An August 2005 trip
to Philadelphia by kjlouden
Quote: Four days, three guides, and four good-natured "guests"--add more walking
tours than any sensible person ought to plan with a 103°F heat index, and
you get... an exciting Igo weekend in Philly! We explore every street and alley in the
historic center--and meet IgoUgo friends, too.
It’s Friday. We’re meeting guide zabelle and hubby Al tonight, and I want to be able to
tell her that we’ve seen the sights she has recommended at Independence Park. We visit
those five exhibits, plus see a few blocks south and east of the park before we stop.
We’re walking with PECO Energy’s Lights of Liberty moving show
tonight, and I don’t want my first sight of these historic buildings to be with the
artwork projected on them--that would detract from the show. (I will pay less
attention to the production if I don’t see the famous buildings beforehand.)
The heat is distraction enough. Onward we trudge, but not too fast. There are long
waiting lines for each individual attraction at Independence Park and not enough
benches in shade. "A better time would be December," I grouse to guide drhough.
The group in front of us enters Independence Hall. Aha! A bench in shade! I have stood
in three lines--tickets, security, and Liberty Bell Center--to get to this point behind the
most historical building in America, so I’ve earned this bench.
Another one has a person, apparently homeless, sleeping on it, and I wonder how he has
managed to claim so coveted a position with security people all around. We have
something in common: we’re both stranded here in the heat, unable to move on until
another ranger summons my group to enter his cool domain.
We’ve been waiting (sometimes inside reading literature, sometimes outside in the sun)
since 10 this morning when we got tickets. It’s now noon. We start back to our
Hilton at 4 pm, so I count 6 hours for visiting Independence Visitors Center and Park
and walking a few extra blocks. We’ll cover the same territory again tonight with
PECO’s guided sound and video extravaganza.
Saturday evening, David and I schedule Candlelight Walking Tour of Society
Hill for a low-tech contrast. We’ll save The Constitutional walking tour for
Monday and cover only what we’ve missed.
We are the only moving figures. This production is good for experiencing the feeling of the Revolution, but not for
getting the facts. Kids think its "cool."
On Chestnut between 6th and 7th, just steps from Independence Park, I enjoy Cafe
If you have a long wait for your timed visit to the park, you can cool off here. I can
recommend the cappuccino gelato, but mango, mojito, and dozens of
other flavors look refreshing on a hot day.
The Phlash bus we try has no air-conditioning, so we use SEPTA buses.
Be aware that trolley tours offered with city passes are open-air, both levels.
Philadelphia Big Bus ( on-off tours) appears to be air conditioned.
Wait times for SEPTA buses are longer for north-south rides than for east-west
directions. Getting to and from Hilton Garden Inn at 11th and Arch is a snap with
Market Street route. We walk only half a block to the hotel. If you ride SEPTA train R-1
from the airport, buy a SEPTA daypass--.50, same as one R-1 ride to Market
East Station. The conductor will punch "R" (for "rail") on your ticket, but won’t
date-stamp it. You can use it a full day on buses and subways--it doesn’t have to be
the same day. (We wait two days to use it.) Buy another daypass for airport
return and use it all day downtown. It’s the best deal going, and you want to stop at
adjacent Reading Terminal Market anyway to stock up on fresh produce,
cheeses, meats, and pastries. Yum!
Attraction | "The Constitutional Walking Tour"
I print the tour and take it with me. It’s too long for one day, especially for anyone who
intends to go inside and visit the 33 sites listed, plus the other 13 "steps off the
tour" suggestions. I don’t intend to walk this route from beginning to end, but save it
until the last day and use it to fill in where our other tours have neglected to go. On
Monday, we’re glad we have it.
We have only 4 hours before we leave for the airport. We walk down Arch Street to
Betsy Ross House, stop number 24 on The Constitutional. Then we work our way
backward to stops 23-20: Elfreth’s Alley, Christ Church, B. Free Franklin Post Office,
and Franklin Court. These are all either on Market Street or north of it in the eastern
section of the old city. If you find that there is a section of the historic center you haven’t
explored, this is probably it.
The distance between these sites is negligible. We spend little time walking between
them and almost all our time touring--at the last minute, when we don’t usually make
good decisions in haste. We have time for the 40-minute headphone tour at Betsy
Ross House. There is even time to sit in the courtyard here and watch two
funny British actors dueling and telling jokes. Here’s one.
"You know, the Quakers in this colony outlawed everything that is fun! Yes, drinking,
gambling, dancing, spitting on the sidewalk--all against the law. Just to show you what I
mean, look at opera. It’s legal. Not fun!"
It helps to envision the fellows immediately resuming their raucous dueling after each
I don’t know how often they "play" here, but they are delightful and gather a large crowd
in the charming outdoor spot with shade trees surrounded by brick wall and furnished
with benches and chairs.
Elfreths Alley is a short walk. We find the museum here at 126, but it isn’t
open. Perhaps the attendant takes a late lunch. The narrow block with 33 houses is the
oldest continuously inhabited street in the United States. At Bladen Court, a hidden
courtyard, signs indicate political debate occurred here; a spinning porch overlooks
A narrow row house is for sale: $470,000.
