Philly was wonderful. I think it’s good for me, a great DC advocate, to take a break, see what’s out there, then come back to what I’ve come to love. It’s healthy, I swear.
So when I travel, you may remember, I keep in mind the four cardinal measures of a city: eye contact, culture, transportation and weather. These four things, in no particular order, can make or break a city for me.
How did Philly measure up? Besides much eyerolling at my cream cheese and Fresh Prince references, Philly was very welcoming. And no, I did not do anything normal. No Liberty Bell. No art museum. No Ben Franklin’s house. My first trip was completely off the wall, and I loved it.
First I visited Eastern State Penitentiary. Fun Fact: the word comes from penitent, in that the Quakers wanted prisoners to have time to reflect in silence on their misdeeds. Eastern State was closed down in the seventies, but when it was first built in 1829, it was the first modern building in the country. The audio tour (narrated by Steve Buscemi) was extremely interesting, but if you want the goods, you’ll have to make the trip yourself.
Then the Magic Gardens. This was pretty cool. For thirty years, this guy in the South Street neighborhood created mosaic murals on the walls. The Magic Gardens is a crowded half city block of mosaic magic. We were there at dusk, so Christmas lights came on as it grew dark, lighting up blue bottles, bicycle wheels and pieces of mirrors. I hear there’s free beer the first Friday of every month.
A summary of time in Philly would not be complete without the drinking emporiums. Mako’s, famous for dollar beers, and Bob and Barbara’s, famous for the special (a shot of Jim or Jack and a PBR for $3) were on the list. I noticed a sense of camaraderie at both places. The clientele was not all one thing or another like DC tends to be–these places had everyone, and everyone was having a damn good time.
I will say that I wish I’d had more opportunity to try out this BYOB phenomenon. Philadelphia has very stringent liquor laws, so restaurants, much more commonly than here, offer a bring your own bottle option. I love this! Do you know how much restaurants mark up their wine? Do you know how cheap it is to make beer? I don’t even want to tell you.
So yeah. I recommend Philadelphia. It’s just 2 or 3 hours away by car or bus, and it feels a bit like Europe. More grit and grandeur than DC, for sure.
Now for the scale:
Eye contact: excellent. Almost too good. A bit creepy.
Culture: again, excellent. The museums are not free, which is a big bummer for a DC person. I have high hopes for the Barnes Collection moving into the city in the future. Of course, there is the Art Museum and the various kind of cheesesteak for international and local culture, respectively.
Transportation: buses were everywhere and the scenery downtown is beautiful, very condusive to walking. Parking is an issue.
Weather: much the same as DC. Four fully distinct seasons.