Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Many of you know, I grew up in Philadelphia and really enjoy getting back and soaking in the sights and sounds. I was born and raised in Roxborough, a middle class neighborhood just West of "Center City" (that's what they call their downtown.)

But, as a kid, my parents and grandmother would take me on frequent trips to "Center City." We'd visit museums, walk the streets, eat in cheap, but expensive looking restaurants and always take the train.(SEPTA and the Broad Street subway) I love trains. (see earlier blogs)

I try to go back and visit a few times a year. My parents must think I'm cheating them out of a visit. They live in Pennsylvania, but not really close to Philly. So these trips are my own adventures. I like to relive the past and explore the current.

Rather than give you a boring travelogue, I thought I'd just post the photos and make a few comments on them to breeze you through my little overnight stay this April in the "city of brotherly love."

AMTRAK TO PHILADELPHIA. This is really the only way to get to Philly. If you take the high speed Acela service, it takes about one-hour out of New York. Spend a little extra money and go first class on the Acela and you'll be living in the lap of luxury. Gourmet meals( I had bay scallops over saffron rice) , free drinks, free newspapers, wide leather seats, hot towels, and impeccable service. Amtrak is really trying to make this a first rate experience and on this most recent Acela trip, the guys onboard out did themselves. It was the most enjoyable, speedy, one hour train trip in my life. If they keep this up, they'll have customers for life.

JIMS STEAKS. This is very debatable among Philadelphians, but since I was a teenager I'm convinced the best Philly cheese steak is right here at Jim's Steaks at 4Th and South streets. They do it right with the fresh rolls, lean, red steak and whatever cheese you'd like. Many go for cheese whiz. That's just gross. For me, it's American white cheese. They have a vent that blows the aroma of the steaks and grilling onions onto the street and you can smell it blocks away. Spend a few minutes longer inside to check out all of the celebrity photos and autographs of all of the famous folks who have chowed down there. They even have an autograph of that Asian guy from 21 Jump Street on the wall! Unfortunately, I did not make the cut. Oh, I thought about sending a publicity photo, but I can just imagine the locals looking at it and saying..."Who the F---k is that.?"

BEN FRANKLINS HOUSE. This is not to be confused with the Franklin Institute, which is by far one of the best science museums in the country. No, this is the site where Franklin had his home, his post office, his print shop, etc. Back in the early 1800's his family tore down the original Franklin home, but preservationists in the decades to follow found evidence of his home by excavating the site. Instead of reconstructing the entire place, they built a steel framework to outline where the house actually stood. There's a museum underground. It's one of the most spectacular, yet not so well known museums in the city, but it's a must do.

CHURCH OF CHRIST. I won't spend much time on this. It's just a beautiful old church, one of many in Philly. When you walk by a church and it says "First Church of Lutherans," it probably was . Same for "First National Bank." It probably was!

QUAINT COBBLESTONE STREETS. New York has its share of them, but in Philadelphia there are scores of them, but this one struck me as one of the prettier ones, just South of Rittenhouse Square. Some cities try to "replant" the cobblestones, but in Philly, they're the real deal.

CONTINENTAL DINER. This is the real deal, as well. It was an old diner, but they decided to go trendy and make it a diner slash martini lounge. Great vibe, awesome food and you can find it at 3rd and Market.

MR. BARSTOOL. Like, New York, Philadelphia has its wholesale restaurant district (around the Bowery) and I just found the name of this place funny.

BARACK OBAMA. Hillary and Obama debated the night I was in Philadelphia and their foot soldiers were out in full force all over the city. I found this portrait of Obama on the side of some municipal mechanical device in the Northern Liberties neighborhood.

DEAD PEOPLE. Philadelphia has oodles of old churches and attached to many of them are old cemeteries that date back to the 1600's. This is one such place. Eerie and beautiful at the same time.

NORTHERN LIBERTIES. Like SOHO or better yet, Williamsburg, this is one of those neighborhoods that's feeling gentrification. It's where Olde City meets Northern Liberties, in the heart of Philly. This area is full of old warehouses and converted lofts and chock full of galleries and cafes. This was just one of those perfect shots.

WILLOW CREEK. There's no longer a creek here, but back in the day, a tiny stream ran through the center of Philadelphia and what is now part of the National park system. This is somewhere in the middle of the expansive Independence mall area of Center City. An artist outlined in white spray paint where the creek once flowed. Hey, maybe this is where Franklin flew that kite!

SOCIETY HILL HOTEL. This is where I stayed. It's located in Olde City at 3rd and Chestnut. It's a bargain at $90 a night and it's right in the heart of everything. It's much better known as a bar and grill, which is located on the first floor. The drinks are strong and the food is great. The rooms upstairs are kind of small, but well equipped, but don't worry, they're undergoing a renovation, which means in several months rooms will probably go for $200 a night.

TEACH NYC. So, you're a school teacher in one of the worst, most depressed school systems in the country and you spot this sign. Who's thinking...."Hmmm, I want to move to a crummier school district for just as much pay and be mugged and beaten." Not quite sure, but I'm thinking they might have better luck placing these ads in Pierre, South Dakota or some other tiny town in the middle of nowhere, where teachers are making $16,500 a year.

LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN. So after that bridge collapsed over the Mississippi, states began extensive inspections to insure their bridges weren't falling down. We often complain in New York, that some of our oldest bridges are about to collapse into the sea, but take a gander at this span across the Delaware. Does this look safe to you?

THE BETSY ROSS HOUSE. Back in the 1700's, Betsy Ross lived on tiny Elfreths Alley in the Olde city section of town. This is where it is believed she sewed the first American flag featuring a star for each of the 13 original colonies. The street scene is as cool as the tour of the house itself.

THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE. This is Philadelphia's science museum and one of the premiere museums of its kind in the country. The exhibits are constantly changing, but some staples not to be missed include a walk through the giant human heart (you can hear it pumping) and a ride on an old steam locomotive. This monstrosity is parked on rails and the engine is actually fired up so you can ride a foot or two.

AND ONE FINAL SNAPSHOT, THE PHILLY SKYLINE. Up until about 20 years ago, the city wouldn't allow anything to be built that was taller than "Billy Penn." Nothing could go over the 26 stories of city hall, which features a statue of of Pennsylvania's founder, William Penn. Then, as businesses began moving out of America's 4Th largest city, councilmen decided to amend city laws to allow buildings to go higher than the hat of "Billy Penn." (his hat had long been an observation deck.) Now, 60-80 story buildings grace the downtown area, making it one of the most spectacular downtown's in America. So, I leave you with this view.

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