Last week I did an overnight trip to Philadelphia. :-D It was going to be the final stop of my road trip back home, but I just didn’t have time to sightsee the city then. Since it’s only a hundred something miles from home though, I knew I’d be able to visit it for a day during one of my extended weekends off, and I finally got a chance last weekend. Packing was a breeze, tossed just one set of clothes into my duffel bag and it was off I went on a quiet Sunday morning.
The first thing I wanted to do was go on a cheesesteak binge. Two of the most popular tourist traps for cheesesteaks was Pat’s and Geno’s. Pat’s was the original location where the Philly cheesesteak first had its origins, while Geno’s was a major competitor and rival located just across the street. The lines are notoriously ridiculous, so I got the idea to head here first once I arrived in Philly, and I’m glad I did. There was hardly anyone around, and I basically had the entire area to myself. WIN!
I got a cheesesteak from both joints, putting on my best Philly accent to make like I was just one of the locals, despite the fact that I had just pulled up in New York plates. You might have learned this already, but when you order a cheesesteak here, don’t say you want a cheesesteak. First you say what kind of cheese you want (American, Provolone or Whiz) and then “with” or “without” (“with” being with onions and “without” being no onions.)
Armed with this knowledge, I went up to Geno’s window:
“Yeah, can I have an American wiiiiiit?”
I got my cheesesteak quickly, then went and got some cheese fries with it too. All at 8:30 in the morning. One thing I liked about Geno’s, they were very pro-American and pro-law enforcement. Past all the neon signs was a decorated wall of police patches and memorials honoring police officers who had been killed in the line of duty. It’s hard to imagine anyone being offended by this, yet Geno’s occasionally gets badmouthed for its patriotic themes by clueless dipwads who have nothing better to do but collect welfare and take offense at anything colored red, white and blue.
I had to wait a few minutes for Pat’s to be ready with their steaks, but once they were I ordered a cheesesteak from them as well, then walked back to the car.
Geno’s sandwich was clean but hardly had any meat in them, while Pat’s was greasy yet had a generous portion of meat. To my surprise, they both seemed rather bland and tasteless. Since I hadn’t had a cheesesteak in a long time I wasn’t sure if this was how it was supposed to taste like but I was pretty disappointed. The only save was Geno’s cheese fries, which were VERY tasty.
Regardless, if you HAVE to try a cheesesteak from one of these joints just to say you’ve been there and done that, but you can’t abide by lines, then come here early in the morning like I did. You can always buy it and save it for later.
With that out of the way, I now had the rest of the day to visit everything I wanted to see, beginning with the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
There was a parking lot right next to the museum where the famous Rocky “steps” were located, and I decided to bite the bullet and pay the $12 to park here rather than drive around aimlessly looking for something cheaper. I wasn’t actually planning to go inside, just explore the area a little bit and search for the Rocky statue.
With the sun shining brightly on a pleasant Sunday morning this was a gorgeous place to be. The Philadelphia skyline loomed to the west, while the area surrounding the museum offered wide open spaces and elevated panoramic views. You absolutely should not visit Philadelphia without coming here.
I ran up the Rocky steps for the first time, then after about 10 or 15 steps I started crying and slowly walked back down again. Holy…
Ok, ok, let me try this again. I braced myself, fired up “Gonna Fly Now” on my iPod, then hit the steps hard and kept going.
Yaaaaay! Pumping my hands in victory, I looked out at the beautiful skyline the same way Rocky Balboa did. Then started crying again.
After I wiped away my tears, I made my way back down again and found the famous Rocky statue, located just off the steps to the right.
I grew up watching the Rocky movies, especially Rocky III since I was also a big fan of Mr. T. I must have seen this statue 100 times on TV, but never thought the day would come when I would see it for real. And now here I was. Just amazing.
Alas, I had an itinerary to follow, so after about 30 minutes here, I grabbed my car up again and headed to Edgar Allan Poe’s house.
I never knew Poe had a house here, and not only that, but it was also where he wrote my favorite poem The Raven too. Luckily I found a parking spot across the street and was able to walk in from there. The instruction on the door said to knock “ONLY ONCE.” I used the knocker, which boomed and echoed into the house despite its deceptively small size. The door slowly creaked open and a park ranger beckoned me inside. “You may… enter.”
Fortunately the ranger was a friendly guy, gave me a sheet outlining the different areas of the house and how to explore them, as well as a few interesting tidbits about Poe.
It was hard to imagine actually being here, although Poe had actually lived in several residences throughout his life, and while he resided in Philadelphia for six years, he had apparently lived here for only one. Still, it was long enough to have been the site where he wrote some of his most acclaimed works.
More curiously, the basement here provided the inspiration for his work, The Black Cat.
