“I’d move to Philly in a heart beat”, “I could move to Philly in a second” my friend Sandra told me when I told her I was spending the weekend in Philadelphia. It’s cooler than Boston, the population is more mixed, it’s cheaper, the restaurants are great, and it’s cute. In short, the arguments FOR were many.
Our hotel is located in a small street of the old town, the person of the reception and his dog on 3 legs welcome us. In the large bathroom, there is an old-fashioned bathtub on foot, this harmless detail was nevertheless decisive in the choice of this hotel for the weekend. We had booked our hotel on FindHotel
DAY 1 IN PHILADELPHIA
OF HISTORY TO START WITH, AT CENTER CITY
The hotel staff pointed out on their list of recommendations that the best bread in the world was in Philadelphia, so we don’t need any more as an argument to go and taste it: we have breakfast at High Street on Market (308 Market St.), where the bread is indeed delish. Reputable, we are ready to learn more about Philadelphia’s role in American history.
Because yes, Philadelphia, for the tourist I was that weekend, it was above all a good dose of American history, chapter: American Revolution. At the end of the 18th century, when the United States was still only 13 British colonies, the settlers (alias the future Americans) decided to rebel against the English who led them, and one thing led to another, they declared their independence (July 4, 1776), which led to the War of Independence against the British Crown (this was an ultra condensed version). Many events took place in Philadelphia, as one of the guides reminded us: “Forget Boston and New York, this is where it all happened”.
When I arrived in the historic buildings area, I didn’t know where else to turn with all these colonial buildings. Fortunately, it’s well done: they’re part of a national historic park organized by rangers, it’s like nature, except that this is the city. And as a bonus, it’s free. Huzzah! as we used to say during the Revolution.
Independence Hall (1732-36) condensed all the first American institutions into a small area: this is where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, which led to the founding of the United States as such, and also where the first sessions of Congress (= the House of Representatives and the Senate) were held. We were able to visit this second part with a guide. Guided tours with an American guide, as is often the case, are interpreted almost to excess: the guide and the participants play a role, and in this case, we played the role of congressional representatives. Where do you come from? Do you deserve your salary as a Representative? In this building, we also saw reproductions of the portraits of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, still with their heads.
ADVICE ON VISITING THE HISTORIC DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA
Start with the Visitor Center, if you want to visit Independence Hall (free), you have to get up early, queue up at 8:30 am and ask for tickets for the visit, they are counted! Also ask for a map that makes it easy to find your way around: and good news: everything is done on foot, and it’s free.
The area behind the historic area is sublime, near Washington Square: there are rows of red brick houses. Some are narrow, others have cobblestones. These alignments of houses can be found just about everywhere we walked in Philadelphia, but in this neighbourhood, they were particularly clean. There is also a big passion for flags with all kinds of flags.
BEN FRANKLIN FOREVER
We also stopped at the Benjamin Franklin Museum. Although he was born in Boston in 1706 (#represent), he spent his youth in Philadelphia, where he invented a whole lot of things (the list is long, my explanation very quick). The museum is fascinating and traces the life of this genius, who is both gifted in science and technology, but also a very good politician, he was also ambassador to France; he is also considered one of the founding fathers of the United States. However, it crossed my mind just now, it is not represented on Mount Rushmore, the giant statues in the rock of South Dakota. The museum tells his life, his work, it’s interactive and well done, and it was free that weekend (otherwise it’s barely $5/person).
THE MARKET: TERMINAL READING MARKET#FOOD
The morning of our arrival in Philadelphia, we received a call from friends who live in New York: “We’ll join you for the day” We’re happy as hell with this impromptu meeting, Mikio and Corina, our besties, start walking and will arrive a little after 3pm. We meet at the city’s central market: the Terminal Reading Market.
We walk the alleys where it’s a rush; Amish people run deli, cheese and ice cream stands. There is a large Amish population in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia. We feel a little stupid to be happy to see them with their big beards and straw hats for men, and little lace caps for women.
When you leave the market, you don’t pay much attention to visiting the city as such, you’re just happy to be with your friends, so you walk around chatting in the downtown, the city centre. You walk through the inner courtyard of City Hall (it is the large white stone building in the photo below, with the statue at the top of the tower), then walk to Rittenhouse square, a square whose memory is not unforgettable.
DAY 2 AT PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM
AND WALK IN THE SUN
It’s Sunday morning, and the temperature outside is expected to be 30°C. We have coffee on the side of Rittenhouse square; then we go for a walk through the downtown, it’s immediately much more beautiful with blue skies and a bright sun. The streets are narrow and the buildings are high, again, we have this feeling like in Chicago or New York, a big American city, much more than in Boston. The streets are not very crowded this morning, we see people in their Sunday clothes, yes it’s Easter today, the famous red symbol LOVE is missing: the place where it is usually planted is under construction.
