Category Archives: Within 5 Miles of Norristown

One of the Beautiful Morris Gardens

Morris Arboretum Germantown Pike Philly Review

Morris-butterflies

Many Butterflies at Morris in the Summer

For years en route to Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia I had passed by the University of Pennsylvania’s Morris Arboretum.  I always figured it was just some big park loaded with a bunch of boring trees.  So a few weeks ago during a trip to Cape May, New Jersey I was surprised at how green this beach town was and how little I recognized the names of all those wonderful plants.  Figuring the Morris Arboretum to be my botanical salvation, albeit a boring botanical salvation, I jumped in my car and visited Penn’s Arboretum.  I loved it.  It was way, way, way better than I ever thought it would be.

Arriving at the Parking Lot

There is plenty of parking at the Morris Arboretum but your experience will start much quicker if you are able to park in the limited spaces at the very top of the lot. If not, you’ll park a couple thousand feet further down hill and have to walk up like a Tibetan Sherpa or take the shuttle a few minutes up the winding road to what is essentially the entrance to the whole experience.

The Arboretum

Pretty cool. Your trip pretty much begins at the museum gift shop where you can pick up a map for free, buy some cool stuff (I bought some delicious, locally produced wildflower honey) or grab a snack at the cafe.  From there, you walk a short distance to a really interesting observation deck about 30 feet or so in the air (don’t worry, you don’t have to climb up, you are already that high when you park, you’ll see what I mean) and you more or less get to experience what seems like a giant tree house in the canopy in the trees. Pretty neat and unexpected.

Gorgeous Lake For Swans at Morris

Swan Lake at Morris

From there there are several really neat gardens to walk through with various flowers, herbs and plenty of butterflies. Again really neat (and, trust me, I a totally bad – a$$’d guy so don’t take what I say lightly ;-) and quite educational too.  Most of the trees and plants are identified by placards along the way.

There is a short but sweet greenhouse filled with tropical plants  (more on this here )…. and tropical weather too…. it’s only about a two minute walk through but pretty hot and steamy so if you are prone to heat stroke, you might want to just poke your head in the door.  Actually it wasn’t that bad, I’m sure the dead guy outside was just sunning himself… kidding.  Here’s a picture of the greenhouse

There are miles of paved trails and some wide open spaces that would make for a very nice picnic (only on summer Thursday nights as of the date of this post).  There are also some wonderful little shaded trails that take you back along tiny streams, fountains, and other pleasant nooks and crannies of the park.

On thing that surprised me about the park was how small it seems from the outside but how utterly massive it is on the inside.  The park, if you’ve ever driven by it along Germantown Pike looks big for a suburban Philadelphia park but when you get inside I assure you that you can not see from one end of the park to the other. The rolling hills filled with plant life and paved trails takes up a wonderfully deceptive amount of space that you can really lose yourself in (but without actually getting lost)

The Trains

I never thought I’d like this but I loved it. Not sure if this is a year round exhibit or not but the Morris Arboretum train set is pretty impressive too.  To my surprise, I like it.  They are miniature trains not large enough to ride on but probably slightly bigger than what you would put around the living room.   Each set had a little theme that would take the trains by famous places both locally and around the world.  Check it out. I thought it would be dumb but I enjoyed the whimsical nature of the set up.

Visitor Center at Morris Arboretum

Visitor Center at Morris Arbor

Amenities and Admission

There are public bathrooms, a cafe, gift shop and free parking.  There is admission to the museum $16 for an adult when I went but check out there website below for up to date info.

Penn’s Morris Arboretum website  -  U of P Arboretum Near Norristown 

 

 

 

 

Morris-in-the-trees

At Morris Arboretum You Can Spend Time in the Tree Top Canopy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check Out The Location of the Morris Arboretum below.  Very easy to get to. (If you are still interested in the great outdoors consider reading my review of Valley Forge Park

 

Where is It

 


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Market East Railroad Tracks

Take SEPTA Regional Rail To Philly – Cheap Fast Easy

I live in the Norristown area and absolutely love to take little trips to downtown Philadelphia.  Since I love it so much you would think that I have taken Philly’s mass transit regional rail line, SEPTA, into Philadelphia a thousand times.   No, no, up until recently I never took the ‘ol Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority into Philly or anywhere.

Market East Railroad Tracks

View of Market East Station Rail Lines

Why Not?

Well, I guess I was always a glutton for punishment.  For some reason, for years, I simply drove down the dreaded Schuylkill Expressway ( I 76 ) to get into center city.    If you aren’t familiar with this torcherous piece of macadam you clearly haven’t lived yet.   Traffic is non-stop, stop and go.  You are barreling down the road one minute (or one second might be a better way of stating this) and slamming on your brakes the next.  Most of the road is two lanes of congested, exhaust filled filth that promotes nothing but road rage and demoralization.     I swear I take this road sometimes way late at night and still hit a lot of traffic.

