We woke up on Wednesday morning in Conshohocken, having skipped out of Baltimore late the night before. We slept at my lovely lady Bernadette's house, which was definitely a wise course of action, for the fact that we got to sleep in until a whopping 8:15 or so - a vast improvement over whatever ungodly hour at which we would have left Baltimore, had we stayed the night.
The three of us piled into the car and made the short drive into the city, which can be approached in numerous competing fashions. I-76 E, or the Schuylkil Expressway, is probably what most people would take, only to inevitably encounter a blindingly frustrating snake of traffic. 76 is the most terrible highway on the face of the planet. Luckily, I know the scenic route down Kelly Drive (shown above), which offers us a tranquil, picturesque drive along the opposite bank of the river (so we can thumb our noses at those suckers on the highway).
We parked in a lot near the Fairmount neighborhood and cabbed it immediately to one of my favorite patriotic spots in Philly, the National Constitution Center
at 5th and Arch streets. This place is a class act, a state-of-the-art facility that opened in 2004 and remains as fresh as ever today. The museum concentrates on the story of America, of We the People, and the many different chapters in our nation's history that have helped America take its present shape. Appropriately, it's located directly across from Independence Hall
, where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed.
The Constitution Center experience starts with a timed entry and a riveting performance in the building's Kimmel Theater, after which the crowd is released into the main exhibit. Circling around the theater is a chronology of American history, beginning with colonial revolts over taxation without representation in the 1700s, leading all the way up to the inauguration of President Obama. Rich with interactive displays and educational features, and oh so easy on the eyes, this place is a winner from top to bottom.
Following the main exhibit lies Founder's Hall, where we paused to reflect on the gravity of all we'd seen, and snap a few photos before we moved on.
We walked one block south for some shots in Independence Hall, and figured as long as we were standing there already, we might as well bop into the Liberty Bell Center
. Housed within is the symbol that Philly is probably best known for, in all its cracked glory. And after all, admission is free, so we'd have been foolish not to stop and stare for a moment.
By then we were pretty famished, so we trekked a few blocks west to the world-famous Reading Terminal Market
at 12th and Arch streets, where we met up with Bernadette for lunch. This market has been open since the late 1800s, and could be compared to Baltimore's Lexington Market if you were in a real hurry. But with its assortment of cheesesteak vendors, hoagie vendors and a confusingly high number of Amish people, this place is decidedly Philadelphian. We shared a collection of lo mein, italian sausage and a beef crepe while we sat and drank a pitcher of Sam Adams inside the market's beer garden.
The walk from the market to our next stop brought us past City Hall
, the world's largest masonry structure, as well as the Grand Masonic Lodge
of the Pennsylvania Freemasons - a place where I'd highly recommend a tour if you're into awesome, offbeat attractions.
The walk also brought us through LOVE Park
, once a skateboarder's paradise but no longer, after it was banned in the park nearly ten years ago. It is, however, still a great place for photo ops.
Man, I wish we’d had more time on our hands. In our walk down the Ben Franklin Parkway, we strolled past the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Franklin Institute Science Museum – two amazing places that I’ve cherished since my first visits, way back in grade school. Alas, our sorrow was assuaged upon our arrival at what I consider to be Philadelphia’s signature museum, landmark, attraction… whatever you want to call it, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is top dog here in town.
This tremendous edifice is as recognizable as any, a sprawling, two-level structure with giant rooms and lengthy hallways, each brimming with breathtaking selections from one of the world’s finest collections of works. The museum features sections for American art, as well as European, Asian, Modern and much more. There’s even a wing devoted to weapons and armor, which I remember being of particular interest to me when I was just a wee lad. It’s always a wonderful experience to visit this museum, and spend time with so many incredible works of art.
The museum closed at 5, which was right around quittin’ time for a few of our friends from the neighborhood. We headed south to meet up with Chris, George, Sam and Sarah (another Sarah), all our fellow graduates of ol’ Susquehanna University. We hung out at George’s house in South Philly for a spell before we hoofed it to one of my preferred nightlife spots, Rum Bar, at 20th and Walnut streets (pictured here).Rum Bar is as unique a nightlife spot as you’re bound to find in Philadelphia. The emphasis is on (you guessed it) the delicious spirit of rum and its many incarnations, with more than 100 different bottles of rum on the shelf from all over the world. I like this place in part because the owner, Adam Kanter, is a no-nonsense, unabashed rum connoisseur, and he’d probably be the first to admit it. That guy is passionate about rum, and he knows how to make some pretty phenomenal drinks with it. Our group of eight hung by the bar, nestled in a corner between the lounge and the dining room. Wednesdays are “Save the Daiquiri” nights, Rum Bar’s effort to move away from the bastardized, Slushee-style daiquiris you’ll find at most other bars, and bring back the cocktails that Hemingway loved to drink. Man, what a concoction – and frankly, half-price specials make just about any drink taste better. After a rousing visit at Rum Bar, and a few rounds of car bombs at the Irish Pub next door, we were way beyond exhausted. We took a cab back to George’s house and slept, slept, slept… after all, we had to rest up for a big Day 5. More on that soon.-Tom