Vacation Review – Philadelphia

In this review you will find reports on locations, hotels, restaurants, books, movies and history from a parent's perspective. You will find some of our trip photos towards the end when camera had working batteries.

Philadelphia is an essential visit for the history and civics student. Although I was deprived of a visit there in my childhood, my children wouldn’t be. However, I wish I was a child visiting, because as an adult driving there, I found it was a city easy to enter but almost Sisyphean to exit. You can get in but you can’t get out.

We entered the city shortly before noon over the Ben Franklin Bridge and took the first exit which dumped us right in the middle of history. We were warned in the guidebook to avoid driving and parking in the city but we chose the foolish path. We parked in the Constitution Park’s parking garage for too much money. We decided our first stop would be the U.S. Mint which was across the street. It was a good thing it was so close as the mint does not permit cameras, so I had to walk back to my car, 3 stories underground to stow it, as the Mint has no facilities to accommodate honest patrons. I find it hard to believe the school groups that came through also left their cameras and cell phones with cameras on the bus. While I retraced our steps my family checked out the Free Quaker Meeting House on the corner, with an historic re-enactor as docent. Free Quakers were excommunicated Quakers who joined the American Revolution but wanted to continue worshiping as Quakers, the “New Coke” of Quakers.
After I partook of the FQM we all went back to the Mint. It has some historic exhibits in between the windows peering down onto the artists who design medals and coins as well as the machines that turn copper into pennies. I’m sure silver coins were made there but we mostly saw pennies.

Again I ran to the basement of the parking garage to retrieve our camera and cell phone then we ate lunch at the Independence Visitor Center. Did you realize that these free parks appreciate when you buy their $4 hot dogs? They need the money. We then crossed the street to enter the Liberty Bell exhibit. I think the tail wagged the dog in this building. If you build something 25 times bigger than the item you need to fill it with trivial exhibits that include some real history as well as children’s drawings and pictures of the rich and famous who posed next to the bell. But the bell was interesting until the camera batteries die.

Then we crossed the street to take a tour of Independence Hall, where the law was adjudicated and rebellion was decided politically. I appreciated the docent’s admission that it was rebellion, and her explanation of England’s point of view, and the considered bravery of signers of the Declaration of Independence who would be executed for treason if the American army could not prevail.

We reviewed the Liberty Bell a second time then headed down the depths of the parking garage to retrieve our vehicle, our metal sarcophagus for the next 90 minutes. We rented a hotel room near Valley Forge where an indoor pool could be had for a affordable rate, the Sleep Inn of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a mere 15 miles outside of Philadelphia. I intentionally tried to head out of town, 3, before a typical rush hour began, 5. Apparently 100,000 others thought the same thing. An interstate leads out of Philadelphia. It is not large enough for the city, but no one perceives the need to widen it. So we watched the Schuylkill River as we crawled up the I-76.

Fortunately, my wife, the Smart Mom, remembered to borrow a book on tape from our library, Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, about an orphaned African-American boy looking for his jazz artist father in Michigan during the depression. It was compelling and excellent. It almost made the children forget about the promised indoor pool at the hotel. The story made us laugh out loud. The mystery in it kept us all quiet. The characters were engaging. We find out at the end of the tapes when the author speaks that many of the characters were based on his grandparents and their friends. The wacky thought processes of a child were wonderfully described within the logic of a 10 year old. Hence I strongly commend this book to all children and adults who aren’t ashamed of enjoying a simple mystery. It’s a wonderfully optimistic story.

When we found the Sleep Inn, not far from the largest mall east of the Mississippi, we had nearly driven around the mall a few times. I was so desperate to get off the highway that I took an early exit which dumped me into local mall traffic, out of the frying pan and into the fire. It was dinner time when we checked in so we decided to order a pizza. Unfortunately, it was Friday night and many people were ordering pizza and the deliveryman had to drive through all the mall traffic also. The 30 minute wait turned into an hour. That would have been fine except we had to attend a meeting with the Smart Mom for Discovery Toys consultants. We were not eager to jump back on the highway so we used Mapquest to find a local road escape, which would have worked well if not for the mall traffic. Eventually we escaped the black hole of the mall and made it to the reception hall.

