Written by Liam Hetherington on 13 Nov, 2011
They call it ‘the City of Brotherly Love’, and as a city I found it very easy to love Philadelphia. Having just arrived on the Greyhound from New York the contrast couldn’t have been more different. Despite Philadelphia’s size its centre was compact and…Read More
They call it ‘the City of Brotherly Love’, and as a city I found it very easy to love Philadelphia. Having just arrived on the Greyhound from New York the contrast couldn’t have been more different. Despite Philadelphia’s size its centre was compact and walkable. There was a free-spirited and rather idiosyncratic approach to the use of public spaces that I found appealing. And the locals were friendliness personified. I was shocked the first time a passer-by spoke to us out of the blue; by the third time it happened I was no longer surprised. The natives here are friendly!All this came as a bit of a surprise for me. I hadn’t known what to expect from Philly. This was the first time I had ever been to America and Philadelphia was a late addition to an itinerary which was originally just to be in New York for my girlfriend’s 30th birthday. It was me who insisted that if we were paying so much for transatlantic flights we might as well upgrade our stay from four nights in NYC to a full fortnight taking in more of the country. Philadelphia made it on to our whistle-stop tour purely because, in Independence Hall, it housed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That was the main attraction and reason enough – in my eyes at least – to include two nights in the city. But when I left I thought that I would happily have spent longer here.The city is heaven for politics nerds or students of American history. Philadelphia played a large part in the USA becoming the nation it is today. By the late 18th century Philadelphia was the largest city in Britain’s American colonies. The debates that took place while the Continental Congress met here led to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence; once freedom had been won more discussions occurred to draft a constitution for the new nation. Philadelphia served as capital for a decade while Washington was under construction. The City of Brotherly Love, with its long tradition of tolerance, was the birthplace of America.Understandably then, the area around Independence Mall is the must-see location in Philadelphia. This has been designated the Independence National Historical Park. Its sights, such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center are free to enter. For die-hard politics nerds the National Constitution Center sits nearby. You can stroll down through the atmospheric Old City and check out Benjamin Franklin’s grave at Christ Church. We continued down to the waterfront walk along the Delaware River – enjoyable more for the breeze off the river and a couple of sombre Korean and Vietnam War memorials than for the much-hyped ‘Penn’s Landing’. Heading back through the modern city centre a stop for Philly delicacies at Reading Terminal Market is a must before gazing at the green-and-white needle-tipped City Hall. Pop culture buffs may want to head up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to recreate Rocky’s famous run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.Our trip took place in July. We had missed the Independence Day celebrations but the city gleamed. Bunting hung along the streets. Fountains sparkled in the sunlight. Representations of the city’s baseball mascot, the ‘Philly Phanatic’, were scattered throughout the city. Rebecca posed kissing one for my camera in ‘Love Park’ (otherwise known as JFK Plaza, and a great example of Philadelphia’s public spaces). As she did so an overjoyed local sprang from the bushes with a cry of "You kissed the Phwanatic!" There was a sense of pride in their city that was palpably evident from everyone we encountered.Bizarrely, the streets emptied out in the evening. Thronged with families and tourists during the day, after 5pm the city seemed to empty. It looked like all those visitors we had seen were daytrippers. So to get the best out of Philadelphia stay over. We had no trouble finding places to eat, the summer evenings were balmy, it was safe to walk about, and Independence Hall looked stunning floodlit at night. Close
Written by stvchin on 08 Jul, 2010
This was my first time I’ve ever step foot in Philadelphia, and this is simply a compilation of my observations and experience on a short little side trip there.My friend and I weren’t originally even going to stop in Philadelphia. We were simply going to…Read More
This was my first time I’ve ever step foot in Philadelphia, and this is simply a compilation of my observations and experience on a short little side trip there.My friend and I weren’t originally even going to stop in Philadelphia. We were simply going to pass through Philly on the way from Washington DC to New York City. We remembered an old friend that moved out to Philadelphia from California a few years ago and made contact with him. He offered to show us around for a day if we wanted to stay the night in Philly. On my friend’s recommendation, we booked a room at the Four Points by Sheraton Philadelphia City Center. For minimal cost, we changed our Amtrak tickets from Washington DC to NYC to allow us to spend the night in Philly. Our old friend met us in the Reading Terminal Market, which was a really good choice, as it introduced me to Pennsylvania Dutch food. After a meal at the Reading Terminal Market, we took a quick walk over to the Independence National Historic Park area. We saw the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and wandered around the area a bit to look at the sights. It's suprisingly easy to get around the parts of Philadelphia we visited. The city doesn't seem all that far to walk around. There's also SEPTA, the public transit district which includes the subway and buses, which helped us get around.From what we saw, it seems that a good portion of Philadelphia’s celebrated history is about William Penn and Benjamin Franklin. We visited Benjamin Franklin’s grave at the Christ Church Burial Ground at the corner of Arch and 5th Streets. We walked by Betsy Ross’ house, and some other historical sites. It’s interesting to me how there are a good number of historic buildings and places of historical significance integrated with more modern buildings in Philadelphia’s cityscape. The next morning, after a good breakfast at Reading Terminal Market’s The Dutch Eating Place, we went to the US Mint for the free public tour. Problem is that we were not allowed to take cameras into the Mint, so one of us had to take the camera and wait outside while the other went in for the tour. In addition, cell phones must be turned off while inside the US Mint, so I had to stay around the area while waiting. During my time outside holding the camera, I visited both the National Constitution Center