A Taste of Philly

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

ON THE HISTORY HIGHWAY, Day 35
Philadelphia, PA
     
After spending a couple of days in the outskirts of the city, we finally made our way into Philadelphia today.  Sadly, as we drove in on Germantown Avenue, we were greeted by block after block of urban decay.  One of Philadelphia's oldest areas, Germantown was originally settled by German-speaking Mennonite and Quaker immigrants from Holland, Germany and Switzerland who were attracted to Philadelphia by William Penn's promises of religious tolerance.
     
By the 1930s, the fortunes of this once prospering area had begun to decline.  Today, metal door gates and window bars are the norm.  Streets are littered with debris, and hundreds of commercial buildings and row houses sit empty with windows boarded up or broken out. 
     
Entering the Center City, we found conditions significantly better.  Streets and sidewalks were free of trash and the police presence was evident.  This area is home to most of Philly's tallest buildings, including its famed City Hall (pictured above), the world's second tallest masonry building.
     
Built in 1901, City Hall was the city's tallest building until 1987, when the skyscraper One Liberty Place broke the "gentleman's agreement" to keep all buildings in the city below the height of the statue of William Penn on top of City Hall.  For the next 20 years, no major-league sports team in Philadelphia won a championship, leading to speculation that Penn had put a curse on the city.  Finally, in 2007, a smaller statue of the Pennsylvania founder was placed atop the new tallest building in the city.  A year later, the Phillies won the World Series, lending more credence to the notion that the city had been Penn-alized for its lack of respect to its founder.
     
Visiting Independence National Historical Park this afternoon, we were introduced to the Philadelphia pride in the city's place in history.  As we waited in line for a tour of Independence Hall, the park ranger on duty told us proudly that the copy of the Declaration of Independence on display in the nearby Congress Hall was the oldest one in existence, since the copy at the Library of Congress was executed weeks later after delegates decided it required signatures.
     
Independence Hall
Our tour of Independence Hall took us to the two main rooms on the first floor, the courtroom and the Assembly Room, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and formulated. As our tour ranger pointed out repeatedly, the building, inside and out, has been largely restored to its original late-18th century appearance (except for some subtle indirect lighting near the ceiling).  It certainly did have a more authentic feeling than some of the more commercially-focused historic sites we have visited recently (yes, we're talking about you, Williamsburg!).
     
Arriving at our hotel well after lunchtime, we were eager to find a place to eat on our way to Independence Hall.  Thanks to our old buddy Yelp, just two blocks from our Convention Center area hotel, we found ourselves in foodly paradise. 
     
Reading Terminal Market
Occupying the ground floor of the former Reading railroad terminal (now part of the convention center), Reading Terminal Market is an enclosed public market serving any and every type of food one might desire, from bakeries to fresh fish, from produce to ethnic cafes.  Of course, we found ourselves drawn to Kamal's Middle Eastern stand, where we enjoyed some richly flavorful, perfectly prepared falafel.
     
Once we realized this afternoon how many places we want to visit in Philly, we decided to extend our stay to three nights, so we're looking forward to seeing more of what this historical city has to offer in the next couple of days.  Most of the historically significant sites are within walking distance of our hotel.  And there's also a special Van Gogh exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
      
WEDNESDAY, 18 APRIL 2012