The idea for the trip happened spontaneously. My friend Lisa is a transplant from Philadelphia. Returning every few months to settle her mom’s estate, I mentioned I would love to go when she is there; as a local, I knew I would get an insider’s gaze into Philadelphia.
We booked tickets in March, scoring an excellent rate ($224 round trip from St. Louis on Southwest) and the adventure began.
Via email, I began receiving information from Lisa about restaurants and interesting food as well as a theatre she loved. The trip was shaping up. She would be free over the weekend and then I would be on my own while she worked. Luckily, her mom’s place in Rittenhouse Square was in an excellent location; we were in the center of Philadelphia which made is easy to walk most places. It was going to be a real City Girl Trip!
Though I had been to Philadelphia twice before it had been many years. My only memories were the Liberty Bell and running up the Art Museum steps Rocky-style.
This trip would be unique as I would be on my own and with a local. Packing for Philadelphia was challenging as the weather promised every season. I knew to pack layers. This would also be my first extended trip after recovering from a small, hairline fracture in my ankle and tendinitis in the other. I was back to doing most activities so I wondered how my ankles would hold up. Not to worry as we walked between 8-11 miles a day and my ankles proved to be bionic!
While I knew some of the history of Philadelphia, I had really missed the boat on what the city represented. This was the seat of our government in the 1700’s. The men and women who fought for our freedom were brave. They had the foresight to organize themselves as well as hope that their ideas of democracy would hold true many years later. Historically, this trip was eye-opening for me. I have always felt gratitude to live in the United States. I would find out just how united our forefathers wanted us to be. Lucky, lucky us.
We hit the ground running when we arrived on a cold Saturday in April. The taxi ride was short and sweet and after dropping our bags we headed to the Farmer’s Market in the park. Fresh veggies, fruits, breads, and baked goods were alluring. I ended up purchasing chocolate cherry cookies which sustained me during afternoons. On most days, Rittenhouse Square Park is an oasis of people, music, and animals. The Farmers Market (Saturdays and Tuesdays) definitely attract more people.
Walking out of the park, we enjoyed lunch at K’far. One of many restaurants owned and run by Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook of CookNSolo. Do not miss the avocado toast. It is one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s large and fluffy-they make the Kubaneh bread which supports some sort of spicy sauce, avocado and mandarin oranges but soft enough to bite into. You will need a knife and fork.
During a moment of downtown, I googled what to do in Philadelphia (I was actually surprised at how much this search produced), coming across History Swiftly. Thomas Swift, an 8th grade history teacher offers a Free Early American History Crash Course Walking Tour of Philadelphia. We were all in and arranged to meet Thomas Sunday afternoon.
After wandering the city stopping in Bruno Brothers and a quick stop at Tiffany’s, (I’d like to say I had breakfast there, but it was afternoon), we had dinner on the heated patio at Revolution House which we reached by walking 17 blocks down Market Street. It was close to the Arden Theatre where we would be seeing the world premiere of Backing Track. Dinner was fish tacos which were delicious. Both Lisa and I love good food, so we decided to split everything allowing us to enjoy more. The Arden is a funky theatre and the show was well-performed utilizing music as an integral part of the show though it was not a musical.
Franklin Fountain was just up the street. After the show we joined the line out the door for ice cream. Patient employees wearing bowties scoop home-made ice cream among original turn of the century details and antiques. Defaulting to my favorite chocolate chip mint I was happy I did. The ice cream speaks for itself. We then hopped an uber back to Rittenhouse Square. It was an 8-mile day!
Waking to a cold, sunny day, we headed to Reading Terminal Market walking through City Hall and the center of the city. Such gorgeous buildings. Once at Reading Marker, which is a beehive of activity, we put our names on the list for Down Home Diner. We wandered around oogling all the bakery goods, making notes of what we needed to check out. Once seated at Down Home Diner, we both ordered Uncle Bobby’s Breakfast bargain, enjoying eggs, fluffy pancakes, and bacon. Good idea to actually sit for a meal, otherwise, I have a feeling breakfast would have been cookies and butter cake!
Exploring Reading Terminal Market, we headed to Lisa’s favorite shop, The Head Nut which much to my heart’s delight, boasted rows and rows of nuts and music-to-me: chocolate!!! I purchased dark chocolate razz cherries, dark chocolate nonpareils for my sister and death by chocolate which was chocolate brownie bits covered in dark chocolate and dusted with cocoa. Yes, really.
Walking to meet Thomas Swift, we walked by the house where John Hancock wrote the Declaration of Independence. At the corner is a cute little house with Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness painted on the side wall. I stopped, surprised about the location. However, I would soon find out, Philadelphia loved integrating the founding fathers’ homes among businesses and other homes. It made history come alive for me.
Our next stop was the Liberty Bell. The previous two times I had visited the Liberty Bell, it was outside. I was fascinated all those years ago that something so historical simply sat outside. I remember touching it. No more. The Liberty Bell is now housed in Liberty Bell Center, a free exhibit. We stood outside this first visit and took photos. The Liberty Bell might not be a beach or a mountain top, but for me it represented, “Justice and Freedom for All!” a truly awe-inspiring site.
Catching up with Thomas Swift, we proceeded to spend almost three hours on a private foot tour exploring historical Philadelphia. Thomas regaled us with funny stories and history as he led us from famous homes, the courtyard where Ben Franklin flew his kite as well as his gravesite and down Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest street in America at three hundred years! (Note: this reminded me of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter) The time flew, and we could not believe we would have to say goodbye to Thomas.
