Wednesday, April 08, 2009

C is for Cheesesteak, it's good enough for me!

Philadelphia 101 (click to enlarge if you can't read it):

Now that's out of the way...

Despite the fact that I have been to Philadelphia twice before, I had never ever seen a single thing except the insides of many bars and restaurants and the empty end of a cocktail glass. This time, I was determined to make it to the Liberty Bell at the very very least.

So when we landed on Saturday morning, after checking in at our hotel, the very first thing we did was just that. And you want to know what shocked me? And I mean shocked my very core? You don't have to pay a single cent to visit the Liberty Bell Center, which includes displays and a video and of course, well you know... The bell.

And just across the street from that was Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, the American flag was first unveiled, and the Constitution was drafted. That's a whole lotta history, y'all. I have to say, I was not really expecting to be particularly moved or whatever by all the history and patriotism that Philadelphia holds but it is pretty exceptional to be surrounded by all these things that had a significant hand in giving birth to this country.

The courtyard behind Jason is where the Declaration of Independence was read publicly for the first time.

I was so inspired at the sight of the flag blowing in the wind that I very nearly broke out into a rousing rendition of "My Country Tis of Thee".

Here's Independence Hall, seen from across the park.

After all that, it was about damn time for a cheesesteak. Luckily, we just happened to find ourselves quite near one of the recommended venues for just that - Campo's.

And if you can believe it, as many times as Jason had been to Philly for work over the years, he had never had a cheesesteak there so we got to share a moment. Unsurprisingly, it was AWESOME.

After lunch, we continued on our stroll around the city and found ourselves in the precious neighborhood of Society Hill, filled with Georgian and Federal style rowhouses. It was so quaint. If you took away the cars and and traffic signs, I think it would look almost exactly like it did a couple hundred years ago.

Then we came up to South Street and ran smack into this scene. Jim's Steaks is another very popular joint, as can be witnessed by the line wrapped around the block. We'll revisit this later.

But for now, we continue our tour a la pieds... Here's the majestic City Hall.

And this is what appears to be Philly's second tallest building (if anyone needs to correct me on that, feel free...), One Liberty Place. I just generally liked the points and angles at the top, which unfortunately don't really show up very well in this photo.

The lovebirds in Rittenhouse Square, which turned out to be my favorite area of the city. (And that decision was made even before I discovered the four-level Anthropologie on the corner and disappeared for a short time, leaving a bewildered Jason standing on the street.)

After I wore myself out at Anthropologie, we stopped into Parc Bistro for a coffee and their out-of-this-world tarte tatin. When our coffees came (Americano for Jason, Cafe au Lait for me), I noticed something off about my cup. Can you see anything odd here? Look closely... It's missing something rather vital.

A handle! My cup had no handle! I kept looking at my cup trying to figure out if maybe it had broken off or something but no, the cup was porcelain smooth all the way around. Jason's had a handle. We looked around and could see no other patron forced to burn their little fingers on their scalding bevvie.

I came to the conclusion that they had mistakenly served my coffe in a soup cup. Jason agreed that it certainly seemed that way. So we finally asked our waiter and no, he assured me that my cup was indeed a cup. For whatever reason, they just serve Cafe au Lait in these handle-less wonders. Odd, that.

After our coffee break, we came across this rag-tag band of dirty hippie musicians. I love the guy on the end playing the upside-down-tub-and-stick string contraption. We actually really liked their music. It almost had a bit of a G. Love vibe to it. A bit rock-a-billy, a little bluegrass, some of this, some of that... They drew quite a crowd! If they were playing at a bar, I would totally go see them. Somehow, I think perhaps they may lack the motivation to organize themselves to that extent.

It's no surprise that I fell in love with this Art Deco train station. What could be more romantic than train travel in the 1920's and 30's when travel was an event?

Part of the late afternoon skyline as seen from Franklin Square...

Our last stop of the day was Elfreth's Alley, one of the oldest continuously occupied streets in America. It was established in 1702 when two men combined their property to create a subdivision of row homes. Most of the houses there were built between 1728 and 1836.

After our very action-packed day, it was cocktail hour. All my cocktail hour photos are on my iPhone and if you're lucky enough to be one of my Facebook friends, your news feed was likely innundated with my many cocktail hour mobile uploads from the weekend. So I really see no need to put you guys through that again.

