CItyscapes Philadelphia – What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

BenFranklinStatue 199x300 CItyscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionOne full day of our Philadelphia weekend, our second full day of sightseeing, was the Science day.

We spent most of the day at The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia’s most excellent science museum. We saw the planetarium show, The Wildest Weather In The Solar System, which was included in our admission, and Kenya Animal Kingdom, the 3-D movie in the Franklin Theater, which had a small upcharge on our Philadelphia Pass admission. Exhibits we liked the best: the special exhibit on tech innovations, the gears and small machines, and the train factory. And of course, the gift shop where Doug found some great science and math books, including The Geek Handbook  and a super “Big Bang Theory” inspired t-shirt that spells out our favorite catch phrase using the symbols for barium zinc and gallium – BA ZN GA. Not exactly this one on Amazon, but close.

On this trip we did not have time for the nearby Academy of Natural Sciences, or the Mutter Museum of medical oddities, which was just a bit off our planned trajectory, but they are both on the list for our next visit.

History

We started our mini-vacation with a visit to the Ben Franklin Museum, which is part of the Independence National Park exhibits, but has a small admission fee. Located on — well strictly speaking underneath — the site of his home and printing business, the museum mixes interactive exhibits and historical artifacts to tell the story of Franklin’s life and role in American history.FranklinCourt 300x200 CItyscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

The rest of the National Park exhibits are free but you need a timed ticket for the guided tour of Independence Hall (get it free at the National Park desk in the Visitor Center or preorder online for a small charge) and there is a queue to see the Liberty Bell. Both of these exhibits also have security inspection of your bags. Our strategy was to go on a weekday first thing (Tuesday to be exact.) Exterior2IndepHall 200x300 CItyscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionWe were able to do the first tour of Independence Hall at 9am, followed by Congress Hall (where the House and Senate met when Philadelphia was the US capitol), and there was no line to speak of for the Liberty Bell when we finished with those two important landmarks. Weekends especially later in the day the lines for the Bell are LONG!!!

Most of the rest of the historical sites we saw from the comfort of our seats on the Big Bus Tour, which we used to get around for the two middle days of our 4-day trip. We also did the duck tour, Ride the Ducks, since it was included on our pass, and we had a little time left at the end of Science Day. While it covered most of the same sites as the Big Bus, it was fun to get on the water for that perspective.

ElephantZoo 300x200 CItyscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionWe wrapped up our trip with a visit to the Philadelphia Zoo, which I am squeezing into the history category since it is America’s first zoo. Highlights for me were the Victorian-era animal statues throughout the zoo, and the Big Cat exhibit. It was too hot for the cats to be very active, but the exhibit was laid out in such a way that even sleeping cats were visible, without it being disturbing to their sleep. I’d love to go back on a cooler day, and slightly later in the day, when the chances would be better that animals would be moving through the catwalks featured in the exhibit.

BigCatZoo 300x200 CItyscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition
GiraffeZoo 300x200 CItyscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

On our list for our next visit: I want to go back to The Barnes Foundation, and Doug never passes up a chance to go to the science museum. We also want to check out the African American Museum, and outside of the city — the Adventure Aquarium across the river in Camden NJ  and Longwood Gardens, which we visited briefly a few years ago and wanted to visit on this trip, but ran out of time.

Because there is A LOT to do in Philadelphia.


See all my photos from the trip on Flickr

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Cityscapes Philadelphia – What To Do, Art Museum Edition

PhillCItyHall 199x300 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum EditionWe barely scratched the surface of things to do and see in Philadelphia, and are already planning a trip back.

We invested in the three-day Philadelphia Pass  which was offering a discount when I purchased it, making it an even better value even though I hedged my bets and bought Doug an adult pass. Some of the attractions cut off child pricing at 12 and don’t offer student pricing (the Zoo for example) and I didn’t want to end up double paying in the end. If you are in the same situation, and have more time for research, I suggest checking out all the attractions you plan to visit and purchasing adult or child for your tweens and teens accordingly. Order online and pick it up at the Independence Visitor Center right downtown, which is a pretty good spot to start your exploration of Philadelphia anyway.

