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PHILADELPHIA PENNSYLVANIA - CHEESE STEAKS AND MUMMERS

Story and photos by

Liberty Bell
Liberty Bell
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Philadelphia is an intriguing blend of Old World charm and New World sophistication. Historic buildings snuggle up to glass and steel skyscrapers. Narrow cobblestone lanes intersect broad busy boulevards. Horse-drawn buggies share the street with modern vehicles.

Walking is the best way to absorb Philadelphia's colonial flavor. Begin your journey back in time at Independence National Historic Park, the most historic square mile in America.

Benjamin Franklin Home

Stand in Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed, touch the Liberty Bell, follow the steps of Benjamin Franklin through his home, stroll along Elfreth's Alley, the oldest residential street in the US and visit the Betsy Ross House where the seam stress stitched the first American flag.

At Penn's Landing, a promenade along the Delaware River, you can tour historic ships, enjoy family entertainment, festivals and a sculpture garden.

Philadelphia neighborhoods

Across the street, Society Hill, a fashionable neighborhood, looks much like it did 200 years ago, with its lovingly restored 18th-century townhomes. Society Hill is only one of more than 100 neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Each has its own identity, its own stores, festivals and cuisine.

Society Hill houses and cobblestone street
Society Hill houses and cobblestone street
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Whereas Society Hill is an affluent yuppie neighborhood, Little Italy, in South Philadelphia, is a lively scene straight out of Naples. Its open-air market is a street theater with vendors hawking everything from live chickens to wedding cakes and savvy shoppers bargaining for homemade pasta and hand-tooled leather.

Reading Terminal Market

Just as colorful, is the Reading Terminal Market. If it's edible, you'll find it here — Amish apple dumplings and double-yolk eggs, beef jerky and raw oysters, cider and goat milk.

This is the place to sample local specialties: pretzels, sprinkled with coarse salt and dolloped with mustard; hoagies, submarine sandwiches stuffed with prosciutto, provolone, tomatoes, lettuce and onions; and above all, cheese steaks, thinly-sliced beef, fried in oil, slathered with melted cheese and piled in a soft roll.

Cheese steak sandwich at Reading Terminal Market
Cheese steak sandwich at Reading Terminal Market
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

But there is more to Philadelphia's culinary scene than cheese steaks and hoagies. Restaurants represent nearly every nationality, from Irish or Lebanese, as well as every style of cooking from barbecue to nouvelle-cuisine.

Malls and factory outlets

Philadelphia urban malls have many restaurants. The three-block-long Gallery is the largest shopping mall in the city. The Bourse, an elegantly-restored stock exchange, is the most opulent mall, with Corinthian columns and wrought iron railings.

If the trendy city shops don't extend your credit cards to their limits, then surely the stores in the outskirts will. The King of Prussia Shopping Mall is one of the largest enclosed shopping malls in the United States.

Further out, but worth the trip, are the factory outlets in Reading. Bargain hunters are tempted by discounted appliances, cosmetics, furniture and pet supplies, not to mention a vast selection of clothing.

Philadelphia museums

After a day of shopping, visitors can relax and enjoy Philadelphia's numerous cultural offerings. There's the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Philly Pops and a host of theaters and art galleries.

There are more than 100 museums in the Philadelphia area, including the Rodin Museum and the Museum of Art. (The latter may look familiar — Sylvester Stallone trained for his fight by running up its steps in the movie Rocky.)

Philadelphia skyline viewed from Museum of Art
Philadelphia skyline viewed from Museum of Art
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Philadelphia's museums are not only for adults. In Please Touch, children can play in an Indian wigwam, buy plastic fruit in a grocery store or put on costumes and be the star of their own circus.

Just as much fun, is the Franklin Institute, where they can walk through a wind tunnel, a Boeing 707 and a giant heart. The Academy of Natural Sciences also fascinates youngsters with a live beehive, a dinosaur footprint and an insect zoo.

Adults, as well as children, will enjoy Fairmount Park. With 8,900 acres of winding creeks, lush meadows and 100 miles of scenic drives, walks and bridle trails, it is the largest landscaped city park in the world.

New Year's Day parade

The whole family will also delight in the Mummers Museum. These flamboyant showmen are best known for their big New Year's Parade. During the summer months, however, visitors can watch them strut in feathered and sequined costumes during weekly stringband concerts.

Mummering is unique to Philadelphia. It, too, is part of the history that haunts every cobblestone. But it's only one of a hundred links to the past. Or a thousand — if you take the time to discover them.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.visitphilly.com

More things to see and do in Pennsylvania:

Lancaster County - Pennsylvania Dutch