Enjoying a nice drive into town does not apply to Philadelphia, at least not from the west.  Enjoying this road would be the equivalent to enjoying cold brussel sprouts marinaded in spoiled milk or simply a good clubbing.

What Other Reasons Did You Drive Into Town?

Well, honestly, I liked the freedom of being able to come and going into town as I wished without being a slave to a train schedule.  This perceived freedom, as proved to me over years of travelling that God forsaken road, is a myth.  SEPTA regional rail trains even on off peak hours run an hour apart at the latest.   It could take you an hour alone just to get off Schuylkill’s Conshocken curve or to find decent parking in the city (especially if you are new to driving in town).

Why SEPTA?

I hate to sound like an ad for SEPTA. Honestly, I could care less about SEPTA, the train system could be called “Satans Serpent” and I’d still be writing this article (a bit reluctantly, but it wouldn’t stop me from taking the train over that, that, ugh, road).   Anyway, for one thing, SEPTA upgraded all of their trains recently.  They are pretty nice for commuter trains.  This is not the same train as the old El that was one of the most wildest rides from Frankford to Center City. These trains are in pretty good shape and fairly comfortable.

Does The Trip Take Long

Nope. Once on the train, from where I get on,   it takes a half hour tops.  Usually a little less than twenty minutes.

So You Live Near Norristown, Which Station Do You Get On

Well, believe it or not there are two stations in Norristown and I don’t use either of them.  I’m not real comfortable, especially later at night at either of those stops.   If you have any experience with these train stations in Norristown, let me know. We’d love to hear your thoughts.  Plus, from what I understand at least one of these stops, maybe both, aren’t going to be serviced by SEPTA regional rail and instead you’d have to get a shuttle bus to the next stop in Conshohocken.

I actually drive the ten minutes or so to the SEPTA station in Conshohocken.  Parking is free and I like the area.  Plus there is a restaurant or two near by for a quick bite or drink if I get to the stop too early.

Getting on Board

If you’ve never taken the train before, I’ll give you a quick lesson on SEPTA regional rail.  Check out their website and find the destination you want to go to and the arrival time of the train to the stop you are going to get on at.   Time it so that you get there about 10 or 15 minutes early in case the train is running early (which isn’t often but still..)

When the train comes, get on board and wait for a conductor to come by.  He or she will ask you where you are going.  Be sure you know this.  There are a number of stops in Philadelphia.  The two popular center city stops are Market East Station (near the convention center, Chinatown, Old City) and Suburban Station (kind of on the outskirts of Rittenhouse / Center City / Museum / Fairmount but a good stop if headed to Rittenhouse or one of the adjacent areas).

Unless someone is picking you up and bringing you home, get a round trip ticket, not a one-way.  Two one ways cost more than one round trip.

Pay the conductor (exact change is not required, they make change) and enjoy the ride.

 SEPTA Regional Rail Website

St Patrick’s Day Parade in Conshohocken PA

I live in nearby Norristown and only accidentally stumbled upon the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Conshohocken. This is a surprisingly fun event. People line up along Fayette Street, sometimes about five people deep along the numbered cross streets, and watch the parade go by. There are food and drinks galore at this event and all the restaurants and local watering holes stay open for business.

 

This is an all ages event. Adults and kids will enjoy this event, though, as with any St. Pattys day theme, there is probably more enjoyment for festive grown ups than the ‘well-behaved’ kids.

 

The parade is pretty good and runs very consistent and for a long time. Tons of bag pipes, fire trucks, marching bands, baton twirlers and floats. Not bad for a ‘small down parade’

 

The firehouse (closer to Butler) is opened up as a food and drink garden and proceeds benefit (at least when I went) the firehouse.

 

If you are looking for more of a family atmosphere I’d suggest watching the parade from say 7th, 6th, 5th streets. The further down you get toward the day to day party zone in Conshy (down around Boathouse etc) the crowd is more younger and a tad more rowdy, though nothing to be intimidated by.

 

Parking is free. I didn’t have too much trouble finding street parking back in the neighborhoods.

 

I was able to use the Firehouse indoor rest room and outdoor porta pottys as I needed it so there are plenty of public rest room facilities up in that area.

 

Overall a good, clean family event that also has a bit of an adult edge that grown ups will like

 

The Conshocken St Pattys day parade is typically held around the 2nd or 3rd Saturday in March typically starting around 2:00 in the afternoon. It runs from the high numbered streets on Fayette down through the low numbers. Traffic is closed in these areas. In 2013 it will be held on March 16th. For furture events check the Conshocken website.

Art Museum Building

Free Art Museum in Collegeville PA – Berman at Ursinus

museum of art

Berman Museum

If you live in the Norristown, PA Montgomery County area you don’t have to travel all the way in to Philadelphia or up into New York to see an art exhibit. There are a number of small art museums in the area where you can enjoy the creative works of established artists without all the travel and parking.

