Visiting Philadelphia

A recent email from Pat Johnson Hewett about plans to be in Philadelphia this summer for a wedding reminded me I should revisit a description today’s Philadelphia.

Seniors can travel from as far away as Wilmington, Trenton, or Norristown by SEPTA train for 85 cents and any bus or subway within the city for free.  My wife and I go in frequently just for lunch in Chinatown . . . or to see a movie . . . or to buy a long loaf of French bread at the Reading Terminal Market . . . or to sit in Rittenhouse Square and eat a really good sandwich from a nearby takeout deli . . . or to enjoy a summer day at the Art Museum, maybe not even going inside.

The main train stop is now the Market Street East Station at about 10th and Market that was not there in our day. The station was part of the revitalization of that whole area and connects with a large shopping mall and the new Convention Center. Step outside the main exit, actually on Arch Street, and you are looking at the ornate Heavenly Gate to Chinatown. Just up the street is the newly restored Reading Terminal Market. The Independence Mall area is an easy walk in the other direction. The Suburban Station at 15th Street is still there and is more convenient for Logan Circle (officially Logan Square, despite the round fountain that defines it), the Art Museum, and the Franklin Institute.

Keep in mind that when I say “new,” I mean new to us. A few weeks ago, I asked a fellow train passenger, a pretty, Indian girl heading to a class at the University of Penn, what was in the new Cira Centre building, a huge glass structure connected to the 30th Street Station. She said it was mostly Amtrak offices, but it was not new, probably five years old by now. Well, of course. Five years ago, she was just entering high school.

The high-class area of Walnut and Chestnut Street has moved north to the old skid row area of Arch and Race Street, and that’s a switch I would have never guessed. The Market Street East Station is right in the middle of it all and from there you can take the free (for you) subway down to Penn’s Landing at Front (First) Street and look over the Delaware River, the Ben Franklin Bridge and the upscale condos now there. Walk a little north near the base of the bridge and you are in the very upscale Old Town section with many art galleries and Elfreth’s Alley. A few blocks south puts you in Society Hill, another upscale area of magnificently restored and maintained old houses. In that area are three Ritz movie theaters that show an eclectic selection of films, often foreign, that you will find nowhere else, totally different than the over-computerized blockbusters that have driven most of us away. Even the ads before show time are classy. (Google them to get an idea of what is currently showing.)You can then walk back toward the Market East Station along Market or Chestnut Street. Between 2nd and about 4th Streets is every kind of eatery you could imagine.

The restored Ben Franklin area (Franklin Court) is between Market and Chestnut and 3rd and 4th Streets. You can even see his privy pit (clearly marked, but covered over).

At 5th you will pass the greatly expanded Independence Hall area filled with tourists from the world over. If you remember Independence Hall jammed in between deteriorating commercial buildings, they are all gone. The hall is now the cornerstone of a large open grassy area officially called the Independence National Historical Park and run by the National Park Service. At the other end of the park on Arch Street is the National Constitution Center that recently held a Clinton-Obama debate.

Washington Square at 6th and Walnut is secluded and restful, much like Rittenhouse Square, a good place to sit and eat a Philly pretzel or hot dog from a street vendor.

All along you will find many old churches and Quaker meeting houses that are open to the public, so by all means, stop in. Most have a volunteer docents who obviously enjoy their jobs.

Get back to the Market Street East Station in time to walk through the Reading Terminal Market. They have all kinds of lunch places, fruit and vegetable stands, bakeries, and cheeses and foods prepared by the Amish. The central eating area often has performing musicians or cooking demonstrations.

People often ask me, “But isn’t it dangerous to walk in Philly?” Not at all. The streets are not crowded like those of New York City, nor are they deserted. Most of the people around you will be Midwestern families on vacation, business people, and college students.

I often just explore interesting-looking streets and always come across something unique and interesting. Just last week, I chanced on the Moore College of Art and their intimate gallery of works by the faculty and students. It is free and open to the public. All you have to do is show a photo ID and sign in at the entrance.

Philly is not a deteriorating city whose best days are past. Things have been changing, and much for the better.

Does anyone remember seeing the Billy Penn statue on a clear day from the corner of Lansdowne Avenue and Baltimore Pike? I also saw it in mid-summer sometime in the 1940s from high atop a tree in Eddie Vetter’s back yard.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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