You didn’t think I’d let the whole month of January go by without posting something BIG? Well, up until a few hours ago, I did. Work (you know, all the other writing I do) has been crazy-in-a-good-way this month.
But I can’t ignore the fact that the winter doldrums have set in, and so I want to offer a suggestion to anyone looking for a fun day trip or weekend getaway: Hershey, PA. True, the Hersheypark amusement park is still closed for the season, but there are other year-round attractions in town. My favorite of which is Chocolate World, home to the world’s largest selection of Herhsey’s products.
First, there are the attractions, like the Great American Chocolate Tour, a free ride with a free sample at the end. I can honestly say that I still have memories of this ride from a trip I took there as a five-year old. Hey, it’s the enduring power of chocolate. Of course, it’s been updated, and stars three singing mechanical dairy cows. That “Hershey’s Milk Chocolate” jingle will stick in your brain for days.
For a fee, you can also catch “Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery,” a fun action adventure movie in the 4D theater, or the “Hershey’s Create Your Own Candy Bar” area, where you get to customize your own chocolate bar. (Hope you look better than me in a hair net.)
Since we’re on an historic preservation bent this month, we wanted to share Matt’s recent experience seeing – and hearing – the Wanamaker Grand Organ at Macy’s in Philadelphia. Built in 1911, the world’s largest operational pipe organ is still in excellent shape, thanks to its preservation group, the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ.
You may be wondering why Matt – not the biggest shopping fan – chose to spend his free time during a business trip in a twelve-floor department store.
Matt has grown up hearing his grandmother’s story about working at “Wanamaker’s,” (now Macy’s) when she was 18. To offer some context, Matt’s grandmother is now a sound 100 years old, so this was back in 1931! She was a seamstress by trade, and worked at the time for a hosiery company, demonstrating how to mend silk stockings.
Hearing her tell it, you realize that this was her first real adventure as a young woman in the big world beyond the small New York suburb she grew up in. Her eyes still light up when she recounts the grandeur of the Wanamaker Building. So Matt wanted to see it for himself, and share in her excitement.
So Matt wasn’t there to shop (not even a little something for his wife); he went straight to the organ. What you see from the central courtyard is only a partial view of the organ’s 28,500 pipes. The largest pipe is more than 32 feet long, and so wide that a Shetland Pony was once posed inside for publicity photos. The smallest pipe is only a quarter-inch in length.
The musicians sit in a massive console which has six ivory keyboards and 729 color-coded stop tablets. There are 168 piston buttons under the keyboards and 42 foot controls. The console weighs 2.5 tons, and the entire instrument weighs 287 tons!
…as evidenced by the melted chocolate around her mouth.
When it comes to Valentine’s Day candy, chocolate isn’t the only kid on the block. If you want points for creativity, pass on the red heart-shaped box from Walgreens. I can also do without those chalky pastel message hearts, thank you.
Our travels have brought us to several BIG candy stores where the selection is vast, and the ideas are limitless. For inspiration, I recommend visiting one of the world’s largest candy stores from this list before buying sweets for your sweetie. I’ve also made a few suggestions on what to buy to commemorate Valentine’s Day, if you want to go a step beyond predictable!
b.a. Sweetie Candy Company, Inc.
While Sweeties Candy is the largest candy store in Arizona, its no-frills warehouse in Cleveland, Ohio bills itself as the “largest candy store in the U.S.A.,” offering the “largest selection of candy in the world.” Those are some pretty BIG claims, so we went to check it out last summer on our Cleveland road trip.
You’ll need at least an hour to cover the 20,000 square feet housing ten aisles of candy – over 3,500 different varieties, stocked floor to ceiling. You’ll find a lot of bulk candy on display in addition to small packages, and all the tools – molds, sprinkles, sugars — to make your own candy.
b.a. Sweetie Candy Company
There’s an entire wall dedicated to PEZ dispensers and hard-to-find candy flavors like chocolate and cola. I loved discovering brands I’ve never heard of before, like Pearson’s Nut Goodies, Chase Cherry Mash candy bars, and Annabelle’s Abba-Zaba Taffey.
Best Bet For Valentine’s Day – Head to the large Jelly Belly display, and mix a custom blend from the vast variety of colors; including all sorts of red and pink hues.
