During my second semester at university, I took part in a project regarding on the writings of Thomas Jefferson and his philosophical inspirations. To this day more than a decade later, I still find myself drawn to his ideas and his concerns for the future. I often wonder what he might think of a man like Donald Trump running for president – an office he himself is famed for upholding.
The days of the American Revolution and the concurrent French revolution are detrimental to the democracies we are today – be it in Europe or North America. And while I have been to Paris many times and walked the streets of the French Revolution, I haven’t previously had the chance to explore the historical landmarks of the American Revolution.
But now as we are visiting New York for the first time we’ve decided to spent a few days travelling south to the cradle of American democracy. We are visiting Philadelphia synonymous with the American Revolution and fight for freedom.
Founded by the Quaker William Penn in 1682, Philadelphia was planned out as the capital city of the colony Pennsylvania. Already by the 1750’s the city was the largest city and busiest port in British America, and second largest port in the British Empire.
By this time the city had also developed culturally and scientifically, paving the ground for being a central place for the development of revolutionary ideas under the ideals of enlightenment.
This became the city which held the 1774 First Continental Congress where the colonists decided to boycott British goods after the imposing of the Stamp Act, the Townsend Act and the Tea Act – the later leading to the infamous Boston Tea Party.
It held the 1775 Second Continental Congress which is famous for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson.
Finally, it was in Philadelphia in 1787 during the Constitutional Convention that the US Constitution was drafted.
But let’s start with breakfast…
Monuments and historical sites relating to the American revolution are manifold in Philadelphia and we have planned only one day to see it all – and to crawl up those stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts just like Rocky Balboa.
We arrived early by bus from New York and made it to our very comfortable hotel The Alexander Inn in record time. While I was eager to get out and explore the city, it was however obvious that we needed a bit of breakfast to sustain our long day of sightseeing.
The receptionist suggested for us to try out the close by Green Eggs Café. I’ve never truly understood what is meant by super size or American portions before I entered this place. We would only have needed to order one portion of whatever item we fancied on the menu and we would have food for days. We ended up with French toast and huevos rancheros and I still have no idea how I managed to exit that place on two feet rather than rolling.
I must say that visiting Green Eggs Café was a definite experience into American food culture. One that I wont forget for a very long time to come.
After not entirely finishing our breakfast, we headed towards Pine Street and onwards to South Street. I wanted to see Society Hill a residential and historical neighbourhood to the south of Philadelphia centre. While the shops were not open yet, we had a pleasant walk through a very attractive and picturesque neighbourhood as we slowly zig-zagged our way north from South Street to Washington Square Garden.
Time for Revolution
After enjoying a peaceful moment at Washington Square Garden next to two day care workers and a whole lot of babies.
We followed Walnut Street returning by Chestnut Street as we checked out some of the central buildings of Philadelphia historical district. We passed by Carpenter’s Hall, where the First Continental Convention took place, Bishop White’s House and The City Tavern, which according to John Adams was the “most genteel tavern in America” as well as the unofficial meeting place for the First Continental Convention.
On our way down Chestnut Street, we stumbled upon Xenos Candy & Gifts. Being in Philadelphia, I was ready to purchase my first bubble head, something which I’ve dreamt about for years. I always had the fancy to own a bubble head of Madeleine Albright, but I imagine those have become difficult to come by. Since I had no interest in having a mini-Trump standing at home, I had decided on a founding father. But who?
I was torn between Jefferson and Franklin. The shop owner was a very enthusiastic Asian woman, who gave out a million compliments a minute. She was unstoppable. However, more fascinating was a fellow customer – a young girl of 23 from Maryland, who had only recently moved to Philadelphia after ending her contract with the American army.
I know the American army recruit young people from the age of 16, but I’ve never actually met any who has served in the American army before. It was quite fascinating. She told me that she had signed up at 16 and bound herself for the mandatory six years. The final one and a half year she’d been stationed as an analyst in Tokyo. To think that at such a young age she had seen so much.
