Philadelphia - The City of American History

Philadelphia City hall welcoming us into the City of brotherly love...
Philadelphia, Philly in short, is a magnificent city. Situated between two rivers, Schyulkill and Delaware, it is the largest city of Pennsylvania and the 5th most populous city in US.  It is so rich in history that an American history major could be achieved by studying about Philly alone! Lol! Just kidding… Well, it is indeed a major historical hub of States. It was here that the Declaration of Independence was signed at the Independence Hall. Apart from that it also habours the iconic symbol of American independence Liberty Bell, it is the home to the "First American" Ben Franklin, it is here that Sylvester Stallone shot his "Rocky" movies (along with the movie prop, the Rocky statue, that is still here by the Rocky steps) and it is the birthplace of the inexplicably divine cheesesteaks!!!

Well, I wasn't quite staying in Philadelphia, but a small town about an hour away from it called Allentown. "Jungle" as my hosts (and such good hosts were they) liked to call it, it is a very convenient quite little town, cheap and easily commutable, situated equidistant from Philadelphia as well as New York. 

On wednesday the 28th we took the 9:30AM bus from Allentown coach station to Philadelphia, getting to which was an interesting story of its own (we were lost) but I'll skip that story... It was a long journey to Philly as the bus took about 2 hours in its mild pace till the Philly bus terminal. Well, things didn't quite go as planned at the beginning since it started pouring the moment we got there. Not quite what I expected from US weather... I mean, it felt a lot like our usual UK day :p again.

See the top of the buildings shrouded with ominous clouds… Believe me, it only got worse.
Anyway, we couldn't let that foil the whole day now could we? This only meant we needed to buy an umbrella, which we did, and grab some food meanwhile. Now, the closest place we could reach without getting totally soaked was a subway station. After a long debate whether we should eat there or wait a while for the rain to subside a little to dash to a Hard Rock cafe somewhere around the corner (as indicated in the map, the old fashioned trusty paper map) we finally got in there. The subway mini-mall was rather large actually, covering two whole floors with stores and food joints. There were clothing shops, utility stores, juice stalls, Chinese food stalls, Indian food stalls and Italian food joint. Everything looked rather nice however, please listen to me when I say "DO NOT EAT FROM THE SUBWAY STATION"… This is coming from a first hand experience. I mean it isn't like everything is bad but to be on the safer side just avoid it altogether if you can since I had the worst ribs and stale fries EVER… I couldn't even finish it and my whole appetite was ruined for the entire day, as a matter of fact I was actually little sick for a while, just didn't throw up... Thankfully I had already eaten half of my delicious cheesesteak that I had bought while my friend was buying us lunch… Lol! I know, it sounds greedy of me but I did so just incase the lunch would turn out to be crap. I never trust subways… Well, wasn't that a good idea now??? My tummy agrees ;)

Mmmmm… Tastes so smoooooth… 
Sorry, I gobbled mine as soon as I got it… You'll have to do with the wikipedia image of half a cheesesteak...
Anyway, after lunch and buying ourselves an umbrella each, we made our way towards the city. Now, we only had a day, or half rather, to spare and the only means of transportation we had were our two feet, so it wasn't a lot that we could cover with these limited resources. In total we walked about 2.1 miles and back all the way from the bus station by the Chinatown till the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, just by the river Schuylkill. But anyway, we sure had a good time. Here are the top places to go to when in Philadelphia, which I am happy to say I did :) 

1. Philadelphia city hall

To the left side of the bus station, towards Schuylkill river is the largest municipal building in America, quite a magnificent structure to behold. It took 30 years to complete this masterpiece by John McArthur, Jr. between 1871 to 1901. Back then it was the tallest habitable building in the world, surpassed only by Washington monument and the Eiffel tower, both of which are obviously not meant for a good night sleep.

The Philadelphia city hall
The intricate design from every side is just marvellous. We didn't go inside but I am sure the insides would be pretty impressive too by the looks of it. Fun fun!!!

Intricate detailing of the building exterior
The building houses the three branches of Parliament, the executive, the legislative and the Judicial branch (he he! Seems like not all classes on civics were wasted in naps after all… Lol!). Pretty important land mark on the Central Square I suppose.

