Cheese Steaks & Liberty Bells

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This past week I made my way down to Philadelphia to visit my brother and spend some time wandering about the city seeing the sites that are to be seen.  It was a fun trip and I am very glad that I was able to spend some time with my brother before he heads off to Australia for a while.  Ah, Philly, home of the Almighty Cheese Steak (wit wiz & onions, of course).  That certainly is one draw for people who go there, but there are quite a number of other things to be done beside gorging oneself on them, although it is required if you visit.

I arrived Monday evening after an actually pleasant drive down, we hit no traffic and made good time.  And for our first night out we decided to go out to a Mexican restaurant, El Vez, which is supposedly excellent.  Once we arrived and the hostess said, “it’ll be half an hour”, we decided to go to a second restaurant.  In the car we hopped and less than 10 minutes later my brother gets a call from the hostess saying, “your table is ready.”  After the initial outbursts of anger we decided to continue to the second restaurant.  We found a place to park (always an adventure there) and walked the few blocks to the restaurant and found it closed.  Oh joy.  So instead we ended up walking to another place relatively close by, New Wave Cafe.  Not bad, the food was more than decent and the calamari was such as I have only had a few times before, perfectly done.

On Tuesday we arose later than perhaps we should have and made our way to the Philadelphia Art Museum, but first stopped for lunch at the Pub & Kitchen restaurant.  We parked and walked to it, only to find it closed *screams*.  By this point we were just a tad frustrated with all the places we wanted to go being closed however the place we actually went more than made up for it.

Some of you may know that I do enjoy French food.  Not that “here we have a single grain of caviar with a Bearnaise sauce, sautéed goat intestines with capers, garlic, and lark vomit” stuff but the good hearty dishes, like cocque au vin or something.  Well we ended up at a place called Parc in Rittenhouse Square.

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As soon as you walk in you feel you’re in Paris, complete with the car exhaust, cigarette smoke, and questionable drinking water.  The only tacky part was that the waitress we had insisted on saying single words in French even though her actual knowledge of the language was questionable, however I don’t begrudge her that for service was good and the food was impeccable.  We started off with escargot in hazelnut butter and garlic.  Oh my.  This was beyond good.  My only complaint is that there wasn’t nearly enough.

Our little dish of escargot.

Our little dish of escargot.

We feasted on our snails and then had various types of sandwiches, mine a Baguette Provençal.

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After our lunch we then realized we probably weren’t going to have time to take in the museum so we decided that we would go the next day and instead we went to the Rodin Museum.  On the front is the monumental “Gates of Hell” bronze by Auguste Rodin, a very frightening piece with writing bodies and tormented shapes.  Inside were the Burghers of Calais, a very famous piece.  It seems that only 11 copies of the original were allowed to be made by the French Government and one of them is in this museum.  In fact, this museum houses the largest collection of works by Rodin outside of Paris.

After that we decided to head back to my brother’s apartment and make dinner for ourselves.  We made pizza, and oh, what glorious pizza it was.  Suffice it to say the garlic content was so high that we could have expelled the vampires from the entire city.  And then we settled in to play the now infamous Settlers of Catan board game, or as it is known in my family, “Friends No More”.  If you haven’t ever played it I highly recommend it.  It is somewhat complicated and it requires strategy but is entirely worth it, if only for the yells of rage from family members when you place the robber on their most profitable piece of land thus making them lose all goods produced on it *cackles*.  We had a pretty good time.  I somehow managed to get a sheep monopoly as I had put three settlements around a bit of land that produced lots of sheep, and I mean lots of sheep.  All in all a fun evening.

But it wasn’t over yet!  My brother and I stayed up reading and doing other things till it was quite late and we decided it was time for that almost mystical experience of the late-night cheese steak run.  Luckily he only lives a 5 minute walk away from two 24-hour cheese steak establishments.  We ended up at Pat’s King of Steaks at 2 a.m.  Nothing beats a cheese steak at 2 a.m., except perhaps two cheese steaks at 2 .m.  We walked back at a leisurely pace eating our cheese fries (which are just so good there) and, once back to his place, commenced with eating our cheese steaks.

On Wednesday I awoke to find both my mother and brother gone.  Apparently they had decided to let me sleep in and went to the famous Italian market that is only a few blocks away.  *shakes fist at the heavens*  So I sat on the couch and read Lord of the Rings like a good little boy until they returned carrying their purchases, including some really marvelous Gouda.  After sitting around for a bit my mother and I went to do all the touristy stuff since neither of us had been to the Liberty Bell since I was 4.  The Liberty Bell museum was quite nice.  In one of the display cases my mother saw a Liberty Bell glass bank that was exactly the same as the one she had while growing up.  Down the long and winding passageway was the Liberty Bell herself.

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After viewing the Liberty Bell and taking many pictures we went back to the visitor’s center to pick up some tickets for the Independence Hall tour only to find out that they had given them all away already.  Much to our delight she told us that there was an open house at 5 p.m. so we could just have a nice walk-through instead of the regular 45 minute tour.  Since it was 20 of 5 p.m. we grabbed a drink and headed over to get in line.

Independance Hall

Independance Hall

The line was deceptive.  From the front of the Hall you saw only a little line of people going through security, however around back it was a triple horseshoe of people.  We stuck it out for about 45 minutes till we finally got in.  We had been standing behind this herd of children and their parents, cast quantities of children in this particular family.  But luckily they were not disorderly and the little kids were cute and amusing so it made it bearable.  Inside was blessedly cool and dim which was a welcome relief from the rather miserable heat outside.  We took our tour, saw where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and ran out the door as we needed to pick up a friend of mine from high school who we had over for dinner.

Oh what a dinner it was.  We had our various items from the Italian market, including these spinach and provolone sausages from a guy who has been making them for God only knows how long.  My mother made a salad and rice, my brother grilled up the sausage and some chicken, and his girlfriend, Alexis, pan-seared scallops.  I caught up with my friend Mike and we all sat in the kitchen talking and having a grand old time.  The end of the evening came and we said our goodbyes to Alexis who needed to get home and my mother and I drove Mike home.  That was an adventure in and of itself.  95 north was bumper to bumper traffic from the Washington Ave. entrance through the Betsy Ross Bridge, over 5 miles, and it was midnight!  As we progressed we saw only traffic cones and big arrows telling us to merge left, yet there was a conspicuous absence of construction crews.  We did not see a single worker until we reached our exit and looked past up 95 and saw them way off in the distance.  They had effectively caused a 6 mile back up for no reason.  We were laughing too hard to be seriously angry but I would recommend those Philadelphians who had to put up with that should raid the offices of the Highway Department and perhaps burning an effigy on the front lawn…

On Thursday we left Philadelphia around 11:30 to head back up to Massachusetts.  We figured that once we would get past New York easily and thus be back home by dinner time.  Oh how wrong we were.  Now, one thing you have to keep in mind is that my mother’s car has a manual transmission (which I have yet to learn how to use) and as such traffic is a much bigger pain, literally, than it is for those who are blessed to have an automatic transmission.  Well it was 5 solid hours of traffic we then drove through, from Philadelphia to when we gave up and drove screaming off a bridge.  No, not really.  We ended up pulling off 95 in Rye, NY and staying at a little hotel for the night.  I commend my mother for putting up with it for even that long, she was exhausted.  The reason we pulled over where we did was because I was checking the traffic reports and it only got worse as you entered Connecticut.

On Friday we made it home without further trauma, picked up the dog, and spent the evening sitting on the couch recovering.  And there you have it.

Please pardon the length of this post, but I didn’t feel like dividing it into parts.

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