and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The US Mint is across the street from the National Constitution Center, and the Fed is one street beyond that. I realized the Fed was having a free exhibit, called "Money in Motion." I entered the front lobby of the Federal Reserve Bank and inquired about the Money in Motion exhibit. The exhibit is a limited time exhibit, and the Federal Reserve Bank building is normally not open to public access. Since this seemed like a unique opportunity, I decided to take advantage of it. The Federal Reserve Bank security is so much heavier than the US Mint. With all the armed guards, heavy concrete-filled planters, double security doors, sally ports which allow one person to pass at a time, and inch thick bulletproof glass, the Federal Reserve looks as if it’s set up to withstand an armed assault. There was no photography allowed inside, and it simply looks like a modern office building with a large atrium in the middle. The Money in Motion exhibit was off to the side of the lobby, and largely unimpressive as far as side. However, the Money in Motion exhibit was extremely educational about the job that the Federal Reserve does. There were displays of how money is controlled, how the Fed received new money from the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing and "monetizes" it, and how the Fed decommissions old currency and shreds it. The display attendant even gave me a packet of shredded $100 bills. After spending about 20 minutes with the interactive displays and learning quite a lot about the Federal Reserve Bank, I decided it was time to move on. I didn't submit an IgoUgo review of Money in Motion since it was a limited time event in the Federal Reserve Bank, which is a facility not normally allowing public access.The National Constitution Center is a museum devoted to the US Constitution and the study and understanding of it. I wandered into the lobby and learned there is a $20 entry fee to see the exhibits. My friend called me shortly thereafter to let me know he had just finished his turn in the US Mint tour, so I had to leave the National Constitution Center. I wouldn’t have been worth it for me to spend $20 unless I knew how much time I would have in the museum exhibits there.I’m a big history buff, and it’s just mindboggling how much history is intertwined into the landscape and history of Philadelphia, and how important the city is to US History. I wish I had more time to explore around Philly. My experience in Philadelphia is limited to the day we spent around the Independence Park and Reading Terminal Market area. But from what I’ve seen there, I like it in Philadelphia, and I’m going to be returning in the future. Close
Written by Philly_Girl on 15 Aug, 2005
When my 17-year-old nephew came to visit this summer, I planned to take him to all the historical sites of Philadelphia. You know the ones, the Liberty Bell, Valley Forge, etc. Evidently though, he had done his research, and he had a slightly different…Read More
When my 17-year-old nephew came to visit this summer, I planned to take him to all the historical sites of Philadelphia. You know the ones, the Liberty Bell, Valley Forge, etc. Evidently though, he had done his research, and he had a slightly different agenda for his 4 days in our city of brotherly love.
I knew it wasn't going to be one of the typical tourist visits, when he got off the airplane with his skateboard on his backpack. "Mom sent you my insurance card, in case I get messed up at the skate park."
"Oh, great," I stammered. "Um, it's good to be prepared..."
The next day we were off to FDR, a skateboarding park. I had looked up directions for us on the Internet, but I had no idea what to expect. I imagined something like Disneyland, with ticket takers, vendors selling $5 cokes, and some kind of form to sign releasing them of liability. What we found was infinitely cooler and way more organic. We got off at the Phillies stadium exit and made our way to the FDR park, following the drive around to the right (one way) to an area underneath I-95 freeway. And there we found it, the famous FDR skate park. This is a skateboard park built by skateboarders. Free to the public the park was filled with 15-25 year olds waiting in line for their turn... At 33, my husband and I were by far the oldest people around.
We stayed all of 5 minutes during our first visit to FDR. Evidently the competition was stiff, and my nephew was not too keen on breaking through the crowds for his turn. I promised him we'd come back in the morning when presumably most of the frequent users might be sleeping in (after a night on the town in Philadelphia.) "Cool," he said. We headed for Philadelphia art museum for the rest of the afternoon, swinging by Love Park a famous site where skateboarders and local city officials duked it out over whether skateboarding would be allowed. Officially it's still banned, though rumor has it among skateboarding fanatics that nighttime is a great time to try out Love Park...
Anyway, the next morning my nephew and I made our way back to FDR. Happily, we were right and the park was mostly empty. My nephew made his way to the edge of the skating area with a handful of other boarders and some bikers. I hung out for a while taking pictures, then retreated to the car to give him some space. Who needs a 30 year old around when you're trying to skate FDR?
Forty-five minutes later, a sweaty but very happy 17-year-old joined me in the car. "I carved my first bowl," I heard him crowing to his friend back in Minnesota on the cell phone as we drove downtown to see the Liberty Bell. "It was totally awesome."
The rest of the trip was filled with more traditional Philadelphia sights, Independence Hall, The Mummer's museum, and South Street with Lorenzo's pizza. But, I'm grateful to my nephew for introducing me and letting me observe a vibrant subculture here in Philly. This is a great city, and there is more to do here than even we natives know! Close
Written by Owen Lipsett on 06 Jul, 2005
The farmland to the east and west of Philadelphia produces the best meats, milk, and produce on the United States' East Coast - which plays a major part in Philadelphia's large number of fine restaurants. Fitting for a city as justly famous for its…Read More
The farmland to the east and west of Philadelphia produces the best meats, milk, and produce on the United States' East Coast - which plays a major part in Philadelphia's large number of fine restaurants. Fitting for a city as justly famous for its plebian as its patrician culture, it's also home to some of America's most unique (and fattening) regional cuisine.
If you're on Atkins (or any other sort of diet, for that matter), you may want to stop reading here, but if you don't mind putting on a bit of weight, here are some suggestions regarding how to do so enjoyably. Besides, Philadelphia's eminently walkable streets allow you limitless opportunities to burn it off...