Atop the building is William Penn
Here is the tallest statue atop any building in the world. The 11.3m bronze statue of the city founder, William Penn. Apparently, no other building was supposed to be constructed taller than his outstretched hand so that it always seemed like he was watching over the entire city. But regulations changed, the informal "Gentlemen's agreement" that limited the heights of the building officially ended in 1984 and now the city hall is dwarfed by many a tall skyscrapers.

Walking along the road from there towards the Philadelphia Museum of Art, we saw very many colossal artsy statues. One such statue was that of Ben Franklin himself as a craftsman. Apparently this isn't the only statue of his in the city, there are many more situated throughout the city, sitting on a park bench, up a pedestal, in the Ben Franklin Memorial… One could say he still lives among us there.

Benjamin Franklin Craftsman
Also on the way were some Masonic temples and churches worth taking a look at. One could spend days going through them thoroughly and if I did have more days I would too. But this is where I had to draw the line, sight-seeing from outside only.

2. LOVE Park

About 11 minutes away from the bus station, 2 minutes from the City hall is the LOVE park. A small but cute park that contains the huge letterings "LOVE" in the middle of the park right in front of a giant fountain. This was one of the spots we had put in our check lists before coming. We were not disappointed :) Although it would have been better if it weren't raining cause then we would have spent some time there by the statue in the beautiful ambience of the fountain.

LOVE statue
The statue was designed by Robert Indiana and was first placed in the Plaza in 1976. The fountain is surrounded by stairs and granite ledges that makes the venue suitable for skateboarding events. Don't you just love the vibrant lively red colour? Brightens the mood even on a rainy day :)

Me and my trip partner
Loving the colours… The Love fountain itself is often coloured to celebrate or commemorate events such as pink for breast cancer awareness, blue to commemorate police fatalities, purple for lupus awareness and so on.

3. Logan Square

9 minutes from the Love statue is the beautiful fountain sculpture called the Swann memorial fountain at the Logan Square, made in the name of Dr. Wilson Cary Swann, the founder of the Philly fountain society. Originally called the Northern Square the history of this place is not as pretty… It actually used to be the old public execution and burial place until early 1800s. 

The central 50-foot geyser is surrounded by giant sculptures comprising of three native american angels facing each direction, holding up swans (or so it seems) spouting water.

The visible three angels
As mentioned in wikipedia, "The young girl leaning on her side against an agitated, water-spouting swan represents the Wissahickon Creek; the mature woman holding the neck of a swan stands for the Schuylkill River; and the male figure, reaching above his head to grasp his bow as a large pike sprays water over him, symbolizes the Delaware River." Also opposite to the angels, facing the spaces between the angels are water spouting sculptures of two tortoises and two frogs, placed alternatively.

The frog side
The sign in the fountain pool says "No swimming" although apparently students, at the end of their sophomore, junior and senior years, jump into the pool to celebrate the end of their school year. This is a really soothing spot for a warm sunny day. Quite romantic too...

Tortoise side of the fountain

4. Benjamin Franklin National Memorial

20-foot tall Ben Franklin statue
Built in the honour of (yup, you guessed it right) the father of nation, Ben Franklin, the Ben Franklin national memorial consists of a 20-foot tall white marble statue of the beloved inventor, writer and statesman. The memorial was itself built by John T. Widrim in 1938 but the statue was sculpted by James Earle Fraser between 1906-1911. 

Tuttleman IMAX theatre
The building sits right before the Franklin Institute fronted by Tuttleman IMAX theatre, opposite the All war memorial to coloured soldiers and sailors.

All war memorial to coloured soldiers and sailors

5. Eakins Oval

Right in front of the Philly Museum of Art and Rocky steps is the traffic circle called Eakins oval which consists of the beautiful Washington Monument fountain. One of the 100s of monuments dedicated to the first american president, George Washington.

Washington Monument Fountain
Designed by Rudolph Siermering, the monument consists of a life size uniformed statue of George Washington riding a horse atop a colossal beautifully engraved pedestal. Facing southwest, the bronze and granite statue is surrounded by several other sculptures of native americans with different occupations like the fisherwoman with her net at the base of the statue towards the southwest. and animals native to American soil such as a buffalo, a bear, an alligator, a moose, etc. 

A bison to the southwest side.
The details of the individual sculptures is quite awe-striking. To be honest I spent more time studying the details of the monument fountain than the rest of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Such is the genius behind this masterpiece.