On our way back we wandered into Macy’s, the original Wanamaker department store. I needed to see the eagle from the 1904 Worlds Fair. In St. Louis we might meet at the Stan Musial statue. In Philadelphia they meet at the Eagle. And what a glorious eagle it is! Make sure you stop in to see her!
As we wandered around, we walked over to Love Park where the LOVE statue resides. Though I know of LOVE I had no idea that Philadelphia originated this as The City of Brotherly Love. The LOVE statue sits in the middle of the park with a view of a city street in the background, a perfect photo opportunity. And to make things even more fun, there is a man who will take your picture on your phone. He offers suggestions as a professional photographer might do and the pictures are very cute. Even I as the Queen of Selfies found, a picture taken from afar was even better.
For dinner we headed back into the city streets to The Continental Mid-town, a retro, festive, bright space, using orange and blues. It reminded me of an airplane and restaurants in Florida in the ‘70’s! The food was incredible-we shared steak kabob, edamame, and chicken tikka masala. They say they are ECLECTIC GLOBAL and offer a playful reprieve. They do-such a fun place!
After dinner, we headed over to Rita’s Water Ice. This was discussed in the car on the way to airport. It’s hard to describe except to say that it reminded me of a cross between a snow cone and sorbet. Rita’s is only a store-front and the evening we went was a little windy and cold. Didn’t matter. The guys inside let us do a taste test and I finally ended up with a gelati: coconut cream ice with custard swirled on top. I am here to say I am a BIG fan and tried to figure out how to get myself back there! Do yourself a favor-find this place!
Deciding to wander the city and be a real city girl, I set out for the Liberty Bell Museum. Many years ago, when I was here, the Liberty Bell sat in the middle of a park. You could see it, touch it, and read about it. The Liberty Bell now sits at the end of a one-way museum which explains its history. Why the Liberty Bell is cracked as well as all the diverse groups that utilized and still use the Liberty Bell as their symbol. The museum is free and wasn’t crowded. Seeing the Liberty Bell protected by two rangers is awe-inspiring. It represents so much to so many. People were taking pictures and explaining it’s meaning to their kids. I was struck speechless, as I always am when awed (really) and just stood off to the side, thinking about all that LIBERTY means to me.
We had lunch at Marathon and then I spent the afternoon sitting in Rittenhouse Park listening to music. Watching the musician engage his audience, it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
Lucky enough to be in Philadelphia when the Franklin Institute boasted the Harry Potter exhibit, I snagged a ticket. For any Harry Potter Fan, this was a dream come true. After answering a few questions, I was given my bracelet and entered what felt like a backstage look at the books, movies, and story! They even had costumes, swords, and wands displayed. We each chose our House and wandered through listening to explanations. Movie clips played in the background. Well worth the time and energy. Fun fact: when the actors first filmed the Quidditch scenes they were so sore! The costumers then put them in bike shorts under their Quidditch robes!
For dinner, like true city girls, we walked to Bistro La Baia, a neighborhood place. The atmosphere was an Italian bistro, and the food was fresh, homemade, and exquisite. Walking home, we walked by streets boasting twinkly lights.
I had no agenda on Tuesday, so I wandered the city, people watching. I stopped in Goldie for a tahini milkshake-mint chocolate chip-that was non-dairy. Wow. Good thing I’m walking all over the city! That afternoon we stopped at Diezengoff a hummus restaurant. I wondered how this could be lunch, however, our Hummus Tehina was topped with ground beef and served with pita. It was more than enough! Also enjoyed a frozen mint lemonade, called lemmonada.
Knowing this was my last full day, we headed back down to Independence Hall for a tour of the First Congress and the Courthouse. The grounds are beautiful, the tours free. The Rangers explained what happened when the Constitution was being discussed and written. Who was present and accounted for. They told us stories about how the Revolutionaries were feeling and that their work was kept under wrap. If found out, they would be tried for treason.
Original pieces of furniture from the 1700’s is still set up in the rooms where our Forefathers worked diligently to acquire freedom. We witnessed the room where the first exchange of power took place in twenty minutes. On our way the Rangers reminded us to: “Revere the constitution!” After being IN these buildings and hearing the stories, there is only one objective. Yes, I believe. To be in a place that held so much history was astonishing and made me once again thankful for our rights and privileges.
On my own, I figured out how to take the bus to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I needed to feel freedom in yet another way and those steps were calling. The Rocky statue outside the museum (which was closed!) is bigger than life. As it needs to be. When I got there, I was alone with Rocky, and I stared up at him. I remember the movie and the feeling of resilience and strength from Rocky and Adrienne. Their story of overcoming obstacles and follow their passion is a story for all of us. Soon, others joined, and I made my way to the steps.
I have run those steps before. Over 28 years ago. Did I have it in me?
Yes, yes, I did.
I started slow and then built steam. Making it to the top I looked out at the view and felt proud and happy. I had found the museum, communed with Rocky and then made it UP the steps!!! What a feeling! I stayed up at the top for a while watching and cheering others on as they made their pilgrimage up the steps.
Later that day, I headed to the airport. It had been a good trip of exploration, fun and adventure. I had relived history, discovered more than I ever knew about our founding fathers, their ideas and the challenging work invested in democracy. I learned about the proud people of Philadelphia, that not all pretzels are created equal, and I witnessed sunset from the 12th floor of a skyscraper. I found out that businesses do not give out plastic bags for environmental reasons. It was fun to see a place from a local’s point of view as well as fun to explore (and get lost) on my own.
And I rediscovered my love of travel; to places unknown. In the city of Brotherly Love, I had enjoyed getting a glimpse into establishing liberty. More than anything else, it was fun to be a City Girl in Philadelphia. Girl on the Go….