Our travels last weekend took us to Conshohocken (I love the way the word “Conshohocken” rolls off the tongue when you are saying it!) and Villanova on the outskirts of Philadelphia, PA. This was our first long-distance trip since the beginning of the pandemic that was being made for reasons other than visiting family. We went for a wedding. The names Conshohocken and Villanova are actually not that unfamiliar to me, having spent some time in the early 1980s in another suburb of Philadelphia called Landsdowne. I suppose that I must have heard the towns mentioned on the local news or in traffic reports when visiting Philadelphia. But, I really had not spent any significant time before this trip in either Conshohocken or Villanova.
We stayed in a really nice hotel on the southwest shore of the Schuylkill river (here we go again with the unique names!) in a place called West Conshohocken. I remember the river because there is a highway right next to it called the Schuylkill Expressway that used to be notorious in its day. I do not know if the highway still has a bad reputation, but in those days, navigating the twists and turns of this narrow highway through the center of Philadelphia, including its narrow shoulder spaces and short entrance ramps, was considered quite the challenge. The highway even earned the unfortunate moniker – the surekill expressway! The Schuylkill Expressway is actually a part of Interstate 76.
We had not stayed in a hotel room for over a year at this point. So, it was once again all a new experience for us.
The room on the 8th floor overlooking the Schuylkill river felt quite luxurious,
and the corner placement of the room offered us window views in two directions.
Not having had the opportunity to spend the night in such a nice and upscale room for many years, it took me a minute or two to adjust my expectations of what normality could feel like for people who were fortunate enough to find themselves circumstances like ours. Fact of the matter is that I used to stay very often in places like this during the time of my employment. There was a period of time when I stayed in a hotel room practically every other week. It was a part and parcel of my life experience in the business world. I can still recall the whole experience – the travels, the car rentals, the driving through strange places (that would eventually became familiar), the solitary dinners in restaurants with a glass of wine beside me to numb the soul, the endless waits in airport lounges, etc.. I do not miss that life!
The wedding took place on a property in the town of Villanova, about a five minute drive from our hotel. Villanova was obviously a town for the very rich. It smelled of old-money – huge estates surrounded by well kept fences or walls to keep out the riffraff, meticulously manicured and landscaped properties, and massive homes in traditional styles situated as far away from the main road as possible, it seemed. The wedding space itself must have been one of these homes once upon a time. It has since been converted into a sprawling arboretum, with the central building that used to be the home, and the space around it, available for events like weddings. It was a beautiful setting for the outdoor ceremony and the festivities that took place after that. Once again, not having been to weddings in such settings in a very long while, I had to make my own mental adjustments. I have not had to dress up for formal events for a long while. The fact that we were at such a grand event, where no expense was being spared for the celebrations surrounding the happy occasion, was something that got me thinking once again. But being a part of events like this is actually not something new for us. It is just that I might be changing. I have become more used to seeing the other side of things. In any case, it did not stop me from joining in the celebration – enjoying the drinks and the excellent food laid out for us, and boogieing my way into the night. So much for consistency and clarity of conscience!
We went for a walk on the Schuylkill River Trail the morning after the wedding. When complete, this trail will run all the way from headwaters of the river in the eastern ridges of the Allegheny mountains to it termination at the Delaware river in Philadelphia. The section of the trail we tackled runs on an abandoned railroad right-of-way along the north shore of the river. Next to the trail are railroad tracks that are still in use for the suburban SEPTA line to downtown Philly. Of note is the fact that there is also another railroad line on the southern shore of the river that is still in use for Norfolk Southern freight traffic. The existence of lines on both sides of the river is a reflection of the industrial background of the place. Railroad lines used to be the lifeblood of towns like these, and these lines usually used to run along the shores of the rivers because of the relative ease of laying tracks along the relatively flat shorelines. It was not unusual to find competing railroad lines on either shores of a river.
We crossed the bridge over river to get to the trail, and then proceeded east along the trail in the direction of Philadelphia. We quickly left the newer developments and the remains of old industry in the section of the trail that ran through Conshohocken, and soon entered a more rural section.
It was a pleasant walk, with sightings of wildflowers like honeysuckle, buttercups, purple dead nettle, gill-over-the-ground (also called ground ivy), dogwood, etc., and also some new flowers that we were seeing for the first time this season. These included what I think was Paulownia tomentosa (also called Princess Tree),Spiderwort,
The birds were out in large numbers. We were greeted by songs emerging from the trees and bushes beside us as soon as we entered the trail.
Here were some of the sights from our walk.
The waters looked quite calm as we walked over the bridge across the river. The thick green foliage of the woods indicated that we are well on our way into summer.
We noticed that the signage on the trail itself was quite good.
As you can see from the picture below, the trail was also wide and well paved.
There were a lot of bikers on the trail. The location in the picture below looked like an ideal stop during a ride!They even had an official bike station beside the trail with tools to make repairs to bikes.The section of the trail outside of town was quite wooded. It might be hard to imagine that an active railroad line and a highway run along the other shore of the river. You cannot even see the SEPTA double-track that runs beside our trail on our side of the river (just below the level of the trail) in this picture.
We even chanced upon one of the SEPTA trains stopped at a station.
We checked out of the hotel soon after returning from our walk and cleaning up. There was not much packing to be done. We had brunch in the town of Conshohocken to celebrate Mother’s Day. And then we headed home.
A blog about travel during this time of the pandemic would not be complete without some mention of how the pandemic impacted the activities of the trip. People are still using masks in general, but fewer people than I expected seemed to be wearing them during the wedding celebration itself. Some were more careful than others, and the use of masks decreased as the night progressed! It is a little difficult to eat and drink, and dance, with a mask on! I hope the confidence in the impact of the vaccines on the situation is justified. The hotel in which we were staying still had a requirement for masks to be worn in all of its open spaces. Also, their restaurant was closed because of the pandemic. I was not really paying close attention to the masking efforts of people on the trail during our walk because of the circumstances – existence of open space and a lot of separation between people. I believe we are in a transition phase in our country.