Friday, March 4, 2011

New and Exotic Places

Have you ever been disappointed with your pictures after a trip because you didn't think you got any really good shots, so you don't do anything with them, just leave them in a computer file and forget about them, but then almost a year later, you open the file and look through the pictures and you're flooded with happy memories, and you realize that maybe you did get some good pictures? That happens to me all the time. I guess I need to distance myself from the moment to really appreciate it sometimes.

It's usually around this time of year (Jan-March) that I'm scouring the www, looking for sweet travel deals, planning our next family vacation. It can get really time-consuming. I sometimes spend entire days going through options, and end up with nothing planned, nothing to show for all that time I've put in. But I get this craving to go someplace new, and I can't stop thinking about it until I find it. Tony wants to take an epic road trip across the country, visit 17 or 20 states. He's always mapping out different routes, and they sound fun when he's showing me all the places we'll see, but then I take a closer look at his humanly-impossible timeline and start searching for cheap flights again.

We have made some plans to visit family and travel with friends this year, but it's yet to be seen if our family will visit a place as new and exotic as the place we went last year:

We paid a homeless man $2 to take that picture^.

The thing we discovered about Philly is there is no short supply of homeless people to take your picture/ask for money/make you feel bad about vacationing/make you stop having fun and consider the world's most serious social issues/worry about your kids' safety.

However, I must say, there is something very special about Independence Hall.

Independence Hall is worth walking past fifty homeless men to see, practically.

The boys waiting to go inside:

I suppose Gus needed a haircut before we left for this trip. Most pictures, you can only see one of his eyes, whilst the other is shrouded behind a fine veil of blond hair. (His hair is really soft, like that of a new born babe. If you ever get the opportunity, you should feel it.)

(No flash allowed inside)

Where the Declaration of Independence was singed:

Liberty Bell, which is displayed in a nearby renovated museum of its own:

Also in this historic area is the National Constitution Center, a very modern, interactive museum that is well worth a visit.

The view from inside, looking towards Independence Hall:

Tony was feeling pretty patriotic right about then, so he had the kids do another pose under the flag.

After that, we hung our heads before Ben Franklin's grave, to pay respect.


Some of these gravestones were as thin as paper (<--slight exaggeration, but you get what I mean)

It was a pretty little graveyard (Christ Church Burial Ground). Very small.

Then we headed over to Besty Ross's house.

Very old, very cramped, no place to spread out yards and yards of fabric to make a secret flag.

One of our favorite things in Philly was Elfreth's Alley:

It's the nations oldest continually inhabited street.

I wish I had a picture that really captured the street. Tall skinny houses lined both sides of the narrow one-lane cobblestone street. It looked more like an alley, but not a dark scary alley that you could get mugged on. A cute alley with old unique houses. The utility van you see in the background clogged the whole street.

Waiting to tour one of the houses:

I like the old metal boot scraper in front of this house. This house was built before the cobblestones were laid, back when the street was paved with mud.

The metal plaque on the wall outside this house below represents the fire insurance the homeowner purchased. Fire wasn't a public service back then, so if your house caught on fire and you hadn't purchased a fire service plan, you'd be on your own as to how to put it out. Although, I'm sure the neighbors would pitch in, or else their house would be next.

These houses are all occupied, except one house that serves as a gift shop, and another house that is open for historic tours. Tony and I sat outside the gift shop, speculating on the kind of people who would live in these houses. We were guessing old University professors, rich empty-nesters, archeologists, Russian spies, when suddenly a mini van rolled down the street and stopped right in front of this house with the black door. The van doors slid open and this spectacle of a family got out. The mom was loaded down shopping bags from places like Old Navy and Famous Footwear and was yelling at her kids to pick up their backpacks, and the brother and sister (who looked like they had consumed a lot of fast food in their short lifetimes) were fighting and pushing each other and kicking their backpacks up to the front door of this historic house dating back hundreds of years. Interesting juxtaposition, yeah?

After that, we toured the US Mint, cuz Tony made us.

Then we headed over to Franklin Court to see Ben Franklin's house, and found this travesty:

Yes, his relatives tore down his house to make way for more important things, something I plan to do to my own relatives' houses after they die, cuz it's such a good idea. Anyway, that structure is the same size as his house, and a floor plan is painted on the floor. Dream big, Historic Tourism Department of Philadelphia!

Also in Franklin Court is the Ben Franklin Underground Museum. We were amused by the displays, dating back to 1981. I suspect Mr. Franklin... inventor, publisher, statesman, scientist... would not have been amused. My favorite part was the huge room filled with rows of closed-circuit beige phones that were all broken. But in this museum's heyday (circa 1980), I'm sure those phones did some cutting-edge stuff.

Also, the US Post Office Museum.

It was more like a small, dark, dusty room of stamps.

After that we walked to Franklin Square, a grassy old park in the middle of downtown Philly with a brand new miniature golf course, carousel, and playground.

Miniature Elfreth's Alley:

Feeling the brotherly love...

The agony of losing:

Gus's arm...?

Then we walked back to our hotel...

And that's what happened on our first day in Philadelphia.

One day down, twenty days to go!


Landee said...

Ben Franklin's house looks a skosh drafty but I do love the clean, simple, uncluttered look. He was a visionary man.

I learned at JBird's "colonial days" presentation that Ben Franklin was America's first millionaire. It was just on some kid's poster so I need you to confirm that for me before I go spreading it around. Googling it would take too long.

Carr Family said...

I LOVE IT!! We lived in Philly for the summer when I was 12. We went to all of those places. I would love to take my kids there. I remember that there was no shortage of homeless people. We even saw a woman dressed in nothing but an open bathrobe, chasing a man down the street. Good times for the Harrison kids:)

ManicMandee said...

Awesome! The Esplins really know how to vacation!

Carol said...

Loved reliving your Philly trip with you. I enjoyed it the first time around and even better the second time. And where will you be going this year? Hmmm?

Shel said...

Hey, this is useful. We're going to the East for a little roadtrip/loop the end of next month and Philly's on our list. It's the cheapest airport on the loop to fly into from here. Last time I was in Philly was 1974 and I wasn't impressed. But, one of my best friends is from near there and she's gonna give a list of the best cheesesteak places, which she says will make the trip worth it.

Memzy said...

This makes me so essited for summer and vacay"s!!! That pic of you and your boys in front of the gize are glowing blondes and gorge and stuff. And your description of the fat family in the minivan sounds like it should be in some National Lampoon's type movie.

Much loved this post.

Krissy said...

Awesome! I am now adding Philly to one of my family vacation destinations.