After the highly evolved chaos of New York City and the ensuing Thanksgiving festivities, we began our slow trip down the East Coast to Winston-Salem for Christmas. The first stop on our route: Philadelphia.
A city that holds a special honor in US history, Philadelphia preserves the roots of the US while an eclectic, hip, and fascinating city evolves alongside it. The city fights to preserve it roots among the demands of the modern world, something exemplified by this statue.
Until the mid 1990s, by city ordinance, this statue – right smack in the middle of downtown – was the tallest structure. Nothing could be built taller than this statue of William Penn on top of City Hall. But progress always wins and to keep downtown an active place in a growing city, the rule had to fall, but thankfully the statue didn’t.
The downtown continues to grow and change, not one mile from the building where the Constitution was signed. That contrast means that Philly hides all sorts of gems in its alleyways, with many buildings harboring interesting backstories. We didn’t have time to search them all out, but we did see the major and justifiably worthy sites.
When they say Old City in Philly, they mean it (for the USA, at least) and the city has done an amazing job of keeping old buildings intact while pressure mounts to modernize and get those tourist dollars. You can find all sorts of fancy restaurants and tour services galore, but nestled in between them are places like a bar that has been in operation for 200+ years or Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continually inhabited road in the USA.
It’s a great place to start and get a feel of the history present in this old city. Plus, you have to carry on a 200+ year tradition of peeking into people’s windows.
National Constitution Center, Independence Hall, & The Liberty Bell
Of course, a visit to these two places is a must. They were impressive and, honestly, just what I expected them to be, but in a good way.
If you go to Philly, you would visit them anyways – as well you should – so there’s probably not too much for me to say about them.
One thing that really impressed me about The LIberty Bell, however, was waiting in line. It’s not often that you get to tout waiting in line as memorable, but the designers of this hall took the chance to have people who are looking for something to fill their wait with interesting and informative things. They set up displays that discussed slavery in a very upfront and unapologetic way and I really appreciated it.
The display discussed ideas like how the Founding Fathers kept slaves, all while touting the undeniable right of freedom for man. I’m sure that the displays really irritated some people, but in a country where a decent percentage of the population tries to downplay or ignore how pervasive slavery was during the foundational years of the US, I found it refreshing, honest, and brave. I’m sure they caught a lot of hell for the display, but kudos to them for not hiding the truth to keep people comfortable.
Fin & Cheese
We then headed to nearby Washington Park, where we found a very large wheel of cheese discarded next to a tree. Obviously we had to make Fin stand next to it so that we could take pictures.
South Street and Magic Gardens
One day, while looking for things to do, we stumbled upon The Magic Gardens and South Street. Thinking that The Magic Gardens might be Philly’s answer to the miracle that is Randyland, we decided to stop by. The Magic Gardens is the hub for an artist who works primarily in the shattered material collages seen all over South Street.
Isaiah Zagar’s work defines South Street and completely embodies the mood of this funky section of town. The street would be cool without it, but with it – the accent on the odd rooftop, the surprise down the random alley – it wouldn’t be the same.
In the end, we decided to skip the entry fee and just walk up and down South Street and its alleys to view the work. I’m glad we did, though I’m sure we would have learned and seen a lot had we entered.
One Final Note
Of course we did.