6 Hours in Philly
When I lived in Baltimore, Philadelphia always had this magnetic pull. I heard stories of the art scene, Italian markets, endless museums, and killer food. It was a fabled place I needed to visit, but somehow never made it to.
This New Year I spent my time in Baltimore visiting old friends and they were kind enough to entertain my wish to visit Philly. Unfortunately, I have no geographical awareness of the east coast. What I assumed was a cheap, one hour train ride was actually an insanely-expensive-many-hour-train-ride (oops). So instead we slipped in to the car and drove two hours to The City of Brotherly Love—yet this left us with only six hours to spare in the city.
Philadelphia has a wise appearance. I hesitate to say “aged” instead, though the city certainly shows its years. But “aged" implies a kind of slow and docile behavior that Philly lacks. Instead, the high rise buildings and teal bridges intermingle with grey skies, old brick factories, and marble buildings, creating a visual ruckus more blaring than “aged” can convey. The city wears its history—both good and bad—with pride; scars beside merit, wounds beside beauty. I was surprised by Philly's semblance, yet as we entered the city I found it comforting and welcoming.
I have a friend in Philadelphia, V, who was kind enough to show us around. Without V we would have been lost, wasting our time google mapping and scouring yelp for all the best places to visit.
They met us outside the Franklin Institute and took us straight to Reading Terminal Market (pronounced “redding”). It reminded me of Baltimore’s Lextington Market, though a bit fancier and more packed. The walkways were thin like veins, people pushing forward in a steady stream. We had to keep moving—to halt in the midst of the crowd caused a thick clog—so I am not even sure what we saw. We did not stay long for fear of congestion, but we did manage to snag some great ice cream from L.D. Basset before we left. (I always have room for ice cream.)
The best thing about knowing someone in a new city is that they are aware of all the good places to eat. After leaving Reading, V took us to a delicious pho place. It was on a side street in Chinatown, somewhere we would of never found on our own. This restaurant had a broth as strong as it was fragrant, vegetables were piled high in our bowls, the hoisin somehow proved sweeter and more authentic than any other I have tried. It was heavenly.
Leaving pho, we peered at a few more shops in Chinatown. For instance, a unique crepe place and a restaurant with seafood on display in the entryway. We found a couple dead things in each fish tank—but not to worry, we observed their death kindly while V sang “In the Arms of an Angel” in their honor.
We drove to the infamous Philadelphia Museum of Art next. Before you ask, no I did not run to the top like Rocky. Nor did I take a photograph with the Rocky sculpture out front—it was a tad too dark for that. We only had an hour in the museum so we tried to make the best of it.
None of us knew of any exhibitions at the art museum, so when we stumbled upon the Mexican Modernism show we were all pleasantly surprised. Our geeky art selves were fawning over Frida’s first ever portrait and old Mexican political posters. I rarely see art by non-western people of color, let alone non-western women of color, so it was refreshing to see a plethora of historical work by artists from a country in the southern hemisphere who, sadly, I had never heard of.
By the time the Philadelphia Museum of Art had closed it was 9 pm. We bid farewell to V and left the city shortly thereafter. I am grateful we drove instead of traveling by train as the car gave us the ability to take in parts of the city we did not see by walking. Though we only trekked a few blocks, driving allowed us to see parts of Germantown, West, and Central Philadelphia as well as Chinatown and Reading.
It is safe to say my attraction to the fabled city was fair; Philly fulfilled my expectations and more. I am grateful I was able to visit, even if it was for a short while.
If you are ever in Philly for a quick time I highly recommend visiting the few places we managed to see. It was well worth it!
Thanks again, V, for showing us around!
- G R A C E