Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Philadelphia In One Day and In One Post

I've got the whole world in my hands!

Well, it is officially August and summer is halfway gone, but rather than lament how the summer is whizzing by, I'd rather celebrate what it's been so far and look forward to the month ahead. Since I've been a teacher, summer has always been a time for catching up with friends I don't often get to see and exploring new places I've never been before, and this summer has been no different.

July was so full of great times I can't even begin to recount them all.  From the Invasion of the Pines on the Fourth of July to a fun barbecue at my home with some former students, lots of dinners and happy hours, camping, trips to the city and a whole lot more, it's been a blast, for sure.  July ended on one of the happiest moments for me as I got to fall in love with a brand new city...

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the city of Philadelphia with my friends Manny, Larry and his partner Jason. It was Manny who had asked me if I wanted to accompany him, as the trip was Larry's brainchild, and Larry had asked him to go.  Of course I said yes...always my motto to take advantage of any opportunities for travel...and I really hadn't thought about it too much from the time he asked me until the trip finally came.

I had been to Philly once in my life, as a chaperone to my sister's school trip when I was about 17 years old.  Well that was a long time ago, and I had no recollection whatsoever of anything to do with the City of Brotherly Love, but in just two days I found a place that I'll surely return to one day soon.

Hello Philadelphia

This was the first photo I took upon arriving in Philly.  It was early Friday evening and I had just dropped Manny off at the hotel to wait with the luggage as I parked the car a few blocks away.  I was immediately impressed with what I saw around me.  I found out later that we would be staying in what they call Center City, the most central of districts in the heart of the city.  Just from the walk from the parking lot back to the hotel I was reminded a little of New York, only with a little more open space.  Along the walk I passed the city's breathtaking City Hall, which was once aimed to be the tallest building in the New World (It never quite got there!).

Welcome to the Gayborhood

Once Larry and Jason arrived and we'd checked in, Larry was super-excited to show us the nearby sites and so we immediately set upon Center City.  Within minutes, I was in love!  Only a couple of blocks' walk from the hotel was what they call Central Philly's Gayborhood, a six-block or so perimeter neighborhood full of establishments catering to the gay community.  Cool bars, restaurants and shops lined the streets.  It sort of reminded me of Chelsea in New York, the way it once was not too long ago, where the atmosphere was open, friendly and buzzing with activity.

Along our walk down 13th Street, we came upon the famous Woody's, a popular local hotspot.  It was only around 8 p.m. and the place was already full of patrons, enjoying conversation and drinks in the downstairs bar, but that's not where we stayed.  Larry led us to an entrance to an upstairs dance hall, where I held a smile on my face for the next half-hour or so.  

As we walked up the stairs, you could hear a whole different type of music playing and just around the corner from the upper landing, there they were, a whole lotta people dancing together in time and they all looked so happy doing it.  Dancing is such a liberating expression and I know that feeling of bliss while doing it, and for all of these people, from all walks of life, to be doing it together, for pure enjoyment, was a thing to watch.  As the beats turned towards couples dancing, Larry and Jason, who would be celebrating five years together this week, joined in on the fun.  Larry even pulled Manny in for a turn.  I loved every minute! 

The rest of the night was spent exploring the Gayborhood some more, dropping in and out on some of the coolest nightspots, such as Boxers, ICandy, and The Bike Stop.  All cool, and I couldn't wait to check out some more the following night, but Saturday was going to be a long day, you know, one of those days where you see a whole city in one day, and so we all turned in for whatever rest we could get.

Philly in a Day

Pictured above is one of over 3,000 murals located throughout the streets of Philadelphia.  The city's Mural Arts Program has been aiming to eliminate graffiti since 1984 by sponsoring artists to do their thing on the blank canvases that are the walls of Philadelphia.  We got to see only a couple of them during our stay, and they were hella cool!

Manny, Larry and I paid a morning visit to Reading Terminal Market, just across the street from our hotel.  I'd read about the place just a couple of days beforehand and I couldn't for the life of me imagine what was so cool about such a huge farmer's market, but it was!  Although the great majority of wares came in the form of foodstuffs of all kinds, there were various unique eateries and some very cool merchants, as well.  

Larry had told us about these two kiosks towards the back of the market run by the Pennsylvania Dutch Amish.  He says they only come around on the weekends and part of their journey is by horse and carriage.  Their wares of baked goods and meat dishes are highly popular in the market.  Indeed, Manny and I met Larry at one of their stands, while he waited on a long line for a piece of this stuff called scrapple, which is kind of like an amalgamation of all of the leftover parts of the animals that don't get used otherwise (sounds gross, no?).  To me, it kind of looked like an Italian pane-tone fruit cake, but it sure didn't taste like it.  The flavor was more like a breakfast sausage and I'm told it goes great with eggs.
                                      scrapple                                                           The Amish at work

After about an hour in the market, we all decided to see the city in the best, most efficient way: a good old-fashioned tour bus.  This turned out to be a really cool way to do it, as we were allowed to get on and off at the various stops and catch a later bus which came by every 20 minutes or so.  This afforded us to see what we wanted to see and not have to walk around too too much.  

For the better part of the day we saw most of what Philly had to offer, the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin's resting place, the statue of Rocky Balboa and the famous steps in front of the city's Art Museum, and we also spent time at a very cool place I'd never heard of before, the Eastern State Penitentiary.  This prison was once the country's largest and most expensive such facility, operating from 1829 until 1971. Today, the once beautifully designed penitentiary now lays in ruins, with a unique beauty all its own. Rather than give an in depth account of the place here, I'll let you see it in pictures.  If you like, click on the link within to learn more about it, and surely make it a place to visit if you ever find yourself in Philly.

Night Out on the Town

After our daylong tour of the city, we dined at a very cool pub called Good Dog, recommended by my pal Sean. (I'm going to talk about that one on my food & recipe blog soon!).  After the very welcome respite of dinner, we all headed back to the hotel, where the hurting and tired Manny and Jason decided to spend the rest of the evening.  Larry and I had other things in mind.  He wanted to show me the bars I hadn't been to the night before and I am so glad he did.  That Gayborhood was absolutely awesome!

The inside of Voyeur

We hit two bars that night, a place called the Tavern and one called Voyeur.  Both bars were equally packed with men of all sorts, with great music and even greater atmosphere.  Tavern was a combination upstairs/downstairs piano bar and dance club and was well attended.  Voyeur was the coolest of places and was the late night jaunt for seemingly every gay person in Philly.  Larry and I had a blast as we danced and drank the night away at these two great clubs, both of which I see in my future.  It was a great way to end the weekend.   

My favorite picture of the weekend!

I never expected to enjoy Philadelphia as much as I did.  It seems to have everything in a city that you can ask for: great shopping, beautiful sites, and a great neighborhood to mix and mingle in.  It's definitely a place I'm going to be visiting again when I get the chance.  Who knows, it even seems like a great place for a guy like me to live.  In the meantime, here are a few more photos of beautiful Philly for you to check out...


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