While it’s not the British Museum, The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology houses an outstanding collection. In fact, one-fifth of the objects listed in The Smithsonian’s book “History of the World in 1000 Objects” come from the collection. Our favorites include the mummy room and the Greek pottery, but they also have great collections of African, Asian, Roman, Etruscan and Native American artifacts.
Temporary exhibits highlight current field work and past projects undertaken by the University. They also have great special events for adults and families and a beautiful courtyard for picnics (since the museum is on the Penn campus, there are lots of food trucks within a few blocks).
The Victorians of Philadelphia are much more substantial than the painted ladies of San Francisco, but no less ornate. Frank Furness, one of Philly’s most prominent Victorian architects, left some of these over-the-top beauties:
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Fisher Fine Arts Library, University of Pennsylvania
Peck Alumni Center, Drexel University
Undine Barge Club, Boathouse Row
In addition to his buildings, Furness also designed furniture, such as this amazing desk on display at The Philadelphia Museum of Art:
While the Museum of the American Revolution isn’t exactly off the beaten path, we wanted to visit before February 19 to view their latest acquisition – a newly discovered watercolor that shows the only eye-witness image of Washington’s war tent. The war tent itself is the highlight of the museum and has its own dedicated theater, but the watercolor is new and may not always be on exhibit. The tent has a fascinating story – having been handed down through Martha Washington’s family to her great granddaughter, Martha Custis Lee (wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee), and eventually sold to a collector. The story of the watercolor is even more amazing: shortly after the museum opened, the chief curator was browsing on-line auctions, when he spotted the watercolor. The location was miss-labeled and no artist was listed, so the museum was able to purchase the painting for only $13,750. After conservation and research, the staff at the museum discovered that not only is it the only surviving eye-witness picture of the tent (shown in the painting with a wooden marque in front built to impress the French), but it was painted by Pierre L’Enfant, designer of Washington D.C.. For more information: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/arts/design/washingtons-tent-a-detective-story.html
The museum itself is a great complement to the other Revolutionary War sights around Philadelphia. Filled with artifacts, hands-on exhibits and videos, it does a good job highlighting some of the lesser known stories of the war, including contributions from free blacks and slaves, women and Native Americans.
Just down Chestnut Street is a small cafe with the best European-style French fries in the city: European Republic. Thicker cut and crispier than usual, with a huge variety of sauces, a triple batch (along with a delicious rice pudding from a local bakery) made a great post-museum lunch. Tip: If you aren’t the kind of person who can eat just fries for lunch, they have a great lunch special with: wrap, fries and a drink for $8.
We willingly wait in line for an hour in the summer, but have never visited in the winter. However, when we saw our favorite food truck was open, we decided to brave the snow and wind. Arriving 25 minutes before opening, we were first in line and were rewarded with a cup of spicy soup (actually the sauce he uses over the rice, but works as a soup, too!). I’ve written about the Octopus food truck before (The Advantages of Wandering: A Medieval Herbal And The Best $10 Lunch In Philadelphia), but it deserves another mention. While the basic lunch is always the same (rice, sauce, grilled chicken and falafel), the seasonal fruits and veggies vary. Today, we were rewarded with blueberries, a variety of grapes, a whole mandarin orange, and cauliflower (I’m not a big cauliflower fan, but ate every bite!). Since eating outside picnic-style wasn’t an option in this weather, we ate in the food court of the Comcast Building just around the block (Picnic Spots). The leftovers (you get a giant portion for $10) made a great lunch stuffed in a pita the next day).
We spent the rest of our time exploring the (FREE – just present id at the security booth) contemporary art galleries at Moore College. Moore College was founded in 1848 as the first women’s art college in the United States. Located right in the heart of the museum district, it makes a great stop if you have some extra time and want a free activity. The exhibits rotate, so there is always something new to see (the current exhibit is dedicated to work by the Guerrilla Girls).
I’ve written about the Free Library before (A Library That Houses The Best (Free) Museum In Philly That No One Knows), but there is a lot more to explore than the very cool rare book department – enough to occupy a few rainy -day hours. Start with the free hour-long building tour that explores the architecture, history and collections of the 19th century building. After the tour (in addition to actual books), visitors can:
*listen to records and cds
*borrow and play an instrument
*examine the world’s largest lending library of orchestral music
*view fine art prints, photographs, etc. (appointment recommended)
*explore the map collection
*view one of the many rotating exhibits (on view today: Leonard Bernstein memorabilia, photographs of the history of the Ben Franklin Parkway, epistolary novels and homemade art books)
*The museum also offers cooking classes, author talks, theater performances and concerts
We used the pouring rain as an excuse to get in the car and drive 15 minutes to the Port Richmond section of the city. Home to a large Polish community and “The Dinner House” – where we feasted on sour rye soup, potato pancake with goulash and potato & cheese pierogi… and finished with a cheese danish from a local bakery.
