by Eric Andrews-Katz -
SGN A&E Writer
Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the United States. Rich with history and culture the city's founding goes back to the early European colonists of the 1600s. The city was an important part of this country's formation hosting the original Continental Congress, the Liberty Bell and the first Capital of the (future) United States of America. Today Philadelphia is a melting pot for diversity and religious freedom celebrating the rules of founder William Penn: a Quaker who believed that all religious people should be able to be who they are and practice what they'd like.
Getting to Philadelphia is an easy trip from Seattle. Direct flights last about five hours and can be found through several airlines including Alaska Air. Arriving at the International Airport it is a half hour taxi ride (about $30) or an approximate thirty-minute subway ride (about $7) to the City Center, although there may be a walk waiting for you if taking the subway. Once there, most major sites are accessible within a healthy 30 minutes walk, or an inexpensive taxi ride depending on your requirements (and the weather). And the sights to see are numerous. While Philadelphia is a large city, most needs are met within the City Center limits.
If American History is your forte there is plenty to see and experience. This is the cradle of the American Revolution. One can easily visit the sight of the First Continental Congress and see where the Declaration of Independence was formed. The famous names most American children have come to admire, (Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams,) were considered traitors and criminals when they planned to have the colonies break away from the Motherland; a feat that none had ever done in the history of the world. Tickets to tour Independence Hall are easily accessible, free, and can go quickly on a daily first come-first served basis. Or you can reserve your ticket on line for a very inexpensive fee: (http://www.nps.gov/inde/daily-ticket-information.htm). The Liberty Bell can be accessed (free) during business hours, or viewed through glass windows (and good lighting) for night viewing and photographs. Across the street from Independence Hall is The Constitution Building (for a separate $12 ticket price) that houses an original copy of The Bill of Rights. Quotes carved into the stone around the building easily remind us that our forefathers HAD NO INTENTION OF EVER MIXING RELIGIOUS THEOLOGY WITH THE LAWS OF THE NEW BUDDING NATION.
Other historical sights are easy to get to and enjoy. The homes of Betsy Ross (who was only one of many to sew the original flags of our country) and Benjamin Franklin can be toured. The original post office is still standing and, if you ask nicely, they will even stamp the postcards that you're mailing with Benjamin Franklin's (founder) original stamp. Busts of Mr. Franklin can be found in several places but his final resting place is in the graveyard of Christ Church (www.christchurchphila.org/burial/). Although he may be the most easily recognizable resident, he is far from the only notable one. Also interred in this quaint resting place are four other signers of the Declaration of Independence (some also of the Constitution), several Revolutionary heroes, and Sarah Knowles, an eleven year old girl who has the distinction of holding the oldest (readable) tombstone of this graveyard dating back to 1721. Notably, there is also a marker for Major David Salisbury Franks, the highest-ranking Jewish office in the Continental Army, who was buried in the churchyard, out of respect, instead of a mass, unknown grave, when he died of the infamous yellow fever outbreak in 1793. Christ Church is down the block, still a working church, where several more Declaration signers are buried (seven in total). Originally founded as a Church of England, the colonists broke off from England, as well as her church, and the first Episcopalian Church was founded in Philadelphia. Inside the building plaques mark the pews where Washington, Franklin, and (John) Adams worshipped.
For a more sinister look at Philadelphia's history you may want to take one of the many Grim Philly Walking Tours (www.grimphilly.com/). All stories are looked into so that only 'actual and authentic' stories are retold. There are several tours to try that will entice those with a darker side, including an 'adults only' history lesson that looks into Ghosts and Serial Killers of Philadelphia, including stories of American's First Noted (and prolific) Serial Killer, H.H. Holmes. The adult tour ends up at a tavern using spirits to chase away the spirits. Informative and fun, these walking tours have something for all interests.
Museums are abundant, as one can imagine, in such a big city as Philadelphia. Most buildings are located on Museum Row. Buildings here date back to the 1920s and were established to have Philadelphia rival Paris as a center of culture and the arts. The Philadelphia Museum of Art (www.Philamuseum.org) houses an incredible collection of classic to modern art with many fantastic special exhibits. Two that were going on simultaneously while I was there were The Impressionists (a collection of Impressionist Art collected by the famed art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel - special ticket required), or The Wraith of the Gods in art. The latter is a smaller exhibit (free) showing the influences of Michelangelo and Titian on the works of Peter Paul Rubens' masterpiece, Prometheus Bound. All three of these Masters (along with others) are represented by their works in this special exhibit. To continue the theme, The Barnes Foundation (www.barnesfoundation.org/) hosts one of the greatest Renoir collections (among many other Impressionists) in the United States. Guests can move through this incredible building where Renoir, Degas, Seurat, Cezanne and many others fill the walls with masterpieces of Impressionist Art. Although a small building, the art collection is massive and can be overwhelming but in no way should it be missed! The Rodin Museum (www.rodinmuseum.org/) boasts the Master Sculptor's greatest collection outside of Paris including casts of The Thinker, Eve, The Bronze Age, and The Gates of Hell.