At Christ Church, we sit in a pew to hear the guide’s talk and look for important
persons buried in the floor and outside in the gardens. A storyteller’s bench is
outside, and we listen to him, too.
At Franklin Court, we watch the printer inking plates as he discusses Ben’s
business and the laborious job of printing in colonial times. His finished page is
We examine Franklin’s fonts, all here, and explore the rest of the site.
We have time for a leisurely dinner at Reading Market. Not bad for four hours
before an airport run--and I didn’t have to plan them!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 20, 2005
Constitutional Walking Tours
Independence Visitors Center
We get large, padded headphones, check the gift shop, and meet our group at PECO
Energy Liberty Center (corner of 6th and Chestnut in the Public Ledger
A slew of guides walk with us to make sure we pace ourselves accurately and don’t get
ahead of the narration. We are the first tour of the evening, scheduled at 8:20pm, just at
dusk. Feeling a little top-heavy in our huge headphones, we walk through Franklin
Court, Independence Park, and several squares and streets in the Historic District as we
witness, firsthand, so to speak, events leading up to and including the Revolution.
We begin at Franklin Court. I’m not used to all the commotion yet, and I have to adjust
my headphone volume. With this, I miss some narration, but catch enough to know that
the jeering voices I hear are in an uproar over the Stamp Act. We proceed to Carpenters’
Hall, where we eavesdrop on the First Continental Congress and then a political rally
outside Second Bank, where George Washington is about to depart for command of the
Continental Army. Ben Franklin returns from England and has some Revolutionary
sentiment to impart to a gathering mob--us! I don’t believe any of the images
we see move. Ben just stands there stock still at the top of the stairs.
In a woodsy area, three video screens display images of a battle. Soldiers fire at us from
front and back. Alongside the walk is an overturned wagon with blue smoke billowing
up from it.
We end the tour at Independence Hall, lit up with various hues while patriotic music
celebrates the birth of a nation. It’s pretty moving to an American, and the whole show is
available in other languages, too: Spanish, Japanese, German, and Italian. More here.
We call 1-877-GO-2-1776 almost two weeks ahead to reserve our spots. PECO Energy
offers several sessions at 15-minute intervals beginning at dusk, Tuesdays through
Saturdays until Labor Day and Thursdays through Saturdays through October. Even as
early as we call, only one show is available for the evening we want--Friday, so that we
can leave the next evening open for the Candlelight Walking Tour of Society Hill,
offered only on Saturdays. If, like us, you are hell-bent on cramming your Philly
weekend with maximum distance, then you may want to book these evening walks and
conserve your days for museums.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 20, 2005
Lights of Liberty
600 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106
There are only nine of us, but our guide speaks very softly.
Yes, Erika is a very sweet lady, but I wish she had the voice of Robin Williams! I wear
myself out two-stepping on rough brick and cobblestone to find a position where I can
hear as we walk along on a miserably hot evening, still in the heat of the day, actually,
when only those with masochistic tendencies are still out touring. "At least, I have a
drink and snack," I console myself, but how to carry all that with camera, writing pad,
and pencil? Oh, yes, and paper towels--to wipe the sweat! I have learned that I learn
not a thing on my feet. It’s all about experiencing the ambience--and managing
the physical plant--until I get home to my desk. So, I must take notes.
And now I see that William Penn brought all the Quakers from England to
Pennsylvania in 1682, when he persuaded Charles II to grant him the property west of the
Delaware in return for a debt he owed Penn’s father. "Sylvania" means woods, and
"society" (as in Society Hill) refers to the Free Society of Traders, not to an upper-crust
neighborhood, although many prominent people lived here in the 1700’s.
The first building Erika talks about is City Tavern: "where the Revolution began."
Eighty taverns in Philadelphia served working folks, but only this one was for the elite.
When the tavern was rebuilt, architects followed diagrams found in a library in
England, so the present building replicates the original.
Our next stop is the Merchants Exchange, opened in 1834 and designed by William
Strickland, a leader of Greek Revival style and architect for Second Bank,
At one time, water that surrounded this building site caused an epidemic of yellow fever.
We procede to First Bank (1795) and the Treasurer’s Office Site, where I can’t hear a
word. We do learn that Franklin’s house was the first one commandeered by the British
when they occupied Philadelphia, and I believe the reason they wanted it was because it
was so comfortable and had indoor plumbing. Franklin had the second flush toilet in
Philadelphia. We don’t walk anywhere near his house, but that tidbit is relevant to our
Bishop White’s house was the first one in Philadelphia to have a flush toilet. He
was the first bishop at Christ Church. I resolve to visit Christ Church, and this
is what I like about walking tours. They tie everything from diverse attractions together,
creating positive reinforcement or multifaceted memory. I encounter Bishop White
details everywhere I go, and the same is true for all the founding fathers.
We see Old St. Paul’s Church, Powell House, and New Market. New Market was built in
the 1700’s, and I believe there are still craft sales here, perhaps on
One might check at the Visitors Center about sales here.
