Philadelphia Trip Report

Posted on 10/01/2007 in misc

I'm going to break up the Philly trip summary into several posts. This one is my impressions of the "stuff" we did while in Philadelphia.

Thursday

Traffic was a breeze headed north. We did F'burg to Philly in a little over 3 hours. We went straight to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. It is, in a word, spectacular. The most impressive thing about the collection is the scale. They like to collect the big heavy stuff. I'm impressed by big heavy stuff. In a lot of ways, I found this museum to be more impressive than the Tut exhibit.

Friday

Friday centered around the Tut exhibit, which as I type is probably being boxed up for shipment back to Egypt. The production of the exhibit was very well done. The collection of about 130 items was put into context. I knew from web reviews that the Tut sarcophagi was not there, so we didn't suffer the disappointment of some of the web reviewers. Anyway, we saw sarcophagi and mummies from Egypt the prior day, so it wasn't a big deal. It was interesting, and a revelation to me that we are really guessing at a lot when it comes to ancient Egypt. Many of the items we identified as possibly used in rituals, or maybe part of the burial rite, etc. It is 3500 years ago, but when you hear the experts talk they sound a lot more sure than I think they really are. Another interesting thing is how many of today's priceless treasures were back in the Tut days, essentially garbage. Several of the priceless artifacts were described as bottles that held some oil or important liquid that was stolen by grave robbers. They left the bottles behind as garbage, and 3500 years later we dug them up and put them on tour! The Tut exhibit was quite popular with school groups. As you would expect, many of the kids weren't particularly interested. So instead they congregated in groups of 10-12 to socialize, and gummed up the traffic flow in the process. That said, the kids from the Rivendell School were quite impressive. I heard more than a few talking as they went through the exhibit and it was obvious they knew a lot more about ancient Egypt than I. Now, that is not high bar, but still I was impressed. It was the single most expensive thing we did on the trip. However, given that it could be a once in a lifetime chance, it was worth it.

On the advice of Tim Haas, who very occasionally writes over at HE&OS, we walked down to The Franklin Fountain for some of the best ice cream I've ever had. I also got a hand mixed Dr. Pepper, made with syrup, soda water, and cane sugar.

The balance of Friday was spent in the exhibits of the Franklin Institute, and also at the US Mint. The Franklin Institute is a well done science museum for kids. The exhibits did a real good job of making science accessible and fun. The Tut exhibit was at the Franklin Institute. While walking through the Giant Heart I commented that a person of large girth would clog the arteries of the giant heart and cause a heart attack. I'm probably not the first person to make that joke. The US Mint is IMHO over rated as a tourist destination. First of all, you are greeted by a US Mint police officer who is exactly as friendly and accommodating as you would expect. Then the self guided tour consists of nothing more than a really long hallway in which you can look down on the production floor and see how coins are made. Posters on the wall explain what is happening on the production floor, and display cases along the walls show coins, medals, various other artifacts from the Mint's history. We saw dollar coins, pennies, and quarters being made. The kids are into coin collecting due to the influence of my father in law, so they thought it was really cool to see. I give it a big meh.

Saturday

Saturday was the power sightseeing day, as we spent the day in the Independence Hall neighborhood.

Independence Hall - Guided tours are provided by park rangers. We had a great tour guide. He infused a lot of humor and knowledge into the 30 minutes we were with him. Independence Hall is not that large on the inside. I can't even imagine spending all day in there for several months, during the heat of summer, wearing long sleeves, shirts, and jackets, as they would have been back in 1782. Really, it's amazing the Constitution turned out so well given the conditions they were debating in. There are several other original buildings on the grounds too, as well as original first pressings of the Declaration of Independence and a Constitution with hand written notes from the debate.

Liberty Bell - The new Liberty Bell Center provides a lot of interesting background on the history of the bell as you traverse the museum on your way to the actual bell. Interestingly, nobody knows exactly when the damage occurred, or how.

Franklin Court - The site of Ben Franklin's home. Only some crumbling foundation pieces remain. The Underground Museum there should be closed. It's so out of date that it borders on embarrassing. I particularly liked the circa 1975 pick up the phone and hear a famous person talk about Ben Franklin feature. Well over 1/2 the phones didn't work, and the rest were held together with duct tape. Even better, the phones are running on a rotary switch! I loved hearing that pulse sound as I pressed the numbers. They were push button phones, but they were sending rotary pulses.

The print shop was cool, as park rangers were actually working old letterpress equipment. Kids accustomed to point, click, and print will be fascinated by the level of effort involved back then to produce one printed page. There is also a working post office on the grounds. It is the only USPO in the world that doesn't fly an American flag, in recognition of the fact that when Franklin was running the postal service, we still answered to the King.

The Constitution Center is at the opposite end of Independence Mall from the Hall. As you might guess, it is all about the Constitution. The exhibits really do a very good job of putting the Constitution in context with the various historical highlights throughout US History, and the dramatic presentation is quite well done. I'd definitely put this on the must see list when you are in Philly.

Independence Seaport Museum is pleasant 4 block stroll down to Penn's Landing. My son could probably lead tours of the place. He told us all about the various ship models on display without reading any of the information. It was sort of scary. The museum also includes the USS Becuna, and USS Olympia, which you can tour. I like climbing though old war equipment, and in both cases you have access to a lot of the ship.

Ben Franklin's Grave is conveniently located on the edge of the cemetery, allowing you to view it without paying the entrance fee to the graveyard. There is something about paying to visit a graveyard that really bothers me. It just seems wrong. If they had a collection box to help pay for upkeep and maintenance I almost certainly would have thrown in a couple of bucks.

Lights of Liberty is the first ambulatory sound and light show of its kind in the world. I'm not sure what that means. The tour happens after dark. Costumed guides lead you to 5 different sites around Independence Mall as you wear headphones. At each site, still art and some animation is projected onto the buildings and synced with the soundtrack in your headphones as you follow the footsteps of revolutionary history in Philadelphia. It is kind of neat, sort of like filmstrips in stereo projected very large. It would be a great learning aid for kids studying that period in history. However, it ain't cheap, and had I paid full price I probably would have been disappointed. Discount tickets were everywhere though, so I doubt anybody ever need pay full price for the tour.

Saturday night was supposed to end at The Naked Chocolate Cafe. However, after battling Saturday night bar district traffic and shoehorning the Durango into a parking garage that was not built with full size SUVs in mind, we found the Cafe so overcrowded with hipsters that we didn't even thinking about standing in line. We simply went back to the hotel.

Sunday

Sunday was Jersey Day. We stayed east of the Delaware River and went to the USS New Jersey and Adventure Aquarium. I usually feel ripped off paying to look at fish, however NJ did a good job with the aquarium. I enjoyed it. The combo ticket that includes the Battleship was really a pretty good deal. The Battleship was awesome. You can get to just about every part of the ship. It took 90 minutes to tour, and that was with a wife that wasn't particularly interested and was trying to move us along. Breck and I easily could have spent 3 hours exploring the ship. We left for home from there.

The drive home was an adventure. It needs its own post.

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