The objective of the morning is to walk along the side of the museum aisle, spread along the Benjamin Frankling Parkway, a bit like the Washington Mall. The great avenue of museums, lined with flags from all over the world, is also under construction. We pass by a fountain with flashy turquoise blue and dubious statues. It’s not Trevi’s fountain who wants to. Next to it, the Free library is not yet open.
I had been told (hello Chantal de Nantes) about the Barnes Foundation as a great museum, so when you walk past it, you enter it. The museum is superb, I have a-do-ré. It contains collections of post-impressionist art that a wealthy collector collected: he wanted to make late 19th century art accessible to all Americans, in order to educate his fellow Americans, and it was only after watching the video on museography (on the second floor) that we understood how the museum worked. Before that, I had the impression to look at a big bazaar of paintings (certainly, very beautiful paintings, we see Picasso, Matisse, Renoir – not my favorite, but well, chic anyway), mixed with furniture and locks in wrought iron. In fact, the paintings respond to each other, by their subject, their shape or their colors, the modern dialogue with the old, and it’s magical. In his lifetime, Barnes changed the hanging, now it’s not touched anymore.
AND THE DISTRICTS NOT TOURIST AREAS THEN?
Late afternoon is approaching, the museums are closed, it rains a few drops, we take a Uber to go completely south-east of the city. Why there? Why there? We wanted to go to a neighborhood that wasn’t necessarily tourist, to see a little bit of Philadelphia to live in. By searching on the Internet for “cool neighborhood philly” (a bit literal, I agree), we find ourselves in East Passyunk. A short break with sparkling water + coffee on the terrace, we watch people passing by (and dogs, many dogs, many puppies). Then we walk – again. The shops are closed, but there are lots of murals, all over Philly, and it’s a city initiative.
Super quiet square with a fountain + a wall owl among many others
Without having looked for it, we find ourselves facing two restaurants that are competing against each other in the competition for the bestSandwich cheesesteakfrom Philadelphia, a sandwich with steak shavings and Velveeta cheese (a kind of orange plastic dough). We don’t taste any of them here, it seemed too catchy for tourists, but I found it amusing to multiply the signs to attract passers-by. I give you a good address for a cheese steak sandwich a little lower down (yes, we did taste it anyway!)
Going up to Old City, where our hotel is located, we cross several atmospheres, after the cool of East Passyunk, it’s a market atmosphere under the courtyards, then hippie on South Street, it reminds me of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco with the Victorian deglingos houses. I love the lively and colourful atmosphere.
DAY 3 IN PHILADELPHIA
This morning, it’s raining. It is hot and it is raining, a rain that still prevents you from walking around in complete peace of mind. We take refuge in a café near our foster home, Olé (147 N 3rd St.). The atmosphere is Middle Eastern, and I enjoy a delicious smoked goat-salmon omelette. We’re good at taking the time.
When the rain stops, we head for the city’s large suspension bridge: the Franklin Bridge, which links Philadelphia to neighbouring New Jersey.
There are not many people on deck: we barely see a few runners and a policeman in a Smart. Suicide signs show the way for pedestrians for whom a sidewalk is reserved. After a few meters, the view of the downtown is very nice. The bridge shakes and I get dizzy as I walk my arms over the railing to take pictures…
After that walk on deck, I’m completely out of shape and my calf can’t take it anymore. So we land in one of the tourist buses that goes around the city. For 1h30, all you have to do is let yourself go for a walk while listening to the (fast) stories of the guide. We go through places we had already seen, and in front of some of the ones we missed.
The guide mentioned at one point a museum of strange medical things, her real name being the Mutter Museum, and I remember Sandra had recommended it to me, but the description was moderately tempting: she had warned me that it was big (= gross), with jars of formaldehyde filled with strange things.
We also pass by a former prison now transformed into a museum: the Eastern State Penitentiary, it seems that they have great Halloween parties there.
▲ After this relaxing visit sitting in the bus, with your hair in the wind, we go for a taste of a sandwich cheesesteak recommended by the guide. It is in a boui-boui with any facade, it’s really 100% local, the shop is installed in a kind of housing estate that doesn’t look like much; we take a small sandwich that we share in 2 (and it’s big enough). I like it! I like it! Steak shavings are stuffed en masse into a baguette rubbed with cheese.
At the end of the afternoon, we stroll around the Northern Liberties district, it‘s very quiet on this Monday.
It is almost time to return, we take back our luggage in our hotel and leave for the airport.