Every New Year’s Day, I wonder what the heck a “mummer” is – today we found out at the Mummer’s Museum. This is a small museum (admission was “pay what you wish” on the cold, January day we visited) filled with videos, costumes, memorabilia and best of all… dress-ups with a video to teach the mummer’s strut. We will definitely return for one of their (free) Thursday evening summer concerts.
Only about a mile walk from the tacky shops and restaurants on South Street, we checked out the new (tasty!) Bahn Mi & Bottles restaurant for Vietnamese street food:
And (best of all) homemade pie from Magpies (see Philly Ice Cream Treats – From Traditional To Trendy To Unusual) for info on their yummy pie milkshakes):
Mexican Chocolate & Oatmeal Cookie Pie
In the shadow of City Hall stands one of the most elaborately carved and decorated Masonic Temples in the world. Built in 1837, the interior is a dramatic example of Victorian design. The hour-long tour shows off 7 of the over-the-top rooms. In homage to the Mason’s history as stone masons, each room is decorated in a different, historically accurate style (from Egyptian to Gothic to Renaissance) – supplemented with a variety of Masonic symbols:
Conspiracy theories aside, many of the founding fathers and at least 14 presidents have been Masons, and the museum has some interesting artifacts – including a Masonic apron owned by George Washington and (supposedly) presented to him by the Marquis de Lafayette, Benjamin Franklin’s Masonic sash and a piece of George Washington’s original coffin:
Since Philly’s Chinatown is just a few blocks walk from the temple, we decided to try one of the latest restaurant trends – Mongolian Hot Pot – from Little Sheep. We ordered the $12.95 lunch special, which came with a choice of broth (we chose the traditional and the spicy) and a variety of meats and veggies to cook in the broth:
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a fun place to spend a few hours celebrating the season (especially if it is cold and snowy outside). They offer daily “The Christmas Story in Art” highlight tours:
Plus, during the week between Christmas and New Years, they offer daily art projects based on works in the collection. During our visit, it was medieval portraiture (although we used our supplies to make fun, shiny New Years cards):
All activities are free after admission (or totally free for members!)
Where else can you take a yoga class next to the fountain of a 13th century French monastery, surrounded by medieval architecture and stained glass? In the winter, yoga at the Philadelphia Museum of Art moves inside – this year to the Medieval galleries. Free with admission (you provide the mat), 2 classes are offered every Wednesday evening. Wednesday nights at the art museum also offer tours, games and art-making – this week was card making:
After the museum, we took a walk down the Parkway to check out the latest outdoor art installation (Winter Fountains – through March 18, 2018). By day, they look like odd white domes, but by night, they are illuminated with 3-D video images:
In the summer, free, Wednesday night yoga is held in the outdoor sculpture garden: Yoga And Juice (And A Popsicle)
Today’s adventure included an old-school falafel joint, monster books, and a 19th century row house on one of Philly’s prettiest streets.
Trendy falafel restaurants are all over the city, but today we went old school – to the Israeli-owned (closed Friday evenings and Saturdays) – Mama’s Vegetarian. Great (cheap) falafel with a small, but delicious, pickle bar.
Just a few blocks away, on one of the prettiest streets in the city (Delancey Place), is the Rosenbach Museum & Library. Owned by one of the most famous rare book dealers of the 20th century, the museum houses an incredible collection of manuscripts, first editions, letters, a royal proclamation, and even the entire Greenwich Village living room of modernist poet Marianne Moore – all visible on the house tour offered hourly.
The current exhibition (through February 11, 2018), “Frankenstein & Dracula: Gothic Monsters, Modern Science,” explores the influence and evolution of literary monsters. In addition to handwritten pages of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s personal notes for Dracula, the exhibit also has interactives and scientific & medical works from the 19th century to the present.
P.S. Philly is a great town for book lovers:
The Best Museum In Philly That No One Knows
The Advantages of Wandering: A Medieval Herbal And The Best $10 Lunch In Philadelphia