Food carts: Most American cities have these seemingly unsanitary institutions, but none can match Philadelphia's for their quality, density, variety, and (perhaps most importantly!) hygiene. As the fast casual trend has raised the prices (and expectations) at the city's sandwich shops and lunch counters, these humble vehicles dish out huge quantities of tasty fare that will almost always leave you change from a $5 bill. The largest concentrations are in Center City (particularly around City Hall), across from 30th Street Station, and at strategic points near the University of Pennsylvania campus.
My personal favorite is Pong Yee, a marvelous Chinese institution that puts its four-walled competitors to shame in terms of price and quality, although certainly not service. It's best to call your order into (610) 812-7189; otherwise, you'll have to wait 15-20 minutes for the food to be prepared - all dishes are made to order. The Singapore noodles, beef with broccoli, and "pork billy" specialty of the house are all winners - it's located next to the University of Pennsylvania's renowned Wharton School at 38th and Spruce Streets. It's open 11am-9pm Monday to Saturday.
Also outstanding (and a bit closer to Penn's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which is the main draw for casual visitors to West Philadelphia) is Magic Carpet Foods - a vegetarian lunch truck which nevertheless draws confirmed carnivores like me for its superb seitan and flavorful falafel. The lengthy line at noon testifies to its popularity, but it moves very quickly. In particular, the Belladonna wrap and falafel salad (be sure to ask for lots of tahini on top) are outstanding and ridiculously inexpensive. It's located at 34th and Walnut, the northeast corner of Penn's undrgraduate campus. Note that it's only open 11am-3pm on weekdays.
Hoagies: A cynic (which many people will tell you is simply a synonym for Philadelphian) might tell you that the only thing that distinguishes these flavorful sandwiches from Boston's subs or New York's heros is their city of provenance. But there's something much tastier about these homages to traditional Italian lunchmeat and fresh vegetables (you won't find any bologna inside in any sense of the word!), which take their name from Philadelphia's Hog Island shipyard, where workers first enjoyed them. I'd personally argue that the freshness of the Delaware Valley's superb farm products explain their superiority to their Northern cousins, although others credit the subtler blend of spices employed than in Boston or New York. Betraying my recent arrival to Philadelphia, I'm still sufficiently seduced by their overall quality that I haven't yet found a single favorite hoagie shop. Wherever you order one, I am told by native Philadelphians that they're best enjoyed with a light Italian dressing, which brings out the flavor in their vegetable components.
Wawa: You might think that in listing a chain of convenience stores as one of Philadelphia's culinary traditions, I'm illustrating either the city's charmlessness or my own ignorance, but I can certainly assure you it's not the former. Wawa, an offshoot of the dairy company of the same name, offers surprisingly inexpensive and fresh food and the best produce you'll ever see at a store of its kind. In particular, their computerized hoagie ordering system is a joy matched only by the relatively reasonable price for these tasty sandwiches. On any jaunt through the city, you're sure to see people drinking from their trademark square liter bottles of various beverages - their iced tea and chocolate milk really deserve to be distributed nationwide!
Scrapple: I'll be honest, I find the concept of "cornmeal mush made with the meat and broth of pork, seasoned with onions, spices and herbs and shaped into loaves for slicing and frying" (the dictionary definition of scrapple) a tad off-putting. Nevertheless, as your faithful Philadelphia correspondent, it's my duty to inform you of this apparently delectable dish, developed by Pennsylvania Germans in the east of the state and then popularized throughout the northeast as a result of its Philadelphian renown. True conoisseurs apparently enjoy the fried loaves dipped in maple syrup, which my mother claims I did as a child. (I disclaim all knowledge of such consumption.) At least, she tells me that I consumed it "raw" (as opposed to fried), which is perfectly safe, as the pork has already been cooked. (Although the concept of safety is perhaps in the eye of the beholder in this case!)
Cheesesteaks: By contrast, I'll freely admit to consuming a cheesesteak at none other than Pat's Steaks, the self-proclaimed originator of the sandwich synonymous with Philadelphia. If you're willing to make the journey through South Philadelphia (Rocky's neighborhood) on foot, it's certainly a just reward. However, if you follow my lazy example and take a cab to its bare-bones location at the intersection of 9th Street and Wharton and Passayunk Avenue, you'll be punished for your indolence by a sensation of bloating almost as soon as you've finished wiping the sandwich's residue from your mouth, hands, and clothing (and you will have to do this!) While some claim that Geno's, located somewhat more salubriously inside a McDonald's-style shelter (Pat's resembles a stadium concession stand) catercorner to Pat's, is superior to its predecessor, its self-proclaimed "authenticity" (and higher prices) suggest that it is in fact struggling to truly possess this quality. In any case, I've never been tempted to try it.
Regardless of where you order your sandwich, it's important to learn cheesesteak etiquette (yes, there is such a thing!). You should decide beforehand what you'd like to order, as a single error will make Philadelphia's countermen belie the city's otherwise justified reputation for friendliness. As for the order itself, first state the sort of sandwich you'd like (pepper, plain, and pizza steaks are just what they sound like). But you should never ask for a "cheesesteak." Rather, state "American", "Provolone," or "Whiz" (the choice of connoisseurs - yes, as in Cheez Whiz), and do not repeat John Kerry's ignorant error of stating "Swiss" unless you're in the mood for public humiliation. Then state either "wit" or "wit-out" depending on whether you'd like onions. Personally, I'd recommend "American wit" and then topping it with complimentary hot peppers, but "Whiz wit" is the most authentic order.
