Made a day trip to Philadelphia yesterday with friends. We left at 8:30 and, one beverage stop later, we were in the City of Brotherly Love. Thanks to Mapquest, we got lost. Thanks to Triple-A maps, we were found. Back seat drivers suck (of which, I had none), but a good navigator is a blessing (of which I had two.) Who needs a Garman GPS when you have someone who can read a real map? But back to the trip.
The day's itinerary included the following, in this order:
The Mutter Museum
Pat's King of Steaks
Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell
As a result of Mapquest's crappy directions, we ended up unintentionally seeing the old Eastern Pennsylvania State Penitentiary (this reference is from Wikipedia. The home page for the ESP was down, but should be here.) A rather imposing edifice of a bygone era in the architecture of prisons. But the drive along the river past the rowing clubs enroute to the state pen was worth it.
Once we figured out where we were, we were well on our way. Our first stop of the day was at the macarbe, but fascinating human collections at the Mutter Museum. Housed at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the exhibit includes a well-written history of medicine in America in general and Philadelphia in particular. A great deal of information is given about Benjamin Franklin and his contributions as both an inventor and a patient. We also learned the origin of the word bedlam, which derives from the noteriety of the Bethlem Royal Hospital. The name was slanged as bedlam and used to describe moments of chaos and confusion as were often found in the Bethlem facility.
After doing some reading, you're then greeted by the museum's collection of specimens that range from examples of syphilis and small pox to the skeletons of conjoined twins and giants. Along the way, you'll see numerous fetuses in various states of defectiveness and a number of diseased organs. There is also a collection of inner ear bones from humans, birds, and reptiles that is rather exquisite.
The Mutter Museum is located at 19 S 2nd Street. The self-guided tour is $12 for adults and takes about 2 hours. The gift shop hours are unclear and we weren't able to browse the books and assorted knick-knacks, but otherwise, it was an intriguing exhibit and well worth the time. If you're easily grossed out, though, skip this one. By the last gallery, I was getting a little quesy and had had enough.
As none of us had really had breakfast, we then climbed back into the car and headed out to South Philly to visit two of Philadelphia's most famous eating joints: Geno's Steaks and Pat's King of Steaks. For those who don't know, Pat's and Geno's are caddy corner from each other at the intersection of Wharton and Passyunk and are famous for their cheesesteaks and their competition to be Philly's best. Geno's has been in business since 1966; Pat's, since 1930.
My parking karma held and we found a spot within a block of the storied competitors. Both serve Philly Cheesesteak with your choice of American, Provolone, or Cheese Whiz (Wiz, for short)--the only valid excuse for the existence of Cheese Whiz. You can have your cheesesteak "wit" or "wit-out" meaning with or without onions and other assortments like mushrooms or peppers.
The lines move quickly and you have to know what you want or you'll get run over. We started at Pat's and ordered "wit"--one provolone and one Wiz. The sandwiches were hot and loaded with meat. Surprisingly, the one with Wiz was the best. The bread was tasty and the steak plentiful and cut into bite size chunks.
After Pat's, we headed over to Geno's and ordered one "wit" and Wiz to split. Geno's rendition was disappointing. The steak was minimal and in larger pieces and the bread, though similar to Pat's, seemed to lack a certain freshness.
Geno's is cleaner and more ostentatious than Pat's, but Pat's wins hands-down for best Philly Cheesesteak. All seating is outdoors. The lines are dense and business is steady. The cars and the people kept on coming and coming and coming. Pat's had the longer line and it was easy to see why. We were glad we started at Pat's and ended at Geno's, because Pat's was the better cheesesteak. Geno's Steaks: 1219 S 19th Street. Pat's King of Steaks: 1237 E Passyunk Avenue.
Licking the last drops of cheesesteak and Wiz off our fingers, we headed back to the car and then off to downtown. Somehow we scored on street, metered parking and headed over to the Independence Hall Visitor's Center to snag tickets for the 40 minute long Independence Hall tour. They only tickets they had were for the 3:20 tour and we had to move our car by 4:00 for rush hour traffic--even on Saturdays. So, we skipped the tour of the Hall, but did see the Liberty Bell.
To see the Liberty Bell, you have to stand in a long line and go through metal detectors. This I have no problem with, but they make you practically strip down to your skivvies. I haven't had to remove my belt at airport security in a couple of years now, but they make you take it off to see the Liberty Bell! What the hell?!? I'll admit, the bell is one of America's historical treasures and icons, but this is a bit over the top and really annoying. My friends and I were among the annoyed and one commented that despite all efforts and sound bites to the contrary, the terrorists have obviously won. Anyway--we saw the bell. It was big.
As we were now not doing the tour of Independence Hall, we decided to head up the road to Valley Forge. It's about 1/2 an hour west of Philadelphia. It was random luck we found it as the signage when you exit doesn't adequately point you in the right direction, so you end up intuiting where you need to be unless you have a nav-system or a map. The battlefields are vast and you can see troop huts (12 men per cabin), the Memorial Arch, where Washington headquartered, and much more. I say 'much more' because we got a late start on our driving tour and the park closed before we could finish it. We saw a reenactment, though, and a ton of deer.
All in all, a lovely day. We were home by 8:30 p.m.