Lots of Philly, no cream cheese

We took the train down to Philadelphia after our six terrific days in Boston. And if we thought Boston was hot, Philadelphia was about eleventy-billion times hotter. And muggier. And sweatier. Much sweatier.

But aside from the heat, Philadelphia really grew on us. We had both really liked Boston a lot, almost immediately upon arrival, but Philly had a much different feel to it. The charms of the city snuck up on us more slowly, but we ended up enjoying our time there just as much.

We were there mostly for history’s sake, and of course we were staying in Old City, so once again we could walk to most of the historically significant spots.

There was Independence Hall, which was built in 1753 and is where the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were hammered out and finally signed. The free tour, given by park rangers, is extremely informative and super-fascinating if you’re at all into history. Congress Hall, right next door, is where the temporary American capital was for ten years, till the buildings in Washington DC were ready in 1800.

There’s the famous Liberty Bell that used to hang in the steeple of Independence Hall, but now lives in its own modern
pavilion just across the street. There’s a tonne of interesting information about the Bell’s particular history and what it has symbolized over the years in that pavilion. The bell hasn’t been rung since 1846, on George Washington’s birthday. It was cracked before then, but repaired, but apparently the repair didn’t last long, as it cracked again.

Ben Franklin was a pretty prominent citizen of Philadelphia, so things related to him are all over the place: Franklin Court is where his house formerly stood and although the complex is mostly closed for renos right now, you can still visit his post office and the newspaper his grandson ran,

his grave, on which it’s become customary to drop a penny for luck,

and the Franklin Institute, which is a wonderful hands-on museum where we got up close and personal with an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, of all things!

Oh yeah – and there’s the obligatory statue of Mr. Franklin in the foyer of the museum.

And there’s the Benjamin Franklin bridge, apparently pretty famous in those parts. We could see it from our hotel room.

I really loved Elfreth’s Alley, which is similar to Boston’s Acorn Street. It was just around the corner from our hotel, and it’s unbelievably picturesque. It dates from 1736 and just like Acorn Street, is still inhabited by regular people and still invaded by regular tourists.

The Philadelphia City Hall is a wonderful semi-old building: it was completed in 1901, and although it’s a century old, it really can’t compare with stuff from the 1700s, can it? It’s made of stone, mostly, and has this 11-metre tall bronze statue of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, perched atop its tower.

We had a tour of the place, led by a doddering old man who could barely walk and couldn’t hear very well either. We ended up on the observation deck, just under William Penn, about 150 metres up in the heavens. I’m not that comfortable with heights, as you may or may not know, but I still manage to go up towers and things. And this one was VERY SCARY. For one thing, the tiny elevator up the middle of the tower to get to the deck has glass sides, so you can see the structure’s insides. I could have lived without seeing that rickety metal and brick. For another thing, once I was on the narrow deck, I could feel it SWAY. Yes. SWAY. Eventually, though, I calmed down enough to take this photo of William Penn from underneath him.

Once back on the ground again, we visited the Masonic Temple. Now, whatever your feelings are about the Freemasons, this building, their grand lodge in Pennsylvania, was so beautiful! Our tour guide led us from room to room to room, each more incredibly decorated than the previous one. It’s just across the street from City Hall and was built just a little earlier, in 1873. The rooms are themed: Gothic, Ionic, Oriental, Egyptian, Renaissance, Corinthian. My fave was the Egyptian Hall.

Philadelphia is a city full of art, too. There are sculptures all over the place downtown – some exceptionally cool ones! Apparently there is some kind of city bylaw that states that developers must have some art on their properties as a condition to being allowed to develop whatever building it is that they want. Just look at some of the art installations we saw:

Of course, there’s so much more I could show you and bore you with, but hey, we all have our limits, and even if you’re super-interested in Philadelphia, you’ve probably reached yours, so I’ll stop now.

You’re welcome.


6 responses to “Lots of Philly, no cream cheese

  1. I tried to get someone to go to Buffalo with me a couple weekends ago with no luck. Each person turned up their nose and looked a bit horrified at the idea. But, really, Buffalo has the amazing Knox-Albright Museum and there was a garden Walk with over 150 garden to snoop through. Some cities get such a bad rap. Rather like Hamilton.
    (in the end I was sick that day and didn’t go)

    • Or to those of us from BC – Toronto! 🙂 I was so pleasantly surprised when I spent a week in TO a number of years ago – I really, really liked the city. (Of course, I wasn’t there in the wintertime …)

  2. I will admit that Philly has never been on my must see list.
    Maybe I would include it, now…..

    • I think that’s the case for a whole lot of people. Most of my friends and acquaintances really had no idea why PG and I wanted to go there – or to Boston, for that matter – and every single one asked if we were just visiting relatives there. Oh well, I guess I can now say that PG and I are the only people we know who have visited Philadelphia!

  3. OK. I’d go there, too. You give good travelogue, my dear. I am envying you all the trip you took. But, I do not like Philly cheesesteak no matter how much I work at it. Well, actually only once, and that pretty much finished me.