There's no better way to round out any Philadelphia fast-food meal than by purchasing a water ice, a combination between a slightly more flavorful slurpee and a fruit sorbet, which is most delicious (and filling) if ordered with frozen custard mixed in. Rita's is the most widespread purveyor of this particular delight.
Philadelphia’s streets were famous long before Bruce Springsteen memorialized them, as the first in the United States laid out according to a grid system. Indeed, Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited in the United States, numbers among them. But it’s not the individual…Read More
Philadelphia’s streets were famous long before Bruce Springsteen memorialized them, as the first in the United States laid out according to a grid system. Indeed, Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited in the United States, numbers among them. But it’s not the individual sights along them but the overall assemblage that makes them so special.
Unlike more recent American grid plans, Philadelphia’s is still evident wherever you go in Center City, as the area between the Delaware and Schuykill Rivers is known. The north-south axis of Broad Street (variously known as 14th Street and "The Avenue of the Arts") meets Market Street, which runs East-West, at the fin de siecle City Hall. City Hall is fittingly topped by a statue of William Penn, the city’s founder.
Like any great city, however, Philadelphia's founding myth is in a sense just that, as a Swedish settlement predated the city Penn founded to serve as the capital of his eponymous religiously tolerant colony, not to mention the innumberable native American villages which the Swedes encountered nearby. To explore the city it’s perhaps better to set the most famous aspects of Philadelphia's history aside in order to focus on the less famous, but no less significant, nature of its original design and layout, which are more readily apparent than in any other American city.
Considering that City Hall is appropriately located at the city’s very center, it offers the best view of this assemblage, which predates it by more than two centuries. From the building's construction in 1901 until One Penn Plaza was erected in 1987, it was the city's tallest building, and it remains the tallest publicly accessible one. Designed by John McArthur in 1871 and constructed over the course of three decades for the then-princely sum of $24.5 million, it lost its intended status of the world’s tallest before it was finished. Cynics have often pointed to this as the first of the many grandiose ambitions it failed to live up to.
It faces directly northwest along Benjamin Franklin Parkway (which cuts the grid diagonally) at its greatest rival as the city’s most famous building, the neo-classical Philadelphia Museum of Art. In between lies Logan Square, whose name belies its design - that of a circle surrounded by a square onto which face a pair of the city's most august institutions: the Free Library (the country's oldest) and the Franklin Institute, the city's science museum. The circle itself contains Swann Fountain, in which young Philadelphians are frequently to be seen swimming during the hot summer months, despite the practice being officially prohibited. Within the broader plan of the city, Logan Square serves as the northwest quadrant's public square, as well as dividing the museums of the so-called "Art Museum Area" from the city's business district.
Its counterpart in the Southwest quadrant, Rittenhouse Square, is considered the city’s most prestigious address. Assiduous real estate agents have managed to apply the Square's name to the surrounding district as whole - which David Rittenhouse, one of the country's first great scientists and public intellectuals, would probably have found quite humorous. Despite its eminent namesake, the area distinctly lacks specific points of interest, although this is a blessing in disguise as it compels you to focus on the sheer beauty of its eighteenth and nineteenth century streets, the most pleasant in the city for idle strolling. Many feature relics of past inhabitants, in the form of small historical signs, and (more subtly) hitching posts, that in some cases serve to separate trendy bistros from the streets. As young professionals have begun moving back into the city (a somewhat slower process than most civic boosters claim) many of the area’s nineteenth century dwellings have been turned into apartments.
South Street separates Center City from South Philadelphia, the predominantly Italian-American area that is home to the city’s stadium complex, the Italian Market, Pat’s Steaks and (in legend only) Rocky Balboa. East of City Hall, South Street itself forms the southern border of Philadelphia’s most touristed area and is studded with the sort of stores you might encounter in either New York or London’s SoHo, although some interesting street art has nevertheless endured. Going north through the city’s southeast quadrant, the streets turn more verdant, and the buildings more historic, a prelude to Independence Hall National Historic Park which straddles Market Street (the building itself is on the street’s south side.
The northeast quadrant includes the remainder of the Park (most famously, the Liberty Bell and its pavillion). Between the Park and City Hall are the city’s small Chinatown and Reading Terminal Market, both of which provide relatively inexpensive and generally tasty sustenance for any wander. Still further north is the aptly named Old City, which contains most of Philadelphia’s commercial galleries, as well as some of its most popular restaurants and nightclubs. Fittingly, its Square has come to be named after Philadelphia’s most famous citizen, Benjamin Franklin. The Square in the southeast quadrant is named after George Washington and forms the heart of Society Hill,/B>, long one of the city's most genteel neighborhoods, which is the best place to base yourself for a weekend visit.
If this overview has seemed vague, that's entirely deliberate on my part – while these neighborhoods’ famous sights are well-known, you can best appreciate their subtler ones by seeking them out yourself. My two favorites of this sort both honor foreign-born Revolutionary War heroes. The massive statue of Polish (and American) revolutionary hero Thaddeus Kosciusko (near my workplace and Logan Square) and the grave of Commodre John Barry, the Irish-born founder of the American Navy, at 4th and Spruce Streets. There are thousands of others, and like Philadelphia’s streets, to see them is in a sense to own them, as they belong to all who pass by.
