Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The City of Brotherly Love

Philadelphia was fantastic! There is so much history there, it’s ridiculous. Come to think of it, there’s just as much history everywhere else, but in Philly it’s all the stuff you read about in school, so seeing the sites in person is quite a thrill. I think the best way to share about my trip is through photos, so here we go!

The drive to Pennsylvania was gorgeous. The fall foliage was absolutely spectacular.

I passed through several states (I missed the Pennsylvania sign because it was right after an interchange and I was focused on following directions).

Talk about dumb sign placement!

Being from California, I get excited over silly things like rivers, big bridges, tunnels, and toll roads.

This was my first view of Philadelphia.

My first full day, we went into Old City. We happened upon City Hall and found out that you can take an elevator to the top—for free!—to get an awesome view of the city.

Next was the heavyweight, the star of the show, Independence Hall. Unfortunately they’ve sullied the landscape with security barricades (pitifully disguised with bunting), but it is nonetheless a sight to behold the building where such momentous events took place two centuries ago.

I have difficulty accepting such a close juxtaposition of old and new. The skyscrapers immediately behind the Hall kind of ruin the view, if you ask me, but at least they haven’t torn down the Hall to build a skyscraper in its place.

If you take a picture from the back of the building, though, there’s less modernity to intrude on the scene.

Now, of course, the obligatory photo that proves I was there.

Dude, this is where they approved the Declaration of Independence and wrote the Constitution!! You can’t get more seminal than that!

The Liberty Bell is housed in a separate museum-like hall, where you have to walk past tons of exhibits talking about the bell before you get to see the real thing. But they’ve positioned it in such a way to allow for a pretty great photo.

The Mint would of course have been another must-see for me, but due to 9/11 security measures, tours are not open to the public. You have to get sponsorship by your congressperson, which takes at least a month. I didn’t know about this until I was already in Philadelphia, so I was out of luck.

We visited the Penn campus, where Marcy works. It was Homecoming Weekend, so pretty crowded for a Saturday. It’s the second Ivy League school I’ve visited (the first being Dartmouth), and it does have a stately feel with all the old buildings and such.

And of course, with it being fall, everything was ten times as pretty.

Another obligatory pose with one of the famous Ben statues:

The next day we visited the Italian Market (great if you are in need of produce, because it is very cheap and good quality) and Reading Terminal (another market but less produce and more meats, cheeses, and breads, along with lots of options for lunch). I had a chicken cheesesteak sandwich from Rick’s, which I was so excited to try.

It was delicious, but alas made me quite ill afterwards. Not sure why.

The following day we drove out to Valley Forge, about half an hour away. It was another beautiful day. We took the driving tour of the park, which is about nine miles and takes you by about ten different pullouts where you can stop and view something such as recreations of soldier huts, Washington’s headquarters, or an artillery field.

Even just the drive by itself was breathtaking. The park was simply gorgeous.

That’s Marcy by the canon. Talk about a huge tree!

The visitor’s center was also worth stopping in because they have cool artifacts, like actual playing cards and dominoes the soldiers used.

We had lunch at the King of Prussia mall (apparently the largest retail space in America), and then began the drive out to Mertztown.

I was ridiculously excited to visit this town, and was not disappointed. Again, the drive was spectacular and I would have stopped every quarter mile to take a picture if I could have. Just look at those hills!! (Click for larger view.)

We finally made it to the Village of Mertztown, as you can see.

We came across a cemetery, and I got out to look for any Mertz tombstones, but didn’t have any luck.

Finding the intersection of Mertz Rd and Mertztown Rd was a little more difficult, as the directions from Google were not entirely correct. But we eventually did find it. This is what you see while driving on Mertztown Rd:

The intersection of Mertz and Mertztown did not have signs for both roads, but at least we found it! A storm was rolling in, so it was quite windy, but I cannot tell you how pleased I was that the sky was cooperating by offering a beautiful backdrop for my photos.

I would have gone down Mertz Rd further, but apparently the bridge was out.

Mertztown even has its own post office, so I mailed a couple postcards.

We stopped at the market to get something to drink and I had to sneak this shot:

On the way out of Mertztown, the hills glowed as the setting sun illuminated the foliage.

My last full day in Philly, I returned to Old City to see the sites we ran out of time for on our first visit. I must admit, for the most part they were missable. I’d rate Congress Hall a five out of ten. Not much to see, but important stuff happened there, like the ratification of the Bill of Rights and the swearing in of our second president, Adams.

Old City Hall (where the Supreme Court met for the first ten years) was about a two. A single room, took about 30 seconds to visit.

A lot of stuff happened at Carpenter’s Hall, too, like the First Continental Congress, but it was also just one room. Probably a three out of ten.

The Todd and White houses, which you can only get inside if you go on a formal tour, are very nondescript from the outside. You’d walk right past them and think nothing of it if you didn’t know better.

