Thanks to listening to my Dad’s Elton John’s Greatest Hits II album when I was a kid, the song “Philadelphia Freedom” is embedded in the grooves of my memory, and starts playing whenever I read or hear the city name. (I’m not apologizing for any earworms, it’s a great song.) In fact, it’s playing in my head right now. (I used to be a rolling stone you know… You’re welcome!) Although I just learned that the song was inspired by Billie Jean King. I had no idea, and probably would still be ignorant to the fact if I weren’t writing this blog post. This roadschooling really is an education for all of us.
Anyway, Philadelphia. (Shine the light, won’t you shine the light…) After Chris got us out of Jersey City in one piece it was a pretty easy drive 100 miles south to our next RV park in New Jersey, outside Philadelphia. I don’t have any photos of the KOA campground, but it was a pleasant place to stay in a semi-rural location in Clarksboro, NJ. The spaces were pretty tight, but it was quiet while we were there and they had a great dog run, big enough for Otis to actually have room to chase the ball. We’ve come to find that designated “pet areas” at campgrounds can mean anything from a patch of grass to a large fenced in space. In most cases it’s a small fenced in patch of grass. The dogs get their exercise from walks, local dog parks or open land where we can let them off leash. It’s always nice, though, when a campground has enough space for both Otis and Sky to actually run around.
Our stop in Philly coincided with a housewarming party hosted by Chris’ good friend from LA who now lives in the area. It was great to spend time catching up with him and his wife, while Rita and Charlie had a blast with a bunch of other kids playing in the pool, eating pizza, and guzzling Gatorade.
Philadelphia has an incredible amount of history, culture, and great food to offer, but since we only had a few hours in the city we focused on Independence National Historical Park, a perfect connection to what we’ve learned in Boston and New York and from Hamilton. Plus, the Rocky statue and Philly cheesesteaks.
Since we heard that parking can be a challenge, we kept the car at the underground Auto Park at Independence Mall and planned to Uber and walk around town. We went straight to the Visitor Center to collect Junior Ranger books and get in line for the free but required timed-entry tickets to Independence Hall. When we arrived at 10am the earliest available tour was for 2pm, so if your time is limited you’ll want to show up early, or book in advance online (for a small fee).
We took an Uber to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, passing along the grand Benjamin Franklin Parkway, to stand in line with a mix of American and foreign tourists waiting to take a photo with the Rocky statue. The bottom half of the famous 72 stone steps were blocked off for construction, hampering the plans of any Rocky-wannabes to run straight up to the top. That didn’t prevent plenty of people from raising their arms in victory for a photo anyway. We forgot to prep the kids beforehand so they didn’t quite get what the fuss was about, but they were good sports in posing anyway. It was reminiscent of when we “encouraged” them to give the thumbs up with the Bronze Fonz in Milwaukee. (We need to remember to show them a YouTube clip before we encounter our next pop culture star immortalized in bronze.)
The Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the largest in the world, was founded in 1876 for the Centennial Exposition of Philadelphia and its imposing, classical building was completed in 1928. I wish we would have had time to actually see the collections, but we had a date with some cheesesteaks and Junior Ranger badges.
Our Uber ride to Jim’s Steaks took us through beautiful old neighborhoods with stately trees shading even more stately brownstones and row houses, to the suddenly lively commercial strip of South Street. Jim’s, which was founded in 1939, has been serving Philly cheesesteaks at the South Street location since 1976. Our whole experience at Jim’s was great: the professionals working the grill and counter who kept the long line moving; the seating area upstairs with a friendly host who kept the tables clean and organized; and the delicious food. A cheesesteak isn’t pretty, and frankly didn’t appeal to me very much by the description alone, but Jim’s was a wonderful combination of thin juicy slices of grilled beef steak, gooey Cheez Whiz (the one and only use for that product), and a soft hero roll with a slight crust. For the sake of research, the day before we ate at Pat’s King of Steaks, an originator of the Philly cheesesteak along with its rival Geno’s across the street. While the atmosphere was fun, we much preferred the sandwiches at Jim’s.
We saw a bit more of Old Philadelphia, including beautiful Washington Square, in the short walk back to Independence NHP. The Park consists of several sites, including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. The Liberty Bell Center is a glassed-in structure, with information panels to keep visitors engaged as they wait to get to the main attraction. The line was snaking out the door the entire time we were there, so we opted to skip it and took a peek at the bell from the outside. Adjacent to the Liberty Bell Center is the intriguing President’s House Site, on the grounds where the house of Presidents Washington and Adams once stood. The outdoor exhibition panels and videos share historical context and personal stories of the people who lived and worked here, from our first presidents to their slaves.
We enjoyed the excellent movie and displays at the Independence Visitor Center (which also houses a city information desk, snack bar, and another Rocky statue) and the kids worked on their Junior Ranger books while we waited for our tour.
We were in a group of about 50 other people inside Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were both debated and signed. The tour was crowded and quick – we were taken into two rooms, the Courtroom of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and the Assembly Room where the Constitutional Convention took place – but our guide was engaging, and it was a thrill to see the room just as it looked in 1787, including the authentic Rising Sun chair used by George Washington.
We got a lot out of our quick visit, but like NYC unfortunately we didn’t have time to see more friends in the area. Next up: Washington DC, Annapolis, visits with family, and waiting out Labor Day weekend at one of our favorite campgrounds.