Written by ephraim on 28 Jun, 2001
OK, this is one of the stangest things I have ever seen in my life. I realize the sweeping import of that statement, but I''ll just take a deep breath and try and begin to explain the Wing Bowl. Every year the morning guys on…Read More
OK, this is one of the stangest things I have ever seen in my life. I realize the sweeping import of that statement, but I''ll just take a deep breath and try and begin to explain the Wing Bowl. Every year the morning guys on a local AM radio station (WIP 610) sponsor what amounts to the grandest and most spectacular buffalo-wing eating contest in the world. The hype is enormous, and even though it is held early on a January morning (so it can be simulcast with the morning sports show) it sold out the First Union Center. Well, that's not entirely accurate. The Wing Bowl is free, but once the crowd grew to well over 20,000, they stopped letting people in. That's right, over 20,000 Philadelphians decided it was worth it to trek out to the F.U.C., miss a morning's worth of work, all in the January cold, to watch a wing-eating contest. So, curious, I joined them for this year's version -- Wing Bowl 9. I was not disappointed. Imagine a mix between amateur wrestling, Hooters, the NFL pregame show, and Rocky. The contestants enter the stadium like boxing champions, their theme music blaring and their entourage in tow. They have names like "Damaging Doug," "El Wingador," and "The Irish Mute." Round after round, they scarf down plate after plate of buffalo wings as the 9 a.m. crowd drinks beer and shouts lewd shouts at the scantliy clad "Wingettes." WIP culls its contestants from various qualifying stunts in the weeks leading up to Wing Bowl. Could you eat a hamburger the size of a volleyball? Could you eat a can or worms? Then, maybe then, you have the makings of a Wing Bowl participant. Apparently it helps, judging from a look at this year's contestants, if you weigh over 300 pounds -- or in the case of "The Package," 700 pounds. It is a spectacle of the grotesque quite simply not be missed -- or believed. The national anthem (the national anthem) was sung by a woman while she bounced on a trampoline. The halftime show consisted of a man breaking full cans of beer on his head. In the end, "El Wingador" brought home the trophy by eating a Wing Bowl-record 147 buffalo wings (he also got a trip to Aruba, but something tells me the bragging rights are a bit more important to him). This yearly event is just not to be missed if you happen to be in Philly in the beginning of January. I have not found a more interesting way to spend a Friday morning than with 20,000 screaming, beer-drinking Philly fanatics watching fat men (and one fat woman) eat chicken wings. That's why I'll try and be back for Wing Bowl X. Close
Written by Jose Kevo on 14 Jun, 2005
A volunteer staff member at the Spanish Harlem Youth Center was also teaching U.S. history to public-school eighth-graders. We'd had frequent conversations about his students failing due to lack of interest and effectiveness in the classroom. Coordinating a day off, plans were to…Read More
A volunteer staff member at the Spanish Harlem Youth Center was also teaching U.S. history to public-school eighth-graders. We'd had frequent conversations about his students failing due to lack of interest and effectiveness in the classroom. Coordinating a day off, plans were to meet at Penn Station, with his only details being to come prepared to spend the day walking.
Malik was beguiled that day in Philly. I gave my first city tour, thoroughly foraging through the Historic District, discovering how frivolous and limited previous enlightenings had been. Standing within the pages from which textbooks had been written, Malik's enthusiasm was highly contagious. By the time we'd got back in NYC, a plan was hatched to offer an incentive trip to students at our youth center. It became one of our most popular awards and was the ultimate educational field trip in the process. Many visits and years later, Philadelphia is still a feast of knowledge to savour and slowly digest, especially if a person's anemic to U.S. history, lest risking overdose.
Retention in Detention
Time spent in Philly proved how much of history class got phased about when it came to topics about the founding of this country. Grades were carried when refocusing for the Civil War or How the West was Won. I could identify with cowboys and Southerner outdoor types, but Philadelphia seemed so far away. It simply didn't exist, nor the desire to really learn anything about New England and the mid-Atlantic, where it all began.
As a freshman in college, ignorance was fully exposed when a professor abruptly informed me the Liberty Bell wasn't in Boston. As for really profound, acquired Philly knowledge, "Rocky" hung out in cool neighborhoods and persevered up those endless stairs at some big-ass museum. The Phllies’ Mike Schmidt was an ace at first base. Anyone could make a cheesesteak sandwich, but cream cheese only came from one place. And once a former roommate was traded to The Eagles, he used to call with stories us country boys couldn't begin to conceive of. Beyond that, whatever else "important" happened in Philadelphia was no different than math or other subjects suffered through. They'd never be put to use, let alone was there a Valley Forge snowball's chance in hell of ever visiting there.
Life in NYC and touring Europe's largest cities thankfully dilated my scope of identity and was probably the only thing which curtailed going totally bonkers discovering such guilty pleasures. The refining process from Midwest inhibitions was about to get purged since very little in Philly doesn't have some type of historical or traditional significance. Retained but forgotten knowledge from years gone by was finally awakened!
I'm not sure how anyone could pay a visit and not feel a visceral connection to places where the concepts of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were conceived. Sage types will need spectacles for skimming through magnitudes of information tucked away in classic collections, but there's still no escaping recitations, even for us outdoor types. Picture-less facts materialize in the streets, and the city hasn't missed a single opportunity to exploit every occurrence and landmark with great detail.
Santo Domingo may be loaded with "firsts" as birthplace of the Western world, but Philadelphia trumps with the U.S. firsts, seconds, and even thirds! The Independence National Historic Park claims to be the country's most historic square mile, and rightly so, but my favorite of relics isn't even a first and had more to do with enhancing privilege and franchise.
The Second Bank of the United States, on Chestnut Street, is the city's most impressive structure of Greek Revival architecture. I found the mammoth structure open with a special exhibit only once, but the interior holds nothing that could surpass presence of the facade.