The Philadelphia Pass was definitely a good value for us as it offered admittance to everything on our “must-do” list. The City Pass is another less pricey alternative but it didn’t work for us because it required a choice between two attractions that were on our must-do list.

Since we had never been to Philadelphia, we took full advantage of one of the benefits of our 3-day Philadelphia pass, two-days on the Big Bus Tour , a hop on/hop off double decker tour bus that stops at most of the major attractions. Next time, we’ll just use public transportation (or walk) but for our first visit to the city, it was good to have the guidance.

NOTE: All the above companies promote offerings for other cities, including New York, so worth checking out for other destinations.

PhillyPublic art e1411249698419 300x98 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum Edition

Our sightseeing basically revolved around Art, Science and History. In this post, I’ll share our art excursion, much enjoyed by me, tolerated (just) by Douglas.

Our Stops: The Barnes Foundation, including the special Cezanne exhibit, and the Rodin Museum.

The permanent exhibits at The Barnes Foundation are amazing, full stop. Starting with the building itself. The collection is a mix of largely Impressionist and Modern Art collected by Dr. Barnes at the turn of the 20th century as well as African art, furniture, jewelry and metalcraft. Barnes actively designed the displays, so each wall, each room is itself an artwork, with the pieces in each grouping combining to make a whole that you can appreciate as much as you do its individual parts. The galleries have windows, with the shades opening and closing as the natural light changes so the artwork is displayed, literally, in the best possible light.

Staggering fact: the art in the permanent collection is worth $25 billion in today’s market.

I was less impressed with the Cezanne exhibit, The World Is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne. Perhaps because I was a little rushed by my non-art loving travel companion so I was not taking advantage of the audio tours, but it just felt on the small side, especially given the extra entrance fee it requires.

Know before you go: Bags, briefcases, backpacks are not allowed in the exhibit hall. At the coat and bag check they will provide you with a clear plastic tote for any items you need to carry with you. I imagine this is because the collection includes small objets d’art and jewelry that are NOT exhibited behind glass cases.

DetailBurghersRodin 300x199 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum EditionThe Rodin Museum. Certainly one of the most impressive settings I’ve ever seen for a sculpture museum, and I loved seeing old favorites like the Burghers of Calais and the Thinker. It was very focused on Rodin’s Gates of Hell, and offered less context for Rodin’s life and other works such as the monument to Victor Hugo. I guess you need to go to the Musée Rodin in Paris for that. I believe it is however the second largest collection of Rodin after Paris, so if you are a fan (as I am), a must see. Your entrance fee also gets you admission to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We did not make that stop this trip however, as Doug was pretty much “arted-out” by that point.

A neat fact about Philadelphia – it was the first US city to create a public art program requiring real estate developers to commission art as part of the development process. Building projects that receive public funds are required to allocate 1% of the budget to public art.

PhillyDragon 300x199 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Art Museum Edition

Public art in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. One of four dragons representing the seasons.

Cityscapes Philadelphia – Where to Eat

ReadingTerminalMarket 300x199 Cityscapes Philadelphia   Where to EatInstead of a week-long vacation this summer, Doug and I took long weekends. It was easier to manage with my work schedule. The only drawback was we were somewhat limited to places we could get to within a few hours, and preferably by car or train. In July, we did the YouCube Meetup and a few of our favorite Manhattan stomping grounds.

In August, we drove down to Philadelphia.

This was actually the first time I had been to Philadelphia as a tourist. I’ve been numerous times on business, starting way back in the 90s with the court challenges to the Communications Decency Act, and spent a fair amount of time in Montgomery and Bucks Counties for dog shows, but I’ve never actually seen the city. I’m glad I finally did. It was fun to discover a new place with Douglas, Even though he had been before during the 7th grade field trip, apparently they didn’t get much farther than Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the hotel pool.

