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Trip Report Songdoc's Philadelphia Trip Report

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July 8 – 13, 2010

I was born and raised in Philly so I’d done the mandatory historical and tourist things countless times prior to moving in 1979. (Now I live in Nashville—which makes me a “Phillybilly.” hehehe) This trip was primarily to attend two family functions.

First, the hotel … Went through Priceline and got the Radisson Warwick – rated 3-1/2 stars – for $68/nt. The hotel’s close to Rittenhouse Square. Oh, how things change… When I was a child we went to Rittenhouse Square and sat on a bench to gawk at the wealthy people. At Easter the high society matrons would dye their French poodles to match their outfits. (I’m serious!) Now, when I walked through Rittenhouse Square in the morning, every bench was populated by a homeless person. Terribly sad. Otherwise, it’s still a very nice area with marvelous shopping and dining options.

Back when I lived in Philadelphia we’d peek into the lobby of the historic Warwick with its high domed ceiling and enormous sparkling chandelier. It was a place where only the very rich stayed and wealthy locals met there to eat and have cocktails in the restaurants. I couldn’t believe I’d be staying there – for $68/nt (plus taxes & fees). The parking added $30/nt – but I didn’t mind because I felt that was offset by free Internet in the room and the free business center where I could print documents, and guests who had not brought a laptop could use computers to check emails. Also, I requested a refrigerator—and there was no charge for that. Some reviews on Tripadvisor complained about the rooms seeming “tired.”

We were quite pleased with the room. It was exceptionally large with a separate sitting area, and a terrific “sleep number” king bed. The staff was excellent. I give the hotel very high marks—and felt it was a great location—in between the museums on the Parkway—and the historical district.

It was hard to believe that anyplace (other than hell) could possibly be as hot as Nashville—but Philly exceeded it! Temps were in the low-to-upper nineties with lots of steamy humidity. It was too hot for any outdoor activities so our time between family events was spent in museums.

The Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are world-class museums and “must-sees.” The buildings themselves are exquisite—in addition to the top-notch collections. The Franklin Institute was hosting a traveling exhibit: “The Search for Cleopatra.” The exhibit remains through January 2011 and was FANTASTIC! You would watch brief video clips of a statue or ancient artifact from Cleo’s realm as it lay on the ocean floor in Alexandria Bay. The video would show it being hoisted to the surface—and then you would see the actual item—right in front of you! It was a phenomenal history lesson and I never imagined I’d see a document signed by the most famous woman in history (well, with the exception of Sarah Palin)—as well as items she personally used and statues that flanked her palace. The exhibition far exceeded expectations.

While the Cleopatra exhibit is temporary—the permanent exhibits (including the IMAX theater, the giant heart—that you walk through—and the Planetarium) are fantastic.

Now the important stuff … the food! Philly is an amazing place for cheap eats. While it also has enough to keep gourmands smiling I prefer the authentic flavors that remind me that I’m back home in Philadelphia.

The Reading Terminal Market is simply not to be missed. At lunch time it’s a vibrant, bustling, shoulder-to-shoulder walk through every imaginable cuisine. It’s almost impossible to choose between the mouthwatering Italian, Asian, the cheesesteaks and hoagies, the seafood, the Cajun food, and Weds. thru Saturday—the Amish. The bakeries and candy shops are the best—and I can’t leave out Bassett’s ice cream and Pearl’s Oyster Bar that have been there forever. Between the food stands are flower shops, butchers, and flea market-type stalls. For me, the Reading Terminal is a quintessential Philly experience.

Other food highlights: Ralph’s on South 9th Street in the Italian Market. Wow! Ralph’s has been in this location for more than 100 years and is the oldest family-owned Italian restaurant in America. It’s served Sinatra, Lena Horne, Roosevelt, and countless other celebrities—and I can see why. We shared a massive “everything salad” (an antipasto on lettuce large enough for 3 or 4) for $12.95. Portions are huge and prices are reasonable. I loved my ravioli ($11.95) and DP raved about his gnocchi ($11.95). Friends had mussels served on pasta—and loved them, as well. Desserts looked great—but we were bursting. The stalls in the Italian market were closed but we still enjoyed strolling.

We also loved Sakura’s in Chinatown (11th & Race) for FABULOUS dim sum. OMG, the vegetable dumplings and Sui Mai were as good as anything I’ve had anywhere—and the “pancakes” were similar to a hot off the griddle naan bread. Outstanding! No atmosphere—just great authentic food. The broccoli shrimp featured massive shrimp (I guess that’s an oxymoron) that was excellent. The sushi platters looked like works of art—but we didn’t order that.

Since we were already in the Northeast part of the city for a family party we decided to head to New Hope in Buck’s County, PA, one of my favorite spots. It’s about an hour’s drive from Center City. A warm Saturday evening was the perfect time to browse in the antique shops, crafts stores, and galleries, and to enjoy the people watching and historic buildings and views of the Delaware River.

En route to New Hope we stopped at Bryn Athyn Cathedral. It’s like stepping into medieval Europe; a stunningly beautiful cathedral in an equally impressive setting with lovely gardens. It’s a photographer’s dream.

For those with a streak of adventure I’d recommend browsing on South Street between around 10th Street and the Delaware River. It’s a combination of Greenwich Village and Venice Beach—loud, intense, and colorful, with shops, restaurants, and enough tattoos and piercings to satisfy the hardest-core punk rocker.

Well, this concludes my report. We had a wonderful time walking down memory lane. Philly’s a great town to visit!

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