24hrs in Philly
In West Philadelphia, born and raised…
I knew little of Philadelphia until I arrived there one morning from rural Lancaster County. Philly is the home of the Fresh Prince, it has a few universities and a strange name and probably some colonial history; but until I first set out to explore its streets, I knew nothing about the city’s true identity. Arriving straight from the countryside and wide-eyed in the metropolis, I found a city with much more character than I expected.
Cassi’s friend Jackie had banana pancakes waiting for me at her flat. She hurried off to class and I went out to stroll the leafy streets. The air was crisp and autumnal but it was still summer in the sun. The small financial district is centred around Market Street, where men in suits rushed in and out of skyscrapers. Further on was the grand City Hall, still the USA’s largest municipal building and originally the site of the country’s first municipal water works. I wandered some of the corridors: they reminded me of Parks and Recreation.
Further towards the river was Independence Mall, an orgy of nationalism with a Constitution Museum (too expensive), a mock-up of the President’s house (just a house) and the Liberty Bell (an interesting symbol, but really just a bell – and a cracked one, at that). Outside Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was first proclaimed, tourists lined up for photos but noone looked at the building itself. The Jewish-American Museum had an exhibit on baseball so I decided to give it a miss and fell asleep on a bench in the sun.
Everyone told me to have lunch at Reading Terminal Market. This bustling indoor food market sells deli items – meats, Amish cheeses, German wurst, gourmet vinegars, artisan bread – and also an impressive array of cooked meals. The classic local dish is Philly cheesesteak, served everywhere but most famously at rival stands Geno’s and Pat’s, both south of the city centre. I planned to try one or maybe both for dinner, so for lunch at Reading I had a delicious sandwich: beef brisket with mac and cheese, all covered in more melted cheese and grilled (yes, really).
The historic sights continued all the way to the waterfront, vying for space and attention among the Chinese tourists with selfie-sticks. Benjamin Franklin’s grave was a plain slab but it was interesting to learn about one of the men whom British history tends to overlook.
I took the SEPTA – a very simple metro with two lines, E-W and N-S, and one intersection at City Hall – to meet Jackie. We had delicious gluten-free diary-free (etc.) cupcakes at Sweet Freedom. Later I went to run off the cupcake, not to mention all that melted cheese from lunch, along a busy trail on the eastern bank of the Schuykill River. The whole area has been impressively redeveloped and affords good views of the river and urban sprawl of W Philly. I made it to the ‘Rocky steps’ in front of the Institute for Art and joined the masses of lycra-clad pilgrims to this mecca of fitness as they ran up and down. I still haven’t seen the film!
Despite only having a day in the city, Philly really grew on me. More liveable than NYC but just as multicultural, it wore its history with pride – the only thing I missed, in the end, was a cheesesteak at Geno’s. I’m glad to have a reason to return.