St. Peter’s Church, Thaddeus Kosciuszko House, and more lead us down cobblestone
streets with horse-drawn carriages and carriage stones and overgrown, one-lane brick
alleys with ingenious driveways, window boxes, boot rakes, and over-the-door spyglass
Most of the houses were built in the 1730’s-1770’s, but we see some fairly new ones,
modern styles with incredibly interesting twists on design specifications engineered for
the purpose of passing design review, which must be strict in this extremely important
We’re almost back where we began, I think, when we stop in front of Henry Hill’s house.
He was a liquor merchant who built his residence wide in the 1780’s. The width is
significant, because folks paid taxes on their homes according to how wide they were.
Apparently, Hill was so rich that he didn’t care, and one might speculate that he was a bit
of a show-off. Well, isn’t that just typical of the nouveau riche?
In spite of the difficulty hearing our guide, I can recommend this tour. The cost is
negligible. I could have asked Erika to speak up, but I was concerned about her physical
comfort on such a hot night. She was wearing a long dress with full sleeves and a
bonnet, and I didn’t have the nerve to ask more of her. If you walk Society Hill during
Visitor Center hours, you can probably get an audio tour there, but if you have
other activities planned for the day, when museums are open, then you might want to
take this tour in the evening, when audio tours are probably not available anywhere. We
were trying to reserve our daytime hours for museums, and this activity didn’t detract
from our itinerary. See more here.
With everything else she says, I have to agree. We talk about our different itineraries for
the weekend, other travel, family backgrounds, work experiences, and friends--and talk
for ninety minutes until we must leave for the Lights of Liberty show.
I lived and worked in Philadelphia one summer in the late 1970s, and I didn’t like the
city then. Most of the historic sites visited today weren’t spruced up, as they are now,
and many attractions, such as the National Constitution Center (since 2004), didn’t even
exist then. I didn’t know there were so many attractions I wanted to see until I
read zabelle’s journal Phlashing in Philly. I know I can always count on her to
ferret out the best tours and museums, and I consider all her suggestions "must sees." I
just had to visit Independence Park, Atwater-Kent Museum, City Hall, and the National
Constitution Center because of her coverage of them. Who wouldn’t want to dine at City
Tavern, knowing how much our star food connoisseur relishes it?
Then Owen Lipsett’s account of "Essential Museums" and fast food makes Philly this
year even more essential. We almost get Owen to join us, but we have picked a bad
weekend for him. (By the way, Owen, we wish you were here! We all take your advice
and shop at Reading Market. As a matter of fact, we even stay next door and visit
the market several times. And, I find National Constitution Center to be exactly as
you’ve described it.)
Isabelle and I have been trying for a year to find a common ground where we can meet,
and we focus on somewhere in Pennsylvania, halfway for both of us. When I decide I
must see Philly this summer and discover that she has booked the city for August 12-15,
that is sure to work out. In my excitement, I forget that I don’t usually travel in August
because I can’t stand the heat! But this caution gets pushed aside.
There is little chance that our itineraries will overlap, since we are going to see
the same attractions that she has already described. Also, she and Al are travelling with
12-year-olds, and we don’t want to "horn in" on their family weekend. We both agree to
play it by ear and get together at whatever times present themselves. David insists that he
and I book Lights of Liberty show, and zabelle and Al think it sounds good, too.
(Plus, there is a half price coupon for it in the Philadelphia Entertainment Book,
and we both have one.) We all have reservations for 8:20, we discover, and so we walk
together to the PECO Energy Liberty Center at the corner of 6th and Chestnut. This
distance gives us more time to chat.
The big padded headphones we have to put on finally shut us up--well, most of the time,
We do figure out pretty fast that the headphones can be raised to make a comment, and
we all have a few. We lose track of one another from time to time during the
light-and-sound extravaganza and then get together again for our walk back to the
David and I are meeting a high school friend from our hometown Saturday morning.
This fits perfectly. Donna can visit with us the sites that Iz and Al have already scouted
out. We with our company and our Igo friends with their family part ways until Sunday
night, when we meet at Hilton’s 10th floor grill and bar.
To make a long story short, we close the place and move our chatter to the lobby. This is
where the debate about auto-versus-train travel in Europe continues. (The train does, too,
go to Vezelay, Isabelle. I checked at www.diebahn.de.) You can probably guess where
we girls end up. Of course, we must check out the business center, specifically our Igo
accounts to see if we are getting any mail. This is when the guys have had enough, and
they desert us. We aren’t far behind. We’re too tired to answer any mail at this point,
Monday is another day, and I still have so very much to see in Philly. I don’t think I’ll
finish with this city until I’ve visited all the attractions IgoUgo has covered, so I’m
already planning my next trip. Plus, I have to discover something new, so that I
can return the favor and offer a suggestion or two. Gee, I wonder if zabelle’s been to
Betsy Ross House! Yep! She's been there, too. I'm still looking for a place she hasn't been in Philly.
West Virginia, United States