It’s now been a month since I got back from Philadelphia, and I am just getting around to the post-trip wrap-up blog. It’s pitiful, I know, but I’m going to plead “better late than never” on this one.
My best friend and oft-travel-buddy Jessica had expressed interest in doing a Philly trip a while back, so when Josh Ritter’s original tour dates were released, I eyed the Philly date and asked if she wanted to coordinate travel dates. She agreed, and we booked train tickets to Philly at the same time that we booked our flights to New York.
Doing two trips less than a month apart was a whirlwind endeavor, but it was worth it. I left the Philly itinerary to Jessica, so she could plan our stops at the many historical must-sees in the “Birthplace of America.” I joked with her before the trip that she could look at the SITES, and I would look at the SIGHTS. That little wordplay described our approaches very nicely. We’d walk up to an old building with a plaque on the side, and Jessica would rattle off three paragraphs of pertinent historical data, and I’d smile, hoist my camera, and say “Oooooh, pretty.”
As you’ll see in some of the pictures below, I tinkered around with them a bit to capitalize on that old-world look of Philly’s historic district. I had fun with them, so hopefully you’ll have fun looking at them.
As always, I was less than thrilled with having to wake up at the crack of dawn to catch our train, but that is a necessary evil on travel days. This was also my first bona fide train ride (not counting the trains that circle Busch Gardens in Williamsburg). I was a bit tentative about having to sit in one place and just ride for 6+ hours, but I managed to occupy myself fairly well with my laptop and the lunches that Jessica so nicely packed for us. Thai, meanwhile, watched Supernatural on her portable DVD player:
We arrived in Philly just after noon, so once we got to our hotel and settled in a bit, we had time to get a jump start on our itinerary. Jessica hadn’t scheduled any official stops for our arrival Thursday afternoon other than a walk down to the water, but we decided to seize the day and go ahead and cross a few places off of our list. Our first stop was barely a block from our hotel – the Christ Church Burial Ground, most famously known as the final resting place of Philadelphia hero Benjamin Franklin.
We then proceeded to Christ Church, which was founded in 1695 and birthed the American Episcopal Church. Its regular congregation included 15 signers of the Declaration of Independence and numerous Revolutionary War leaders, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Betsy Ross (who was no longer welcome at the Quaker Meeting House following her marriage to John Ross). When the steeple was added in 1754, Christ Church became the tallest building in North America for a time.
George Washington’s family pew is pictured here:
Several individuals are buried inside the church, with grave markers in the floor. This was a mark of great honor.
The oldest item at Christ Church is this baptismal font, gifted to the church in 1697 by a church in London. This is the font in which William Penn was baptized, and it is still in use today. The tour guide told us not to be deceived by its age – it is by no means fragile. When they use it for baptisms, it takes 4 men to lift the lid.
After spending some time admiring the inside and outside of the church, we proceeded towards the water, going out to the river via Penn’s Landing.
We stopped for dinner on our way back, and we were all wiped out from our travels, so we were happy to retire early back at the hotel. We went to bed early to rest up for a long day of sight(site)-seeing on Friday, but at 1:00am, I awoke with a clear explanation for my unshakeable headache and complete exhaustion the day before – I was sick. Luckily, I brought medicine with me, so I just had to make it to the ice machine (about 10 feet from our hotel room door) so I could take some pills without waking the entire room. I found my key and wandered out into the hallway in my pajamas and slippers, and walked, and walked, and walked. Eventually I came to a dead end, considered sitting down on the floor to cry, but turned around and finally found my way to the ice machine and back to our room…just around the corner from the ice machine. I took the medicine, crawled back in bed, and munched on the ice to dispel the nausea. Thankfully, I managed to fall asleep, and awoke the next morning feeling much better.
At that point, I was thankful that we had jump-started our itinerary on Thursday, so we could take a more leisurely pace on Friday. We started out with breakfast at a diner, which was tasty and cheap. From there, we proceeded along our way, taking pictures of pretty buildings along the way.
We came to the “ghost house” of Benjamin Franklin, so named because no one knows exactly what it looked like, so all that stands are white frames showing the dimensions and basic style of the house.
Franklin Court is also home to the still-operating B. Free Franklin Post Office, the Printing Office and Bindery, and the restored office of the newspaper published by Franklin’s grandson. Below the court, there is an underground museum filled with artifacts from Benjamin Franklin’s life.
