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A Day in Philadelphia

Last Sunday, J and I decided that we should “go somewhere.”  Somewhere outside of the city.  For a change in scenery, you know.  The means of transportation?  Boltbus.  The destination?  Well, we were trying to decide between Philly and Boston.  Since I’d never been to Philadelphia, I thought it’d be fun to check out the city.  So, we booked tickets for a 7:30 am departure on Saturday and a 9:00 pm return.

Saturday, J and I woke up (painfully) at 6:20 am.  We hightailed (literally) down to 34th St and 8th Ave to hop on the bright orange bus.  I was pleasantly surprised by the interior of the bus – leather seats (or was it synthetic leather), plenty of legroom, and refreshing air conditioning.  The ride was very smooth and very quick – we arrived in Philly before 9:30.

And then we began to explore.  When we first got off the bus, we had no idea where we were.  Originally, we thought we’d tour the University of Pennsylvania campus.  Sadly – although J had spent a summer at the UPenn – when I asked him where it was located relative to where we were, he looked at me cluelessly.  So I nixed the idea of exploring UPenn, and decided to pick up a map from the Amtrak station.

We left the train station and started down Market Street.  While the streets of NYC are usually bustling with people, the streets of Philly were somewhat empty.  I almost felt like I was exploring downtown Houston.  [J says it was because we were walking down the business district.]  We passed a Trader Joe’s, the Philly Stock Exchange, and many random fountains and statues and murals – including this gigantic clothespin.

We came to City Hall, and upon looking at the map, saw that we were close to the LOVE statue.  We looked around and noticed a large brown tangled metal sculpture.  I was slightly confused.  Perhaps the meaning of modern art was lost upon me once again?  I forgot to take a picture of it, but this was what it looked like:

The LOVE statue?

Then, J pointed out the real LOVE statue, which was situated in front of a pretty fountain.  The thing above was actually the “Government of the People” sculpture.

The square nearby had human-size versions of pieces from various board games – from chess to Bingo to Monopoly to dominoes to Sorry.  J decided he had to sit on the knight.

"Don't fall on me!"

We made our way down Arch Street to Reading Terminal Market.  A block away from the market, we heard the “dulcet” tones of beautiful Bluegrass harmony.

We had lucked upon the Pennsylvania Dutch Festival!  A petting zoo of sorts was set up outside the market, as well, with goats and cows and sheeps and pigs and one donkey with a very sad expression on his face.

Entering the market was an overwhelming experience.  I wanted to try everything. There were vendors selling meats, sweets, pastries, candy, coffee, fresh fruits and veggies, and more.  The variety was astounding.  Different ethnic foods were available, as well – I even saw a stand selling sushi!

We walked around the market, enjoying the different smells wafting up our noses.

J already knew he wanted a roast pork sandwich from DiNic’s.  Right next to DiNic’s, however, was a large stand making fresh donuts!!  (Real Amish donuts!  I think they were there as part of the Dutch Festival.)

Glug glug glug

I left J to wait in line for his pork sandwich.  I had bigger and better things in mind.  Like donuts.  I stood for awhile watching the donut creation process.  Mesmerizing.  I also nabbed a free funnel cake sample from a group making funnel cakes to order.  Delicious.

I managed to wait for J to come back with his pork sandwich – which had roast pork au jus, provolone, and broccoli rabe.  We ate the sandwich while watching the donut makers do their thing.

Then we stood in line for donuts.  People were getting donuts by the dozens, but J and I settled for two – a glazed donut and a sugar donut.  They were deeeelicious.  Warm and chewy, but light at the same time.  I like donuts with heft, and these were great.  I rarely indulge in donuts – these were well worth it.  J and I tried to limit ourselves to a few bites, but I kept reaching back into the bag.  (And by midday, they were gone.)

On our first circle through the market, we’d seen a soft pretzel stand that had won a “Best of Philly” award in 2009.  They even had a picture with Adam Richman of Man v. Food.  The pretzel may have been the best thing I had in Philadelphia (though the donuts offer close competition).  Hot to the touch, buttery, and with just the right amount of salt.

