A December 2005 trip
to Philadelphia by zabelle
Quote: Philadelphia makes the perfect location for another mini guide get-together. Three guides and two hubbies spend some quality time together.
Philadelphia is a perfect walking city. It is the least confusing city I have ever visited. The city is set up on a grid, with Front Street being closest to the river, followed by Second Street, then Third, etc. Market Street is the focal point of the historic part of the city. The farthest north I ever go is Race Street and the farthest south is South Street. This covers most of the historic parts of the city. There is a whole other city outside the historic area, but an average tourist will probably never go there. You can purchase tickets for Septa, which includes buses and the subway. I have never used either, but I often hop a ride on the Phlash for per ride or per day. Cabs are also an option, and we grabbed one from the Society Hill Sheraton on Dock Street to Sotto Varalli on South Broad, and for four of us on a Friday evening in traffic was .40. With temperatures in the teens and wind chill, it was a bargain.
Driving isn’t all that bad in Philadelphia. There are a lot of one-way streets, so just make sure you have a new map. Parking is about a day in any of the major lots. We paid on Lombard and we parked free at the art museum, but you need to get there early to find a spot. There is some street parking but not much. Philadelphia has an airport that is serviced by all the major airlines, and the cab ride in is a set price. You can also take the train in, which is quite a lot cheaper if you are a single traveler.
Hotel | "New Market B&B"
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 15, 2005
New Market B&B
"Under the sea, under the sea"--I find myself singing this popular tune whenever I think about Sotto Varalli. It could be the giant squid that looks down on their beautiful bar, or maybe it’s the starfish lights hanging over the tables. I’m not sure, but I find myself breaking into song at the thought.
This was the designated location of our get-together in Philadelphia with guides kjlouden and samlawali. I picked Sotto Varalli because I had purchased discounted gift certificate and this seemed the perfect opportunity to use them. As it turned out, it was located right across the street from samlawali’s hotel.
We had reservations for 5:45pm and were greeted by the perky and smiling hostess who directed us to the coat check and then promptly sat us at a round table to accommodate the five of us. Everywhere around us there was "sea" decor, but the one that really caught our attention was the water that was running down the glass between the rooms, very attractive.
Our waiter’s name was Duran, and he was amazing. He had a waiter in training along with him and introduced him to us when he first visited our table. I can’t say enough about the quality of the service that we received, from start to finish, here. Everyone made us feel special, as if our presence was welcome, what a refreshing concept.
As we ordered our meal, we began satiating our hunger with wonderful bread and olive oil and pesto for dipping. When we got low on the first basket, a second miraculously appeared. Two appetizers were ordered; sam tried the crab cocktail, which was a special, and I had the fresh mozzarella and tomato salad. Both of them were very good and beautifully presented.
The menu offers an eclectic selection of pasta, seafood, and meat choices. We covered the gamut, sea scallops, duck, pasta, and red snapper. I had the sea scallops, four beauties with a piece of bacon sticking out of the top and a bed of spinach filling the center of the bowl. I also had a taste of Al’s fig sauce, which was decadently sweet. Everyone raved about their meals.
I loved the fact that they provided a small carafe of coffee along with your cup so you never had to worry about getting a refill. We tried three of the desserts: a very tart key lime tart; Grand Marnier creme brulee, with subtle hints of orange under a crispy sugar crust; and a chocolate pyramid. Al and I split the chocolate pyramid, a luscious little beauty served with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.
Everything about this restaurant was first-class, and I highly recommend it.
231 S. Broad St.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
Having a restaurant that is open 24 hours a day is always a convenience, and we decided after our visit to the Society Hill Playhouse on Saturday night that it would make an easy and inexpensive dinner stop. Located in the 100 block of South Street, it was right around the corner from our B&B.
The menu is very typically dinner: breakfast all day and meals that include two sides and a salad or soup. There were Greek specialties, sandwiches, salads, appetizers, and desserts, all stick-to-your-ribs choices.
Since it was freezing cold out, Karen and I wanted a cup of coffee to start. David got a soda and Al had just water. Since this is Philly, Al had a steak-and-cheese omelet and Dave had a steak-and-cheese sub. Not being a follower, I had meatloaf. I started with one of the soups of the day, which was cream of broccoli and chose fried eggplant and coleslaw as my sides. There were lots of choices, ranging from baked or mashed potatoes or French fries to applesauce and mixed vegetables. I have to admit that this is the first time I ever had the choice of fried breaded eggplant, and a very good choice it was.
The soup was surprisingly good, I was expecting it to be overly thick and it wasn’t. It had plenty of broccoli in a creamy but not thick broth. The meatloaf was smothered in brown gravy, and the coleslaw was homemade but didn’t have the horseradish bite I prefer. The eggplant was the real winner: two jumbo slices fried to crisp and tender perfection.
