Three Great Days in Philadelphia
Philadelphia. Photo by B. Krist for GPTMC.
By Shari Hartford
I've seen the movies: The Philadelphia Story, Philadelphia and Rocky; watched the television shows: Cold Case and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia; admired native daughter, Grace Kelly; know the history; and can even hum the Elton John song, Philadelphia Freedom. So, why was it that although I live a mere two hours away in New York City I've never visited? My BFF and I recently decided to spend three days taking a long-overdue close look at the City of Brotherly Love.
Trompe l'oeil in the elevator at The Palomar. Photo by Shari Hartford.
Our base of operation was the exquisite Palomar Hotel. Located in the chic Rittenhouse Square neighborhood and housed in the renovated and restored historic Architects Building, the Palomar opened in 2009 as an LEED registered boutique hotel. The cool color palate of taupes, creams and blacks give the hotel its sophisticated flair, yet the trompe d'oeil paintings in the elevators add a touch of whimsy. Not just a spot to sleep, the Palomar has the friendliest front desk employees I've experienced in a long time, especially Montia, who more than once steered us in the right direction. The hotel lobby is also an all-day watering hole: morning coffee iced or hot; afternoon lemonade and iced tea; and a wine tasting in the early evening. After checking in, we hit the cobblestones before rewarding our exploration with lunch.
We began our Philly adventure with a stroll along South Street (remember the song?) with its funky shops and crazy assortment of locals and tourists. The long line we saw at the end of the block and around to Fourth Street, was everyone waiting for Jim's Steaks, Philadelphia's leading cheese steak shop. (Sorry Jim, the clock was ticking.)
When we had worked up an appetite, we took our trusty hotel clerk's recommendation and stopped at Beau Monde, an antique-filled creperie with to-die-for selections. Cut to the chase and order the sinful dessert crepe filled with Nutella and topped with coffee ice cream. We sat outside on the terrace and happily watched the world go by.
Next up was a trip to the Mummer's Museum. The museum has preserved the elaborate feather and sequined costumes and memorabilia from past New Year's Day parades that have become a centuries-old Philadelphia tradition. We were charmed by the exhibits in the colorfully shabby building, which is somewhat off-the-beaten path, but worth the detour.
After a well-deserved good night's sleep, we were off to Sunday brunch to begin day two. And, oh what a brunch it was! Parc, a Parisian-style bistro across from Rittenhouse Square was the closest thing to Paris without actually flying across the Atlantic. Even the chairs around the small round tables faced out Paris style so all the diners could see and be seen. We began with a basket of fresh pastries, including buttery madeleine's, and the best iced latte this jaded New Yorker has ever had. For an entree, I chose the poached eggs with a mushroom veloute, asparagus and parmesan — pure heaven! Margie had a creamy omelet with mushrooms and gruyere. Our meal was enhanced – was that even possible? – by our adorably attentive waiter.
The Big Bus. Photo by R. Kennedy for GPTMC.
Our mode of transportation Sunday and Monday was the double-decker hop on/hop off bus called The Big Bus Company. There are 21 stops and a tour guide who narrates the entire route. For us, our first stop of the day was Eastern State Penitentiary, today a National Historic Landmark. This 11-acre prison, which set the standard for penal reform, was opened in 1829 and had central heat, running water and flush toilets before the White House. Al Capone and Willie Sutton at one time called ESP home. We took the self-guided audio tour, which uses narration of real prisoners and guards, weaving through the crumbling castle-like architecture.
A trip to Philly wouldn't be complete without a ubiquitous photo op in front of the Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In the interest of time, we opted not to tour the museum — something to save for another trip! After the photos, we settled in up top our tour bus for the complete narrated loop, passing the Rodin Museum, the zoo and the Franklin Institute, among others.
Since it was a searing hot day, Ducks Ahoy beckoned. This hour-long adventure combined a narrated city ride on a WWII amphibious "boat" that dips into the Delaware River for a short float around the harbor. Not only is this a fun way to see the city's side streets and waterfront, but it cooled us off as well.
We were certainly a bedraggled pair when we finally made it back to the Palomar for a cool glass of homemade sangria, a shower and a bite of dinner at a local restaurant.
Elfreth's Alley. Photo by Shari Hartford.
Monday morning was a day for historic overload. We jumped on our bus and got off at stop #1 – the Independence Visitor's Center. From this central location we easily traipsed through the Liberty Bell Center, Elfreth's Alley, home to 18th- century artisans and trades people, and the Betsy Ross house, where costumed actors and storytellers stroll around the shady courtyard. The tiny house, with its furnished rooms, presents a fascinating view into Colonial home life.
Our final meal in a city of great food was at Dinardo's, located in the old city. The house specialty is crab and bang and pick we did! The succulent crustaceans sated us for our trip back to the modern high rises of New York City.
Philadelphia fulfilled my expectations, and then some. I knew I would like it I love exploring cities. But I was surprised I was completely won over. The fascinating row houses, with their blooming flowers in front, the alleys and cobblestone streets and the mixture of colonial and 21st-century American architecture make this six-mile city a perfect weekend escape.
For more information, see Visit Philly and Hotel Palomar .