Philadelphia Freedom

I was lucky enough recently to get to spend a week in Philly. Unfortunately it was in March. And it was cold; in the 30s and raining almost the entire time.

Regardless, my trip was going to be a walking trip. I had the company car, this monstrous SUV, and I was not about to try to worry about parking that beast. So, during my 7 night stay, I used my car exactly once. Philly is an excellent place for a walking vacation. There is so much “stuff” so close together! I never went out of a 3 mile radius of my hotel and didn’t get to see everything in that radius.

And, even though I’m female and traveled alone, I was comfortable walking around. Mostly. There was only once or twice that I felt unsafe. Once was completely my fault, I acknowledged a panhandler who then got really aggressive. He started following me and recruited a fellow panhandler to start insulting me. I stayed calm and simply began looking around for an open restaurant/store/etc. that I could run in to. I also looked for cops. But the men gave up before I had to take any action. The worst part of Philly is that there are loads of homeless people and panhandlers, everywhere. The Center City’s subway terminal was all sleeping bags. There was no chance you could get me to explore the subway after seeing that.

And all the beautiful squares and park space downtown seem to exist almost exclusively to contain the homeless. In the middle of the day, I saw a young-ish couple laying on a blanket and covered with many more blankets. They were surrounded by bags of their belongings. If it wasn’t so cold – and raining – one could have imagined they were having a picnic.

Anyway, I didn’t do anything crazy, so I felt safe. I didn’t walk around much after dark. And I didn’t go in certain areas. It was easy to see which sections were sketchy. So I walked around them. And I certainly didn’t go out alone after drinking. Especially since drinking was pretty pricey. Happy hour specials were things like “$5 for Blue Moon on tap. $5 for Bud Light on tap”. That was a happy hour special. I could almost buy a six pack of yucky Bud Light for $5. As I said though, that was pretty typical pricing for downtown Philly. And most places didn’t have much other than Bud Light and Blue Moon.

Not only did I get to go to Philly, I got to stay at the Four Seasons on Logan Square. The view from my hotel was this:

In the summer, in the sun, this would be the most glorious view. It was beautiful even in the cold and rain. And this window is HUGE! The room wasn’t all that special. And I really need at least a coffee maker in my room. An espresso maker would be better, but a coffee maker is bare minimum. Otherwise, the hotel was nice. Great location. Nice fitness center. Really nice fitness center. The fitness center, Jacuzzi, and locker room were the nicest parts of the hotel. I didn’t even bother to try the restaurant or bar because I know they were out of my price range.

Since food is my thing, I’ll talk about the places I ate before the sites that I saw.

I arrived on the Friday before St. Patrick’s Day. It was late and I was hungry. On the advice of the doorman at my hotel, I stopped into a place called the Public House. Side note, just now, when I looked up the public house, I found out that pub is short for public house. Makes sense, but I never considered it before.

The Public House, like most places in downtown Philly, is an expensive place to get a beer. So I can’t ding the Public House too much for high prices and poor selection. I can ding them for horrible service. It wasn’t that crowded, especially for a Friday night. I sat at the bar and still had difficulty getting the food I’d ordered. And my glass sat empty for so long, I got pissed and didn’t order another. I actually had to almost yell to get my check. Completely irritating. It was a shame because the food was really good. I did end up going back for one other meal because it was super cold and rainy and the Public House was the closest restaurant.

Even on my second visit, the service was awful. I ordered soup and it was delivered without a spoon. I sat there for several minutes without a spoon while my soup got cold. And I was super hungry. It’s like the servers were tormenting me. The food was really good but that might be because I was so hungry. It is criminal to have a cute spot, in a great location, with good food and crap service. Unacceptable.

On Saturday I got my first taste of Reading Terminal. It was this huge marketplace with stands, mostly restaurant stands. Almost any type of food you could think of was there. I had a little trouble though because I had an American Express. American Express, the card not accepted anywhere. During my week I visited a few times. I ate at Smucker & Sons, a stand run by Pennsylvania Dutch. The food was good and homey. I visited Mezze, a Middle Eastern restaurant. Mezze had really nice stuffed grape leaves. The smoothie was pretty excellent too. There was a lot of food at a reasonable price. One morning I stopped at Market Bakery which was terrible. The bakery was ok and the coffee was passable but at least 3 of the 6 coffee carafes were empty when I got there. I had to tell the workers. The half and half was empty also and the Splenda was all gone. As I waited for the coffee to be brewed, the half and half to be refilled, and the Splenda to be restocked, I watched one of the workers fill the creamers with the wrong things. The skim milk, soy milk, and half and half were all filled from the same carton of skim milk. I hate skim milk in my coffee. Then I got to listen to another worker talk at her coworkers, some stupid story complaining about how she promised that she would punish her son if he got bullied at school and didn’t throw a punch. Those coworkers couldn’t get away from her fast enough. And neither could I. If I hadn’t already paid, I would have been long gone. Avoid this place.

