Sunday, July 3, 2011

Philadelphia: The City of First's

Today was our first day completely dedicated to tourism. We met in the lobby at about 10:00 AM to go to breakfast. The four of us walked to a small diner about ten minutes away from our hotel. While we ate we discussed our plans for the day. We decided to take a bus tour and see the sights of central Philadelphia. Because this city is so large, we had to take a trolley from the campus and then connect to the subway to reach our destination. I had never given much thought to how big this sprawling city actually is, but our experiences with public transportation today made me realize it. From breakfast, we immediately headed for the trolley system.

The trolley system is basically Penn’s personal subway. There are several stops around campus where you can board a trolley and they connect to a few different subway terminals. The trolley is all underground, and frankly a little creepy. You walk down a few flights of stairs and you walk onto a dimly lit platform, which was actually smaller than one of the hallways at my high school and littered with a comparable amount of trash as well. The trolley is aptly named though, because it looks almost exactly like other public trams on the outside. It is similar to the cable cars of San Francisco. On the inside, however, it’s like a bus. You pay at the front when you enter, the seating is very similar, and you pull a cord hanging overhead to request a stop. It was interesting to see the product of several ideas of public transportation coming together into one convenient way to get around. Despite the system’s small flaws, this is another plus one for Penn in my book because accessing bustling center city Philly is cheap and easy.

After our first bout with public transportation, which lasted about twenty minutes, we were thrust into what felt like a completely different city from where we had been before. The buildings surrounding us were gigantic, there were a lot more people than I was used to seeing around the other areas of Philly, and things were a lot more fast-paced. The sun was especially bright because the light was being reflected off of all the windows in the buildings. I was very sorry I still hadn’t bought a pair of sunglasses. We walked around to get our bearings on what was around us. We stumbled upon the Ben Franklin Bridge, which looked like a blue version of the Bay Bridge back home, as well as caught a glimpse of the waterfront area. We quickly moved on to go find where the tour busses congregated. Once we found the stop, we bought our tickets and waited for the next bus so we could get some seats on the upper deck. The tour was very thorough with the locations it took us to. We drove all around center city Philly and saw at least twenty different landmarks, ranging from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art that Sylvester Stallone ran up in Rocky to the Pennsylvania State Penitentiary, where Al Capone served his time in prison. Our tour guide, Chris, did an excellent job with the history of Philadelphia. He had a wealth of knowledge about the city and was even able to infuse some of his own personal stories in with the history. His comments were very witty and his guidance was captivating. There were often times when I wouldn’t stop to take a picture because I was listening to what he had to say about a particular landmark. It was a nice tradeoff though. I thoroughly enjoyed our tour today and learned a lot about my temporary home as well.

After we disembarked from the bus, we walked to an Italian restaurant that we had passed on the way to the bus stop earlier that day. We enjoyed some excellent food (I had pesto penne pasta) and discussed what our favorite sights on the tour were. I particularly enjoyed the Chinatown portion of the tour, especially seeing the humongous arch that was a given to the US by China (which can be seen below). That arch does not have a single screw, nut, or bolt on it. It was actually assembled by sliding the wood pieces together like a puzzle. I found it fascinating that something so large, ornate, and beautiful could be put together in such a way and still be stable.

After lunch we agreed to take the scenic route back to the subway. We took a very long detour through the historical living spaces of center city Philly. We watched horse-drawn carriages pull families along the stone paved road and got to see some apartment buildings that were very old. Again, the architecture in this area was mainly composed of red brick buildings with an occasional stone built home or church. We also passed the graveyard where Ben Franklin is actually buried. We had learned earlier that people leave pennies on his tomb because he coined (no pun intended) the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned.” This very long walk was our first extensive encounter with the humidity of the east coast. The heat had not been too much of a problem until today, but it was noticeably muggy on our walk, even though the weather forecast in the hotel lobby said there would be thunderstorms today.

After our walk, we returned to the subway tunnels. It was actually relieving to be down there because it was slightly cooler underground and there were big fans bolted to some of the columns. We returned to the hotel for a couple of hours so we could shower and get a quick rest before leaving for dinner. After I cleaned up and got settled back in, I downloaded a program called Dropbox that was sent to us by one of the administrators of our program. This is how we will be given some reading that will help us with the guest lecturers that have been picked to speak for the program. At first glance it is a series of articles, but I have not had a chance to look at them yet because it took a very long time just to download them over the hotel wifi. At about 8:00 we left the hotel to go to dinner.

We ate at a more up-scale Italian restaurant very close to our hotel. It was actually right next to the Penn Student Store. We enjoyed a lovely dinner in the nearly empty restaurant. Our host and waiter were both from Italy and had very thick Italian accents. It was fun to talk with them, mostly because they had nothing but wonderful things to say about California. After another great meal, we returned to our hotel for the night.

Tomorrow we will finally be moving in to Penn! I am very anxious to see if they will honor our (mine and Brian’s) requests to be roommates. I cannot wait to start my program Tuesday and I look forward to a hopefully painless check-in tomorrow. Until then, I’m signing off.

Real life Red Coats!

The Ben Franklin Bridge

Betsy Ross' house, with an American flag outside. Interesting...

The aforementioned arch from China

The second biggest Hard Rock Cafe guitar in the world.

Philadelphia City Hall

The Philadelphia Museum of Art (aka the Rocky steps).

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