Subsequently, we visited the U.S. Mint, which did not allow photographs, but we did see a half-dollar replica on the wall regarding the issuance of the charter in 1786 for the founding of our own little Lynchburg, VA! And in true form, we saw nobody working!
Our next stop was possibly Philadelphia’s most recognized symbol – the Liberty Bell. I expected a tediously long line there, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that we merely had to go through a quick security check and then roam the museum at our leisure. To be perfectly honest, I expected the Liberty Bell to be quite a bit bigger, and Jessica was more than a little amused when I admitted to thinking it was a replica from afar.
Leaving the Liberty Bell, we were headed back to the hotel for a little bit of rest prior to our scheduled tour at Constitution Hall. On our way, however, we crossed paths with this delightfully purple horse and carriage combo, and decided to use our extra time to take that tour, highlighting some of the sites, and taking us through the aptly-named Society Hill.
One highlight was riding past this balcony, where George Washington delivered his 2nd inaugural address:
Our carriage dropped us off at our hotel, where we still had time to freshen up before going to Constitution Hall, where we were treated to a rather moving presentation on the U.S. Constitution and perused the exhibits upstairs before proceeding to Signers’ Hall, where Thai posed with a statue of James Madison – the President for whom she was named.
We were also able to add our own signature to the Constitution, and Jessica signed us up to get certificates to commemorate the occasion. I haven’t received mine yet, but we’ll see!
Constitution Hall also displayed flags from all 50 states, hanging in the order in which they joined the Union.
We made a point to look for Virginia’s flag, hanging tenth in line. (Delaware was first in 1787, and Pennsylvania, second; Alaska and Hawaii were last to join, in January and August of 1959, respectively.)
Leaving the Constitution Center, we walked to Franklin Square (not to be confused with Franklin Court from earlier), where we stopped to enjoy a snack of French fries and ice cream by the fountain.
And we all rode the carousel, too. Jessica had to act like an adult and ride the bench on the carousel, but Thai and I both loaded up on animals (they weren’t all horses), and enjoyed the ride.
Following our little afternoon stint at the park, we walked to Elfreth’s Alley, “our nation’s oldest residential street,” which has been home to more than 3,000 people since 1702.
Just a few blocks from Elfreth’s Alley sits the home of Betsy Ross, which is unmistakable upon approach:
No photography was allowed inside her home, either, but we enjoyed the brief tour just before the house closed for the day. On our way back to the hotel, I spied this collection of artwork lining the street:
(I’ll save you the headache – it says “You will be least appreciated by those for whom you do the most.”)
The place we tried to go for dinner had closed down permanently, apparently, so we just popped into the nearest sandwich shop we could find (which is not nearly as easy as it sounds) before heading back to the hotel.
We had separate plans for the evening. Friday night was my Josh Ritter concert, and Jessica and Thai had decided to take in the Phillies-Braves game. They had to leave before me, so I got a little time to rest before heading downtown, where I knew I’d be standing up for several hours (and standing in one place is not my best event).
Here are some pics Jessica took at the ball field, where they had a blast:
When it was time for me to go down to South Street, I hailed a cab and mere minutes later, I was seemingly in another world. South Street felt like a cross between SoHo and Nashville’s Honky Tonk District. There were bright lights and colors and people everywhere taking it all in.
I should have given myself a little more time to explore, but I wanted to go ahead and claim a spot at the front of the stage. The show was at the Theater of Living Arts, which was a beautiful venue. This marquee made me so happy!
Dawn Landes (who happens to be married to Josh Ritter) opened the show with her band. She played probably a 45-minute set to kick things off.
After the stage change, it was time for Josh Ritter, and I was so thrilled to be there. The only person more excited than me, I think, was Josh Ritter himself, because he bounded onstage like a kid who’d waited his whole life for the chance to be on stage and finally got it! It was the first night of his tour (in the U.S.), so I thought that might have played a part in his enthusiasm, but after talking to a friend who’s seen him multiple times, I learned that he always comes armed with plenty of gusto!
I was very close to the stage, affording me the chance to snap some pretty decent pictures. One of these days, I am going to get a camera that is actually made to do these sorts of things. In the meantime, it’s just me and my point and shoot.
