best cheesesteak in town' 3 minutes later I couldn't even look at any food without feeling ill. Seb and Barney were too intrigued though and they proudly ordered their one cheesesteak between the two of them.
Because of some bad traffic earlier in the day we were running a bit late for Elio's gig with Billy Joel's band (see above), so we jumped in the car and headed to our fourth state of the day: Delaware. Having passed my driving test for this very holiday, I took control of our Monster Chrysler for the first time. She is the size of a small Scottish house, but luckily so are the roads. I enjoyed it. I hope they did too..
We made it just in time to see the last 40 mins of Elio's gig. It was a re-enactment of a concert given by Billy Joel and this very band - Larry Russell (bass), Rhys Clark (drums) and Don Evans (guitars) - on 2nd April, '72. The band sounded incredible as did Elio fronting it at the piano. They played songs we'd never heard including a song that had never been performed live before called 'Why, Judy, Why'. Joel originally wrote it for his sister and is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. After the gig, we met Elio and he introduced us to the band as we reminisced about our flight only 4 days ago.
We should also say a big thanks to the person who pointed out that we would have gotten our car clamped if we'd kept it parked in the opposite direction of travel. THANK YOU!
We awoke about 6 hours later in a motel just over the border in Maryland. On the menu for the day was Baltimore's soft-shell crabs and the nations capital - Washington DC.
We drove around Baltimore pretending to be in The Wire before hunger and an inherent desire to remain alive got the better of us. We ordered soup, salad, fries and 12 crabs. When the waitress returned 10 minutes later to ask the obligatory 'is everything okay with your food?', she must have clocked the confused looks on our faces as she very kindly offered us a crab breaking/dissecting/eating lesson. It turned out we'd been eating some bits that are 'not advised for consumption' but she reckoned we'd survive, and so far, so good. Only 5 states in, and we were starting to hear the phrase "Y'all not from around here, are ya?" more and more.
Our dinner stop was in Chinatown, Washington D.C. We managed to park the car on Pennsylvania Avenue - a stone's throw from the White House itself. Not an unfamiliar sight as Barack Obama used to drive a Chrysler 300! We saw the White House, Capitol, Franklin memorial, Washington monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Barney was especially touched by this and observed "it's even better than the Eiffel Tower." We then drove out of our way to see the CIA HQ but were met with pretty heavy security before we managed to even set an eye on the building. It must have been our NJ license plate.
Which brings us to today. After another motel evening last night we woke up in a very drizzly Virginia. We headed to Castleton first - the home of the Castleton Festival and it's late founder Lorin Maazel. Barney came to here for 7 weeks as part of his RCM course in 2011 and was keen to revisit again, especially as Maazel passed so recently. It's such a quiet and idyllic part of the country, the ranch sprawling into the hazy distance.
Here's the Zonkey.
So here we are, driving along the Blue Ridge Highway. We just passed a bear and some deer and it's really really foggy, but as the next exit is 300 miles away, I guess we're kind of stuck with it. Now Seb and Barney are having a dispute which needs settled...I'd better get going. Thanks for reading!