Franklin Court was very enjoyable, however. I’d rank it about an eight. The white frames outline where his house and print shop used to stand.

The free museum underground showcases some of his inventions (he was super clever!) such as the glass harmonica.

There’s also a working print shop where you can see how they printed back in the day.

Lastly, there’s a post office where they hand cancel the mail using a replica of Ben Franklin’s signature. All very worthwhile.

Continuing on with the Franklin theme, we stopped at the cemetery where he is buried. We paid $2 to get in, but you don’t have to—you can see Ben’s grave from the fence. You’re supposed to toss a penny on it for good luck, so naturally I did.

It seems odd that his grave is so close to a busy street. Doesn’t seem like a very peaceful place to rest for eternity. The rest of the cemetery was quite picturesque, however.

Alas, acid rain and the march of time have combined to erode many of the tombstones to the point where they might as well be unmarked graves.

Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously inhabited street in America, and although it is rather quaint and charming, if you came to Philly and missed it, you should not fret. It’s a street. A rather short one. You walk down it, take a couple photos, and you’re done. A four out of ten.

Christ Church was worth the visit; I’d give it a six out of ten. It’s where George Washington worshipped, and so many other luminaries as well. A school group was letting out when we arrived, so it was rather chaotic. But their gift shop was the first I saw with miniature replicas of the Liberty Bell, so I was thrilled. Me and my knickknacks.

Now, aside from the cheesesteak, I haven’t mentioned much about where we ate. Everything was great, and not once did we dine at a national chain (big deal for suburban me). We ate at Marathon Grill twice (two separate locations). They have a rather extensive menu. I had a salmon burger first, and baked ziti second. Both were good. Kind of noisy inside though. Solid sevens. We went to Dmitiri’s one night, for Mediterranean fare. Tons of food. Delicious. Quieter. A nine. Mama Palma’s for woodfired pizza. I had one with lots of roasted garlic—I’m very into garlic these days. Quite tasty. An eight. Lunch on my last day was at Plough and Stars, an Irish pub. I was very original and ordered the fish and chips. The tartar sauce was fantastic, and the fish was impressive. Another nine. Even the food at the King of Prussia Mall was yummy. I ordered a turkey wrap from one of the food court places (I guess it’s probably a chain but not one I recognized) and it was very well done. One of the days we didn’t have lunch, because time just slipped away from us. But that day I got to try Tastycakes, which are apparently a big deal in Philly. They were okay, basically like Hostess cupcakes. I also had a pretzel from a street vendor, which was good, but it would have been better warm. But at the price of three for $1, you can’t complain.

A few other things I wanted to mention:

- The cheapest gas we saw was $2.29 out in rural Pennsylvania, on the way to Mertztown.

- Philly freeway signs measure in tenths of a mile, as in, the South Street exit is 2/10 of a mile ahead. Odd. I’m used to quarter miles.

- It cost me $10 in tolls to get to Philadelphia, but only $5 to return.

- The weather was great—unseasonably warm—except one night it rained. Of course we had walked to dinner, so on the way back we got soaked, but it wasn’t that far.

- I was surprised by how few souvenir vendors there were in the Independence Mall area. In the touristy areas of Italy, there were carts up the wazoo where you could buy your miniature replicas of David, figurines of the Vatican, etc. In Philly, you get your souvenirs from the official gift shops, basically.

- One cool thing about PA is there’s no tax on clothes or shoes. My only benefit from this was on the $10 slippers I bought at Nordstrom Rack.

- Google and Yahoo gave me different directions on how to get to Philly, and provided drastically different estimates of how long the drive would take. Google said 8:45, while Yahoo said 6:45. Google also took me right through Washington DC instead of bypassing it like Yahoo. In reality, it took me about eight hours to get to Philadelphia from my house. I did stop for lunch in Fredericksburg, VA, for nearly an hour. On the way back, it took me about seven hours. I stopped near Hopewell, VA for lunch, but only for 30 minutes. I think it was faster because I sped more, and also because on the way out I somehow ended up on the Route 64 business loop, and on the way back I stayed on the main highway.


  1. As a native Californian who's moved on to live in 4 other states, I love to read about others who have relocated - especially from California. DH, from the Philly/NJ area, used to miss TastyCakes so much when he was in California, his mother mailed them to him. It's an acquired taste, I think. I love them now. :)

  2. Wow...I so enjoyed reading this! I live in Philly, not downtown, but in the city limits - and I've never been to ANY of the historical sites you mention! I have strolled through Old City and I have been to Plough and Stars, nice choice. And I used to eat at the Marathon Grill all the time when I worked downtown.

    And I agree...Tastycakes are overrated. I know it's a Philly pride thing, but for the calories I'd rather go to one of Philly's many amazing

    So fun to hear about your town from someone else's persective.