You know I’m an easy grader when I rate the places we visit. Too many years spent working in PR, looking for the best in places for a proper spin. I tried my hardest at Country Junction, the world’s largest general store, but I may have met my match. It’s a chain, but we went to the largest flagship location. I couldn’t get out of this place fast enough.
A “general store” makes me think of an old-timey emporium out in Walnut Grove where the Ingalls family would buy coffee, jerky, nails, and penny candy. This place began as a hardware store, then added lawn and garden products, then gift and home décor items. There’s furniture, seasonal décor, grocery, a candy counter, and a bakery.
Oh, and a fine selection of guns and ammo. And a display of taxidermied animals. The turkey would look nice over our fireplace.
The green lights add a lot to the display, I think.
The layout follows a yellow brick road (painted squares on the cement floor), and there are a few animatronics here and there to keep the kids from whining. And random dinosaur and Spartacus statues.
Hail! (Matt forgot to bring his gold chest plates on this trip.)
We didn’t purchase much, but we did try the fresh-baked apple dumplings in the bakery department, and they were quite good.
When I was approached by Cloud 9 Living to try one of the experiences they offer, I saw the words “stock car ride along” and immediately thought of Matt. He has suffered gallantly since the kids came along, curtailing his lead foot and following speed limits, but in his heart, he loves driving fast. Then I realized that the ride-along adventures are offered at the Pocono Raceway, the world’s largest solar-powered sports facility. It was a match made in GBOGH heaven, so we checked it out last weekend!
If you’re looking to give an original, unique gift this holiday season, you should take a look at what Cloud 9 Living offers. Besides the ride-alongs, they offer experiences throughout the U.S., like sky diving, learning to golf with a PGA pro, and chocolate-making classes (My personal favorite!). Cloud 9 is running a “9 Days of Christmas Contest”, where you can win your own experience, so it’s a good time to check it out.
After suiting up, Matt climbed through the window of #8. They clipped on a neck roll, positioned him in his seat, fastened his seat belt, then chained his neck roll and helmet to the back of his seat so his head was immobile. He couldn’t turn to see his driver, Bruce, but he did introduce himself. A transplant of Charlotte, NC, Bruce has been driving professionally for 20 years; the last nine at Pocono. Bruce didn’t give him much instruction, but he did tell him that if he felt nauseous at any point, he should give him the “thumbs down” sign, and he would slow down.
Wait, where’s your life insurance policy paperwork?
Before he reached the end of the pit row, Bruce had the car in fourth gear. Matt felt the force pull him back. He didn’t realize until he felt sore later that he was clenching muscles in his shoulders and back. He didn’t feel scared, but at one point in turn two, he saw skid marks along the wall, and thought, “ouch.”
Don’t blink, but this is how fast he was going:
As Matt tells it: “The second Bruce takes his foot off the gas, you feel a difference. There’s only four speeds, and he really never even used the brakes. At the end of the third lap, he coasted and downshifted and cut the engine. He told me we were going approximately 165 miles per hour at top speed, which was when we drove the front straight away in front of the grandstand. We went slower during the turns.” (The track is a triangle, so there were three turns.)
This is what we got out of him as he was taking off his gear:
Bruce told Matt that the cars get checked after every six laps, particularly for tire wear. After Matt got out, they jacked up #8 on the left side, because Bruce said he “felt something,” which may have been nothing more than a pavement seam.
Matt’s ride-along experience was three laps, and lasted about ten minutes. You can also choose a six lap ride. Each lap is approx. 2.5 miles. I didn’t realize that some races are 500 miles; that’s a lot of time in a rattling car!
In our own car on the way home, I pointed out that the speed we were driving was only half of what he was driving on that track.
Matt thought it was “totally wicked,” but wished he would have been able to bring his phone along for the ride to take video. (He has a hard time separating from his technology.)
Since we were at the world’s largest solar powered sports facility, I should point out that we saw the 25 acres where the Pocono Raceway operates 40,000 photovoltaic modules, which will produce more than 72 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy over the next 20 years. The system offsets more than 3,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Not only do they generate enough power for the Raceway, but also for close to 1,000 homes in the area!
Disclaimer: Cloud 9 Living provided us with this experience free of charge, in exchange for our honest review.
