Every year, there is a big conference in the United States where international educators from all over the world get together to learn and network. This conference is called NAFSA. You may remember that I went to Los Angeles last year for the 2017 NAFSA conference. This year, I traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with Blair (my boss on the left) and Roc (my colleague on the right).
After I booked my arrangements and brushed up on my American history, I headed to the birthplace of America. We managed to do a lot of sightseeing between meetings and events! Below I’ve listed the best of what we did in Philadelphia!
- Philly Cheesesteaks
Prior to our arrival, the internet led us to believe that Pat’s and Geno’s are the best places to get cheesesteaks in Philly. As soon as we arrived in Philly, we found that every local seemed to have a different opinion about where to get the best Philly cheesesteak. By and large, Pat’s and Geno’s were known as the touristy places and one Uber driver even went as far as calling Geno a fraud. The other recommendations we heard were Jim’s Steaks and Sonny’s Steaks. So, that’s where we went to get our Philly cheesesteak experiences. Jim’s was our first stop and though it was good, we had nothing to compare it to. Sonny’s was eaten on the last day of the conference when we were practically famished. They were both delicious and quite large sandwiches for a reasonable price. The most interesting thing about our Philly cheesesteak experience was that when you choose the cheese you want on your Philly cheesesteak, cheese wiz is an option.
- One Liberty Observation Deck
Y’all should know by now that I’m a sucker for observation decks and views from the top. My hotel was just steps away from the One Liberty Observation Deck. I purchased my ticket online and got a 5% discount. I went on a Wednesday at about 6:00pm and there was no line to get in and no crowds at the top. In Europe, a lot of observation decks are open-air and only a railing protects you from the outside world. The One Liberty Observation Deck puts a thick layer of glass between you and the city, but that makes this attraction doable rain or shine.
- The Rocky Steps
The famous Rocky Steps are located in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s not a short walk from the city center; I recommend taking an Uber. There were tourists and fitness enthusiasts alike making the legendary 72-step run up to the top of the stairs. The view of the city is quite lovely. There is a fountain across the street from it and a bronze statue of Rocky Balboa himself to the left. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is a long street that leads to the museum and the area around it is called the Parkway Museums District. In 1976, as part of the bicentennial celebration, a tradition began where every Memorial Day weekend, an installation of about 90 international flags are hung along the Parkway. According to the Philadelphia’s Deputy City Representative’s Office, the flags represent countries with significant populations in Philadelphia. Since we were in town for an international conference, it felt like a sweet welcome.
- The Liberty Bell
The first time we saw the Liberty Bell was on our first night in Philly. We were walking to Jim’s for cheesesteaks and we were drawn toward a glowing object protected by a wall of glass. “THAT’S THE LIBERTY BELL!” Roc shouted happily. We took a glowing (sweating) selfie with it and promised to make it back to see it before the end of our trip. The Liberty Bell is located inside of the Liberty Bell Center which is actually a part of the national park service! There is no charge to see the Liberty Bell so yes, it’s absolutely worth it.
- Independence Hall
Independence Hall is right across the street from the Liberty Bell Center. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also where the Declaration of Independence was signed. In order to see the inside of Independence Hall, you have to get a guided tour ticket. During the summer months, you can get in for free after 5:00pm (but still with a guided tour), which is what we did. It’s absolutely worth seeing and if you don’t remember it from your history textbooks, you might even recognize Independence Hall from the 2004 film National Treasure.
- Walt Whitman’s Grave
This one is admittedly a little odd. I make it my mission to visit other states (and countries, obviously) whenever I can. Camden, New Jersey is less than 5 miles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. So, when I found out that Walt Whitman, an American poet from the 1800s, was buried in the Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, I made sure to visit him. Roc got to nerd out over all of the American history and I had my English major moment at Walt Whitman’s grave. You might remember that Walter White from Breaking Bad had an affinity for Walt Whitman.
Other noteworthy graves in Philadelphia: Betsy Ross (at her home) and Benjamin Franklin (at Christ Church Burial Ground)!
- Ice Cream
While in Philadelphia, we took advantage of the unique culinary treats. Big Gay Ice Cream was on this list of Philly’s Essential Ice Cream Shops. I ordered a Rufus. Roc ordered a Salty Pimp. We dined with this colorful mural. Though the ice cream hit the spot, it wasn’t worth $8.
Our conference was held in the Philadelphia Convention Center. It is conveniently located right next to Reading Terminal Market. This market has vendors selling food, ice cream, sweets, pies, groceries, cajun food, sandwiches, Mexican food, flowers, and more. It’s easy to be overwhelmed, but both times I ate there, I was in and out in less than 30 minutes. I could live in Philadelphia just to be able to try each of these vendors. One of them is an ice cream shop called Bassetts
which claims to be America’s oldest ice cream shop! Bassetts was also listed on the essential ice cream list. It was delicious and worth every penny.
One evening, while looking for somewhere to eat dinner, we came across a place called Fork. It was on this list of Essential Philadelphia Restaurants so we gave it a shot. I took a chance on the lemon pepper fettuccine and let me tell you that it was the best pasta I have ever had. Yes, I am stating here and now that this beat the delicious homemade pasta I had in Prague. The pasta at Fork was so delicate, so fresh, and the flavor of this pasta was everything. They also brought us mushroom tea and bread prior to our entrees. So, two thumbs up. I love a place that brings me bread.
- City Hall
Philadelphia’s City Hall is hard to miss. It’s the largest municipal building in the United States and it’s right in the center of Philly. I’m terrible at orienting myself in cities, but City Hall served as something of a compass. If I could see City Hall, I could find everything else. I didn’t know this until now, but there is an observation deck in the tower of City Hall and you can take a tour of the inside of City Hall!
- Elfreth’s Alley
While walking around Old City, Roc pointed to a sign that said “Elfreth’s Alley” and told me it was supposed to be cool. So, we headed that way to find that not only was it “cool” but it was historic. Elfreth’s Alley is our nation’s oldest residential street. Real people still live in these houses. Houses 126 – 124 are able to be toured for just $3. Though we didn’t do the tour, it was incredible to walk down this street. Elfreth’s Alley was just one example of all the surprising things to do in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia is large, industrial, historic, and artsy. Though a metropolis, the city was pretty walkable and there were murals and things to see around every corner. We saw a myriad of residents from workers on strike to business men and women. There are factories and businesses that make Philly feel like a hard working city. It seems to have a population of residents who say, “I’m from Philly” with pride. Homages to Benjamin Franklin are as frequent as references to the city of Brotherly Love. If I were to go back to Philadelphia, I’d check out the magic gardens, Edgar Allan Poe’s house, boathouse row, and the Eastern State Penitentiary.