Where we stayed: Hilton Garden Inn on Arch and 11th. Inexpensive, clean rooms right next door to Reading Terminal Market and convenient to public transportation as well as the hop on/hop off tour bus stops for Chinatown and the Market. Also right next to the convention center, so not a good choice if a major convention is in town.

Where we ate:

Molly Molloy’s in Reading Terminal Market.  Breakfast twice, lunch on our last day before checking out of the hotel. It has a really nice sit-down area of its own in the center of the market with high top tables, which we both really liked.DougMollyMolloys 150x150 Cityscapes Philadelphia   Where to Eat When you are as tall as Doug, little cramped spaces just don’t appeal, and honestly, I like a little space too, so we both preferred it to the various (but yummy looking) food stalls in the market and the central eating spaces. Their homemade jams are very tasty, and a great accompaniment to the toast with your omelet or pancakes. For lunch, I recommend the Guac BLT. I also recommend you do not do what I did at the end of our last meal there, forget your credit card. Luckily, they had it when I called, so no funny charges are likely to turn up and the nice people at American Express immediately sent a replacement.

I remembered City Tavern from a business trip 5-6 years ago. I was speaking at a small conference and the dinner was at a restaurant right near by (Positano Coast). A few of us stopped in to the Tavern for a beverage before dinner. It reminded me quite a bit of Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, a favorite when we lived in that part of Massachusetts. When I crowd-sourced Philadelphia ideas on Facebook, a few people recommended it. Doug devoured a smoked salmon and trout appetizer, but wasn’t as crazy for his NY strip steak and shrimp. The steak had a bit more fat than he is used to. I had rack of lamb, which was flavorful, but unevenly cooked. I asked for medium rare, and some ribs bordered on well and others were rare. On average, medium rare, sure, but…. The desserts and breads were great, the colonial Raspberry Shrub (beverage) tasty, and the service excellent, so on balance I would recommend it, but as much for the historical significance as the cuisine, which is perfectly tasty just not haute.

Sonny’s Cheesesteaks. Unless you don’t eat meat, you can’t go to Philadelphia without at least trying a Philly cheesesteak. We had ours at Sonny’s on Market Street. SonnysCheesesteaks Cityscapes Philadelphia   Where to Eat

Another restaurant recommendation — the Continental Martini Bar, also on Market in the Old City, Located in an old diner, the Continental offers a global tapas menu. Sounds weird I know but tasty. We had hummus, fish tacos, grilled shrimp and the cheesesteak eggroll, all of which we shared, followed by extremely tasty desserts, which we did not. I had the nutella tart with banana ice cream and Douglas had a blond brownie with malted vanilla ice cream. Highly recommend it, especially if you are already in the area for sightseeing. It is only a short walk from the Independence Hall area down Market Street.

Totally by accident, we also stopped for a quick bite at High Street On Market one of Bon Appétit magazine’s top new restaurants. Doug had an artisanal pizza and a delectable cream puff, and I had a peach tea cake — moist and not too sweet.

Lastly, be sure to leave enough time (and room in your tummy) to explore the stalls at Reading Terminal Market. In addition to the meals we ate there, we patronized the Famous 4th Street Cookie Company, Bassetts Ice Cream, Beiler’s Bakery, where we purchased a shoofly pie to bring home, The Tubby Olive, where we sampled and bought some interesting olive oils and balsamic vinegars, and the Cookbook Stall where Doug purchased his first cookbook of his own, 500 Pizzas & Flatbreads.

 

Pennsylvania Weekend: Crystal Cave, Valley Forge

3978463637 477f73a18c m Pennsylvania Weekend: Crystal Cave, Valley ForgeLast weekend was the big dog show weekend in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, culminating in the all-terrier Montgomery County Kennel Club show on Sunday. I needed/wanted to go for a few dog and dog club related reasons, but did not relish the long 7+ hour drive (each way) by myself. So I convinced Douglas and David to come along with me. I’d go to my dog club banquet on Friday night and the dog show on Sunday, but we’d skip the Saturday show, and do some family sightseeing instead.

There is quite a lot to do in the Philadelphia area – art, science and natural history museums, the zoo, plus  historical exhibits like the Liberty Bell and Valley Forge.

