The Wissahickon Creek runs through Philadelphia, with many areas for a great hike or mountain bike ride. For a one stop hike and dose of culture, we visited the Schuylkill Environmental Center. With several miles of trails and indoor/outdoor art exhibits, it was a great place to take advantage of a gorgeous fall day. Starting with a viewing of their latest indoor art exhibit “Anthrobotanical” (exploring the connections between people and nature – you’ll have to guess what question we asked our weed – and if it responded…):
Followed by a hike and picnic:
Plus, it’s free!
For a city walk with great views and no traffic, the pedestrian path on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge is a great option. Opened in 1926 (with Art Deco architectural details), a round trip walk is almost 3 miles – with views of the Camden and Philadelphia waterfronts and Philadelphia skyline.
Since we burned off all those calories hiking the bridge – and since the bridge walk ends in Old City, we headed to one of our favorite restaurants, Capofitto, for a favorite Philly meal: arancini (fried risotto balls) and pizza with arugula and prosciutto:
Next, we are going to attempt to recreate this delicious meal at home… (Recreating a Restaurant (Capofitto) Meal At Home: Arancini & Pizza With Prosciutto)
What better way to experience the Victorian’s fascination with death than to tour Laurel Hill Cemetery at night?
Built in 1836 (and still active), Laurel Hill was the second landscape garden cemetery built in the United States. Filled with interesting funerary architecture and fascinating stories, the cemetery offers themed tours, theater, hearse shows, photography walks, ghost tours AND evening explorations. Although there are fees to attend events, visiting the cemetery is free.
It’s called “The Fabric Workshop,” but houses a (free) museum that supports and exhibits artists in a variety of media. Until November 5th, they have an extensive exhibit on Philly-based architect Louis Kahn. Videos, sketches, models, etc. – all showcasing Kahn’s work both in Philadelphia (Richards Medical Research Laboratories @ University of Pennsylvania) and elsewhere – including FDR 4 Freedoms Park in NYC – where Tobey and I visited last summer:
They also offer student workshops. Tobey and Erick attended a great program set up by a fellow home-schooler several years ago – during which their group designed and printed a large piece of silk-screen:
Since it’s right up the street from Chinatown, the museum is a great stop for a little culture before or after lunch – in this case Burmese food at Rangoon. Delicious lentil fritters, thousand-layer bread with potato curry, and tea leaf salad:
For dessert: coconut sticky rice with mango and jello-crunch ice (who would think the combination of jello, tapioca, pineapple, peanuts, ice, and condensed milk could taste so good??):
Built in 1815, the waterworks provided water to Center City Philadelphia until 1909. The steam-powered technology, the gorgeous neoclassical architecture, and the landscaped gardens (one of the largest urban parks in America at the time) made the waterworks a famous 19th century tourist destination – Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were both impressed during (separate) visits to Philadelphia in the mid-1800s. Originally steam powered, the engines were replaced by much cheaper (and much more primitive) water wheels (later turbines) after an explosion that killed 3 workers. By the 1890’s the water in the Schuylkill had become so polluted that outbreaks of cholera and typhoid led to closing of the waterworks in 1909.
Today, the original pump house contains a FREE museum with a movie highlighting the history of the waterworks and hands-on exhibits focusing on the water cycle and watersheds. My favorite is a display of video highlights of animals using the fish ladder, including a turtle, snake and an otter.
WAY off the beaten path (down a small staircase to the left of the Waterworks), hidden down at river-level, is a sculpture garden focusing on the history of the Schuylkill River – from a source of food for the natives Lenape, and resource utilized by colonists, through its emergence as a manufacturing hub during the Industrial Revolution – and its return to health as a fishery and public resource.
Another off-the-beaten path adventure – this time to the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center to see construction of the world’s largest pop-up book by Philadelphia artist, Tao Hua Yuan Ji:
Since 80 degrees in October doesn’t happen too often, we decided to hit up Whole Foods for a picnic: Bellavitano Rum Runner Cheese with Apricot Chardonnay preserves, raspberries and a most delicious chocolate caramel cupcake:
We finished with a walk to the top of the “stairs to nowhere” at the corner of Kelly Drive & Sedgley Drive:
At the top, hidden behind the trees is the gorgeous, neoclassical Lemon Hill Mansion.
Built in 1800 (except for the porches – those are a later, Victorian addition), it was the first property purchased by the City to protect the watershed of the Schuylkill River (today Fairmount Park). It’s open Thursdays-Sundays from April – mid-December. 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. $8/adult and $5/student. The tour includes interior views of the beautiful Palladian window and unique oval rooms – 3 levels with curved doors and windows.
The whole family (including grandparents) took a ride in the Firefly pedicabs on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway:
In celebration of the Parkway’s 100 year anniversary, the Association for Public Art commissioned Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang (known for his incredible fireworks displays and gunpowder art) to create a site-specific work. Nine hundred handcrafted, illuminated lanterns decorate a fleet of 27 pedicabs – which the public can ride in from September 14 to October 8, 2017.
We explored a new part of town this week – the University of Pennsylvania campus area. U-Penn was established by Ben Franklin in 1751. The current campus dates to the Victorian era, and has a great example of Philadelphia architect, Frank Furness’s work – the Fisher Memorial Library:
In addition to the gorgeous library, the building also houses a (free) art museum, where we saw “A View of One’s Own” – photos of Rome by 3 women photographers from the 1910’s, 1950’s and 2000’s:
Walking campus, we saw the cutest little dog:
And my mom’s old dormitory – the fortress-like Hill College House, designed by Finnish-born modernist architect Eero Saarinen (who also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis):
Lunch was at Dana Mandi, one of local food critic Craig LaBan’s Best Philly Values – and an experience in itself: walk to the back of the Indian grocery store, go behind a curtain to the seating area, write your order on a scrap of paper and leave it on the counter. Like magic, delicious, cheap (the parathas were amazing) Indian food comes out on styrofoam trays, served in to-go containers.
No adventure is complete without dessert, so our final stop was the Sugar food truck (38th St. between Walnut & Sansom St.) for Tobey’s favorite – macrons:
I enjoy the gizmos of modern science museums, but I really love good, old fashioned natural history museums, and Philly has two terrific examples.
The Academy of Natural Sciences:
Founded in 1812, The Academy is the oldest natural science institution in the western hemisphere. It houses Thomas Jefferson’s fossils, Lewis and Clark’s plants, and many of the birds collected by John James Audubon (plus a copy of one of the large books of Audubon prints – they have a page turning each day at 3:15). But, the best part are the dioramas, many of which were constructed in the 1920s and 30s. They have an exhibit and video showing how the dioramas were created.
The Wagner Free Institute:
The museum building was completed in 1865 and houses a huge collection of specimens including: mounted birds and mammals, fossils, rocks and minerals, insects, shells, dinosaur bones, and the first American saber-toothed tiger. The collections are still displayed in the cherry-wood and glass cabinets built in the 1880s. They are displayed in their original “systematic” scheme, providing a rare view of a Victorian science museum. Plus, it’s FREE!
Philadelphia joins 75 cities around the world in having a “Homeless Jesus” statue created by artist Timothy Schmalz. Schmalz created the statue as a “constant, perpetual reminder that when we see the least in our society, we should see Jesus.” Philadelphia’s statue lies on a bench in the 1200 block of Race Street, outside the headquarters of Saint John’s Hospice.