Saturday, May 18, 2013

Philadelphia Mini Trip, May 2013 - Day Two

City Hall Philadelphia

Started out day two with the threat of rain all day and breakfast at Reading Terminal Market. I meant to go back there for lunch, to have a real Philly hoagie, but I didn't make it. So breakfast will have to do. Even at 9:00 am the market is a bustling place. The true market vendors are all well stocked and the places that are more food-service oriented are getting ready for the lunch rush.  After breakfast I ducked out to Race Street to get a photo of the Ben Franklin Bridge from a distance - I had seen this view when driving in the day before.

Ben Franklin Bridge from 12th and Race

Next touristy thing of the day was to take the tour of the Masonic Temple across the street from Philadelphia's City Hall. The Temple consists of several grand meeting rooms for various Masonic lodges of Pennsylvania and each one is more ornate than the last. The one hour guided tour takes you into six or seven of the meeting halls.

Egyptian Hall at the Masonic Temple

After that I crossed the street to City Hall and rode the elevator up to the observation platform under the William Penn statue. I hadn't realized you could do this; I figured it would have been a casualty of security. Certainly if New York City's City Hall had an observation deck it would have been closed by now. The elevator is small and only takes 4-5 people up at a time so you may have to prebook a time to go up; fortunately I was able to just go up when I arrived and there was only one other person there. You have 15 minutes to look around before having to go back down. The clock/statue tower of City Hall is all unused space up there- it would make great condos! The view is great from up there even on a cloudy day. Also, I read later, that it is the only observation deck in the city -- all those new, taller buildings that top out above William Penn's hat do not have public observation spaces. A building that did have one, near Independence Hall, is no longer open. I remember going up into that one as a kid, but it didn't stay open very long, closing in the early 80s for lack of interest or whatever.

Ben Franklin Bridge from City Hall tower

Also about City Hall: there's all kind of statuary and decoration around the building. To access the center courtyard you walk through these underpasses through the building which have massive columns and stairways and decoration. A lot of the doorways and access into the building has been closed off, of course, new security era. So the massive public spaces and its unusual decor just seems weird. For instance, why is there an elephant's head over that doorway? Makes for good HDR though.

Two views of the passageways underneath City Hall
 that lead to the center courtyard
After City Hall, I jumped on the subway down a couple of stops and walked over to the Italian Market area (9th-Passyunk area). Yes, I stopped at Pat's for a steak. And I took some pictures of Geno's Steaks, which is a more photogenic building than Pat's, but the "Speak English When Ordering" signs annoy me. Foreign tourists: skip Geno's. Give anyone else your money.  If I had to speak Turkish when ordering lunch in Turkey, I'd never go. May as well call it Xeno's Steaks (as in xenophobe, ha ha, get it?).  The rest of the Italian Market neighborhood is mostly Latino and Asian these days but there are still some colorful and tasty looking produce, meat, and fish stores. Live poultry if you want that, too.

Italian Market stalls

I wandered my way back up to Independence Hall. To visit, you need a (free) timed ticket which you pick up at the visitor's center (which is two blocks further north of Independence Hall). So you walk all the way up there and they say, all the tickets for today are distributed, sorry!  Can I get one for tomorrow? Well, you can do that online. Pfft. Then a ranger told me the secret, if you don't have a ticket, just go through the Independence Hall security (you don't need a ticket to do that) and then wait for a tour group - the ranger will usually let ticketless folks join up if there is still some room. So that's what I did. Even though I had been there before, as a kid, it was still interesting. My tour group was mostly school kids (from Queens, NY actually) - fourth graders. They were pretty well up on their history, the ranger would ask questions and the kids knew the answers.  I think I remember seeing the Liberty Bell in the center hallway of Independence Hall but I read that it was relocated in 1976, when I would have been five. Having grown up around Philly I'm sure I saw Independence Hall in 1976, Bicentennial year, but maybe it's one of those false memories. Today, the Liberty Bell is across the street in a glass pavilion with lots of crowds. You can see it through the window. The lines are long. It's just a bell :-)

The Signing Room at Independence Hall

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