11 March 2009

Reading, Between the Lines

Lancaster train station
(or, Trains, Trains and Automobiles.) I think I have to make something clear about my travelogues: I don't write about a place where my itinerary isn't up yet. So, when I wrote about Akron, I'd already left. And I'm not going to write about New Jersey, New York, or San Francisco till a few weeks after I've gone back to the Philippines (which is April 4). Now, last January 26, I headed to Reading, Pennsylvania, which was my last stop in my interview tour. It would be self-contradictory to say that it exceeded my expectations, because I had none. Before I applied for the hospital there, all I knew about it was that it was one of the four railroads in classic Monopoly. Trips to Wikipedia and various other sites were needed. And now, I'm going to be one of those sites. I think.

I totally dropped the ball as a commuter, though. After my $45 Amtrak trip to the nearest Amtrak station, which was Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I had to spend $70 plus tip on the 30-minute taxi ride to Reading. And then another $45 and $70 for the trip back. Ouch. Greyhound ($45) would have taken me straight to Reading, though it would have been nearly a 6-hour trip from New Jersey. Although if I'd gone the extra mile and gotten a license valid in the States (and enough driving chutzpah), I could have driven from New Jersey or New York, which would have taken 2 hours. Grrr.
Lancaster, PA
Anyway: Reading. Remember when I first arrived in California during last year's trip and the friendliness blew me away? Well, Reading is even friendlier than that. The faculty and staff in the hospital I interviewed in were so warm and welcoming (I could've sworn even the patients were smiling). My taxi driver, who admittedly got lost, stopped the meter till he found his way. I had a nice chat with the owner of the local coffee house. One of my co-interviewees Chris, a Philadelphia native, offered to take me, nearly a complete stranger he'd only met 5 hours before, back to my hotel from the hospital. Are all Pennsylvanians this awesome?

There was a fantastic comic book shop outside the Lancaster station, which looked like it jumped out of every television depiction of an American comic store. The only thing missing was some sarcastic guy who looks like Mario Batali. You see, in the Philippines, only Magic card/RPG shops are overrun by geeks, and the staff is usually made up of clueless salesladies. The taxi ride from there made me a little nervous, because it took a good 25 minutes before I saw anything other than dead grass and road signs. (I suppose it all looks better in the summer, when the farmers are out.)
Country Inn and Suites (Wyomissing) Lobby
Country Inn and Suites (Wyomissing) Room
The hotel I stayed in (Country Inn and Suites, Wyomissing) was yet another picture of perfection. The lobby had free drinks and cookies by the fireplace. Like Akron, I had two beds, and once I got past the thought that it would've been cool to have a travel companion, I proceeded to dump everything I had on the other bed.
Reading downtown
Reading downtown
Reading antique shop
I wish I had the resources to stay for more than a day. Walking through downtown West Reading at night only hinted at the fascinating things I would have seen at the small charming shops lined up.
Reading house 2
Reading house
However, after my interview, we took the scenic route to a cafe, where I saw more ridiculously beautiful residences (the others being in Akron). And, predictable as I am, I was able to sniff out a pastry gem to visit on my only night in Reading: Hauté Chocolate Café.
Haute Chocolate
Hauté Chocolate Café is a lovely neighborhood coffee house that offers a variety of sweet treats, but obviously specializes in chocolate.
Haute Chocolate bars
Their chocolate bar selection is as complete as any boutique in New York.
Haute Chocolate confections
And while I wasn't able to try any of their jewel-like confections...
Haute Chocolate ice cream
... or their ice creams or sorbets...
Death by Chocolate Dome (Haute Chocolate)
... I was able to try their "signature" dessert, the Death by Chocolate Dome. It consists of a chocolate pot de creme covered with dark chocolate mousse and enrobed in ganache. Heavenly, though do have a neutralizer (water, milk, exercise) nearby, as I got a little winded halfway through it. Likewise, their hot and cold chocolate drinks are like chocolate IVs (intravenous fluids, not "4"s, heh), just as they should be.
Haute Chocolate display
Here's the rest of their dessert selection. I thought of getting a brownie (they had chili pepper, raspberry, and orange and cinnamon, but I was all chocolate-d out).
The Reading Hospital
I can't share details about my interview but whether or not they accept me on paper, I felt accepted just relating with everyone. I may have only stayed a night and a day but I have warm memories of Reading, and I hope that wasn't my last time to see it.

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