I was dying to try the crepe place and the oyster bar. The crepe place didn’t accept American Express (Mezze didn’t want to, but I asked the cute worker really nicely and he let me use it) so I didn’t eat there. I never got back to try the oyster bar or to even ask if they took American Express.

I found Cuba Libra for dinner Saturday night. I had ropa vieja. It was amazing. As was the papas rellenas dish. The blueberry mojito was amazing. I don’t even typically like mojitos. I desire another right now. And I also had a drink called Guantanamo Bay that was great, but how can anything with Kraken rum be bad? It can’t.

Before I went to Philly, I looked up cheesesteak places. I heard that the two of the most famous cheesesteak places are Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks and they are conveniently across the street from each other. I had to go. They are both 24 hours, cash only, and have no indoor seating. I walked over to the intersection, ordered a provolone with (provolone cheesesteak with onions). Then I walked across the street and did the same thing at Pat’s. Then I unashamedly sat down at a picnic table and ate as much as I could of both.

Now, upon mentioning my quest to anyone from Philly or who had been there, I would immediately hear that person’s favorite. It was split pretty much down the middle. I found Pat’s to be better without question. I wouldn’t turn down a steak from either place though. I love that Pat’s had a hot pepper bar. So yummy. But that isn’t why I think Pat’s is better. I ended up going back to Pat’s before I left for home. I bought two steaks and brought them home for my husband. Even after a 7 hour car ride, they were yummy as could be. We even let the kids try them. This time, I bought one with velveeta and one with provolone. I added mushrooms to the one with provolone. That with the hot peppers was perfection.

On St. Patrick’s Day, I had to find an Irish bar. And I did. Irish Pol is a hole in the wall with the best juke box. They had craft beer (hooray!) and played Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, and the Tossers while I was there. The only way this place could be better is if it was near my house. I would go here all the time. I would have stayed here all night but, although it was wickedly cold and I didn’t have winter clothing, I had other places to explore. I swear I felt like an arctic explorer on this trip.

I found another “irish” bar on St. Pat’s. It looked ok on the outside. It was completely craptastic on the inside. Steer clear of Irish Pub. The place was in serious need of remodeling. There was bad 80s music, debris all over the floor between the bar and the restaurant seating. The bathroom was rank; I’m surprised I didn’t catch something. The wait staff consisted of a bunch of uninterested teens. And I tried the food and it was just not good. I felt completely dirty after going in here. Even the menus and tables felt dirty. I should have left when I saw the paper napkins and plastic cups on incredibly sticky floor. If it had been 5 degrees warmer outside, I would have left. Steer clear of this nightmare.

One morning, I ventured out and found a place called Sabrina and Spencer’s too. I love this place. The place is super cute, the service is good, the portions are huge, the food is yummy, and the prices are reasonable. The only bad thing was the country music played in the place. The first morning I was there, I had a special that was a sweet potato buttermilk biscuit with fried chicken, scrambled eggs and gravy and a mountain of potatoes.

I hurt myself trying to eat it all and still couldn’t finish. I think even my husband would have failed to finish this monster. The second time I went I had eggs benedict with avocado and tomato and bacon. It was amazing also. This was one of my favorite places even if I had to listen to some douche-y community college student whine about how unfair it is that his professor gives him grief for coming to class late. Wah. Responsibility sucks.

Monday, I couldn’t resist the draw of Chinatown. It is extensive.

I love the little Asian zodiac animals on the sidewalk.

There is one corner, I think it’s Washington Ave and E 11th, that looks like a strip mall of Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. So many on just one corner. I covet a good bowl of pho so I opted for Pho Cali. Not for any particular reason other than the sign showed that they accepted American Express and I was hungry when I was near there. The restaurant was a little, and not entirely as clean or neat as I’d like. A young employee sat at a table in the back marrying condiment bottles. I don’t need to see that. Regardless, the pho was good. The goi cuon was good. The bubble tea wasn’t very good. The “bubbles” were mushy.

If I lived in the area, I would go back again, but I’d skip the bubble tea.

I visited the Mission Grill one evening. I sat at the bar, the place was empty and the bartender wasn’t very attentive. The food was Mexican adjacent and forgettable. It’s sad as this is a really cute spot. With some people, this could have been a fun time. Instead I just wished I would have stopped somewhere else.