Philly frames an old-world European feel, perhaps more than any other American city, especially when considering that our Bill or Rights was devised in hopes that everyone could somehow live together and get along despite obvious differences. Nowhere is this more evident than the collection of churches. Pine Street Presbyterian, St. George's United Methodist, First Reformed, and St. Mary's are some of the oldest houses of worship still in use. The Mother Bethel African American Methodist Episcopal Church represents the oldest piece of property continuously owned by African-Americans.
Eventually, notion of keeping church and state separate came into play, undoubtedly inspired by the various ethnicities and religious sects. Drawing one's own conclusions isn't difficult when realizing freedom of worship could've also been the root of segregation! Founded in 1740, the Congregation Mikveh Israel still serves the thriving Jewish community as "Synagogue of the Revolution." Just around the corner is the Arch Street Meeting House, which housed a church and community center for Quakers. Even if you don't have time to read all the material, pass through the main facility, which doesn't require reservations. Simplicity is confounding compared to what's nearby, billed as The Nation's Church.
Christ Church, at 2nd and Market, has a free tour that drops impressive names of the who's who that called the church their own. America's Episcopal denomination was founded here, the country's flirtatious alternative to Catholicism cloaked in religious freedom and tolerance. There's no denying worship of the wealthy was embraced, a spiritual encounter that included seeing and being seen. Everyone that was anyone filled coiffeurs, securing prominence within the community, as well as personal spots in pews or cemetery burial plots. In many cases, performed acts and deeds by parish members are more recognizable than names, but there's no escaping who could easily be considered Father of Philadelphia.
All About the Benjamins...
As founder of the city, William Penn may have secured the loftiest position atop City Hall, but just about everything else below memorializes the man who arguably made some of the country's greatest contributions. Benjamin Franklin embodied the spirit of America with a lot more than his kite-flying skills. It's no wonder he was the only non-president to grace our currency, developed at the original U.S. Mint on 5th and Arch.
Franklin Court, on the south side of Market, between 3rd and 4th, is not even specifically listed in the official visitors guide. An arched walkway between the pair of green doors trails to the foundational remains of the house Franklin shared with his wife, Deborah, and one of the best learning resources in the city. Placards line courtyard walls, detailing the Franklins' everyday lives, as well as factual trivia about the print shops where he worked.
Towards the rear is free entry to an underground museum, which contains artifacts from the couple's home and examples of more Franklin contributions than ever appreciated. The main exhibit room is centered around a sunken display paying tribute to the Franklins and their neighbors, but visitors of all ages will gain from the wall of Franklin quotes or the bank of telephones where listed hotline numbers can be dialed to hear voice-overs of what some of the world's most prominent have said about this Statesman throughout the centuries.
Combing over the places Franklin frequented is all but surreal, perhaps standing in the exact spot where he told a funny that wiped the smugness from George Washington's face. The Franklins, along with numerous notables, are buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground at 5th and Arch, separate from the church. Wishing to repay respects, a pair of colonial-clad students stopped me at the gate, now requesting $2 admission. No wonder the cemetery was "void" of life.
For being such a central community figure, perhaps tourism plans for the 21st century were already in place when the Franklins were laid to rest in 1790. They're along the wall, where a section of bricks has been replaced with caste-iron fencing. Tourists congregate bouncing pennies off the marble grave marker for good luck, a $999.99 discount.
While Our Forefathers Sleep...
Philadelphia would experience a massive earthquake if all the significant people buried rolled over at the same time, especially if they ever sensed how far their ideals for America had been elucidated, and the new National Constitution Center isn't even a necessary reminder. We, as a country, have came a long way, at times appearing to have progressed even farther with ideals than Philadelphia.
Ongoing development within the historic district has all but swallowed Independence Hall into vagueness. Barricades might have been initially placed in response to 9/11 and potential terrorist attacks, but a double-purpose helps control the multitudes that have turned Philadelphia into a quest and pilgrimage. Even the peaceful garden where Betsy Ross is buried had turned into a three-ring circus!
When considering the overall state of our nation, the City of Brotherly Love seems to have clung to what our founders intended and manages to make the wrongs right. That's how Philly will always remain a timeless destination, an opportunity to revisit the past while passing through our living history in progress.
Trying to thoroughly familiarize myself with Philly one day at a time has been rather futile when considering a 1-week in-depth stay couldn't begin to scratch the surface of major attractions. Here's additional recommendations, heading west-to-east from the downtown area, that have been checked…Read More
Trying to thoroughly familiarize myself with Philly one day at a time has been rather futile when considering a 1-week in-depth stay couldn't begin to scratch the surface of major attractions. Here's additional recommendations, heading west-to-east from the downtown area, that have been checked off the must-see list, some more than once.
The Rocky & Bullwinkle Tour
Across from the northwest corner of City Hall is LOVE Park, which has a fountain shooting sky-high jets of water, great for lounging downwind from on a hot summer day. Off the tip of the park, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway leads to Logan Square, which bases the cluster of city museums. The parkway ends at the steps made famous by Sylvester Stallone's triumphant Rocky run to the top outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
On one of my first trips to Philly, I was surprised to find that the city celebrates the 4th of July with a week's worth of activities and nightly firework shows leading up to Independence Day. A street festival along Franklin Parkway provided enough of a distraction to make the long walk enjoyable. Public transportation was used during the other time spent in this area.
Clearly marked bus stops line Market Avenue along LOVE Park, including a direct route to the zoo. The Philadelphia Zoo is America's first chartered zoo, though New Yorkers still claim the title thanks to an unorganized menagerie of cages behind The Arsenal in Central Park. The predominant lingering memory is wishing there'd been more within the 42-acre facility, which has been engulfed with no space to grow. Extreme makeovers have allowed the grounds to retain historical significance while doing away with cages in lieu of natural-setting viewings. The zoo opens at 9:30am and was a great place to spend the morning.