I went to one of these museums recently.  The first thing that jumped out at me was the price, free.  I love free.  When I say “free” keep in mind I am not talking about the kind of “free” that the Philadelphia Museum of Art offers.  The Philly Museum of Art claims to be free but you basically have to humble yourself at the admissions desk and refuse payment in exchange for a ticket.  In other words, they take the money first and then let you argue that the museum is in fact free (and it really is, the price of admission is ‘donation’ though I don’t ever remember claiming it on my income tax)

The free art museum I am talking about is the Berman Art Museum.  There is no hassle for money at the admissions desk though there is a visible money donation box that I do suggest you drop a buck into if you visit.

Berman is located right on the campus of Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA and is considered, according to their website, to be one of the best College art museums.  Now, this really isn’t saying much considering it is their website that makes this claim.  I liken it to Wendy’s claiming they have the best Hamburger….. of course they are going to say that.   With that in mind, while this museum is pretty small, it takes itself seriously as an art showcase.  More on that …….

The Outside of The Museum

When you walk up to Ursinus’ Berman Museum you instantly know for sure that you are heading into a Museum of art.  This isn’t just some converted, unused Ursinus-Modern-Artwork-galleries (5)classrooms.  This museum has its own stand-alone building, three floors high with staircases on each side of the building leading into the gallery.  Numerous sculptures adorn the outside entrance patios.  Berman takes itself seriously as a museum.

The Inside

There are three floors. When you enter the museum you will be greeted at the (free) admissions desk on the second floor. As you walk by the admissions desk you’ll be in a comfortable room suitable for study or watching the video screen play videos related to the present exhibit. Note a could not take many pictures as using a camera in the gallery is frowned upon.

Video Lounge

Video Lounge

Just beyond the video room is a gallery that features rotating exhibits.  It is a very high, echoing,  bright room.  It is one of those super quiet, large, museum galleries where you feel like you are making all the noise simply by moving around on the hardwood floor.  The space was so calm and serene that every time I took a step I felt as though I was introducing a volcanic explosion but it in fact was just the floor boards under my delicate tip-toes.

The exhibit I saw was African American art which consisted of a number of weaved baskets and plenty of information explaining the exhibit.  I have to be honest, the only baskets I know anything about are the Longaberger baskets (spelling?) that a friend of mine collects.  Beyond that, I know nothing about basket weaving and realize this isn’t my thing.  If it isn’t yours either, don’t let that stop you from going. The exhibit is very professional, displayed as well as any major museum, and it was neat to see something I normally would not have jumped in my car to see.  Don’t forget there are two other floors also.

Using a short but sweeping spiral stairwell, I went down to the first floor (or perhaps this is the basement floor and I just left the first floor… either way….) and found some paintings and sculptures.  There was one sculpture that reminded me of an impossible combination of the Adam’s Family cousin “It” and a slinky. The other art on this floor was more in the traditional sense of paint and sculpture.

The first floor also features a very bright, sun-lit library area with a book shelf of art literature.  The seats are cozy and you can read all you want while the sunlight is

Library and Reading Room at Ursinus' Berman

Library and Reading Room at Ursinus’ Berman

drawn in through the 8-10 foot high floor to ceiling, wall to wall windows.  It’s a pretty cool space to check out.   I can also imagine Ursinus students studying in this area.

The third floor was bright but much less narrow and airy than the second floor. It was also the third floor also featured a rotating exhibit.  This was a photography exhibit that combined large, color photographs and the very personal stories of several Iraq war veterans.  Very moving accounts of how the war has shaped their emotions.

Overall

This was a nice, short, punchy, free trip.  Something to check out if you live in the area or are passing through with a minute to spare.   You can literally spend 10 minutes in this museum or an hour if you take it all in.   The overall size is comfortable, spacious feeling but not very big in terms of linear distance.  You could walk the whole museum in about 3 minutes if you didn’t want to look at anything.

Accessibility

Berman Museum clearly has thought about making the exhibits accessible to those with mobility handicaps.  This is a very accessible museum to visit.

Ursinus-Modern-Artwork-galleries (6)Parking

Parking is free.  Use the Ursinus Visitor’s lot which is in close proximity to the museum

Facilities

There are bathrooms and a water fountain but that is about it.  Don’t expect a gift shop, baby changing stations or a cafe as this place is too small to warrant one.

Hours, Admission

Here is their website,  admission is free. See website for hours in case they change

Directions to Ursinus Berman Art Museum

From Norristown I took Germantown Pike west all the way into Collegeville and veered onto Main Street.  From this route, I turned into the very first driveway I came to leading into Ursinus College.  You’ll see the visitor lot on the right. Parking is free.

