The Holiday Spirit in Philadelphia

This will be the start of my road trip tale. Even though New York can feel like a whole universe, we wanted to see more. Once you fly over the ocean, you want to explore – but what to choose? USA is such a big country, and there is so much to visit! We settled on traveling along the East Coast – visiting three cities in the North (New York, Philly and Washington), flying to Atlanta and from there driving through Savannah and down South, all the way through Florida, visiting Saint Augustin, Cocoa Beach, Orlando, the natural park of Everglades, Miami and all the way down to Key West, at the end of the island chain stretching between the ocean and the Caribbean sea.

So, after three days in New York we took an early train to Philadelphia. It was a rainy day in NYC, good enough to leave the place – but Philly expected us with low temps around zero, cold wind and light snow. That’s why the alternative title to this post was “Feeling Chilly in Philly” 🙂 And as we usually do our exploring by walking, the weather made it challenging. But we made it any way, along with some disappointments and enchantments. Here I will share them all.

welcome to Philly!

We arrived from NYC around 10am and had breakfast at the station. To take a train is such a cool way to see the country – and the ride was just a couple of hours. Having checked into our hotel, we turned on the TV and got to know that the snow storm Caleb was hitting the country, bringing the low temps and the high snows unexpectedly early in November. So we put on our warmest clothes, in layers like Norwegians do, and headed off to explore – against the chilly wind and the grey skies.

Philly is a nice city for walking. By this I mean that you can walk anywhere, if you start around the centre. As we stayed close to the City Hall (in the “Hampton Inn” hotel, one of the best stays on this trip), we walked everywhere, giving no thought for a tourist bus or any other transport. I guess, Philly is more interesting for the American tourists because of all the national history. The Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Benjamin Franklin and its history of being a capital, surely, awakes more feelings in the heart of a national tourist. For us, international visitors, it was less exciting. We made a short stop there, wondering why it was so quiet here (after the noisy New York with crowds everywhere, it was such a contrast) and guessing it is more popular on a warmer day.

The neighborhood behind the Independence Hall is Old Town, and I had read it is a must see. This was our main disappointment, because there were several old streets with no life on them, and the whole neighborhood felt desolate and dead. Nothing happened except for the dramatic black girl jumping out of her car on the crossing to yell at the driver who had dared to honk at her. Eventually she threw the water from her bottle in his way, and this was the highlight of our old town walk. Retreating from the suspiciously empty area we wondered if this was the oldest America can get, and that’s why they had put it on the map (yes, it is hard to impress the European tourist, haha).

The best findings happen where you don’t expect them. This happened to us in Philly, and I am glad we decided to ramble aimlessly this way. After a lunch in the downtown which was livelier (there were people on the streets again, yuhu!), we kept on walking and – with no idea and no map – got into a beautiful neighborhood. It was all residential, but so pretty and so American. Small cozy alleys, wealthy buildings, great doors and doorsteps. Add to it the seasonal decorations of pumpkins and lights, and you can see how charming it was. I fell instantly in love. I still don’t know if this neighborhood has a special name (on the map it is around Fitler Square and Spruce St), but, surely, it has a great status among the locals. So close to the high towers and shopping streets of the downtown – and so peaceful and cozy.

So this is what we did, while the dusk was fading away and giving way to the falling darkness. Walking from street to street, following our intuition and curiosity. Reading the sales signs on the houses, dreaming of how people may live here, and what kind of people. Also dreaming of the closest Starbucks to order some hot drink and get warm :))

Another great walk in Philly is to go from the fabulous building of the City Hall to the Art Museum. Along Benjamin Franklin Pkwy which is decorated by flags, where you can guess the corresponding countries. We did this walk the next day, in the face of the freezing wind – but at least it was sunny. At the bottom of the stairs in front of the museum we stood in a short line to take a photo with the Rocky statue. The movie reference here is “Rocky” with Silvester Stalone, and if you haven’t seen the film (I didn’t), go on Youtube and find the video “Rocky training scene”.

After that you can climb the stairs and do your version of that famous scene: running up the stairs (you can do just the last 10 steps), jumping up, hands in the air – and then the camera would move slightly to insert you in the greater view of the city in the background. I didn’t run, but I did filming – in slow motion, yes! – and was proud of my cameraman technique :))

Behind the museum there is a nice small park by the water, sure very lovely in summer. We did some history reading on the sights there and followed the walk along the Schuykill river – which turned out to be a lovely river walk. On this quiet sunny day there were some runners and walkers, but otherwise the walk was all ours. And it went all the way along the downtown, we just needed to cross a bridge to get again to that lovely neighborhood around Fitler Square and see more of it in the daylight.

Then we went to eat lunch in the place we found a day before, called “Marathon”, very friendly and tasty – and later got back to our hotel to pick up the luggage and head off to the train station again, now on our way to Washington D.C.

Philadelphia was such a great reminder to never stop exploring. How often it happens when you come to see the places on the map on or on the list – just to discover it doesn’t give you what you’d expected. I am so glad, that after the first disappointment in the Old Town we didn’t go back to our hotel to sleep siesta (which we seriously considered after getting up at 6am to catch that train). I am so glad we kept on wandering, in spite of no ideas, no internet and no good weather. I had heard before from a friend that Philly left her unimpressed. But whenever I think of Philly now (our Philly), I feel warm in my heart remembering those unknown but charming streets.

I find it so important to find time and will to go aimlessly around the place, no map, no Tripadvisor in hand. Some of my best travel memories come from these stories. If you experienced this too, share with me your story!

I hope, you enjoy this holiday season!

And may you walk in beauty!


7 thoughts on “The Holiday Spirit in Philadelphia

  1. Marina, that aimless wandering is how we love to travel. Your post reminds me of a funny story—years ago, I was part of an orientation for students coming to the US. The event was in Old City, and we’d arranged carriage ride tours. Two lovely young Turkish women–beautifully dressed and already qualified engineers—stopped me and asked what they would see on the tour. I should point out that this was before I had been anywhere outside the US. I started my speech with “And you will see Independence Hall, which is over 200 years old.” One of the young women looked me square in the face and said, “Oh, that’s right. You think that’s old.” Haha! Lesson learned.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I loved your story! Thank you for sharing.
      Isn’t it funny how we think one thing is old before we see smth really older? I love traveling because it changes my perspective on so many things. It was fun going through States, and visiting old towns like Saint Augustine too. Everyone seemed so excited and we were like “ok, this is old here. Well well, we’ll take it easy”.
      I guess, those ladies coming from the country counting some thousands years felt that too :))

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How fascinating! I’m so glad you had a nice Philly experience. But this aimless wondering reminds me of one of mine in Los Angeles. Oh, man… Let’s just say I was hissed out of one neighbourhood after another in various languages. And when a friend and I returned to the friends’ house where we were staying in Hollywood, there was a police car waiting… We left the back door open (since two people stayed behind in the house) and a neighbour called the police thinking there had been a break-in. In Los Angeles nobody walks. I wonder how you would do your exploration there. (Still, we walked in Santa Monica and Venice Beach.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, great story! My man told me his story from LA, when he was visiting with his daughter. They were driving up some road in Beverly Hills, and the passing limousine with a rapper-looking guy was heading in different direction. Both rapper and driver staring at my husband. He soon ended up in a private drive-up – it was not a common road, as he thought. And now he realized why the guy was staring. “Wtf, why is he driving to my house?”
      Nobody is walking generally in USA, I’d say, if it is a place for walking. We also found us often walking on the streets where only 3 black guys were waiting for a bus. All the cars swishing by us :))

      Liked by 1 person

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