Philadelphia, PA

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 It was lovely to see my family upstate, but after a couple of days in the wilderness I was very much ready to head into the city. An old school friend has just started her year abroad at the University of Penn, so bags backed and off Philadelphia to live life as a college student for a wee while.

The bus journey quite eventful. I’m a clueless tourist and needed to asked which bus station in Phili was closest to the University. Being English, I said  ‘Uni' which posed its own linguistic barriers. Luckily, a charming Texan came to my rescue! After a quick chat about how I ’talk funny,’ he wound up offering for me to join him and his mother for lunch, and then share an Über to the university as it was en route to where he was headed. I know you learn never to talk to strangers, yet alone grab lunch and share taxis with them, but Americans are so kind and friendly, they just genuinely wanted to make sure I didn’t get lost; so I couldn’t say no.

We headed off to China Town for lunch as it was not far from the bus station. We went to a Vietnamese sandwich place. After spending three months in Vietnam I can’t say the food was very authentic, but nevertheless it was charming and pleasant. I had a ‘special’ under the Texan’s recommendation, which, in true American style was far too large to finish, but I got to save some for later!

After an Über ride and an exchange of Facebook details, I found the University!

By the time I had settled in and had a good catch up, it was time for the American college experience to begin. I was off to my first frat party. It was an interesting experience that’s for sure. By the time we got there the party was full! We failed to realise that in America when a party starts at 10, they actually mean 10! Back home you always arrive at least an hour later, but not on this side of the pond! Luckily, in spite of reaching capacity, we managed to get ourselves in with our ‘cute English accents.’ Once inside, every American chick flick I’ve ever watched, became my reality. Strip away the Hollywood glamour and you’re left with nothing but the stench of cheap vodka and stale sweat. Sounds unappealing I know, but the promise of beer pong and the occasional person showing up in a toga got me through the night. I actually can’t tell if I enjoyed myself or not. It may have just been the idea of feeling like a sorority sister, even though I’m still not 100% sure what that is exactly. It just seems to me like a bunch of pretty girls living together and throwing the occasional party, but I may be wrong. Either way, I had fun with my friends and I got a taste of what it’s like to be an American college student.

The next day, we met up with the other exchange students, most of whom were English. I know, it completely defeats the object of exchanges if you don’t mingle with the locals, but we were happy to explore and get lost in Philadelphia  together. Being in Phili meant that we had to try a Philli cheese steak. Completely unhealthy and totally not something I would suggest eating on a regular basis, but you cant go to Philli and not try one. So apologies to the lifetrainme health gurus, it needed to be done!

We found this place called Sonney’s down by the river, which was so lovely as by this stage I had spent most of my time in University City, so it felt good to get out and explore. I spoke to the man who worked there and he recommended that I have the classic with American cheese, he said it was his favourite. So, I took his advice and within seconds I had the sandwich in my hand. True fast food. I have to say, with all the hype around Philli cheese steaks I was expecting something quite magical. Unfortunately, the sandwich didn’t live up to my expectation, maybe it was my own fault for building it up in my mind, but nevertheless I was disappointed.

After dinner we stumbled across an ice-cream place, and the queue was out the door. Obviously, it was a hot spot so we stopped to see what they had in store. Seeing fresh creamy ice-cream meant that we all needed a cone. All but one, a guy, in our group politely declined, as he had opted to give up eating processed sugar for a year to help raise money for diabetes UK, a truly inspirational story. After ordering my strawberry vegan scoop, I was delighted to see there was a sugar free option, so I pulled my friend in line and told him he must get one! I didn’t want him missing out on the deliciousness! Unfortunately although it was sugar free, they had added sweetener. It just shows how careful you have to be, always look beyond the label. A tip I’ve picked up from the lifetrainme health guru.

Filled up on cheese steak and ice-cream we headed down to the river and found a mini golf course! It was so adorable, covered in fairy lights, playing music, and right next door there was a skate park. At only $5 per person, we couldn’t resist, so we had a quick game. I am an awful golfer, yes even mini golf, so I took it upon myself to be the commentator and score keeper!

The next day I did some more exploring and found this cute vegan food bar! It’s called HipVegCity, and it’s right next to the University! I couldn’t resist but to go in and have a look. Everything that they have is 100% vegan, they even had a plant based Philli cheese steak! I wish I had eaten there instead of the place we went to the night before. It looked delicious. As I wasn’t too hungry it was easy to resist so I went for a green smoothie. After a night of utter indulgence, it felt good to get some greens back in my system. I would so recommend going here and if anyone does, please try the cheese steak and let me know how it was!

Written by: Sasha Rae




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