Al’s omelet was a work of art, filled with thinly sliced steak and creamy cheese, with only a touch of a dark golden color. Served with good rye toast, it was a very satisfying meal. David’s sub was a very good-size sandwich with a lot of lettuce and tomato, in addition to the steak and cheese. There was enough that Karen was able to make a meal of it as a salad.
Our service was excellent. We not only got our drinks very quickly, but our orders were taken and delivered in no time at all. The fact that we lingered for over an hour after we finished threw the bus boys off a little. It was pretty amusing to watch them come peeking around the corner to see if we had left yet so that they could clear our table. Eventually we did leave, and none of us was anything but satisfied with the whole experience.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 15, 2005
South Street Diner
140 South St.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19147
As we approach the beginning of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to revisit Franklin Court. It is very sad that none of his descendants wanted to keep the house that he shared here with his common-law wife Deborah and where his children William and Sally were raised. Given what an important inventor, politician, and statesman he was, it is hard to imagine that the city of Philadelphia didn’t step in and save the house, but it didn’t happen. All that remains today is a cistern and some foundation walls that can be viewed from the courtyard above through glass. I heard one of the park department docents telling some children that the house has never been rebuilt because they don’t know what it looked like or what it was made of. It seems almost impossible to believe that there was not one drawing from the time, say, when the mob swarmed his house because they had issues with his dealings with the British, that given all the historic broadsides that were being executed, that none of them showed his house. Also, there are plenty of his and Deborah's letters in existence, and none of them mentions, say, some brickwork being repaired, painting the exterior, or some such thing. Anyway, there is no house.
What there is is an underground museum and theater. The museum is reached by ramps, making it handicap accessible. The right-hand side of the museum has a collection of the inventions of Ben Franklin, beginning with the Franklin stove. The other side of the room has a series of portraits of the Franklin family, Ben at different ages, Deborah, and his son William and daughter Sally.
The second large room has a series of displays around the edge of the room on aspects of his career and, in the center, an audio-visual presentation about his time at the court in France. The best exhibit is the one with all the phones. You pick up a receiver, look at the wall, pick a name (like John Adams), and dial the number next to his name. You then hear a quote about Franklin from that person. There are an interesting variety of authors, from Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette and John F Kennedy and Mark Twain. I was highly entertained.
You then walk down a corridor with a time line divided into decades that tells you the major accomplishment of Ben in each of these years. The last stop is the theater, where you can watch a video narrated by David Hartman that brings the story of Ben Franklin very much to life. From his apprenticeship to his brother James in Boston to his being awarded the postmaster generalship of all the colonies, we see the man, the scientist, the statesman, and the family man. The movie is good enough to keep adults and children alike enthralled.
316-322 Market St
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106
+1 215 597 8974
Attraction | "House Tour"
There is a whole lot more to Independence Park than just Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. One of the things I have never done up until now is to take the tour of the Todd House and The Bishop White House. If you want to tour these houses, you have to plan ahead and get to the Visitor Center as soon as it opens at 8:30am. At this time of year, one tour begins at 11am and one at 2pm. There are only 10 people allowed on each tour, so you can see how imperative it is to be there early to guarantee a spot.
The Todd House is located at Fourth and Walnut. It was the home of successful Philadelphia lawyer John Todd and his lively wife Dolly Paine. She, as it turned out, would be a lot more famous than him. She married James Madison as her second husband, and the rest is, as they say, history. What we see here, however, is the life that she lived when she was Mrs. Todd. We begin our visit in the entrance way of the house, and it soon becomes all too apparent why only 10 people are allowed on the tour. We are only 8, and with our winter coats on, we can barely all squeeze into this very limited space.
The front of the first floor is set up as John’s office and the back is the warming kitchen. It doesn’t appear that a lot of cooking was done in the house, but with all the wonderfully bakeries around, they could have afforded to get their meals prepared elsewhere. There is a narrow staircase that needs to be climbed, and if you are unable to climb, you must leave the tour, as you are not allowed to stay downstairs by yourself. The second stop is just down the street at the Bishop White House. You immediately are struck by the difference. This has a spacious entrance hall and the house is about twice as long, since the hall runs along the whole side. There are rooms to visit on three floors, so, again, you must be able to climb stairs.
Our park ranger Tom kept up a steady flow of information about the families and about the contents of the houses. Most of the items in both of them is from the period but are not original to the house. The contrast between the two is what the whole tour is about. The bishop was obviously a much wealthier man than the successful lawyer. Tom was very knowledgeable and was able to answer the many and varied questions that were asked of him, and he obviously enjoys his job.
401 Walnut St
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106
+1 215 597 8974