After you park, get out of your car and walk back toward the drive way and you’ll see the Museum sitting there in all its glory (and it is pretty impressive for a small art museum) just to the right.    If I confused you here, I’ll rephrase this way….. when you drive up the driveway you’ll see the visitor parking lot entrance on the right side and ahead another 100 feet to the left you’ll see the museum sitting there like it is the Acropolis or something  (sort of).

If you are really fouled up or coming a different way, here are more detailed maps to help out.


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Thanks so much for stopping by our Things To Do Near Norristown website.  I want to continuously add new posts over the years so eventually this will be a site rich with information on great things to do in the Montgomery County, Delaware County, Philly, Chester County and Bucks County areas.  My goal is to keep you from getting bored and hope you check back from time to time while new info is added.

Want to Check Out Another Museum?  There’s a cool Veterans Museum that represents Vets from All Wars, see my review.

How about tattoo art?  Ever visit the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention ?

Valley Forge National Park – Somthing For Everyone Near Norristown

 

Valley Forge Park Fun For Everyone

 

Valley Forge Hut Near Norristown PA

Troops Quarters

 Remember George Washington and that whole Revolutionary War-thing?  Well, the war wasn’t going so great for him and the continental army. The British were pounding us into the ground every chance they got. We had some minor victories but we really needed the big one so Washington marched his army to attack British occupied Philadelphia but got stopped at Germantown.

 

Washington got so beat up at the Battle of Germantown and prior engagments that he took his army to camp for the winter in Valley Forge, PA.  It was late in the fighting season anyway and he needed to regroup his forces. That camp is now called Valley Forge National Park.

 

Ever visit Valley Forge? There was no battle ever fought there so if you are expecting to see Mel Gibson gallavanting across some glorious battlefield like he did in “The Patriot”, you’ll be sorely sorry….. though Jason Isaacs (aka Col. William Tavington), the British-dude he kills in the flick, won’t miss him at all.

 

That said, Valley Forge National park is still a neat place to visit.  All kidding aside it really is a place that people with very different motivations and interests will enjoy.  Let’s look at some cool stuff:

 

Miles of paved trails

 

 

While Valley Forge park consists of mostly moderately rolling grassland and paved trails. If you love to walk or jog, this is a great place to do it. The paved surface makes is comfortable and the surroundings make it scenic.

 

If you enjoy biking, you can bike on approved trails. Check the visitor center or their website for more info (I’ll include the link below).

 

If you enjoy rollerblading or skateboarding you’d better save that for somewhere else. Seriously, Valley Forge Park and skating/blading mix about as well as rattlesnakes and small defenseless creatures.  The park rangers also have full police powers so please obey park rules, state and federal laws.  The rangers are very nice and I’d prefer to keep it that way.

 

History Along The Trails

 

Be sure to check out the troops quarters (pictured at top of this post) and the cannons along the trails.  You’ll see only a fraction of the housing and ordinance at Valley Forge Park that existed while Washington’s troops stayed here but what still stands is in great shape.  Be sure to leave the trail and step into one of the huts to experience how the army lived.  Do the same when you see the cannons. Experience some of the history here up close.

 

Hint:  Look for smoke coming out of any hut chimney.  I saw this once, walked in and there were a couple of rangers stoking a fire and giving a history lesson. Very interesting.

 

The Visitor Center

 

 

Tired from a day of checking out the trails?  Just want to skip the trails?  Do you hate trails? Go to the visitor center and check out the history inside. There is also a pretty interesting short film they run at nearby building where you can better understand the tactics behind Valley Forge, how it impacted the British and Americans in surrounding regions and what happened when Washington left the encampment (I hope I’m not spoiling anything by saying the Americans won the war).

 

 

Driving Tour

 

For sake of honesty, I’ll disclose that I have not done this but it sounds interesting. There is a 10 mile self-guided driving tour that you can do on your own for free. Check out their site for details as I don’t have any (yet) from direct experience.

 

Who Will Like It?

 

I think this is more of an adult oriented trip than one for kids but by all means take the little ones, there’s plenty of space outside for them to run around and you won’t likely lose track of them.

 

People who enjoy visiting national parks without crowds will like this park as well.  I’ve never seen a big crowd.

 

History lovers will enjoy this place as it is an important piece of the continental army’s history.

 

If you are into excersizing, you’ll love the trails for biking and hiking.

 

If you are a hard-core hiker this probably isn’t your place for a real challenge. The trails are rated about a “1″ in difficulty. Not hard at all but if you live close by it is a nice place to dust off your outdoor gear and get in some practice.

 

Their  Website

 

Valley Forge National Park Website Is Right Here

 

Getting There

 

Valley Forge Park is located not far from Norristown PA and is real close to the King of Prussia Mall. The park address is 1400 North Outerline Drive in King of Prussia, 19406   
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