Saturday, February 26, 2005


We spent the day in Harrisburg, the state capital of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was incredibly quiet in spite of the marvellous weather.

Will write commentary later, I'll just post the link to the photo set for now:

Harrisburg capitol building and the State Museum of Pennsylvania

Addition: Tuesday, Mar 1

We'd been meaning to visit the state capitol for a while now, but we usually go flying when the weather's good on Saturdays. David checked the forecast and it was dodgy, so we decided to drive to Harrisburg instead. The tours run every couple of hours on Saturdays, so we timed it to join the 1:00 time slot.

Just our luck, the weather on the way to Harrisburg turned clear and beautiful, but we were already on the road, so we tried not to think of what a good flying day it could've been. We passed the two and a quarter hours in the car by tuning into an 80's radio station and trying to be the first person to rattle off the title and musician for every song they played. What a scream...

When we entered the city limits, the very first sign of life we saw was the crowds of people at the Farm Complex. Yep, the main draw in Harrisburg is the farm show. Because other than in front of the agricultural arena, Harrisburg was eerily quiet. I'm not kidding -- we drove directly to the capitol building in the city centre, parked, and spotted maybe TWO people! Were we missing something? Did they evacuate the downtown core?

We took some photos of the exterior of the capitol building with its beautiful green dome before going inside. If I could mimic the Pennsylvania accent, I would, because the security guards definitely had it. The most recognisable pronunciation is the way they say you: they turn it into "ya's" or "yuz".

"If ya's like, you can wait here until the tour starts..." (If there are any Pennsylvanians reading this, let me make clear I don't hear this ALL the time. Just... often.)

There was a wedding in the building lobby. How did I know this? When I toodled off to the loo, I could hear strains of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On, coming from an organ. How jarring when you're a... captive audience. I couldn't even run away.

The tour itself was a bit rushed, if you ask me. The guide was clear, informative, and in a hurry. Why? There were other people besides myself taking photos, and we just didn't have enough time in the individual rooms. The tours were two hours apart, so I didn't understand why we weren't allowed to just stop and take photos. We were informed that during the week visitors may wander the building freely, but on the weekends, we had to follow the guide.

The building is palatial -- the lobby is marble, each room has enough gold and art to float the Queen E. II, and many artists have spent years making it look extravagant. The original structure dates back to 1735 -- and takes some time to take it all in! David wondered how the civil servants could go to work every day in such a beautiful building. My thoughts are that they would become accustomed to it and take it for granted, probably like working in a museum.

a virtual tour of the building (uses Quicktime)

We gawked a bit at the wedding ceremony before getting our marching orders to proceed to the elevators, then we moved next door to the State Museum of Pennsylvania... which was also practically deserted!

It's so strange to visit a museum so empty, especially on a weekend. I'm sure the state museum was filled with schoolkids during the week, so I took the opportunity to take as many photos as I felt like, especially after getting shooed around the capitol building like a I was a schoolkid. For a museum in a capital, I thought it was rather neglected, particularly when compared to the ostentatiousness of the building just across the street. However, being the museum geek that I am, I enjoyed myself, anyway. We took our time perusing the three floors of exhibits, starting at the top with Earth Sciences ("Let's start at the beginning...") and making our way to the main floor, which was present-day. The level in-between was devoted to the history that shaped Pennsylania -- industry (coal mining, engineering, manufacturing) and agriculture.

An exhibit on the ground floor was dedicated to the interesting story of Smarty Jones, a little horse from Pennsylvania that won two of the three prestigious races last year that make up the triple crown -- the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. (He came in second in the Belmont by half a length.) The story is made all the more remarkable by the fact that he had a life-threatening injury in his second season and nearly written off, but was back in training two months later. I don't follow horseracing, so I'd never heard of Smarty Jones, but I can certainly see how the underdog story made such a mark in Pennsylvania.

After the museum we discovered where all the townspeople were hiding -- in the mall next to the capitol building! There we filled up with Japanese food, and headed directly out of Harrisburg to Hershey Park... the home of the Hershey chocolate factory and its very own amusement park. We were disappointed to find they closed about half an hour before and we wouldn't be getting our free chocolate at the end of the Hershey tour, but we stocked up on the sweet stuff at the gas station nearby for the trip home. Besides our food court meal, the whole day was free -- the tour of the capital and the state museum -- so $2 on chocolate was a relative splurge!