J had one more thing he wanted to pick up from the market – a mango lassi from Nanee’s.  [J says he had a couple more things he wanted to pick up – stomach room always seems to be the limiting factor.]  The mango lassi (simply yogurt, mango and sugar) was refreshing.

From Reading Terminal Market, we headed towards the Independence Visitor Center to begin our tour of the historic sites.

We went inside the Constitution Museum, but didn’t go beyond the lobby.

We saw Benjamin Franklin’s grave…

Betty Ross’s house…

…and Elfreth’s Alley, apparently the “oldest residential street” in the U.S., and where people still live!

J led us to Penn’s Landing, which he thought would lead to somewhere interesting.  It merely took us to the waterfront area.

We walked over to Franklin Court, where Ben used to live.  His house and print shop were razed many years ago, so two “ghost structures” of white steel stand in their place.

At Franklin Court, we took a break from walking.  We’d been on our feet for awhile, and the temperature was warming up, too.  After a bit, we resumed our “tour.”

Next, we visited Carpenter’s Hall, where the First Constitutional Congress met in 1774, and walked by the Second Bank of the United States and Independence Hall before reaching the building housing the Liberty Bell.

Independence Hall (I think)

The last historic site of the day was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington Square.

From Washington Square, we walked down Sansom Street, passing Jewelers’ Row, which was lined with many small jewelry shops.  After making our way down to Walnut Street, we picked up a Strawberry Banana Slurpee from 7 Eleven.

Walnut Street became more and more commercial as we headed west towards Rittenhouse Square.  Next stop: Capogiro!  After sampling seven or eight flavors (including vodka & cucumber, absinthe & cantaloupe), we decided on a scoop of watermelon and a scoop of the seasonal peach.  Capogiro’s sorbetto was really good, though I can’t say it was as amazing as the passionfruit sorbetto that we’d had at L’Arte del Gelato las week.  I did love the purity of the watermelon and peach flavors.

While enjoying our sorbetto, J and I realized that we had pretty much run out of stuff to do.  Unfortunately, it was only 3 pm.  Our bus was not until 9.

We Googled a pretzel shop near Rittenhouse Square that was supposed to have very good soft pretzels – Philly Pretzel Factory and made our way over.  5 pretzels for $2.  Verdict?  Didn’t hold a candle to the pretzel from Miller’s Twist.

We made our way back to City Hall and found ourselves at an impasse.  Do we go back for a 2nd round at Reading Terminal Market or do we walk up Benjamin Franklin Blvd, the “Champs Elysees of Philadelphia”, towards the Philadelphia Museum of Art?  Neither of us could think of anything we had to get from Reading Terminal so we turned towards the art museum.

Walking up Ben Franklin Blvd, I could see echoes of Paris in the design of the street and the layout of the surroundings.  Tree-lined sidewalks parallel to a wide stretch of road led to a fountain and continued onwards, with the stoic Museum of Art looming at the end.  We made it to the fountain (about halfway down the boulevard), where kids in swimming suits splashed in the water.  (Is that even legal??)

Anyway, at the fountain, we had another realization.  Why walk down to the Museum of Art…if we had no intention of exploring the museum?  It was nearing 5 pm, and J and I decided to walk back to the Amtrak station in hopes of hopping on an earlier bus.  We managed to catch the 5:30 bus and settled in for the ride.  A bit of traffic in New York delayed our arrival (while I tracked our progress on Google latitude), but we managed to arrive back at J’s apartment half an hour before we were originally due to leave Philly.  “Thank goodness” – says J.  We were pooped.

Bye Philly! Doesn't this building sort of blend into the sky?

Today has been a restful day, with a quick trip out to pick up some groceries.  J’s making chicken curry and I cooked up corn.  “Cooked” defined loosely – I’m not sure boiling water and throwing in corn counts as cooking.  J has an interesting way of eating corn, and he says I keep giving him strange looks.

Anyway, that’s the end of a long weekend post!

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