Before leaving Baltimore way too soon, as we usually do with every city, we stopped...
Before we go on, we're writing this as we eat dessert and Mary just said, "There's caramel at the bottom of the pudding." You should be grateful that we're actually going to continue writing this.
Anyway, we stopped at the Cloud Club level of The Brookshire Suites where they have quite the complimentary breakfast spread out every morning (in addition to the evening cocktail hour). Pancakes, eggs, bacon, cereals, fresh fruit, and more all served in a room with floor to ceiling windows offering nice views of the harbor. Neither of us are breakfast persons, generally speaking, but if we're going to do it, this is a good way.
We had an easier time getting out Baltimore than we did getting out of DC yesterday but we were still running a little late on our schedule for the Museum of Mourning Art located just outside the Philadelphia limits. This becomes important in a moment.
The museum is housed in a working funeral home that is an exact replica of George Washington's Mount Vernon, which is in turn perched on the edge of a photogenic cemetery. It's a small but concise exhibit with paintings, books, jewelry, clothing, and more and we were led through it by Elizabeth, a very knowledgeable employee (we're sorry, we didn't get your exact title Elizabeth), who was chock full of interesting information about 400 years of funerary customs. Even dedicated death buff Mary learned a number of new facts.
Of particular interest was the mourning jewelry. If you have an interest, you've probably seen work made out of hair before but the objects on display here used a different technique that basically turns it into paint, making it difficult to tell that the resulting miniatures displayed on rings and broaches had their origin in human hair.
Despite its niche subject matter, its a fascinating glimpse into customs that are mostly, sadly, missing from today's "Get Over It" society.
Continuing if not the death theme, certainly what some might consider the morbid theme of the day, we next went to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia proper, which has been a showcase for medical curiosities for nearly 150 years. Oh it was glorious and disgusting. Displays on conjoined twins! An 8 1/2 foot long colon! Various bodily diseases graphically modeled in plaster, or sometimes, in life! Stuff that's too horrible to discuss in glass jars!! One of us said, "Ew!" The other said "Goodie!" We'll let you decide which is which.
One particularly disturbing display takes a few minutes to make its emotional impact, nearly an entire wall is taken up by a collection of skulls, each one labeled with the previous owner's name, nationality, occupation, age, and cause of death. Slowly, as you read each label, one's mind begins to comprehend that these are the mortal remains of a human being; that you're looking at what is left of someone who once lived and laughed and ate on this earth. Like all good memento mores it's sobering to the say the least.
Okay, it was sobering once we posted the joke on Twitter about the Transylvania skull being missing.
And no, Mary hasn't decided whether or not she wants her body to be donated to science. Rick has. Not so much. (This is why he must outlive Mary because she'll send him off to Harvard anyway. To hell with his wishes, he's dead).
But we're alive right now and so off we went to our latest hotel, the Sofitel in the heart of Philadelphia. This brand has a very high reputation for hospitality, comfort, and service and this particular location certainly lives up to it. A chic lobby adjoins an equally chic bar (looks great for casual drinks and conversation) and the front desk agents greet you with a cheerful "Bonjour!" Other features include an onsite restaurant, a fully equipped high-tech fitness center, concierge, business center, and more.
The all-needs covered rooms are done in a vaguely deco influenced style, not that we noticed that much detail after we spotted the beds. Between the feather duvet and the feather pillows, the effect is that of marshmallows that have been cross-bred with clouds on top of whipped cream.
Mary called Rick, "Don't ask, just dive onto the bed." "Okay," he said bemusedly. Pause. "Oooh!"
Both of us thought, "Yeah, Philadelphia is a really nice city but do we really need to go out and see it?"
When Plucky Friend Heather arrived, she joined Mary in the smooshy embrace of the bed and was similarly tempted to just stay there, possibly forever.
Heather, by the way, was Mary's AP English teacher in her senior year of high school (which she swears was recently) and they have been friends ever since, for which Mary is enormously grateful.
But we did go out with Heather leading the way to the Reading Terminal Market. It's been market since, oh, we don't know how long because everything in Philadelphia is old (in a good way), and they built the train station right on top. It's a big, noisy, semi-chaotic space stuffed with stalls, each one overflowing with food that looks more delicious than what's in the stall before. We loved it.
