lost, for a little while

destination: philadelphia
April 11, 2011, 11:56 am
Filed under: trips

Bridge over the Schuylkill

The man in the black pick-up truck behind me laid on his horn as I scrambled to find one more dime in the ashtray of my car. When he let loose a string of screamed obscenities, I grabbed whatever coins I could, threw them in the toll caddy, and floored it without seeing if the sign changed from red to green.

Five minutes into Philadelphia, and I was already off to a rocky start.

Confession: I’ve never really gotten the appeal of this city, but saying so is practically sacrilege in my mom’s family since they live in southern New Jersey and Philly is their go-to place for culture, nightlife, and a break from farm fields. Over and over again, I’ve heard them lament how little time I spent there while living just an hour north in Emmaus. To me, it’s just like any other big city, but one thing Philly does has going for it  — the thing that makes up for the fact that it’s in (ick) Pennsylvania — is that my friend, Matt, lives there. All of a sudden, it was a must-stop on my itinerary.

The things I do for my friends.

Once I had successfully lost the Mr. Road Rage, I started to feel a little better. I managed to find a parking spot near Matt’s place and met up with him with no further obstacles. Over a dinner of homemade, doctored-up tomato soup (Matt is also one of my few fellow Catholic friends, and therefore understands the woes of Lenten season), I outlined my plan of attack on the city:

  1. The Philadelphia Museum of Art
  2. The Liberty Bell
  3. The Mütter Museum

Matt blanched at my final idea and suggested adding in a tour of Independence Hall. When we looked up other ideas, we decided to give the National Constitution Center a shot, too.

Note: Several museums, no matter what city you’re in, offer free admission on certain days of the week or month; I managed to time this visit to coincide with the first Sunday of the month, which meant “pay what you like” entry to the art museum. Going one step further, Bank of American has this nifty program called “Museums on Us,” where cardholders get free admission to select museums and attractions on the first full weekend of the month. (I know this because I’m one of the few people who actually read all the little notices at the ATM.)

What does all this add up to? Visits to the art museum, the National Constitution Center, and the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall (which are always free) at no cost. Score.

Oooh, Signers Hall

For those of you who are reading this and thinking “National Constitution Center? What the heck is that? Sounds dumb” — you are correct. The center is packed with information and interactive exhibits, but it lacks both cohesion and — wait for it — the actual Constitution. What they have on display, instead, is a copy of a copy of someone’s bootlegged recycled crib sheet. Or something.

Matt and I wandered around the displays without any clue what they had to do with each other; if I hadn’t known the name of the building, I would never have guessed that they were all constitution-related. Sometimes you get what you pay for (or, if you pay for admission, you get ripped off).

Hooray for tourists!

After the Constitution Center, I dragged Matt to the Liberty Bell, where I oohed and ahhed at the bell, got my picture taken in front of it, and then left. That’s pretty much all there is to it, unless you’re deeply fascinated by the ins and outs of bells and/or liberty. The one thing I was surprised to learn, however, was that the infamous crack in the bell didn’t appear as the result of a lightning strike or viking pillaging or any other scenario I had imagined. It just…happened. Occupational hazard of being a giant bell, I suppose.

Where the Declaration of Independence was signed

We managed to make it through the tour of Independence Hall before calling it quits for the day, and while I was glad that it was short in length, it ended up being quite entertaining. Our guide was a volunteer who I zeroed in on while we were standing in line; she was loudly recounting her recent trip to New Zealand to two visitors, gesturing wildly and pausing only to fluff her halo of fiery red hair. This is the point where I typically groan and prepare to hate life for the next 15 to 20 minutes. But my assumption was wrong — kind of. As irritating as I found her personality while standing in line after a long day of walking, our guide’s enthusiasm and volume were perfect when channeled into storytelling of the historical variety. Go figure.

The next day, we had a slow morning highlighted with made-from-scratch pancakes, thick slices of bacon, and the original Scream (I have no idea who does the programming for TNT, but they have a strange idea of what is appropriate for 10 a.m. on a Sunday). Once refueled, we walked along the Schuylkill River to the art museum, where there was already a long line going into the museum.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art

This was my third art museum of the trip, so forgive me if I don’t have much to say about it. At that point, I was suffering from a combination of art overload and the buzzkill of huge crowds. I do recall, however, that the Asian exhibits stood out above the rest. Original pillars, carvings, and beams on the walls and ceilings of the rooms recreated the look of the temples that originally housed the artwork, and were works of art themselves.

I may have to purchase this at a later date

I lost Matt for my final stop of the trip, The Mütter Museum — which is too bad, because it really was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. The museum is a collection of medical specimens and oddities housed by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, originally gathered by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter for the purpose of educating med students. It’s small — just two floors that don’t even span the entire building — but I arrived only an hour before closing and could have easily spent double that time looking at everything.

There are skulls and skeletons, wax models, original photographs, preserved organs, and even several drawers of items that were accidentally swallowed and had to be surgically removed. It’s a cross between Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Smithsonian, both highly entertaining and surprisingly informative (be prepared for lengthy written descriptions and audio commentary that lasts several minutes per display item). It should go without saying that it’s extremely disgusting and morbid, as well (dried-out husk of a 4-foot-long colon, anyone?), so if you don’t think it’s your thing, it’s probably not. Admission to the museum is $14 ($10 with your old student ID), and was completely worth it, in my opinion.

When Matt later walked me to my car, we saw that, despite the temporary parking permit that was clearly hung from my rearview mirror, I had a $30 ticket tucked beneath my windshield wipers.

Pennsylvania. I just can’t win.


1 Comment so far
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Ah, too bad about the parking ticket! But it sounds like you had a great experience of Historic Philadelphia. Keep coming back to Philly, won’t you? Maybe we’ll win you over :)

Comment by Caroline - Philly Tourism

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