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  • Writer's pictureMartijn

In Philadelphia, really.

We escaped !

Alex and I were able to secure seats last week, on a special flight from Buenos Aires to New York . We headed straight to Philadelphia which was on our round-the-world list. Now that we are physically in the US -vs traveling only in thoughts- why not start the trip? (even if we are cheating a little by using commercial airlines and not our own LV-GQF...).

Philadelphia was on our list because it was the home town of one of our ex-bosses who always spoke very highly of the city. And of course because of the imagery of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, the Declaration of Independence, the first Constitution, the Liberty Bell...

Independence Hall, where the Constitution was signed

250 years later...

With one of the signers of the Constitution (not sure exactly which one...)

In the house of Betsy Ross, an upholsterer who made the first clandestine 13 star Union flags in 1776

Our ex-boss was right: it is a beautiful city with a mix of freedom symbols, old architecture and modern buildings. And it is full of art: art museums, art institutions and city sponsored murals. Among the city's principles are diversity and tolerance. There has always been religious freedom (illustrated for example by the co-existence since the 18th century of Christian and Jewish churches as well as a Masonic temple, all close to each other); the rehabilitation/gentrification has been done with the deliberate intention of keeping the original residents in their homes and a murals program was created to give graffiti artists means of expression.

100% Patriotism

In front of the Masonic temple

18th century houses

Armed with a map provided by the Mural Arts Philadelphia program, Alex and I went mural hunting and here are some samples (there are more than 3600 murals!)

Despite the beautiful end of summer weather, the city is quite empty and in some places almost like a ghost town. The manager of the Morris House Hotel where we stayed (apparently Mr. Morris was one of the co-signers of the constitution) explained that tourism had dropped enormously due to Covid, which is hardly a surprise, and since most office buildings are empty too, the streets of downtown are almost deserted. Everything is also a little more complicated. Many restaurants only offer take away or delivery (not ideal when you have the choice to eat in a hotel room or a park bench) but luckily those with outside seating do serve you on the sidewalk, if you have previously reserved a table. Once you are in, you feel super privileged because you can sit down AND take your face mask off! The staff keeps their masks on so it creates an awkward hierarchical feeling between the mask-less clients and the mask-wearing waiters. Again: what status in a piece of cloth!

Eating outside (under 2 murals)

The Morris Home Hotel, next to Washington park, one block from Independence Hall

Our room. I must add that because of the tourism crisis, hotels are very cheap these days and often cheaper than Airbnb rentals, which is unusual.

Two more commercial landmarks inside the city are the Reading Terminal Market, where among other things they obviously sell Philly cheese steak sandwiches as well as something called "scrapple" which is basically pressed and fried meat leftovers (no comment, just will say that I never need to try it again), and the Macy's Eagle which has the reputation of being a famous meeting point.

Social distancing to get a cheese steak

"I'll meet you at the Eagle"

A little outside downtown are several famous landmarks:

The Philadelphia Museum of Art in front of which are the stairs that Rocky ran up in the famous movie (just like Alex in the picture below)

The sumptuous campus of the University of Pennsylvania, boy, would I have loved to study there!

Split button sculpture in front of the Library, to modernize the campus:)

And "Boat house row" in Fairmount park, a series of 19th century rowing houses along the Schuylkill river, which the rowers among you probably know as the origin of some of the most famous international rowing races

And back inside the city, there is the famous South street district where all things happen at night and we saw some amazing vehicles.

Polaris slingshots in all colors...

Getting ready to Harley...

Philadelphia also prides itself on having the first hospital in the US and in general on being extremely advanced in science and medicine. This appears clearly when you see the many hospitals and research institutions all throughout downtown and the University campus, and in that spirit I visited the Mütter museum: " America’s finest museum of medical history". The museum displays beautifully preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments in a 19th-century cabinet-museum setting. I went by myself because Alex does not enjoy this type of freaky exhibitions. I don't know why but I have always been interested by the inside of our bodies and the strange diseases and malformations that exist in nature. It reminded me of the exhibition "Bodies" that I saw in Montreal many years ago, even though "Bodies" used the more modern plastination process to display various internal systems. What struck me in Montreal is that our insides don't really look like what we see in anatomy books, they are much more messy and not as symmetrical. Apparently there is a similar museum in Vienna called the Josephinum, I'll have to check that out when we get there! Alex will undoubtedly pass on that one also.

Inside the Mütter museum

The poster for Bodies (yuk!!!)

The Josephinum in Vienna. According to the website it is in construction, hopefully it will be open next year.

But apart from our bodies, there are other miracles in nature that move me, such as the beautiful rainbow that formed over the impressive Benjamin Franklin bridge (which connects Pennsylvania and New Jersey) while we were crossing it.

To sum up: I highly recommend Philadelphia!

Next stop: Washington DC (where I last was in 1970!)

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