The set included almost every tune from the newest album, as well as some old favorites, and each song was fantastic. It was cool to hear the crowd singing along, too, especially when the instruments quieted down and you could just hear Josh’s voice over a chorus of hundreds of people. I love being at a show where everyone is invested – they didn’t just drop by with a vague inclination to hear some live music – they came with passion and they knew every word.
Appropriately, when Josh sang “In the Dark,” he had them bring down the stage lights as well as the house lights – all but a few dainty chandeliers, and we all sang quietly together.
The serenity of the soft moments was matched by the fervor of the loud, driving songs, and everyone was into it.
The encore began with a beautiful rendition of “Moon River” before immediately kicking up several notches for “Snow is Gone,” and ended with a sing-along edition of “Wait for Love,” prompting Dawn Landes and her band to join him on-stage to sing along with the audience on the final song.
By the time I made it back to the hotel and showered, it was about 2am. Jessica and Thai were fast asleep and I was still wired with adrenaline. Somehow, I still managed to be the first one awake the next day. Since we were all a bit slow on the upswing Saturday, we ordered room service for breakfast instead of rushing around to get ready and shuffle off to a diner.
Our first stop Saturday was a scheduled tour at Independence Hall. In addition to being a prime historical location, it’s also among the most photogenic of Philadelphia’s buildings.
Our tour was extremely informative, and inspired a bit of wonder even in me, considering the events that took place within those walls.
Jessica was even more star struck, as you can see in her expression here:
Next door to Independence Hall is City Hall:
Having finished our tour there, we set out to see several other places on our list, walking some beautiful grounds along our way.
One such stop was at Carpenter’s Hall, where the men who worked on the Declaration of Independence held secret meetings, dressed as carpenters, so that if the British came around, they would have a logical reason for being together at night. Later, this same spot became home to the Carpenters’ Company, who were, as best I can tell, a bunch of snobs who refused to grant Thomas Jefferson admission into their stupid club.
We also traipsed through some beautiful gardens along our route, and I believe this one is in the English style:
It was around this area that we also encountered this adorable dog, shown here resting while his owner chatted on his cell phone. I wanted to take him with me!
We walked past a few other historical homes, several of which we could not enter, and made our way to Washington Square, which houses the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier. Many unidentified soldiers were buried within the park’s grounds.
The heat was really wearing on us by this time, even though it was barely afternoon. We pressed on to our last two stops: the Declaration Graff House and Edgar Allan Poe’s house, and we found both to be mysteriously closed in the middle of the day on a Saturday. We still haven’t solved that mystery, but we chalked it up to bad luck and instead retired to the hotel for a break from the heat and a little rest before heading out again.
Since we had really blazed a trail through our itinerary, we didn’t feel guilty about laying down for an afternoon nap on Saturday. I think it was refreshing for all of us. I still wasn’t feeling quite up to par, and the heat plus lots of walking is a recipe for exhaustion. Vacation, after all, should include a little rest.
Saturday night, Jessica treated us to dinner at the famous City Tavern, where, among many other historical figures, John Adams liked to go to enjoy “a feast of reason and a flow of soul.” The staff at the Tavern were in period dress, and the menu featured some of Martha Washington’s own best recipes. The table was beautifully set, as well.
Thai made friends with a gentleman who was working the room, keeping in character and entertaining diners with his interaction.
After a hearty dinner (and dessert!), we had tickets to go on a Ghost Tour (Thai’s idea, for sure), so we walked toward the Signer’s Garden to wait for our spooky tour to begin. Of course, we saw some picture-worthy buildings on the way.
Our tour amounted to walking from one place to the next as our guide would lead us, and then she’d stop and tell us about ghostly encounters that had taken place in that particular building or on those grounds. There seems to be a great need for Ghostbusters in Philadelphia.
No one was more enthused by the tour than Thai. She stuck close to the tour guide’s side and hung on her every word.
After our tour, we grabbed some snacks and dragged ourselves back to the hotel once again. We got showered and packed up and got in a good night’s sleep before our travel day on Sunday.
Sunday morning, we had time to go down to the Reading Market Terminal (essentially the community market), where we had breakfast and walked around to find some things to pack up for our “picnic” on the train ride home. Then, we went back to the hotel to collect our bags and head to the train station, homeward bound following a great trip!