Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Philadelphia -- First Impressions

Philadelphia or Vancouver? That was the choice we had to make in 1961 when my husband was offered a job at both the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. It wasn't easy since they were offering a larger salary at the Franklin and we knew that Philadelphia was an interesting city, with a rich historical and cultural heritage for a North American city, but Vancouver won out because he wanted to teach as well as do research.

This year, when we went to New York to visit our daughter, we decided to see what we had missed by choosing Vancouver instead of Philadelphia. The fact that we had never been there, coupled with a King Tutankhamun exhibit at the Franklin Institute was the deciding factor in our choice for a side trip.

Philadelphia is known to be a city conducive for walking so I booked accommodation in a hotel in the centre, within walking distance of most of the things we wanted to see. We hired a car to make the two hour journey there, and it was very interesting navigating the one way narrow streets of Philadelphia to find our hotel. We then parked the car in the hotel garage and didn't take it out again for three days, preferring to either walk or take the purple Phlash tourist bus which travels between twenty different stops which hit the highlights for most tourists and for the bargain price of $1 or free for seniors.

The very beautiful City Hall in Philadelphia, also shown at the top of the post

First an aside about the trip to Philadelphia. I had arranged to rent a car from the local car rental agency in my daughter's hometown. Being the micro-manager that I am, I went to pick it up the day before we were to leave. I went over the car briefly with the agent, no scratches, tank full, nice clean new car. No problems. I drove it home only to find out that suddenly messages were flashing on the dashboard. Trunk ajar! Oil needs service! Neither of which were likely to be true, and in fact were not, but this car was not acceptable. Back to the agency where the only car left was a larger, fully loaded Mazda 6 which he would give me for the same price but had dried paint spilled on the upholstery of the back seat. Well, as this was the only available car, I accepted it.

Now it's not that I am a bad navigator and I can certainly read maps, but the old scientist loves the maps and seeing where we are, mile by mile. So usually I drive and he navigates and both of us are happy. To go to Philadelphia you take the New Jersey Turnpike and to get to that road you have to cross the Hudson River. In actual fact it starts at the end of the George Washington Bridge but last time we took that bridge it took forever to get across, so very cunningly we decided to cross the river higher up, at the Tappan Zee Bridge, go down the west side of the river and meet up with the NJ Turnpike at the GW Bridge. Simple, right? Well the old scientist misdirected me at the Tappan Zee Bridge turnoff and put me in a little town at the side. No problem, round again and across the bridge. Down the west side of the river and here we were at the end of the GW bridge, with a myriad of possible lanes. Which road do we take, I demanded. This one, no that one? Next thing I knew we were on the approach to the GW bridge going back into Manhattan! As I paid the toll I asked the person in the booth how to get back to New Jersey. She gave me very precise directions, which of course made me realize that I was not the only idiot who had done this. In fact, the three cars in front of me, with New Jersey number plates, went through exactly the same manoevres to get back there. Needless to say the old scientist was fired as navigator and he sulkily read his book in the back seat. Navigation was taken over by my son, the chartered accountant, and several hours later we arrived at the hotel.

One of the city's beautiful parks with stately trees and fountains

So what was my overall impression of the city itself? I loved it. Walking about the streets, I found it had a very nice feel. There were trees and flowers everywhere. It seemed wherever you walked, suddenly you came across a green space, with a park full of trees and a fountain and there were many pieces of public art displayed throughout these parks and elsewhere in the city. This is due to the vision of William Penn who in the late seventeenth century planned five open-space parks for the centre of Philadelphia. His plan for Philadelphia was one of the earliest city planning ventures and the city was laid out on a rectangular grid system which makes it a very easy city to navigate.

Next time I'll take you with me to the Independence National Historical Park, or the Rodin Museum, or the Franklin Institute for the King Tut exhibit or one of the other interesting places we visited in Philadelphia.


Colin Campbell said...

I laughed at your description of the top of the New Jersey Turnpike, possibly the most stupid traffic arrangement in the world. I used to travel between New York and Washington when my former wife was at Columbia. Very confusing and fraught with danger.

My memories of the trip to Philadelphia was done in reverse after a trip to New York from Philadelphia. My daughter, less than a year old, screamed the whole way from New York to Philadelphia. Joy. It was very cold, but clear that day.

I have very strong memories of visiting the Liberty Bell.

On another trip, my memories are of my Government Clients from Singapore, getting very alarmed by some of Philadelphias rougher neighbourhoods.

That said, the areas you talk of were lovely.

Carver said...

Philadelphia is a beautiful city and I loved your photographs as usual. However, if I had the chance to live in Philly or Vancouver, I'm sure I would have gone for Vancouver, and I've never even been there. I was amused by your navigation adventure since I've had similar experiences. It usually takes me a while though to see the humor. Take care, Carver

Janice Thomson said...

Isn't it great when a city planner has the foresight to add green to the mass of cement and steel in the heart of a city? People need the soothing touch of green in a world where the hectic pace of life is so stressful. I think that is one of the great appeals of Vancouver too. I would love to see Philadelphia but will settle for your wonderful photos.

Ellee said...

I would definitely like to head for the Rodin Museum. You have travelled to some fabulous places. As usual, your pics are great.

Tai said...

That was a great trip! Having lived in Vancouver for so long, it was very interesting to see this comparison.

Philly looks like a nice place to visit!

Dr. James P. Holdren said...

