Monday, August 15, 2011

Travel guide: Philadelphia

Last visited: July 2011 (1 day)

Yeah that's right...1 day...

Things to do:

Not to shortchange Philly; there's actually a lot of things to do in the city which can keep you occupied for a while. The one-day trip was a bit of a lark and it wasn't my first time to the city. If you're into history, then the Old City area is a no-brainer, just make sure you get tickets in advance where possible. Tickets are generally free for things like seeing the Liberty Bell, but getting a ticket in advance should help minimize the amount of time you spend in line. 

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is huge (there's actually a main building and a smaller building that you can either walk to or ride to via a free shuttle bus). The city also has a number of murals and there's a company which runs mural bus tours, or they also have an online guide for a walk that takes you through several of the murals (Philadelphia Mural Arts Program). And Franklin Institute is cool! I remember visiting when I was a kid. Science museum.

If you're looking for something a bit different, Eastern State Penitentiary is awesome. I cannot emphasize enough the awesomeness of this place - it's an old prison which has been taken over by the state and reopened as a tourist attraction. Amazing for photography, plus there are various art installations throughout the year, different types of special events and *drumroll please* a self-guided audio tour narrated by STEVE BUSCEMI. At this point you either think this is the best thing ever, or else you're still wondering why anyone would ever visit an old prison. If you are the latter, then maybe you'd prefer an aquarium or a battleship?

From Penn's Landing you can hop a ferry to the other side of the river - Camden, New Jersey. The ferry ride is $7.00 round-trip and although it's short, it's still fun. In Camden, you can visit an aquarium or take a tour on a real (decommissioned) battleship. Haven't been to either so can't vouch for what they're like.

Getting around:

Philly has a bus system but you could be waiting 30 minutes between buses, so I wouldn't count on it. There's also a subway system but I didn't use it so I'm not sure how useful it would be. The commuter train goes out to the airport, which is useful. If you're just staying around Old City, everything is walkable. Getting out to the museum area is a pretty far walk from Old City so I would be inclined to just cab it. Cabs aren't too expensive since most of the places a tourist would go are pretty close together. Maybe around $10 - $15 if you're going from the far end of Old Town out to Eastern State Pen?

Where to stay:

Old City is the priciest location but if you don't have much time and are focused on the main tourist attractions, then it makes sense to stay there. But personally, I'd rather stay by Rittenhouse Square - it puts you between Old City and the museum area. It also keeps you in easy striking distance of the main shopping and nightlife area - and you're just far enough away from Old City to not feel like it's tourist central all the time. Pretty much all the sights and restaurants are walkable from this area.

Where to eat:

Cheesesteak - Sorry, can't help. I like cheesesteaks, but the city has more interesting stuff on offer so I kind of ignore them. Go forth and google for this one.

Di Nic's - Di Nic's is in Reading Terminal Market, which is a fun place to eat through in general. But roast pork sandwiches seem to be what many Philadelphians think of as their sandwich, not just cheesesteaks, and Di Nic's is a favoured destination. There's two types of sandwiches - if you go early, one type will be ready but the other may not be (I think....sliced pork is ready but pulled pork isn't?). I went early and what I had (sliced) was still good, so I wouldn't worry about it too much. HOWEVER. I am going to warn you that the sandwich handed to me was the heaviest sandwich I've ever held. It's...I the weight of a jar of pickles. Whatever, this is some serious shit, so don't say I didn't warn you when you're faced with a monster sandwich. You may also be faced with a monster line, everyone knows about this place.

Paesano's - Um...two locations? Maybe three? I've only gone to the one in the Italian Market. FOR SANDWICHES! I can't even explain, go look at their online menu. I had the lasagna sandwich topped with a fried egg (uh huh, you read that right). I would visit as many times as it takes to work through the menu. Might be a wait, this place is popular.

Isgro's - Speaking of the Italian Market, I'm not actually a big sweets person so I've had maybe only three cannolis ever. And let's face it, most cannolis are kind of lacking...the shell often just seems kind of...lame. But Isgro's cannolis are not lame. They are awesome. I only bought one, thinking it would just be some strange, sweet, slightly mushy thing like the others I'd had, but then I was sad because I ate it and didn't have any more. Be prepared to wait and remember to grab a number when you walk in.

Fish - Duh, come here for seafood. Popular, so you may want to reserve ahead although we were able to just walk in and eat at the bar (two people). Good cocktails, good seafood, interesting preparations. Little Fish is their sister restaurant, not sure where it is - Fish is in the Rittenhouse Square area.

Various dinner / lunch - I've heard Kanela is good (Mediterranean), Zahav (Israeli), and Han Dynasty (spicy Chinese dry hot pot). There's also a couple of Jose Garces places (Iron Chef). Village Whiskey is supposed to have an amazing burger and one of the Village Whiskey chefs told me that A.Kitchen has really good food also.

Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. - If you're looking for a drink, this is a faux speakeasy. Everyone working there is friendly, although I'd argue that cocktail quality is just 'ok' vs other faux speakeasies. Fun for the novelty of wandering into a semi-hidden place and because you're guaranteed to get a seat.

Oyster House - This was interesting because I ate raw clams here. I didn't know you could eat raw clams since I'd never seen them on a menu. They even had two different types. Oh and they have a late night happy hour for oysters. I had an octopus appetizer - it wasn't very exciting but it wasn't bad.

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