Sunday began with a trip to the Comcast Center to check out their 2,000 square foot LED screen in the lobby. We walked in and couldn't find the screen. We figured we were in the wrong place. So we walked up and asked the security guy at the front desk. He gestured over his shoulder and said "That's it. It'll start up again in a few minutes."

We were like "Woah. Wha? That wall? Srsly?" And like the sun rising, it slowly dawned on me that "Holy schnikeys. That wall isn't a wall at all! That's a screen made to look like it's the wall!"

And then the show began... It's a stream of videos of nature, space, around Philadelphia (below is Boathouse Row), etc. It was pretty spectacular. It almost makes up for that insanely annoying Comcast commercial that's running right now. Almost.

This one was a little strange...

I also really liked the overhead statues on the beams.

After that it was breakfast and bloody mary time at Continental. It's a very hip, kitschy little place with funky decor.

We even sat in the swing seats upstairs! Super fun! Yet, slightly dangerous with cocktails. They're very, um, swingy. And cocktails are very, um, cocktaily. You do the math.

(Okay, I snuck in a cocktail hour shot. So sue me.)

After we stuffed ourselves stupid, we hiked out to the Art Museum (the one from the Rocky montage where he runs up all the stairs) and Fairmount Park.

This is Boathouse Row (from the Comcast Center pic above ) - a collection of Victorian houses where various rowing clubs are located.

And finally, an iconic symbol of Philadephia - the LOVE sculpture.

Sunday was so gorgeous that we eventually just found an outdoor table at Devon, a cafe on Rittenhouse Square, and ordered up some drinks and a spicy tuna tartare to share. And if that weren't enough, when our waiter came by to drop off our drinks, he said "The biscuit guy will be around in a minute for you guys." I'm sorry, wha? Did you say "biscuit guy"? As in, there's a guy whose sole responsibility is to supply me with biscuits? They should make a Budweiser Real American Hero commercial about him. Heaven.

(Okay, I snuck in one more cocktail hour shot. So sue me.)

For our last trick, we decided to head back down to South Street and give Jim's Steaks a try. I mean, we couldn't really get a true taste of Philly without comparing two different cheesesteaks. But, lucky us, we stumbled upon something very interesting - Magic Garden.

There is no other way to describe it other than to say it's a building and courtyard completely covered in mosaic and other materials (glass bottles, bicycle tires, china plates, etc.) It's basically the ongoing passion project of one man. There really is no way to show what this is all about in photos. These are only the tip of the iceberg. It was completely surreal. It is beyond my comprehension the amount of time that has been invested in this.

And then it was cheesesteak time. Lucky for us, the line wasn't as bad as it had been on Saturday. We only had to wait for about 45 minutes.

And the verdict - we both actually liked Campo's better. (But Jason still says the best cheesesteak he's ever had is from Andy's in Greenville, NC. If there are any Philadelphians reading this, I would like to humbly apologize. We mean no harm. Hey, maybe Andy is from Philly. Who knows? We cannot explain this bizzare turn of events. No one saw it coming.)

And that's our trip to Philadelphia in a nutshell. By God, I did it! I can scarcely believe my own eyes but I have defied all logic and gotten this post up before we take off to the coast tomorrow. Now I suppose I'd better go pack. (Perhaps my priorities were a little messed up today?)


Victoria said...

Looks like a fun time. LOVE your scarf!

Catherine said...

Jim's Steaks needs security?

Rachel said...

I gotta know, girl...HOW do you stay thin? I'm jealous :(

Heather said...

Hey Rachel, your comment made my day! Though your question was probably rhetorical and I don't necessarily consider myself "thin" (more like "not overweight" to me), I'll come clean...

During the week, I follow Weight Watchers pretty religiously, then I let go a little bit on the weekends and let go completely on vacay. So I don't eat like this all the time :)

Tola said...

You saw so much of Philly in such a short time! Ive never hit South Street when the Magic Garden was open, so after 14 months of living here I still havent been inside. We eat at South Street Souvlaki which is a few blocks further down from Jim's. Come back soon!

The New Black said...

I am heading to Philly a a couple weeks and now I know what I ought to be doing...thanks!!

Rachel said...

Not rhetorical! I really wondered. LOL. You do look great though. I admit - I do the same thing with the weekends. Gotta splurge!!