June 09, 2003
Liberty Bells and Whistles (On the Ground in the Garden State)

So after being in New Jersey for nearly 10 months, I finally made it to the big city. Philadelphia. For this report, I worked in conjunction with European correspondant, Etienne, and Japanese/Canadian correspondent/photographer, Shin. On Sunday morning, we took the NJ Transit train in to Trenton, and then the SEPTA train onward to Philadelphia. The whole trip was actually all along one track; I think they just don't trust New Jersey trains in Pennsylvania.

Seeing as how we had no actual plans beyond the acquisition of cheesesteaks, we checked out the Amtrak info booth at the 30th street station in Philadelphia. After some inital confusion with brochures for New Hampshire (note for foreigners - New Hampshire is not in Philadelphia), we managed to locate a bunch of things to see, and a collection of maps of varying scope, resolution, and accuracy.

We started out on the West side of the Schuylkill river, in and around the University of Pennsylvania. I wasn't clear about whether this "University City" that was frequently referred to was actually a separate city, or just part of West Philadelphia. I kept my eyes open for the basketball court from the opening credits of the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" just in case.

We fairly quickly determined that not much is open in the University on a Sunday in the summer. Undaunted, Shin took several photographs of the outsides of buildings.

Heading back across the river to the down-town side, I persuaded my associates that the proper Philadelphia cheesesteak came not from a restaurant, but from a street vendor (based on my recollection of a snippet of an Oprah Winfrey show that I once saw for some reason - the one where she flew her entire audience to Philadelphia for cheesesteaks). After reassuring Shin that the vendor would be more toward the concession stand end of the spectrum than the "guy with a push-cart full of beef" end, we resolved to search for such a vedor.

In a park, we came across an outdoor art show - one of those affairs where there are a bunch of tents along the sidewalk, each with an artist trying to convince casual passers-by to pay $350 for an armload of art. We checked it out in case any of the artists had sensibly decided to bolster their art-based income with cheesesteak sales. Regrettably, none were so long-sighted. However, we did locate a cheesesteak stand on an adjacent block.

The map that we were working from at this time was one of those that, in an effort to make navigation fun! is more of an off-angle overhead picture than an actual map. A nearby block featured a large ice-cream cone, which we decided to check out in the interests of cartographic analysis. I hereby recommend the "Scoop De Ville" ice-cream store to any who visit Philadelphia; bear in mind that "Jimmies" means sprinkles.

We headed over to the old city to check out some fine American history, where we discovered that most of it is being protected by National Park Rangers inside security compounds. At the metal detector to get in to the Liberty Bell compound, I was cautioned to keep my butter knife in my backpack (I brought it to slice my cake). After taking in the historical washrooms (available only to those inside the compound), we got in line to go into the Liberty Bell shrine.

Inside with the bell (there's nothing else inside the building, not even any interpretive plaques), we listened to the recitation of the bell's history. When the time came for questions, I was unsuccessful in my attempts to get Etienne to ask, "I'm from France. What's the big deal with the bell?"

We left the bell security area to go to the Info Center (unguarded) to get tickets to the Independence Hall tour, which takes place inside a different security area. If you plan to visit this area, I suggest that you avoid our mistake and approach from the North - Info Center, then Liberty Bell, then Independence Hall - to minimize your trips around the outside of security perimeters. Also note that the security people at Independence Hall have no problem with butter knives.

As a side note, Shin feels that they should really knock down the office buildings behind Independence Hall to improve the composition of photographs taken from the

We swung by the Mint on the way to the Betsy Ross House. "Nothing to see here," the architecture says, "move along." Unfortunately, by the time we got to Betsy's house, history was closed for the afternoon. We wandered aimlessly for a little while, hoping to locate Ben Franklin's underground lair and museum, but didn't really try too hard before giving up and heading to the city centre to check out the Town Hall and the LOVE statue.

Town Hall: impressively tall
LOVE statue: disappointingly small
Local skateboarders: pretty good

From downtown we headed up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Etienne having stated his willingness to be the geek-of-the-day to run up the steps singing the "Rocky" theme. However, when we arrived at the bottom of the steps, it was clear that he wouldn't even be the geek-of-the-minute, as there were already a couple of guys taking their victory laps at the top. Etienne and Shin ran up anyway, whilst I took over the photography duties. At the top, we discovered the set of brass footprints that have been installed to show you where to stand to properly duplicate the scene. I feel it worth pointing out that none of us has seen any of the Rocky movies.

We walked triumphantly back to the train station, another town taken down. Join us next time as we head to Washington D.C. to compare and contrast the security around the Hope diamond with that of the Liberty Bell.

Fresh Prince - check
Cheesesteaks - check
Liberty Bell - check
Ben Franklin - check
Brotherly Love - check (statue)
Rocky - check
Bruce Springsteen - hmm... Feel free to sing along with me... on the streets of Phiiiiiiiiil-adelphia...

Posted: June 09, 2003 12:17 PM
by: on June 9, 2003 03:12 PM:

nice one tim. but I think that an account of a trip specifically to obtain a philly cheese steak should spend more time on the analysis of said steak. did it live up to your expectations? was the grease from the melted cheese adequately mixed with the grease from the beef to soak into the bun? details man, we need the details. I wish I had your insight before I visited philly. I seem to recall getting my cheese steak from a cheese steak restaurant rather than a street vendor.

by: on June 9, 2003 10:47 PM:

Man, you didn’t even see Cobb St? What a disappointment. I remember driving through Philly and being the only white guy. I felt a little more comfortable knowing that our car didn’t have a stereo to steal.

The Philly Museum was excellent I thought.

by: on June 10, 2003 12:41 AM:

My strongest memory of Trenton, NJ is walking along the sidewalk around midday and passing by a guy in a suit peeing on one of the parked cars.

by: on June 10, 2003 01:48 PM:

I’ll always remember Philadelphia as “that place we visited on the long family road trip when my mom was too scared to take us to New York.”

So many memories.

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