We’re headed west to Cleveland today, plodding along I-80, which traverses the width of Pennsylvania in the most boring of fashions. Mere months ago, we took this same route to Pittsburgh, and thought maybe we had enough of this interstate to last a while. Apparently not.
Speaking of Pittsburgh, the final BIG thing we saw there was the world’s largest pigeon species, the Victoria Crown Pigeon, at the National Aviary.
William, a friendly resident of the National Aviary!
This is William. He is not THE world’s largest pigeon, but he gets my vote for the world’s friendliest pigeon! He just walked right up to us. His “life partner” Mary was much shyer, and kept to herself in her habitat.
The world’s largest clothespin! The Girl couldn’t wait to get out of the car. The Boy thinks we’re crazy.
There are roadside attractions in Philadelphia, although most of them are best enjoyed on foot. The public outdoor art installations we saw in Philadelphia thoroughly charmed me, because there are quite a few BIG pieces!
Claes Oldenburg sculpture in Philadelphia, PA
I’ve become a fan of Swedish American sculptor Claes Oldenburg, best known for his public art installations worldwide which feature immense replicas of familiar objects. He thinks BIG!
Of course, our first order of business in Philadelphia was seeing Clothespin — the world’s largest clothespin — created by Oldenburgin 1976. It’s located in Centre Square Plaza on Market Street across from the City Hall, which happens to be the largest municipal building in the U.S. The 45-ft. tall clothespin was made from 10 tons of Cor-Ten and stainless steel.
The Paint Torch is Oldenburg’s most recent work in Philly, and was just installed on Cherry Street last year. This four-ton brush is five stories tall! It looks like an artist has jammed it at a 60 degree angle into the sidewalk, leaving a blob of paint on the ground. We didn’t get to see it at night, but the paint on the brush and the paint blob are lit from within by synchronized LEDs.
We also didn’t get to see the other oversized Oldenburgpiece in Philadelphia — the 16-foot Split Button inLevy Park on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Next time!
The Paint Torch by Claes Oldenburg
The Board Game Art Park, Philadelphia, PA
We had no choice but to visit Municipal Services Building Plaza at 15th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard on a rainy morning. But we still enjoyed visiting the Board Game Art Park, home to the multi-piece installation, “Your Move,” created in 1997 by artists Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis, and Roger White.
Illuminated screens play a far larger role in my family’s everyday life than I care to admit. So I was sure that the tip I got from Mara at Mother of All Trips would result in a memorable stop during our Philadelphia weekend getaway.
She suggested we visit the Comcast Center, for a look at the “Comcast Experience” wall.
This image is displayed on only the top half of the screen. The panels below aren't really panels, they're video replicas of the room's actual wood panels.
The 2,100-square foot HD video display wall is the world’s largest four-millimeter LED screen. For 18 hours a day, you can watch various short films; original programming created exclusively for this screen, which measures 83.3 feet wide and 25.4 feet high.
Dinosaurs are becoming a “thing” for us. Makes sense…they’re BIG after all! Last year, we went to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC for its temporary exhibit, “The World’s Largest Dinosaurs.” This spring, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is presenting a similar program, “Giant Mysterious Dinosaurs,” through April 15.
I now know more about the Jurassic era than I ever thought I would. Or ever really wanted to…
Where we went, and who was coerced into going:
Visiting Philly earlier this month, we were drawn to The Franklin Institute for this dinosaur exhibit, as well as the giant walk-through heart. In the end, another unexpected BIG thing turned out to be the highlight of our visit.
Okay, what was so cool about it?
We would have loved this place more if we had: A) less whiny children; and B) a few more hours to cover all three floors of science and technology exhibits. We missed out on the planetarium, IMAX theater and 4D flight simulator.
“Dino Trio.” Sounds like a smooth crooner group from the ‘50’s. “Singing live tonight at the Starlight Lounge…it’s the Dino Trio!”
Last week, on our post about the Jurassic dinosaur collection at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I mentioned DinoMite Days, a2004 public art project which resulted in 100 uniquely decorated dinosaurs, made of fiberglass and weighing 200 lbs each. They were temporarily installed throughout the city, but most have since been sold to private collectors.
However, several can still be found on public display. We found these BIG beauties in front the “Wintergarden” building at PPG Place!