Mow I see why WC Fields loved it so. Although Colin's description was also interesting.

lady macleod said...

Indeed it is a wonderful city. I enjoyed all my visits there over the four years when Q was in university. She and A liked it so much they are hoping the future will bring them back there to live.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

It seems a very interesting city, jmb, and one I knew virtually nothing about - till now. That seems a very good price on the bus! Do take us to the Rodin museum!

rowena said...

Hi, how are you? This is my first visit, got here thru imomonline. Nice site you got here. Nice pics too. How I wished I would get to see Philadelphia too and Vancouver of course (I only been to Toronto & Montreal before). Cheers!

Lee said...

Philadelphia looks like beautiful city, jmb.

Wouldn't it be great if we could go back in a time capsule and took the other path for a time, just to see where our lives would have led us?

Voyager said...

I can see you living in Philly. You would belong to the Daughters of the British Empire and be involved in several historical preservation societies. And you would have started the Philadelphia Thursday walking club. And you would be writing an intersting blog.

ipanema said...

hahahahaha...this reminded me of my husband. Most of the time he complains telling me that I should remind him the next turn a hundred miles away. Being a passenger, I have the luxury of sitting back and enjoying the landscape so I miss the turns and i would say, i think we're in the wrong direction. :)

He simply had no sense of direction. Sometimes he ask me to just keep quiet. Once i mentioned we passed the same roundabout twice, he would say, "Why didn't you tell me?" lol...i'm supposed to shut up. :)

I love cities that preserve a certain green areas. it's relaxing. :)

Ian Lidster said...

Just to tell you that you have been tagged, so if you want to check my latest. Only if you wish to, of course.

Donnetta Lee said...

Oh, I enjoyed touring with you tonight. My mom has so wished to see the King Tut exhibit. Alas, her health would never permit it. Oh, well. She claims to be a reincarnated Egyptian. A scribe, she says. Maybe she glimpsed the young king herself once!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Philly looks great from your photos but you kinda side-stepped answering the question of which city, Philly or Vancouver?

Ellee said...

Yes JMB, I think you have us all wanting to pack our bags and head for Philadelphia.

Norma said...

I visited Philadelphia a few years back for a professional conference, and found it an easy place to tour. Nice blog!

jmb said...

Hi Colin,
I'm glad that someone else understands my problem. Just a short two hour drive! Not likely. I seem to have missed the seamy side of Philly.

Hi Carver,
I think I prefer Vancouver, but I thought Philadelphia was very nice. Things were fine once I got a new navigator.

Hi Janice,
I thought the parks in Philadelphia were wonderful. The stately trees and fountains and public art were a delight.

Hi Ellee,
Rodin Museum post coming soon. Just organizing the photos and writing it.

Hi Tai,
It was a very different city but I liked it a lot on this first visit.

Hi James,
Now I know what your WC reference was. I'm glad Colin found the drive confusing too.

Hi Lady Mac
I'm sure you know it well and I can see why Q would like to return.

Hi Welshcakes,
I didn't know much about it before either although we did look into it those many years ago, but I had forgotten. Rodin Museum coming up.

Hi Rowena,
Thanks for visiting and for your kind words. I hope you get to Vancouver some day, so different from Toronto and Montreal.

Hi Lee,
After this trip I have wondered what would have happened to us there.

Hi Voyager,
Your comment made me laugh. I think what you have said is a great compliment and I thank you for it.

Hi ipanema,
I'm surprised your husband had no sense of direction. Men always insist they are brilliant at it. Now we can buy a GPS thing and never get lost again.

Hi Ian,
I answered the tag question on your blog.

Hi Donnetta Lee,
I'm sorry your mother could not get to see the King Tut exhibit. It was fabulous and I will post about it later. How interesting that your mother thinks she was an Egyptian scribe. Who knows? She may be right.

I'm still thinking about the question of which would have been better. I think Vancouver will win hands down because it is by the sea which I love.

Hi Ellee
I think the King Tut exhibit is now over but there is still a lot to see in Philadelphia.

Hi Norma,
Welcome to my blog and I'm glad you found Philly easy to visit too.

Thanks to all of you for visiting and commenting.

YTSL said...

I lived in Philadelphia for around 11 years. Have some very good memories of the place (along with the not so good experiences -- ones which got me deciding to leave it and move back to Asia). Much of central Philly can be quite pretty. Trust that you made it to the Olde City area. And two things that I hope you managed to appreciate about it is that it's a great place for food and (microbrewed) beer! :)

Gledwood said...

It looks really beautiful... I've heard Vancouver's the Seattle of the North (and much nicer!!)...
I wonder where I would have gone given the choice...
I was nearly by fate born in Australia... however it was not to be ... I wonder what would have happened THEN?!?

Gledwood said...

hey... also Philadelphia is named in the Bible!
The church in Philadelphia is one of the best churches named in the "epistle to seven churches" at the beginning of Revelation...

The original Philadelphia was in Asia-Minor or modern-day Turkey...

(very Greek-sounding name for a place in Turkey...)

jmb said...

Hi Ytsl,
What a surprise that you lived in Philly. Quite different from Hong Kong. The food was great but I don't drink so missed out on the beer!

Hi gleds, Vancouver is Seattle of the north only nicer although I like Seattle too. Almost born in Australia, like me. Maybe you would now live in Canada too. I didn't know Philadelphia was in Asia minor or Turkey. You are a font of information Gleds.