This all came about last month when I grabbed a free copy of Time Out New York, while exiting the Borough Hall subway station, from the guy passing them out at the top of the stairs. I thumbed through it on my way to work and in doing so, came across an ad for the Museum of the American Revolution.
Looking at the address, I noticed that it was located in Philadelphia. This got me to wonder how far Philly was/is from New York. A quick Google search told me that it was only ~2 hours away. Realizing this, I started contemplating taking a day trip there.
It wasn’t until I was on my way home, thumbing through the magazine again, when I noticed that the two page article preceding the ad was titled 12 Hours in Philly; an hour by hour guide of how one could spend a day in the city off the beaten path. Being that I had never been there before, the bee was firmly placed in my bonnet.
Cut to yesterday, a few weeks after having read the article. Though I wasn’t as gung-ho as I had been -at this point if felt more like something I had to do in order to shut my brain up, than something I wanted to do- I decided to finally go for it. It was/is Labor Day Weekend so I had the next day (today) off and my co-workers BBQ had been canceled due to inclement weather. To my surprise it apparently is alway sunny in Philadelphia since there, unlike New York, it wasn’t raining.
That settled it, though I had missed the early bus, I could still make the 11:50. I took a quick shower, got dressed and hopped on the subway. I hadn’t booked a ticket but the guy at the bus said if there was room, I could squeeze onto the 11:20. It was 10:46 and I had no cash on me. I made my way to the nearest Bank of America ATM, grabbed $40, and by the time I got back, the bus was boarding.
$20 procured me a seat on the top level of the double decker Megabus (it would have been $15 if I’d bought online beforehand) and soon we were off to Philly. The thing that was different about this trip, as opposed to most other trips I take, is that I hadn’t done any hard pre-planning. I typically structure my day so that I know all the things I want to hit, where they are relative to one another and how to get to each of them.
I had looked through the article and gotten a few ideas of what to do and had done a very rough layout on Google maps, but that was it, it was all very fast and loose. On the one hand it made me feel uncomfortable but on the other, it felt nice not to be constrained by my own itinerary.
On the bus I did a bit more research and re-read the Time Out article, but as we pulled into the city, I was basically flying blind. I stepped off the bus and found myself in the heart of Liberty Square… wait, that’s Disney World… uh… Independence Square I think.
In any case, the first thing I saw was the Liberty Bell Museum, or rather, the line to get in. There was a sign that said no ticket required. This was good, I really didn’t want to pay just to look at an old broken bell. However, I had very little patience for lines. Especially when I just got off a bus, was in a new place and wanted to just go, go, go.
I decided to skip the bell for now and head on to Independence Hall across the street. Looking at the hall from my side of the street, there was a row of chain links blocking the other sidewalk. I couldn’t see any other way to get into the area, so after crossing the street, I ducked under the chain links.
As I walked in, I started to hear yelling. I had no idea what it was so I ignored it and kept on walking. As I walked, the yelling got closer and was coming from behind, “Sir,” the person kept saying. Finally another tourist pointed behind me and said, “They’re yelling at you.” I stopped and turned around to find two disgruntled park rangers chasing me.
“Sir,” she yelled, “you can’t come in that way!” I just stared blankly at her, where else was I supposed to enter, I saw no signs and no entrance. “Sir, what does a chain mean to you!” She was furious. Again I just stared blankly. I really hate being yelled at and made to feel like I’m a child who’s just drawn on the wall.
“Uh, I don’t know.” I said, “Seems like a bad way to block an entrance.” This did not make her happy. “Sir, you need to leave.” I put my hands up, “Relax,” I said, and made my way towards the exit. If there’s one thing that really sets me off, it’s when people tell me to relax when I’m angry OR when I wasn’t angry but they think I am. I hope this had the desired effect on her as well.
I made my way to the exit and let myself out. So far Philly had left a pretty negative impression on me. Moving on, I took a lap around the block to just get away from the nonsense. As I did, I accidentally stumbled upon the National Constitution Center. It wasn’t really my plan to go to any of the museums as I really just wanted to explore the city. Plus I didn’t want to spend the money, so I kept on walking.
National Constitution Center
Eventually, I made my way to the other side of the block and entered the Philly subway system or SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) as it’s called. It was 1:45pm and I was hungry. The one takeaway I’d gotten from the Time Out article was a restaurant called Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop.
Since this was Philly, I had to have a Philly Cheesesteak. After fiddling with the ticket machine I eventually bought a one-day-pass for $9 or nine rides. I took the subway to the Girard station and walked the short distance to the restaurant.
Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop
The place feels like a diner with some modern vintage signage in the style of ESPO. Who knows, as a native of Philly, (I found that out in the article) it may have been done by him. My waitress Erin felt like a native Philadelphian; a towny and likely a lifer. She was very nice and brought me my order with a smile. I got a cheesesteak and a mint chocolate chip milkshake that was so big I had to take it to go.
After paying my bill I made my way back to the subway and took it to 15th street, the city center, as it was the closest stop that would get me to the next thing I wanted to see, Rittenhouse Square. When I got out of the station, I found myself in front of City Hall. The building was huge and gorgeous and looked like a castle.
After getting a few pictures of it, I was going to just keep walking and make my way to the park. However, I’m really bad at smelling the proverbial roses so I decided to take a quick walk through the area. I’m glad I did because it felt like Cinderella’s Castle. You walk under this archway an into the central courtyard, which again, feels like a castle.
I then continued on my way towards Rittenhouse Square. Along the way, I noticed that a lot of the architecture reminded me of Boston. It makes sense as they are both very old and historical cities. The main difference is that where as Boston has its sections of big buildings, Philly feels like more of a big building city… if that makes any sense. Also, though Boston is blue collar, Philly felt very blue collar. I don’t know, maybe I’m biased.
Eventually I got to Rittenhouse Square. Though it was kind of small, the treelined park was very nice, quiet, clean and beautiful. I never really know what to do in parks and so I just kind of walked around for a bit. At one point I got a text from my new work friend Jordan, inviting me to the movies. Unfortunately I obviously had to decline.
Moving on, I made my way out to Schuylkill River Park. There, I walked along the Schuylkill River northbound towards the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As I approached, I heard music playing. Turns out the Made in America Festival was happening that weekend so basically all of the park was closed off to the public.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Thus I was able to enter through the rear of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but not the front. Why does this matter? Well, on the other side of the museum are the famous stairs from Rocky and I wanted to so badly have my moment and run up them. Oh well.
I moved on and walked past the Rodin Museum to a bench outside the Barnes Foundation. There I sat, took a break and collected my thoughts. It was 4-ish and I knew I wanted to take a 7pm bus home so I’d get back to NY by 9-ish. I figured out the last few things I wanted to hit and made my way to them.
Free Library of Philadelphia
As I was sitting across from the library, I decided to stop in, only to see that it was closed. Probably for the best as, though I’m sure it would have been beautiful, it would have been more walking than I would have wanted to do. I then walked through Logan Square and caught a glimpse of The Franklin Institute before making my way to the subway.
I took the subway back to Independence Square to finally get a good look at the Liberty Bell. The line was much shorter now and moved fairly quickly. The biggest hold up was going through the metal detectors. Eventually I was through and I rushed past the exhibit to get a glimpse of the main attraction, the bell.
The Liberty Bell
The bell was swarmed with families taking selfies with their kids. Eventually it cleared out and I was able to get a good shot of it. I then went back and actually looked at some of the things in the exhibit before making my way out.
I decided to take another stab at Independence Hall. Not to “sneak in” -although that would have been funny- but just to get a better view of it and to see if and where there was an entrance.
After taking a lap around it I did find the impossibly hard to find entry point. I wasn’t sure if you had to pay to go in or not but there as a line and I didn’t want to wait. Plus, it had left such a bad taste in my brain that I decided to skip it. I walked back to the visitor center where I sat and rested for a bit before breezing through the gift shop.
There I saw a thing for the famous LOVE sculpture and made it my mission to try and find it before I left the city. I took the subway to the part of the city where it should have been but despite walking in circles, was unable to find it. I was running out of time if I wanted to make the 7pm bus back to the city so I got back on the train and took it to 30th Street station.
Cut to a montage of me walking through the Amtrak Station looking for signs for busses. Walking to the sidewalk where the signs pointed and looking to no avail. Then eventually doubling back into the station to ask customer service where I could find a bus back to New York.
Despite the fact that I had looked at the Megabus website earlier in the day to find that their last bus left Philly at 5:45pm, when I went to where she pointed me a block away, there was a 7:10 waiting. According to the receipt, I got my ticket at 7:07pm. I hopped on, went to the top deck and found a seat by myself towards the front.
As we pulled away from the curb, I saw two kids running up trying to flag down the driver. They were shit out of luck as he didn’t see them and we kept on going. As we made our way through the city, I reflected on my day.
Philly, as it turns out, is pretty small. I’d say I did a decent job covering it. The only thing I didn’t really hit besides the LOVE sculpture and the Rocky steps were the museums -which would need a dedicated trip to be honest- and if there’s anything to see from “It’s Always Sunny.” Despite my lack of planning, I’d say I did a pretty good job. That said, I don’t feel the need to ever go back.