For the next two days we were heading back to Pennsylvania. We’d already spent time in the West of the state so now it was time to hit the East and in the words of Bruce Springsteen ‘the streets of Philadelphia’.
For our first day, we were going full on sightseeing, like proper tourists. It was up early and with the camera and backpack in tow we headed into Philly. Our first stop was The US Mint, where they make coins for the USA. After going through a metal detector and our bag going through a scanner we were free to take ourselves on a tour of the Mint. We got to see all sorts of old coins and ones that are made especially to commemorate special events. We got to see the factory where the coins are produced, but as per typical of our luck, the workers only work Monday-Thursday and today was a Friday! We also learnt some interesting facts such as the term ‘Mint condition’ comes from the coins. When coins are produced they are checked to ensure there are no imperfections. If there are any slight flaws then the coins are waffled and sent back to be melted down. Therefore all coins have to be in a condition that the mint think is good enough or as we would say, in mint condition!
Once we’d finished touring the factory and museum, we headed for the gift shop to look at all the different coins you could purchase. Since 1999 the US Mint designed a quarter for each state and territory, so seeing as we were visiting each state, Barry and I had decided to try and collect them all. Up until this point we just had four left to get and one of them was Iowa. It was a state we’d visited a while back and we were starting to think we would never find the coin to complete our collection. The other three we needed were all Southern states that we were yet to visit so we were confident that we still had time to find these. In the gift shop they were selling gift packs of individual state coins, so to ensure we didn’t miss out on Iowa we decided to buy it. It cost us $4.99 for two 25cent coins. Some would call it daylight robbery; we just hoped we didn’t come across an Iowa coin later in our travels!
As we were leaving the Mint, one of the security guards told us about the Federal Reserve Bank across the road that we should visit. So, as we were in full on sightseeing mode, we decided to stop by. After going through security checks again, (this one had a whole body scanner to walk through), we were met by a lady that gave us a map and a bag of shredded money. Every week the bank shreds millions of dollars worth of notes that are crumpled or ripped and we’d each been given $100 worth. At least we know that if we get short on cash, we only have to spend a few months taping it all back together to be quid’s in again! We took a look around the exhibit and even got to play banker by deciding whether or not people would be suitable for loans. I’ve learnt that Barry is one tight git when it comes to lending cash, but I guess I already knew that!!
Our next stop was Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was drawn up and signed. We had to book ourselves onto a tour so we had 30 minutes to wait. Again we had to go through security to get into the grounds but once through, we found ourselves in Independence Square where the declaration was first read to the public.
When the time came for our tour to start we were all taken into a room where we were told the history of the building we were in. We were then led into the Supreme Court room where all the cases would have been heard. It was very similar to how a court room would be laid out now, except that all lawyers had to sit round one table in the centre of the court and the defendant would have to stand throughout their whole trial, hence the term ‘standing trial’.
It was then into the Assembly Room where the Declaration of Independence was drawn up. All the furniture in the building was replica’s of what would have been there at the time except for one chair, which was the actual chair that George Washington as commander-in-chief sat in when all the representatives from the 13 colonies joined together.
Having heard all about the history of how the Americans broke away from the ‘evil’ English, we headed to the major tourist attraction of Philadelphia – the Liberty Bell. Originally placed in the steeple of Independence Hall, it is now homed in the Liberty Bell Centre adjacent to it’s original home. It was a lot smaller than I imagined it to be but it was a very cool sight to see.
Feeling rather famished, we thought we’d try some traditional Philly food and go for a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich. For just $6/£4 we got a foot long baguette busting with steak pieces and topped with melted cheese. As we made our way to Washington Square Park to eat them, we ran into the Nesquik bunny that was giving out free bottles of chocolate milkshake – score! We sat in Washington Square surrounded by squirrels and attempted to eat the huge sandwich. Barry just about made it, but I had to throw in the towel about ¾ of the way through. It was delicious but too much. 3 months in and I still haven’t gotten used to these American portions!
We took a wonder round the park and checked out the memorial for all the soldiers and sailors of the Revolutionary War, which included the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a bronze statue of Washington.
The next stop on our sightseeing tour was Philadelphia’s Magic Garden. We had no idea what to expect from this attraction. I had just read that it was a piece of land filled with mosaic art. Barry was a bit dubious, saying that we had wondered round enough gardens on our travels. I thought it sounded like something a bit difference so we walked the 15 minutes from Washington Square to get there (which helped work off the cheese steak).
When we arrived we paid our entry fee and in we went. From the outside it just looked like someone’s house that we were entering. A house covered in Mosaic pieces. As we walked through the house, every piece of wall and ceiling space was covered in pieces of mosaic. There was a door that lead us out to a yard and here we were met with the Magic Garden. There were mosaic pieces everywhere with all sorts of things moulded into the walls – glass bottles, bicycles and weird looking statues. A lot of work had obviously gone into this place. The artist Isaiah Zagar, had taken a 3000 square foot plot of land and excavated tunnels and grottos and made multi layered walls, covering them all with various objects. Every corner we turned we were greeted with more strange objects. It was all very strange but I could totally have it as my garden as there was something quite relaxing about it.
There was just one more stop on our tour of Philly and that was the oldest continuously occupied street in the USA, Elfreth’s Alley. It was a tiny, cobbled stone street with 32 red-bricked houses all still lived in by Philadelphians. The road was probably just wide enough to fit a horse and carriage down, but given that not many people use these today, all the residents had to park their cars at the end of the street in a small car park.
As we finished up our day and headed back to the car we were met by one last strange sight for the day…a telephone cosy!
We had one more day left in Philadelphia and although we’d seen all the major sights the previous day, we did have a couple more things we wanted to see and do. One of them was something that all film buffs would love – the Rocky Stairs. The famous scene in Rocky where Stallone goes running through the street and up the stairs, was all filmed on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. To mark this momentous sight we had planned to film a remake. Barry packed his sweats in a bag, and GoPro in hand we drove to the famous sight.
Having parked up, it was a short walk to the museum. As it was Labour Day weekend, we’d decided to get there nice and early as there was a big concert called the “Made In America” happening nearby kicking off at midday so we wanted to avoid the crowds. As we neared the infamous steps, we saw a policeman and asked how we could access them (there were fences everywhere) he quickly told us “you can’t get there”. Turned out the whole museum was blocked off for the concert and would be for the next three days. Barry was so bummed, we had to sit down on a nearby bench so I could console him.
After accepting the news that Barry wasn’t going to be able to play Rocky for the day and that the nearest he was going to get was having his picture taken with the statue (randomly placed in the visitor centre at Independence Park), we made the decision to walk to the Mutter Museum instead. It was a museum all about medical history and was meant to be very twisted. As soon as we heard that, we knew it would interest us. Anything to do with the macabre has a habit of doing that to us. As we approached, it looked like the gates were locked. Filled with hope, we walked on up anyway, but it was all locked up. This was typical of our luck for the day. Feeling very miffed, we decided to give up on the day and head back to the hotel. It was only when we were almost back at the car that we realised the museum probably hadn’t opened yet, it was only 9:30 after all and it opened at 10! Doh…