We made it back to the hotel without traffic with enough time to get in a short swim. The next morning we enjoyed our buffet breakfast at the hotel, the kids made waffles bigger than their heads. We took the Smart Mom to her Toy Meeting then returned to our pool for the entire day. We swam for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. In between we watched Akeelah and the Bee. Again the Smart Mom came through with an excellent movie selection except for one use of the “s” word and a couple homophobic insults, otherwise new material for the home-schooled children. The movie also featured African Americans who overcome difficulty and prevail. The themes of death in the family and fractured families, who find redemption, as in Bud, not Buddy, presented themselves again to us, as well as delightful optimism. It rained hard all day in the Northeast. So hard in fact that our house/pet sitter called us to ask us how to turn on the sump pump since we had 2 inches of water on our basement floor.

We picked up the Smart Mom and took her to dinner at Flanigan’s Boat House in Conshohocken, Pa where I ate a great grilled salmon wrap. The children enjoyed turkey wraps, a 250 gallon fish tank near our table packed with fish, and the nautical displays, model ships, giant lures, photos, nets, and mounted trophy fish. I also appreciated the multiple televised NCAA men’s basketball games and the extensive beer list. I played it safe and enjoyed Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout.

On our penultimate day of vacation I figured I needed to confront Philadelphia again and drove in to the Franklin Institute Science Museum. We again parked in the overpriced parking garage. We also paid extra for an Imax movie on ancient ocean dinosaurs. The evolution propaganda came on strong early. Somehow the early seas suddenly teemed with single celled creatures which became dinosaurs. But the kids are already skeptical of such extravagant claims. Nevertheless, the museum was a hit and we spent the entire day there. We brought lunches that we ate in the basement parking garage in our car. Again traffic out of Phila. conspired against us, but I tried another way out to lessen my pain traveling up the Northern side of the Schuylkill river. We stopped at Peace of Pizza on our way home for a great Nutty goat salad with goat cheese, candy pecans and dried cranberries.

We swam before we went to bed.

On out last full day we explored Valley Forge. Like most of our destinations on this trip, March is not the season for large crowds so we were able to ask many questions and have solitude for most stops on the tour around the park. We looked into reproduction cabins that George Washington’s troops built from site-cut lumber. We strolled under the commemorative arch restored by gifts from the Freemasons, who were proud of Washington remained a Lodge leader while president of the new country.
Washington’s Continental Army was on its heels that winter when they tried to keep the English army in site after Philadelphia was captured. Into this desperate army a Prussian officer, Baron von Stueben, inserted a spine of discipline and tactics. I found the location of Connecticut's encampment.

In the afternoon we swam.

We ate dinner at Kildare’s Authentic Irish Pub outside the largest mall east of the Mississippi. We never set foot in the largest mall east of the Mississippi while we there. This pub trained its staff in Ireland and imported most of its furniture from Ireland. One thing I never got use to in Pennsylvania is the smoking section of restaurants. In my socialist state of Connecticut we banned all indoor smoking and I can’t say I miss smoking sections. I enjoyed a fantastic plate of goat cheese encrusted salmon with a pint of Guinness. With our hotel key we also received a 25% discount.

In the evening the kids broke out in hives from too much chlorine exposure. Seriously. Two of the kids took Benadryls to diminish the itching as well as knock them out.

On our last day we drove home but took a detour to Washington Crossing Historic Park where earlier in the war Washington and his troops surprised the Hessian mercenary army on Christmas Day 1776. This early victory was long forgotten by Valley Forge two years later. The Delaware River was running high, fast, and muddy. The historic houses would not have been open to us if a school field trip had not also been there. There is another part of the park 3 miles upriver, but nothing was open there, nor anyone to greet us except the herd of sheep on site.

I’m eager to learn some more Revolutionary War history after this trip, and perhaps my children will have better pictures in their minds as they read and learn themselves.


Tami Umland said…
Sounds like you guys had fun. You ate a lot of salmon and goat cheese.
Anonymous said…
John looks like the family enjoyed themselves. You look like your Grandpa Kennedy with that beard!
Janet Rubin said…
Sisyphean! Good word:) Glad you Umlands had fun...

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