We decided to give Doug the choice. He picked  Crystal Cave in Kutztown. Boys and rocks.

I’m a bit claustrophobic and generally the idea of being in a cave gives me the creeps. This wasn’t too bad. The tour guide did an excellent job moving us through the cave, and the cave rooms themselves were fairly large, with very tall ceilings, so I didn’t get that “pressed in” feeling. Doug absolutely loved it.

The cave formations themselves are eery. Some could easily be alien life forms from a sci-fi film.

3979234928 bac5a423a2 m Pennsylvania Weekend: Crystal Cave, Valley Forge 3978490091 e72581c56f m Pennsylvania Weekend: Crystal Cave, Valley Forge

After the caves, we decided to head back and do a quick visit to Valley Forge. We’d been a number of times in the past, but Douglas didn’t remember it. On the way we stopped for lunch at a Texas Roadhouse in Royersford.

This was our first ever visit to this chain, and we were pleasantly surprised by the hospitality — warm and gracious — and the food — excellent. As first-time guests, they gave us a free bottle of their steak sauce, and asked us to fill out a brief questionnaire about our experience. I wrote in the comments that we very much enjoyed the food and wished there was a restaurant near us in Massachusetts. One of the managers made a point to come out and let us know that there were a few, including one not far from us in Worcester.

Why so good? Everything is very fresh. Homemade rolls, lots of choices for side dishes and good steaks. Is it Morton’s or Ruth Chris? Of course not. But when you are on the road looking for a quick reasonably priced meal, it’s a nice alternative to the burger and tex-mex lite chains. I particularly appreciated the 6 ounce filet for $16.00. It’s the right amount of meat for me and the price was fair. It was also very tasty.

3979286740 24a8b06150 m Pennsylvania Weekend: Crystal Cave, Valley Forge We got to Valley Forge too late for an organized trolley or walking tour (although we have done the trolley tour in the past, and it is excellent). Instead we bought the self-guided one-hour CD tour ($15.00) and proceeded to drive through the park and learn a little history on the way.

Douglas wasn’t too interested at first, but we confiscated the Nintendo, and eventually he got into it. Admission to the park and buildings is free; there is a fee for the trolley tour.

As with all national parks, there are also special programs worth checking out if you are slightly more planful about your visit than we were this time 🙂 The park buildings close at 5pm, but the grounds are open until dusk. The last ranger-tour of Washington’s Headquarters is at 4:30 pm.

The centerpiece — literally — of the park is the National Memorial Arch. This time, we saw two wedding parties doing their formal photos. My pictures of them on Flickr.

3979295546 c35b56c622 m Pennsylvania Weekend: Crystal Cave, Valley ForgeYou’ll also see lots of deer at Valley Forge. In fact the deer population of the park is a bit of a problem; if you are interested, you can read more at the park website.

For visitors, though, it is nice to see these pretty animals up close and vertical as opposed to lying by the side of the road, a sad but familiar site along Pennsylvania highways.

On Sunday, I went to the dog show. David and Doug went to the nearby Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. They had a great time pumpkin painting and exploring the garden railway.

Other things to do in the area: We’ve also enjoyed wandering around the community of Doylestown, although we did not get up that way on this trip, and Longwood Gardens. Little kids would enjoy Sesame Place, although the weather never cooperated for that when Douglas was younger and now at nine, he’s well past it. If you like to shop, the ginormous King of Prussia mall is nearby.

Where to stay: I like the Marriott Springhill Suites in Plymouth Meeting. Reasonably priced ($89 AAA-rate), all-suite hotel. Indoor pool. Free breakfast. Free in-room Internet. Near the Plymouth Meeting Mall, which offers many restaurant choices including Benihana, another good choice when traveling with kids. The mall also has an arcade which entertained Douglas (and Dave) on Friday night while I was at the dog club banquet and on Saturday night while I made a quick run to Macy’s.

Word to the wise: Traffic in the Montgomery County area, especially on the Turnpike and its feeder roads, is awful nearly all the time. Plan accordingly.

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