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Trip Report Magic Gardens and Flower Shows: Traveling in my own City (Philadelphia)

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On Friday, March 4th, I finished up doing my small (tiny!) part in helping to bring the Philadelphia Flower Show to life. This year's theme was Springtime in Paris, and as always it's magical to see the show emerge from a bare cement floor to the wealth of flowers, plants, trees, water, and wonder that it becomes. It has its own special smell and feel (green smell; damp and clammy feel, actually) on the night before opening: I love to do a bit of a wander and, as it happens, that was the only time I got to the show. (But that's a story for a different thread.)

As it happened, I had a certificate for a stay at a Hyatt property; I had intended to use it in Santiago this past summer, but my flight from Easter Island was five hours late, so I'd just about get to the hotel in time to turn around and leave. Although I could have been home from the Convention Center in 20 minutes or so, I decided to use the about-to-expire certificate at the Hyatt Regency at Penn's Landing, as the one at the Bellevue didn't take the certificate in the reservations.

It's a bit of a trek by public transportation and walking in the cold spring evening to the Hyatt at Penn's Landing; it's near the Independence Seaport Museum, rather cut off from the city center. I was exhausted after the set-up, and was really looking forward to a nice soaky bath and soft bed. Lo and behold, when I checked in at 9:30PM, I was told that there would be an hour's wait for my room! (I could have been home twice.) Fortunately, I had papers with me and waited--it ended up being 40 minutes, yay--in the lobby; that's the first time that's ever happened to me, I have to say. The night staff wasn't terribly helpful, but in the morning when I mentioned about it the people at the desk were very apologetic. Just seemed a bit bizarre at that time of night, but they said that they had a lot of conference people who kept switching rooms so that may have been why housekeeping was tied up. (My room was, um, adequate, but the housekeeping was not exactly of the pristine variety.) Nice views of the river, though.

The next morning I made my way across to Second Street and on down to South. Breakfast was at the South Street Diner, right past the Head House Square. Perhaps it was the cool morning and brisk walk, but I loved my breakfast: a (heretically) toasted huge bagel with cream cheese and piles of Nova Scotia lox, served on a platter with tomatoes and olives and capers and lettuce and so forth. It was gnosh-worthy, really, and the atmosphere is a fun diner-y 24 hour place with booths; the real type.

South Street itself is all of those slightly hip urban words: funky, chic, artsy...Definitely worth a stroll on a beautiful sunny Saturday, even without the destination I had in mind: the Magic Gardens, on South Street just past 10th.

It's hard to describe the Magic Gardens, exactly; they have to be experienced (although I'll have a picture link at the end here.) The work of Isaiah Zagar, they're a mosaic/stucco/folk art explosion of color and joy, with fantastical forms and mesmerizing mazes. The house/studio itself is truly amazing (you have to use the bathroom--I WANT that linen closet) and the "Garden" itself, on the adjoining lot, is like nothing else I've ever seen. Zagar works with colored stucco and uses another color when that runs out; he works extremely quickly, even though he's in his 70's, and has a wonderful and earthy sensibility. The text incorporated is just one manifestation of a unique mind (and dyslexic viewpoint--sometimes, according to the very good guide, the misspellings are for real, sometimes on purpose--and the words can just as easily be upside down as right-side-up.) I was glad I'd joined the informative tour, as that also gets you into a rental property owned by Zagar where he's worked his magic on the basement of the house.

A bit visually overwhelmed, I continued on down Ninth Street to the Italian Market, an open-air market where every day you'll find vegetable and fruit vendors, amazing specialty (as in specializing in Pork, or Cheese, or such) food stores, and some great food: Sarcone's for hoagies, for instance, but I was too full this time from my bagel and lox. There are some flea market/dollar store type stores interspersed, but it still is very much like a European market. I didn't walk the whole way, but I got more than my fill of produce (I had, after all, to carry it home) and finally wended my way through the South Philly row homes to the bus. I love taking time to explore my city, and it had been a long time since I'd been to the Market; it shouldn't be so long again...

Here are the pictures of my day: http://travel.webshots.com/album/579910799pMOZEX

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