Saturday, February 05, 2005

Streets of Philadelphia

We're back from our day in Philly, and it was a beautiful one for February -- warm and sunny. It was my first time to visit, and impressions were good -- lots to see!

Will write about the day later, for now will just post the link to the photos uploaded to Flickr:

Philly in February

These are David's and my photos mixed together. I took some with David's camera because a button on my Canon A80 isn't working *sob* -- I'm going to have to send it off to the repair centre!

Tomorrow is Superbowl Sunday, so the city was decked out in Philadelphia Eagles fandom, too.


David's entry on Multiply: Gail and Dave Take Philadelphia

David covered our day in Philadelphia pretty thoroughly, but I'll step up to the plate with my own version. Mine is very much a photoblog, anyway, so most of my comments centre around the photos I took. It was early on in the day that I discovered the right arrow button on my camera stopped working, so to curb the frustration, I used David's camera part of the time. It's probably the button I use the most, so it stands to reason that one would be the first to go. We're incurable tinker-types, but after some messing around, I could see it was constructed in such a way that neither David nor I could fix it ourselves. Drat! We'll have to share David's camera until mine's fixed, which isn't such a big deal since his Panasonic is a great camera -- it has an incredible zoom (12x versus my paltry 3x) and built-in stabilizer.

Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.
Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love.

Like David mentioned, I've never been to Philadelphia before, but I've been hankering for a visit since I arrived in Pennsylvania. What do I know about it? Not nearly enough, only that it's one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and was the original seat of government. In recent years, I get the impression it is becoming increasingly associated more with urban crime and big-city problems than historical significance. There are plenty of signs that tourism is alive and well, but since it's the largest city in the state, it probably gets a bad rap, too.

I'm more of a city type, myself, so my "city filter" naturally focusses on the features of metropolitan centres: restaurants, museums, mixtures of architectural styles. In this respect, my impressions of Philadelphia are very positive. In the Old Town part of the city, there were loads of funky dining rooms, diverse in their cuisine and decor. I kept stopping to look inside the restaurants at the eclectic furniture, or just to have a sniff of the culinary delights from the doorway. Philadelphia is two hours south of Scranton, and even David -- who actually hasn't spent much time here -- suggested we could drive down for a meal! In my mind, I was already plotting which restaurant we'd hit first.

It was a sunny, warm day for February. Not just a bit warm, I mean springtime warm. I wanted to ditch my wool coat, but I knew once the sun went down I'd want my coat back. So, we walked around the city centre -- very walkable, THUMBS UP! -- taking photos of buildings and admiring the vertical views. I LOVE the fact that Philadelphia is favourable to the pedestrian, unlike most big cities in North America. (Philadelphia is the fifth-largest in the U.S.) One area that is a relatively long walking distance is the Museum of Art, which we didn't have time to visit, but it's definitely on the list of things I want to see next time. We drove in that direction at night, and it's picturesque along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the museum, which is lit up right now with the upcoming Dali exhibit.

Philadelphia City Hall
Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.

City Hall breezeway arch
Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.

The building that caught my eye first upon entering the city was City Hall, in Penn Square. One of the things lacking in modern North American city centres are squares. We're so caught up in the grid system that it's become very boring; squares are natural gathering places where people congregate and interact. City Hall has breezeways so you can pass through on each side and save some time.

need a clothespin?
Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.

Benjamin Franklin Bridge
Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.

Before we went, David said Philadelphia didn't have a very interesting skyline, but I beg to differ. It may not be Manhattan, but the tall buildings it does have in the city centre are interesting in their own right. Another notable building beside City Hall is the Masonic temple, the entrance design is most exquisite. And, once we headed to the waterfront, I couldn't help but shoot away at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. One thing we noticed about the bridge after taking so many photos was that the bridge lights at car level changed colours! With the strobe effect, it looked almost like a disco!

on the waterfront
Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.

Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.
We wanted to head down to the waterfront to catch the sunset there, since the quality of the day's light was rather unusual. It shone very pink and purple, and made for great dusk photos.

When we were searching for wedding and reception venues a couple of months ago, David told me about this ship called Moshulu that had a long history and was eventually converted to a floating restaurant. (Click on the pic for more info.) It would've been an interesting place to gather people, given its history, and it's ranked highly for its food, but two hours is a long way to travel for a reception.

The Quest for the Ultimate Philly Cheesesteak. Yes, it was a real quest. We kept passing vendors all afternoon, but I thought we'd try and find someplace authentic and old-fashioned. I'm a bit of a foodie, and I'd never been bowled over by the cheaper variants of Philly cheesesteak. I tried it in Scranton and was unimpressed.

"Shredded beef and cheese on a bun?" I asked David. "Is that all it is???"

I thought there had to be more to it than that to reach this almost mythical status. We were famished after wandering around town all afternoon, and the great selection of eateries in the Old Town had us nearly swayed from our mission of finding a Good Philly Cheesesteak. Where oh where? We finally settled on this one place off Market Street that looked unfussy and had "The Best Philly Cheesesteak since 1969" on it. It was one of those narrow-frontage-but-long-to-the-back places that looked more like a sports bar with a dining room as an afterthought. But, oh wow, was their food ever GOOD. The menu was confusing to me -- what's the difference between a hoagie and a sandwich? Is the Philly cheesesteak a sandwich, but why do they say hoagie? David, the Pennsylvania native, was also confused. We ordered two different things, but they arrived looking nearly exactly the same. We didn't care, either about that or the many TVs blaring Superbowl coverage, because the eating took precedence. The bread was the best I've had in the state, the shredded steak was flavourful (but not oversalted), and the provolone cheese was perfect. The fried onions made it a delectable combination. Oh man, did I say it was good? It was great! THUMBS UP! I even ordered my vice: jalapeno and cream cheese poppers. I swear, these things will be the death of me. Even THESE were good... you'd think they would be impossible to screw up, but I've had poor imitations. These were the real deal, and get this: the cream cheese was cold, the jalapenos were hot (not just spicy, but heated), and the outside was crispy hot. How do they do this??

After we finished our heart-attack meals, I wanted to take some night shots of the city, but my theory is that there were sleeping pills ground into my poppers, because I wanted to go to sleep almost immediately. It was bizarre -- I was almost asleep at the end of the Ben Franklin Parkway. We'll definitely be back in Philly soon, but next time I'm not having the poppers.