She was happy to get out. I seemed as if she was not fond of her time in the army and moving to Philadelphia was a way of starting fresh. And Trump? Not a fan.
All in all she was a very bright and reasonable young woman despite or perhaps because of the fact that her reformative years were spent in the army.
She told me to buy Jefferson, but at the time I’d already settled on Franklin. But not an hour later I returned to Xenos Candy & Gifts to get Jefferson as well, well aware that I should have listened to her.
Trump and the Declaration of Independence
But before returning to Xenos, we walked down to Independence Hall and the Bell of Liberty, which we were able to see through a dirty window. At the Visitor Center my boyfriend bought a Declaration of the Independence and a Donald Trump pen, which when pushed speaks one of several ridiculous quotes.
I will be the greatest president God ever created.
There is a far way between the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the beautiful words of the Declaration of Independence. I wonder what that says of the times we live in.
After enjoying the sun outside the Visitor Center we headed towards the Delaware river, which runs through Philadelphia and is the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. But North Americans have yet to discover the tranquillity of water. Just like in Seattle and Toronto, the waters edge is closed off from the city by a massive highway or large concrete constructions. In Europe we celebrate our rivers, which have given life to cities across the continent for millennia. Here they turn away from the water.
We never found a way to reach the water, despite crossing the massive highway by means of a bridge. Instead we returned and moved north to Arch Street passing by Betsy Ross House.
Apparently Betsy Ross made the first American flag, which is why Americans pilgrim to her house to feel a part of history. Yet, the story of Betsy Ross making a flag for George Washington only surfaced in the 1870’s and apart from her grandson’s writing there is no evidence to the story. She was simply one amongst many flag makers of the time. But every country needs their patriotic heroes and heroines, I suppose.
We walked from Betsy Ross House west on Arch Street reaching the Reading Terminal Market, where – according to Tripadvisor – there was a good place to try out the Philadelphia home classic Cheesesteaks.
Amidst the many eating places at Reading Terminal Market we found a table and some chairs to eat our massive cheesesteaks from By George! Pizza, Pasta and Cheesesteaks.
Once again we could have managed with a half between the two of us, but rather ended up with each our massive and greasy sandwich. I think with breakfast and now the cheesesteak, I’m pretty sure I’ve gained quite a few kilos.
As evening was approaching we walked up Market Street to the City Hall Square. After hours in the historic centre, I had gotten the impression that Philadelphia was a small sized city with a pretty centre and small houses. But Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in the US in terms of population and the more than 1,5 million inhabitants would not fit in the historic centre.
Reaching City Hall it was clear that this was the true heart of the city. The bustling nerve centre. The building was finished in 1901, and while it during construction lost the race to become the tallest building in the world to the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower, it did hold the title as the tallest habitable building when finished.
It is an impressive and very beautiful Second Empire styled building and reminded me of the historical office buildings of Chicago. But what makes this impressive city hall stand out apart from being the largest city hall in the US, is the 11.3 meter high statue of William Penn on the top of the tower.
The statue is iconic and in my mind very befitting of the man who established the city and state on such principles as democracy and religious freedom.
Standing there and attempting to look up at Penn, one really comes to realise how small one truly is. How insignificant in the large scheme of things.
But small insignificant people can do great things and turning our back to the high-rises around City Hall, we headed towards the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, where Rocky Balboa took his first steps towards greatness.
Taking the steps to greatness
It was quite a long walk up Benjamin Franklin Parkway and passed Logan Circle, but somehow and as the sun began to set, we reached the steps which have been immortalised by the Rocky movies.
I will admit that neither I nor my boyfriend were in anyway able to run up the 72 steps of the main stairs, and after 20 kilometres of walking around Philadelphia we were more closely resembling Rocky’s first couple of attempts at conquering the stairs.
But we made it in perfect time to watch the sunset over Philadelphia and that was worth all the effort.
We spent the last hours of our day at the top of the stairs, enjoying the view and watching people running up and down the steps or posing for the camera – Rocky style.
An absolutely perfect day in one of the most important historical cities of the US.