The same bus line that passes the zoo loops back around the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which makes for a convenient double feature. Beyond special exhibits, regular collections rival anything found in NY's museums, and admission is cheaper at $10. However, with all that's found inside, don't hesitate to take an in-depth look around the outside, where facades are intricately detailed like how The Parthenon in Athens once appeared in its glory days. The museum is closed on Mondays.
The Gallery Shopping Plaza
East of City Hall, along the northern side of Market Street, The Gallery is a four-level complex of shopping and dining that extends 4 blocks and is linked with the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It's a great place to unwind and end the day while waiting for off-peak trains that can be accessed from the Market East Station on the lower level. Even if you don't have need for trains, the station is worth a quick look thanks to uniform, colored tiles along track walls that materialize scenes like a Monet garden from different vantage points.
Melting Pot Heritages
Part of Philadelphia's small-town charm is how the city has retained some very distinct ethnic communities, with a host of museums and monuments paying tribute to the diversities that contributed to our concepts of liberty and justice for all, regardless of origin.
Chinatown comprises the area between 8th and 12th Streets north of Filbert, behind The Gallery shopping mall. The impressive Friendship Gate, located at 10th and Arch, was the first of its kind, designed and built by Chinese craftsmen in 1984, but the community's roots go back as far as 1845. The Independence Visitor Center has a detailed brochure with listings of neighborhood attractions and businesses, including 42 restaurants serving Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Burmese, Taiwanese, and Indonesian cuisine.
* Philadelphia's main bus terminal for Greyhound, Peter Pan, and other lines is located on Filbert, just off 10th.
Of all the Ethnic Museums, the African-American vestige is the only one I've visited as a regular stop when bringing students. The collections, which opened as part of the country's 1976 bicentennial, celebrate the journey African-Americans have made through numerous struggles and contributions to American society. In addition to art galleries and rooms containing significant time pieces, photos, and factual displays, live performances showcasing how African-Americans have expressed within the arts and entertainment are regularly scheduled.
The city's rich Jewish Heritage patchworks the downtown landscape, with historic synagogues and cemeteries further extolled with a trio of specialty museums, including the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Other rare ethnic collections are assembled within the American Swedish Historical Museum, the Polish American Cultural Center Museum, and the Philadelphia Doll Museum, which allows patrons to view the people of the world depicted through native dolls.
The area southeast of City Hall is known as the Washington Square District within the borders of Market, Broad, South, and 6th Streets. Once clearing the first couple of blocks lined with thriving commerce, the area eases into a NYC's Greenwich Village ambience with frowzy bars, cafés, and shops. Jewelers Row is on Sansom, between 7th & 9th, and Antique Row runs between 6th & Broad along Pine Street, but the best character feature of this neighborhood is one of the city's highlights which doesn't cost a dime!
The Washington District was obviously one of the city's first affluent neighborhoods, and there's no place better to get a sense of historical Philly than from loosing oneself within the maze of narrow brick streets and back alleys, some mere carriage paths too narrow for cars. Cottage-styled homes with colonial-shuttered windows still fly the original flag of the 13 colonies. Shaded streets trimmed with colorful flower boxes invoke the spirit of America with the anticipation that any of our forefathers might round the corner or appear from a doorway at any moment.
The neighborhood affords an up-close and intimate viewing into how modern-day yuppies have maintained the elite-ness. One can't help but notice the innumerable John Kerry campaign posters still hanging in windows. Beyond, gated courtyards reveal spacious hidden patios overlooked by private balconies. Yet, in the daytime, the area is usually abandoned and makes for a quaint step back in time I've passed through with each visit.
The Waterfront and Beyond
Heading east along Market Street, towards the waterfront, cross the bridge that leads to Penn's Landing on the banks of the Delaware River. Check their website for the list of free concerts, festivals, and firework shows that run through the summer. I've yet to make it to the Independence Seaport Musuem, but have thoroughly enjoyed what waits on the Jersey banks.
The city's Adventure Aquarium is in Camden, New Jersey, and can be reached by ferry service (215/925-LINK) April to October or by other forms of public transportation. From looking at the latest brochure, I barely recognize the place, which already had my vote for the country's best aquarium before the latest round of extensive renovations. Continued expansions include a 4-D-theater scheduled to open in July, 2005, and more interactive, educational displays that are all the rage in family entertainment, with even printed invitations for "brave ones" to take part in supervised swims with sharks!
Camden has jumped on the opportunity for luring Philly tourists and has put great effort into converting their Waterfront into a top-notch family attraction, including a newly opened Children's Garden. However, the ferry ride across the river, with views of the Philly skyline, is worth the trip, even if you've no interest in these attractions.
Written by kjlouden on 18 Aug, 2005
We’re early (trying to beat the heat), but the attraction is open between 9am and 5pm
Wednesday through Sunday in the winter months and 7 days a week in summer. The door seems
locked, but as I am "gently rapping," a rollicking ranger throws open the…Read More
We’re early (trying to beat the heat), but the attraction is open between 9am and 5pm
Wednesday through Sunday in the winter months and 7 days a week in summer. The door seems
locked, but as I am "gently rapping," a rollicking ranger throws open the door, and
Andrew McDougal welcomes us to Edgar Allan Poe National Historical
We start with the 8-minute film that puts into perspective Poe’s six years (1838-1844) in
Philadelphia. He lived in many houses in the city, but only this one survives. His sojourn
here in his rented "rose-covered cottage" with his wife, Virginia Clemm, and her mother,
Maria, was happy and productive. Even Poe himself tells us that in his poem "Annabel
"The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me--"
Perhaps "that was the reason (as all men know... )" that Congress decided to make this
house on Spring Garden Street the national memorial to one of our most cherished
Other Poe houses can be visited in Richmond, Baltimore, and New York. I "toured" the
one-room residence in Richmond in the late 1970s and found it lacking in interest then,
with only a table displaying some manuscripts. When I offer this comment to Andrew
McDougal, he practically jumps up and down, saying, "No, they have the original
manuscripts of... " (I forget which works).