If science is more your style, The Franklin Institute (www.fi.edu/) is another excellent choice. Definitely a hands-on museum for the younger set, this museum still holds many delights for attendees of any age. Guests can walk through a huge model of the human heart and follow the pathway of blood through our bodies. There is another room representing the human brain that allows guests to climb through hoops and follow the way our thoughts and brains work. Special exhibits here are informative, such as the one about the great Genghis Khan, the greatest strategic general the world has ever known. For a darker look at science (which may be disturbing to younger viewers) the Mutters Museum (http://muttermuseum.org/) displays a large variety of human maladies. While not on Museum Row, it is still easy to get to by either a healthy walk or a short cab ride. Displays include pieces of Einstein's brain (only one of two museums that can claim that) and many human specimens preserved in jars. Other displays are casts made from humans, including the original co-joined (Siamese) twins, Chang and Eang. A Philadelphia City Pass is available for the full museum experiences at a discounted price.
If you are a member of the quickly emerging 'Foodie' groups, you cannot be disappointed with this city. Far beyond the Cheesesteaks or Pretzels, Philadelphia is home to many great restaurants of all types. Go to IndieBlu (www.indebluerestaurant.com) and you may have one of the best Indian food experiences you've ever enjoyed. Jones (www.jones-restaurant.com/) has a diner atmosphere serving comfort foods from burgers and salads to an excellent Matzah Ball Soup that will make you want to call a Jewish Mother to tell her about it. For something on the run try Big Ass Slices Pizza (www.bigassslicesphiladelphia.com/) - not just a boast - or Jake's Pizza and Grill (www.Jakespizza.net) which brags the world famous Cheesesteak - and not without merit. Jake's is located by City Hall, a destination between City Center's Historical District and Museum Row. Delicious torn pieces of steak, mixed with peppers and onions and REAL cheese ('Whiz' is an option in many places) served on a large hoagie bun, there is a type of 'Cheesesteak' for all people. There are also several outdoor markets including the Reading Market (www.readingterminalmarket.org/). Housed in the original Reading Railroad (think Monopoly) Terminal, this market offers bustling food courts, Amish crafts, traditional candy stores, and all sorts of booths expected at an indoor market.
The GLBT community is a thriving part of Philadelphia. Listed on most local maps as the 'Gayborhood,' food, hotels and sightseeing are all in the area. Philadelphia celebrates more than 50 years of GLBT activity having its first protests for equality BEFORE New York's Stonewall. For a great place to stay try the Alexander Inn (www.alexanderinn.com). It boasts being a 'boutique hotel' in every way with great service, comfortable rooms, marble floors, a good Continental breakfast, and perfect location; all offered for a very reasonable price in any city. The staff is friendly and eager to help with suggestions and sights not to be missed. Just down the street from this hotel is Giovanni's Room - the 'Longest Consecutively Running GLBT Bookstore'
(www.phillyaidsthriftatgiovannisroom.com/about.html) in the United States. First opened in 1973, Giovanni's Room has been providing books to the GLBT community non-stop, except for a short hiatus for management transfer and remodeling. A good place to find your favorite GLBT authors (new and used books), Giovanni's Room offers author readings and has expanded to include an AIDS Thrift Store for shoes, cards, clothing etc& Check out their listings to see when your favorite author will be reading from their work. If theater is your Arts preference there is no shortage. Broadway caliber theaters (such as the Hal Prince Theater) offer the major touring shows while you can find more fringe style with Quince Productions (www.quinceproductions.com/) founded by Rich Rubin. Mr. Rubin is an essential part of bringing GayFest! Philly's only LGBT theater festival, to life. GLBT presentations are advertised frequently, so definitely take a look at their websites to see which interest is best suited for your tastes.
Philadelphia is a large city - there's no doubt about that - but with a small-town feel. It has everything New York offers without the feeling of hustle and bustle. People are friendly. The parks (in City Center at least) are open spaces safe to walk through after dark. It is easy to see why - even after over 400 years - it lives up to the name 'The City of Brotherly Love.'
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