I’ve already described Day 1 of our long weekend in Philadelphia, and we decided to explore “Historic Philadelphia” on Saturday.
It’s started with a short walk to pick up our tickets at the Independence Visitor Center for our visit to Independence Hall. It’s free to visit Independence Hall, which is part of the National Park Service, but you can only visit as part of a tour, and you need tickets for the tour. You can walk in to request tickets, first-come, first-served style, or pay a $1 per ticket fee to reserve your tickets online. We reserved online and we were glad we did, because we bypassed a very long line.
We were pretty disappointed with the tour. I’d say that in general, if you’re required to attend a tour in order to gain admittance to a place, it’s not going to be great, especially when the number of visitors is really big. Of course that’s not always true, and for example the New York Tenement Museum does it well. But when the guide has to usher a group in which half of the people are a captive audience and they are repeating the same tour with such frequency, it’s bound to become a bit rote. And the thing is, I am a huge fan of history, and what I had really hoped would be conveyed was this really scary, dramatic moment of uncertainty when these guys got together and committed treason, a crime with a death penalty, in order to sign the Declaration of Independence. I feel like it’s easy for people to forget that the people going through history really didn’t know what the hell was going to happen next. When that message is conveyed effectively, history becomes this compelling, moving drama. For this moment in time, I recommend reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams. After the tour, we wandered a bit more around the Historic District and waited in a relatively quick-moving line to see the Liberty Bell.
My favorite part of the Historic District was our lunch at City Tavern. Okay, this was kind of funny because I was trying to act neutral and present all sorts of options to J and Cute W based on my research and Yelp reviews. “Here’s where we’re supposed to find great pizza, people recommend the tacos there, and here’s a sort of pricey tourist place where the servers are in period dress and serve historic recipes. What do you want to do? I could do anything. . . .” blah-blah-blah. And as the day passed and lunchtime approached, I finally confessed. I really wanted to go to the touristy period restaurant with food served using historic recipes. Like, I knew it was ridiculous. And too expensive. And kitschy. But the Yelp reviews were good and I totally wanted to go. I turned red and started giggling. And then my husband and daughter were laughing at me, both because I was so needy and because I felt so embarrassed about it. Pretty soon we were all pretty much roaring with laughter. But we went.
We started off with “libations” including an alcoholic and non-alcoholic version of a shrub and another cocktail. All tasty. Then came some bread:
There was Sally Lunn bread, Anadama corn meal and molasses bread, and the sweet potato biscuits reputed to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorites. They were all good-not-great, but it was fun tasting them and hearing more about them.
Next we shared two appetizers: West Indies Pepperpot Soup and Mushroom Toast. These were delicious. The soup was very peppery and very different, an it’s based on a recipe that was supposed to have been served to Washington’s troops in the winter to try to maintain good health. I can’t remember what the mushroom toast’s story was, but it was delicious and so rich that I don’t know how a single person could finish it.
The main dishes degenerated a bit, with turkey pot pie, crab cakes, and a pasta special. These felt a little less historic, and I was kicking myself, a bit, that we didn’t order the braised rabbit, but I couldn’t get past J’s look of horror. I kept pushing the fried tofu because J actually like tofu and I was intrigued that Benjamin Franklin had set down instructions on how to prepare it in a letter, but nobody was into it. All in all, it was fun and I felt pretty pleaed with myself that I’d dragged them to the restaurant.
After lunch, J was pretty done with history, so we parents restrained ourselves (National Constitution Center! Betsy Ross House! Dolley Madison’s House!) and instead we headed to The Franklin Institute, a science museum “founded in honor of America’s first scientist, Benjamin Franklin.” In particular, we were attracted to their MARVEL: Universe of Superheroes exhibition, which runs through the summer. We purchased tickets online ahead of time, but there was still some waiting on line to get into this hugely popular exhibition.
Cute W and J have a bit of a superhero thing going on, and they are super Avengers fans. I am not nearly as emotionally attached, but there was still plenty to appreciate about the exhibit, including comic book history, seeing the artistic process, and original works commissioned just for the occasion. There was also fun interactive stuff, like models and sets for photo ops
as well as a running tally of visitors’ favorite superhero ever.
This was a source of a great deal of thought, angst, and debate among friends and strangers as people logged their votes. At the time of our visit, here’s where the frontrunners stood:
After exploring the Marvel exhibit, we ended up exploring quite a bit of the museum’s other exhibits. J particularly enjoyed the SportsZone, which offered up plenty of opportunities to test her athletic prowess. It was a little overstimulating and was overloaded with sweaty children who made the whole area smell like a gym, but the kids were active and learning and basically having a blast. At one point a little girl challenged J to a race, and they ended up racing multiple times and exploring together for a while.
Some of the other exhibitions were a bit dated, but generally there was a ton to see, and you could easily spend a full day there. The Franklin Institute is part of the ASTC Travel Passport program, too.
We headed to El Vez, recommended by friends and Yelp, for some Mexican food for dinner. It was a lovely Saturday night and the streets were jammed with many people who were ready to party. It was a fun neighborhood and J was excited to do a bit of shopping, but we ended up getting called for our table, and then shops were closed by the time we ate. Food was good! My favorite part of the meal was the guacamole.
We also had tacos that were so carefully laid out that they looked like a pizza.
J was a big fan of her steak (you’re noticing a not-too-vegetarian-lately trend, aren’t you?).
She said afterwards that when she first saw it she was sure she wouldn’t be able to finish it, but then it was so good that she did.
Okay, I’d originally intended to try to wrap this whole trip up in this post, but this is already hugely long and we’ve still got a day to go. So, I guess we’ve got one last Philadelphia post, coming up!