One thing is for certain: our ranger guide is passionate for Poe! He becomes excited
again and again, and his big eyes light up with enthusiasm as he explains why Poe was
more than a "jingle-maker," a label I remember that Ralph Waldo Emerson assigned him
(probably upon reading, "To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells/ From the bells,
bells, bells, bells/ Bells, bells, bells."
I dare to ask if he really considers Poe an intellectual comparable to the Brahman Poets
of New England or transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau. Oh, boy! This is where I
have my preconceived notions about Poe as a mere technician with adolescent subject matter destroyed! It seems that I
have paid attention only to works that the poet intended for public consumption and to
make a living, not those that established his reputation as critic and editor. I hear figures
representing skyrocketing circulation for Burton’s and Graham’s while he
was editor for those literary magazines and quotes from many leading literary figures that
prove their admiration for his concepts. As for the Brahmans, he corresponded with
Longfellow and Lowell.
This is so much fun that we hate to let go of Andrew so that he can eat his lunch. He
lingers to make sure we understand the circumstances of Poe’s death. I know that he was
found drunk in Baltimore on election day and that rumor has it that overzealous poll
workers may have filled him with liquor to get him to vote their ticket. Andrew teaches us the term "cooping," the underhanded practice of taking voters to a cellar and pouring
whiskey down them before taking them to the polls--then changing their clothes and
taking them back again and again! Do you know that our most famous national poet
was found in somebody else’s clothes? That cinches this rendition of his death for me,
but Andrew still chocks it up to coincidence. On election day and in somebody else’s
We haven’t seen the rest of the house yet, so we get our copy of the self-guided
walk-through. Walls have been stripped of 17 coats of paint and wallpaper, and the NPS
doesn’t know yet what they are going to do with them. They want them to look new, as
they did in Poe’s day, and they’re studying alternative treatments for them as we tour.
The empty house has its original fireplaces, and photos and critical commentary are
displayed on closet shelves. We see the bedroom where Poe wrote by candlelight. He
explains in one of his essays that he considers gaslight "ghastly," so he didn’t use the
fixtures with which his brand-new house in Spring Garden suburb was supplied. We talk
about what Poe might have done with today’s technology. Andrew speculates that he
would have loved to work with hi-tech media.
We don’t want to miss the cellar, the one Poe describes in some of his macabre
It is complete with fake fireplace. The poet lived in this house in 1843-44 and wrote
"The Raven," "The Black Cat," "The Goldbug," and "The Tell-Tale Heart" while he lived
here, but the cellar is described in other works, too.
Another room off the visitor center is interesting. It is decorated according to Poe’s
"Philosophy of Furniture," in which the poet pokes fun at aesthetes and effetes. The
room is well furnished with a sofa, table, and chairs, and a mirror hangs "so high that a
man can’t see himself in it."
There is also a painting of nature, one of classical architecture, and, of course, one of a beautiful
woman (living and healthy!), a Thomas Sully portrait.
Andrew engages us in discussion of planned improvements. Next visit, the house may
look new, as it did in Poe’s day, and window scrims may display what the poet saw when
he looked out. I suggest that a hologram of Poe talking about his own life and works
would be nice--I can just imagine how much fun Andrew might have assuming the voice
of Poe for the recording. His first impression is that "It couldn’t be done. The
technology isn’t available." He doesn’t know that Friendship Hill has one of Albert
Gallatin, and when I impart this information to him, he is anxious to call that
National Historical Site to find out how they have managed to get one.
The site presently attracts only 15,000 visitors each year. Nevermore! What school child
doesn’t recognize the name, even the poetry, of Poe? What American can’t quote the first
stanza of The Raven? This is the American poet the French and Russians want to
visit, since Baudelaire translated Poe into French and engineered his revival on the
continent. (As for Philly poet sites, the French tour here, while Brits and Scots
prefer Whitman House, another ranger tells us.)
We learn that Poe’s residence might have been destroyed if not for Richard Gimbel, the
department store magnate who bought the entire block and donated it to the people of
Philadelphia in 1971. The house has been a National Historic Landmark since 1962 and
was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
If I think visitation here is pathetic, I am appalled to learn that Whitman House in
Camden has only 5,000 to 7,000 visitors each year. What? That site is accessible to Philly
visitors via Riverlink Ferry, and we’re headed there next.
Written by kjlouden on 20 Aug, 2005
David and I have only to ride the elevator up to the next floor to meet zabelle
and Al. When the door opens, we are glad to see each other! Even Al and David seem
like old friends. Their room is a suite, so…Read More
David and I have only to ride the elevator up to the next floor to meet zabelle
and Al. When the door opens, we are glad to see each other! Even Al and David seem
like old friends. Their room is a suite, so we get comfortable in the seating area while
two of zabelle’s famous "hooligans" in the bedroom act like normal, but good kids,
proving that their grandmother’s epithet is absolutely the only label she has ever
used that might be a tad misleading!
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.