I walked outside and noted the Raven statue, as well as a mural of Poe that could be found further down the street. I didn’t chance a visit there though because I saw a group of people who were acting just the way you would expect a group of people to act if they were dishing out some crank and coke. I was on the outskirts of what would be considered North Philly, but still, the neighborhood was sketchy enough that I wouldn’t recommend taking a walk here from the old city, despite its close proximity.
It was already close to 11AM, so it was time to bid adieu to Poe and head over to Independence Park. I stashed my car in a garage next to the Omni, then took out a map that outlines how to walk to and tour over 30 historical sites. I got my ticket for Independence Hall at the visitors center, then began my tour of the old city.
I have to say, I really liked Philly. I came here with the impression that I would only visit once and never come back again, but now I could see myself returning here some day. Seeing the Liberty Bell was a blast, as well as so many of the ancient buildings that still survive to this day. One of the buildings I passed would also be the very house that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in.
That said, it still wasn’t Boston. :-D For whatever reason Boston was able to capture my heart in a way that even Manhattan couldn’t, and still retains the title as my favorite city. Regardless, Philly’s old city was definitely being competitive here.
After touring everything from the ancient City Tavern to Ben Franklin’s court (and his grave), I returned to check into the Omni to drop off my stuff, then arrived at Independence Hall for the very last tour of the day. A park ranger bellowed out factoids as he took us in and started the process of explaining the building’s history. Despite his loudness, he still droned on in a boring monotone, and I was anxious for him to get on with it already so we could see the hall.
Our first stop was in the courtroom, which I initially mistook for being the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed. That actually turned out to be the next room, known as the Assembly Room. It actually looked like a dining room to me, and at first glance I would have thought it was part of an old fashioned restaurant rather than the actual site where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself were both argued over and eventually signed.
I was actually HERE. Here where it all began. There are no words that could have appropriately captured the moment. I was walking in the steps of the men who over 200 years ago had founded this country with much toil, blood and tears. I can live the life I live now, with relative freedom and ease, because of what they did.
We are not worthy to shine their shoes.
After the initial tour ended, I walked down to Congress Hall, where another ranger took us in and explained the history behind this building. The first Congress after the Constitution was signed had their meetings here, the House on the first floor, while the Senate met on the second floor. It was here where the Bill of Rights was drafted and passed, among many other notable acts. George Washington was also sworn into his second term as President, while John Adams himself was sworn in as the second President. I stood on the very spot where he was likely sworn in, looking out the same way he might have as he held his hand on the Bible. Ahhh, President Adams, how I would have very much liked to have met you.
At long last, the day had concluded. I went back to my hotel, but rather than order room service, I decided to take a walk again and see what I could find. I eventually walked far enough north and east that I found myself near Franklin’s court again. This particular block on Market Street offers a lot of dining options in the old city, so I definitely recommend coming here for a variety of foods. It just so happened that I stopped in front of a place called Sonny’s Famous Steaks, and decided, what the heck, I’ll give the cheesesteak another try. I should have stopped by Soho Pizza again too (I stopped by their before for lunch) because their slices were deeeeelish. Unfortunately I had already stopped at a nearby placed called Pizzicato’s to pick up a personal pie of margarita pizza. My last dinner in Philly would be a weird combination of pizza and a cheesesteak. Yep, that sounds about right.
And OMG. The cheesesteak was the best I ever had. When I couldn’t taste the meat from Pat’s and Geno’s I thought it was me, but here you could actually TASTE it. Juicy, clean and delicious. FINALLY! I gobbled it up so quickly that I had completely forgotten to take a picture for comparison, but oh well. It’s the taste that matters. :-D If you visit the old city, absolutely come to Sonny’s for the cheesesteaks, check out Soho for the pizza, and Franklin Fountain for the ice cream. Your wallet will cry in agony, but your taste buds will rejoice. Pizzicato’s wasn’t bad by the way, just didn’t get as much bang for my buck as I would have liked.
After staying overnight at the Omni, I had only one more stop to make: Reading Terminal Market. There’s a garage nearby where you can park 2 hours for only $4 (as long as you buy $10 or more of goods as at the market and get a merchant to stamp your parking ticket). I did just that and walked a block to the market. Instant love.
It’s sort of like a hybrid flea market, Whole Foods store. Tons of different fresh foods to choose from, from local to international cuisines. It was awesome. I had breakfast at the Down Home Diner here, then walked over to DiNic’s to get a sandwich for my Mom: roast pork with broccoli rabe. There was no line to be found, but then again it was morning. I was really timing things perfectly when it came to avoiding lines, making me a very happy camper. I got a sample of other tasty foodsies, then took a nice walk around the city for one last look before heading back to my car and finally making my way home.
Thank you for a nice weekend, Philly. I may indeed return again.