Notes on a Philly Weekend

 

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You can get to Philadelphia from New York City quite easily.  This was the best kind of surprise for me because I live for weekend trips and I’m obsessed with riding new Amtrak lines all over the East Coast. This time it was the Keystone. One more checked off the Amtrak life goal list!

The journey was only an hour and a half from Penn Station in Manhattan. We packed backpacks like children, hoped onto an early train, and emerged into Philly in time for a second breakfast. The beauty was that the March Saturday morning we planned for was beyond pleasant. We didn’t even attempt a city subway or bus; we just started walking straight into the city. We stayed in the best deal (aka cheapest) hotel we could find in the very walkable City Center neighborhood. We walked the entire morning until we could check in. My feet hurt by the end of the day.

We went Reading Terminal Market, a requisite on the blog guides but which far surpassed my expectations for a tourist destination. Though we ate giant crepes after walking each row of stalls, it seemed that everyone wanted one of those fabulous looking Amish donuts. If I had been more up for waiting in a line, I would have scored one.

From the market, we traversed the inner garden of the monolithic City Hall, which reminded me of imposing 19th century European government buildings, like the Brussels Palais de Justice in Brussels. The Love Sign and the iconic steps on the Philadelphia Museum of Art beckoned visually on the horizon, directing us to walk outwards to Fairmont Park arts area.

In search of a bathroom, we stopped on our path to the museums at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Noticing that we were leaving soon after arriving, a curious security guard asked us what we were looking for at the library. Realizing we were just wandering nomads, he told us about the free rare books collection galleries at the top of the library, instructing us to first look around at the Roman ceiling before ringing the bell. It a serendipitous discovery: there was a Shakespeare exhibit on view, a bevy of early books and first editions to look at, alongside framed illustrations and a collection of beautiful towering grand father clocks.

We debated between The Barnes Foundation and The Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the later winning just based on short duration of our trip. The Museum was fantastic though: the collection of early Christian artifacts and the Japanese Ceremonial Teahouse  were two of my favorite exhibits. I also came across painting by Edna Andrade in one of the American galleries that have stayed with me; her 60′s palate and geometric precision is hypnotic.

That night it was harder to decide on a place to eat and drink since we had unknowingly planned a weekend trip during the revelry of St Patrick’s day parade. But it easy to find cheap Indian food and a fairly empty wine bar, both of which I deduced would be less crowded by the gaggle of green clad parties. We spent time in the evening roaming around the Walnut Street shopping district and people watched in Rittenhouse Square.

The second day we took ourselves on self guided tours of all the pretty and old federal style neighborhoods with row houses and parks galore. First though, we ate not one but two donuts from Federal Donuts. I could live on those alone I think. Society Hill was particularly beautiful and picturesque. We spent some time in this small but historic cemetery which revolutionary war era simple graves. Being iconoclast tourists, we walked past the general area of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall but instead set out walking path out for Race Street Pier which combined my love of rivers and bridges so perfectly I had to take a brief nap on the pier after meeting the Delaware River for the first time.

We had a hearty brunch at Khyber Pass, where I had this out of this world southern style brisket hash. I window shopped at ScoutVagabond, and this used-bookstore-meets-antique-store, aptly named Books & Antiques, that appealed to the inner pack rat in me hardcore.

Before leaving from 30th Street station we backtracked so I could make it to a shop I’ve been obsessing over from a far: Omoi Zakka Shop. It’s a bit like a long time favorite in Massachusetts, Black Ink, but with more Japanese Imports. I gushed with the very delightful owner how much I love  calendars and paper goods, no matter how internet obsessed with my life becomes. I bought an awesome desk calendar on sale–always buy your calendars a few months into the new year people–and some pretty Japanese masking tape.

We had a quick coffee at Plenty, missed a chance visit an independent bookstore Joseph Fox because we were traveling on Sunday (for another time) and headed home on an evening train to remerge in New York City.