Go Beyond…Philadelphia’s historic sites: Markets, mosaics, murals and micro-brews

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On the bus from NYC to Philly, we listed everything we knew about the City of Brotherly Love. Not surprisingly, the list included things like the Liberty Bell, hoagies, Philly Cheesesteaks, the Constitutional Convention, Independence Hall, the famous red LOVE sign and the Tom Hanks tear-jerker of a film, Philadelphia.

Most of the places to visit on our list are within a 2 mile radius, but on our whirlwind 2-day visit, we were looking for the Philly that lies just beyond the tour buses.

philadelphia constitution the signer9th Street Italian Market

Luckily for us, our reader, online friend and former Philly local Don Faust left us well-informed and armed with ideas. His wife, freelance writer and travel blogger Chris Grey Faust, even has a really useful Philly Essential Guide iPhone app – so they know their stuff. Don insisted we hit up the 9th Street Italian Market, the oldest and largest working market in the United States. We cut through Chinatown and headed there first, hoping to arrive before most the market closed at 5pm.
philadelphia chinatown house of chen

We arrived as the sidewalks were rolling up, but we were in time to take in the smells of salty sausages, steaming hot pizzas, fresh herbs and the DiBruno Bros. House of Cheese. Continuing south along 9th Street, the Italian influence morphs into a Mexican one, and foodie staples like tomato sauce, pasta and  basil transform into homemade salsa, fresh tortillas and green plantains, so we spent some time in this area of town, known as South of South (south of South street).

philly italian market bwIsaiah Zagar’s Mosaics

Wandering semi-aimlessly through this part of town, we suddenly stumble upon a back alley filled with the work of the brilliant local mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar, who has created over hundred of mosaic murals all throughout Philadelphia, most famously his Magic Gardens. We could have spent hours discovering the little details in his murals, which sometimes cover entire walls and which are made of all kinds of materials in addition to the typical broken tiles and mirrors – entire plates and bowls, beer bottles, glasses, and ceramics. (Click here to see more of his mosaics).

mosaics isaiah zagar philadelphiaMicro-Brew Boutiques

Recharged and enthusiastic – this sort of discovery is exactly what justifies our often aimless city wandering as we travel – a sign for ‘beer boutique’ is just up the road with plenty of tables outside and fridges in the back with hundreds of the best micro-brews around.  Within minutes of sitting down at Hawthorne’s Beer Boutique and Gourmet Eatery, we were being served crispy shoestring fries and  beer, no longer disappointed by our late arrival at the 9th Street Market.

philadelphia hawthornes barRittenhouse Square

Our next stop was Rittenhouse Square, one of William Penn’s (state’s namesake) original five public squares  in the city. Named after astronomer and clockmaker David Rittenhouse, a clockmaker and astronomer, hotels, residences, restaurants and shops surround the square and line the area known as Rittenhouse Row, which is also home to cultural hot spots like the Kimmel Center, Wilma Theater, Prince Music Theater and the Philadelphia Horticultural Society.

rittenhouse square sculptureMural Arts Project

Throughout our time in the city, we made sure to keep our eyes peeled for the city’s many murals. Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Project began in the 1980s as a part of a larger anti-graffiti campaign and now uses these murals to unite the people of Philadelphia across all backgrounds. Spotting the murals in the self-proclaimed Mural Capital of the World is not difficult, but for more insight and loads more murals, try to get on one of several Philadelphia Mural Tours, rumored to be a true highlight.

philly muralPhilly does have it’s fair share or street art as well, not connected to the mural project. The Italian Market area has quite a bit, including this (slightly ‘altered’) Shepard Fairey piece.

street art philadelphia

Reading Terminal Market

The next morning before we left for Washington, DC, we hit up many of the historical tourist sites on our list before having lunch at  Reading Terminal Market. This public market is home to some of the most delicious food we came across on our trip, along with some…creative dishes (chocolate covered onions, anyone?) and typical food prepared by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities.

reading terminal market philadelphiaDespite the market’s popularity and location next to the Philadelphia Convention Center, the market was easy to navigate and we never stood more than five minutes in line to order. We stocked up for the bus ride with baked goods, sandwiches and although we skipped the Philly Cheesesteak, we did grab a couple of Miller’s soft pretzels, rumored to be quintessential Philly fare.