The last place I ate at was a place called Kite and Key. I wish I had found this place sooner, perhaps instead of Mission Grill. I loved this place. The décor was super cute and the atmosphere was great. By the time I got there, I was really hungry. As there was no room at the bar, I sat at a table. Even by myself, this was a good time. I opted for a salad so that I didn’t feel too guilty when I ate the beignets.

The best part of this place was the craft beer. There were a couple of beers I hadn’t tried before. It can be difficult to find beers that I haven’t had before. This was a great last dinner in Philly.

Well, that covers my eating. Now, on to the attractions.

Two things: I didn’t take many pictures because my phone kept dying and I didn’t go into many places because I felt guilty spending the money without having my family with me. But even sightseeing from outside was impressive. I am a big fan of architecture and there is so much to admire here.

City Hall is amazing. I can’t describe how impressive it is. So I’ll show you. This is just a portion of City Hall:

If it wasn’t so incredibly cold, I would have liked to try sketching portions of it. And, equally impressive is the Masonic Temple which is across the street from City Hall. Just check out some of the detail on the archway of the building:

Again, I have no words to describe how magnificent these buildings are. City center is filled with statues and artwork and plaques. The giant game pieces outside the Municipal Services Building are really cute:

Love Park is just next to the Municipal Building.

Also right in this area is the Macy’s that holds the Wanaker Organ, the largest pipe organ in the world. It was really odd that this pipe organ is randomly in a rundown Macy’s.

Penn’s Landing was really cool. I found the Irish Memorial and the Scottish Memorial. I really wanted my picture at the Scottish Memorial to be looking up the main guy’s kilt. But I wasn’t brave enough. I asked a random person to take my picture. I chose someone whom I thought I could catch if he decided to try and take off with my phone. I used this same selection criteria at the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Market District was really cool. And the Italian Market was neat. When I drove by during the week, it was cool to see the stands in the street and the awnings. I loved it.

I walked all over Chinatown, Penn’s Landing, the Market District, Washington Square, the Historic District, South Street, all in one day. There were so many cool things, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Mint, Betsey Ross’s house, Christ Church with Ben Franklin’s grave, but I think my favorite thing was Elfreth’s Alley. Seeing those tiny streets and tiny houses. The doors were so small. I can’t imagine getting furniture in there. You’d have to build furniture inside. IKEA all the way. And there are houses for sale on this street!

I just looked and one is going for about $500K – not the one pictured here. I’m actually surprised it’s that “cheap”.

Washington Square was really nice. The eternal flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier was pretty humbling. And the housing around Washington Square was beautiful.

The one museum I paid to enter was the National Liberty Museum. The only reason(s) I went in at all was because there was a sign talking about the glass in the gift shop and IT WAS COLD! Did I mention it was cold while I was in Philly? And that I didn’t have gloves? The Liberty “Museum” was completely perplexing. There were some amazing glass sculptures in here that really didn’t have anything to do with liberty. But if it hadn’t been for the glass sculptures, I would have been PISSED. The museum allowed photos but mine aren’t framed well. Even cropped, they aren’t that great. My fav was this big 2 story sculpture that resembled flames.

Before arriving in Philly, I decided that there were only 3 things I HAD to do. Number one was the cheese-y tourist running up the steps in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum thing. So I did.

I was surprised that so many people use the stairs for exercise. I tried to get a picture of the dozens of groups of people running up and down the steps but it’s hard to get the right angle to get everyone in the frame. The stairs are surprisingly shallow. It’s awkward to run on them because of this. I asked a lady in sky high stilettos to take my picture. I figured I could outrun her if she chose to take off with my phone.

The walk to the art Museum was amazing all by itself. I walked down Ben Franklin Parkway, past the Library and a cool sculpture honoring Shakespeare

Past the Rodin Museum. Past the Rocky statue

There were so many beautiful buildings and parks and I just loved this walk.

My last full day in Philly, I walked to the Eastern State Penitentiary. It’s amazing. I sat in a coffee shop across the street and sketched a small portion of the building, badly. That was pure happiness.

As with my walk to the art museum, I saw so many cool things on my walk to the penitentiary. The housing was cute. The streets were clean. Even this tattoo parlor was adorable:

I found some really cool used book stores. The best was a place called the Book House. I can’t find a website for this place. It was a house on a main street. There were rooms and rooms of books. There were 2 floors of rooms of books. I could have stayed for hours. I picked up a copy of Don Quixote in Spanish for my oldest.

There were so many things I didn’t even get a chance to do. This was just an excellent city for a walking vacation. It is on my short list for our next family vacation. I really had such a great time.

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