Much like the city hall every direction is a sight to behold and marvel. I especially liked the sculpture of a woman with a staff resting on a bed of water lilies and leaves coiled around by a giant serpent. Something artistic about the chemistry between the two… 

Amazing sculpture of a native american woman with a snake

6. Philadelphia Art museum and Rocky Steps

Next (and final one) is the Philadelphia art museum itself. This is the second place that was on our "must see" list of things to do in Philly. The Philly art museum is a massive semi-rectangular (or square U rather) shaped building that houses the historic arts of the city, with occasional exhibitions on arts from around the world. This time it was korean art. We didn't have enough time to take a round of the humungous museum and return to the station so we just hung around the vicinity for a while before we made our way back.

National Art Museum
The large steps leading to the museum have themselves been made famous after the Rocky movies by Sylvester Stallone. After the 3rd Rocky movie the statue of the main protagonist, Rocky, was installed there unofficially for the next few movies of the Rocky series. Now the bronze statue has been taken down from the top of the steps (apparently because someone complained about it not being "Art"! Read here) to the right hand side of the foot of the steps. The view from the spot where the statue used to overlook the city is just breathtaking...

View of the city atop the Rocky Steps
The beauty of the city can be truly enjoyed from this vantage point. The museum is also surrounded by various statues and sculptures.

To the right of the Museum while going up the stairs is the statue of Rocky. Oh how I've always wanted to see this statue!!! This is one of the three Rocky statues casted. Another one being in San Diego and the third one often making rounds in auction centres and ebay for fund raising. Later on it was given to the city of Philadelphia by Stallone as a gift.

Rocky statue
"The dream to stand next to the Rocky statue… Checked!" :D

There is also the gilded statue of Joan of Arc mounted on a horse on the right hand side of the museum. Then there is this peculiar black sculpture right at the entrance of the museum that seemed like a bulked up man wrestling what looks like a cross between an eagle and a giant foot balanced atop a sausage… Okay, pardon my imagination… I tried hard but could not find the meaning… Someone please help me out for this one...

The man-eagle-foot-sausage culpture at the Museum entrance
So, with that, we walked back retracing our steps all the way from the museum till our coach station. After all this I'm sure you can tell we were satisfied that we saw the best of the city so, we headed back to Allentown and, with that, we called it a day… 


Now, for my tips for the trip that you might want to note in case you visit Philly any time soon:

Tip 1: DO NOT EAT AT THE SUBWAY STATIONS. Yup, I'm repeating it again just in case you forgot.

Tip 2: City of Philly is quite compact. Every place is almost walking distance between the two rivers, so transportation (on foot) should not be a problem. Just wear sensible shoes, that's all...

Tip 3: Try these local cuisines:
a.) Cheesesteak - you'll be missing out a piece of heaven if you don't
b.) Water ice - pretty much like slushy crystallised frozen fruit sorbets. Also known as italian ice these are excellent refreshments especially during summers. 
c.) Soft pretzels - delicious snacks, these babies... I had the one with garlic and cheese while my friend grabbed a sweet one with cinnamon. Both were ambrosial…

Tip 4: Pack light. During spring and summer there is more precipitation than the rest of the year, otherwise the weather is pretty pleasant and warm. You shouldn't need to pack too many clothes. Except in January when the temperature (as recorded) can go down till -22 degree C. Need an umbrella? Just buy one there, it's only about $7, but if you've packed one beforehand, well and good.

Tip 5: Souvenir wise sadly I couldn't find a particular gift that stood out. I mean yeah there are loads of statues all around the city that you could possibly find a replica of but none that said Philly in the way the statue of Liberty yells NYC.  However, you could find a nice model of the LOVE statue, or the generic magnet or key rings with Philly city picture on it. I would personally just go for the postcards. I might have to give this one more thought… 

Tip 6: If anyone offers to take a picture for you DO NOT COMPLY! They would ask for money for that "favour" just like it happened to us. I mean I have no problem giving a homeless person some money, but that was not the case… He just wanted a tip for taking a picture for us. I mean WTF??? It's weird, just be on the safe side and don't accept favours. If you ask it that's a different issue.

Well, that's all for now folks… See you again with more updates on my trip… A special shout to my lovely Kenyan hosts Kepha and Sarah, and their two little babies. Thank you for all your hospitality, reminded me of home evermore… Seriously, they are truly amazing, treating me just like family… God bless them!

So, until my next post, loads of love...

Your eager globe-totter,