We only had 24 hours in Philadelphia and will be coming back for sure. What are your favorite off the beaten path places to play in Philly? We would love you to share your thoughts in the comments below..


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Great American Road Trip 2011 – Philadelphia

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Yesterday in Philadelphia was all about the food, so today we dedicated ourselves to discovering the role that Philadelphia has played in US history. Both of us knew about the main attractions/events like the Liberty Bell and the signing of the Constitution, but we were actually very surprised to understand just how much of the American way of life is revealed in the city.

The morning started with a spontaneous walk through Chinatown. As Dani was taking shots of the friendship gate, I was eavesdropping on a pair of women – one black, mid-40s, the other Chinese-American, early 70s – discussing the plight of the Irish during the potato famine, each of their relatives who passed through Ellis Island, and current immigration policies. All this in the heart of Chinatown on a Wednesday morning.
The architecture of the charming buildings throughout the Old City and South Philly are gorgeous, and we were both so interested in the similarity to the streets of some neighborhoods of London.

philadelphia brick housesPhilly is very tourist-friendly, and in addition to what must be a multi-million dollar Independence Visitors Center, these Walk! Philadelphia signs guided us around the city. What caught our eye about these signs is just how much they represent the principles on which America was founded. The religious freedom which attracted both the Quakers like Mr. Penn who founded Pennsylvania and Jewish settlers is prevalent, along with the melting pot of cultures in Philly which are celebrated prominently alongside a more textbook look at American history, including like Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Constitution Center and the U.S. Mint.

Philly is also playful, artistic and cosmopolitan… the mosaics, the street art, and music played on so many street corners, like Geoffrey here outside of Reading Terminal Market…

In the end and above all else….Philly is still, for us, a foodie paradise! We finally had one of those delicious Philly pretzels that came highly recommended to us – so good!

And before we left Philadelphia for Washington DC, we stopped to eat again at the Reading Terminal Market. We loved the variety of food there – Classic Philly cheese steaks (not for us vegetarians though), quite possibly the world’s best cookies, Mexican, Vegan, Indian and this very funny fish restaurant below.

No question about it – we will definitely be back in Philadelphia again one day soon! The city is a historical gem and a true reflection of the melting pot that is America! We write tonight from Washington, DC. We’ll be exploring the nation’s capital for the next two days, so stay tuned for more about our Great American Road Trip 2011 as we make our way from New York to New Orleans.

What should we do in DC? Let us know must-sees and must-dos on our Facebook page, or tweet us!

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Great American Road Trip 2011 – NYC and Philly

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One of the key characteristics of a Great American Road Trip is how many miles you manage to cover, but that usually refer to miles, on the road, in a car.  Today we racked up over twelve miles on foot with some urban hiking through some very important stops in New York and Philadelphia. Along the way we were reminded yet again exactly why our city rambles through ‘real’ neighborhoods make for the best discoveries!

NYC2NOLA Photos of the Day: NYC and Philly

Leaving New York today meant we had to squeeze as much in as possible – which is why we found ourselves in Central Park this morning at 8am.It was just us, herds of joggers and hundreds of dogs and their owners, frolicking and licking (the dogs), and gossiping and chatting (the owners). Who knew Central Park was so incredibly dog-friendly?

Then it was on Greenwich Village to explore two very important addresses: 90 Bedford Street and 66 Perry Street, better known as the Friends building and Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment in Sex and the City.

Before racing off to Philadelphia in the afternoon, we high-tailed it over to the Highline Park, a green, urban space along what was an old Manhattan train line. Love this space!

Highline Park New York City

Our Philly experience today has been a foodie one, with a visit to the Reading Terminal Market, the Italian Market, and an incredible cheesecake churro at the Hawthorne’s Beer Boutique and Eatery.

philadelphia cheese cake churro at Hawthornes

During those brutal 7 miles on foot through Philly’s charming side streets, not one but thousands of sparkling glints of sun caught our eyes – and we unexpectedly discovered an entire alleyway filled with mosaic art by the famous local mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar who incorporates everything from mirrors and tiles to beer bottles and iron wheels.

philadelphia Isaiah Zagar mosaic

Tomorrow we forgo exploring local culture in favor of matters of national significance: here in Philly, we’ll learn historical details related to the constitution and the Liberty Bell before setting off for Washington, DC for three days of adventure in the nation’s capital, so stay tuned!

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