Now, as one probably knows, Philadelphia is famous for its cheesesteaks, but apparently another popular item is roast pork sandwiches. As it happens, Heather had anticipated our desire to try same and led us to DiNico's, a noted purveyor of pork. And... it was closed. For a funeral. The irony that we had been using funerary customs and other death related subjects as entertainment all day was not lost on us.
Since our mouths were set for pork and we heard tell that an Amish owned stall on the other side of the facility had piggie sandwiches, we went there for lunch. The results were fine, but it was barbequed pulled pork, not what we had been anticipating, and we were ultimately disappointed. Mary later realized that she's really off her game because normally she would've been buying something from five or six different stalls to compare and contrast.
Heather saved lunch by producing Whoopie Pies - two halves of chocolate cake with creamy white icing in the middle, a delicacy not unlike a Hostess Suzy Q, but obviously in a realm considerably higher.
When we come back to Philadelphia we're going have lunch at the market every day until we have tried it all, gosh darnit!
Our road trips do not confine themselves merely to the offbeat; we try to carefully balance that with the serious. So the rest of our afternoon was going to be dedicated to our nation's history, a good portion of which began right here in Philadelphia, which you may or may not remember from history class depending on how closely you paid attention.
First up was Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Now, Rick had spent some time looking at the website, which has all kinds of information about the location, but he didn't notice one important fact: apparently they limit the number of admissions every day and we showed up sometime after that limit had been reached. Frustrated, we asked Heather what we missed. "It's very small," she said, "And that's quite moving. So that's what you missed. That it's moving."
Dejected, we trundled off next door to National Constitution Center, a spanking new building dedicated to the extraordinary feat accomplished by 55 delegates in 1787. This is not a dry museum but instead is a hands on interpretive center stuffed with exhibits, graphics, video, interactive touch screens, art, and more detailing the highs and lows of our nation's struggle with the concepts of freedom and justice. We alternated with a dizzying pace between pride and shame as displays celebrated the constitution and condemed the times when various groups of people (slaves, women, etc.) were not properly represented by it. We wanted to sit right down and read the entire document so Rick bought a book containing it and after our triumphant return from the road, we intend to have a party where we read the entire document out loud.
Sitting in the shadow of the Hall from which it once rang (you know, the one we couldn't get into), sits The Liberty Bell Center, a complex complete with an exhibit on the background of, you know, the bell, and you know, the bell itself. It's a big bell. With a crack in it. Right, you thought we were going to have something new to say about it? Except maybe this: how sweet is it that a country found this bell more valuable a symbol once it was flawed?
We intended to visit the American Philosophical Society but naturally when we got there we discovered it closed at 4 instead of 5. So Heather recommended Carpenter Hall as a good substitute for Independence Hall so we scurried over there and it was closed. Okay, fine, so we go to Christ Church were Benjamin Franklin is buried. Yeah, closed. Oh Philadelphia, we really like you but you sure are making it hard to do so.
Philly tried to make amends by keeping the Shane Candy Company, the oldest candy store in the country, open so we speedy quick bought a sack full and then got out before they could change their minds. Right next door is the excellent Franklin Ice Cream Shop where Mary had a scoop of peach that tasted exactly like biting into the fruit itself.
We were joined by Heather's husband Logan, a retired English professor turned painter, and accompanied him to the arts district, which was holding its First Friday of the month exhibition openings. Three of Logan's works were on display in a collection of still lifes at The Artists House Gallery, which represents him.
This bustling neighborhood (around the intersection of Arch and 2nd Streets) is BoHo cool, with both formal galleries and sidewalk artists selling their wares. We could've spent hours here alone.
After bidding a tearful goodbye to Heather and Logan we walked back to the American Philosophical Society (pausing to look at Benjamin Franklin's Post Office, also closed), which was hosting this evening a Fringe theater performance called "Darwinii." We shouldn't have been surprised that the tickets were sold out, and yet we were.
All right fine, there's dinner! Our intention was to do a Cheesesteak Challenge. You know, everyone in this town seems to have an opinion about which restaurant serves the best so we thought we'd sample a few. We got suggestions from the local Convention and Visitors Bureau and from Plucky Friend Heather, but it was ultimately the recommendation from Museum of Mourning Art tour guide Elizabeth that we started with. She had thoughtfully printed out informational sheets on what she considered the best, cautioning us that the more famous ones tend to be full of gristle. One of her recommendations was, of course, already closed for the day but the other, Tony Luke's, said "Sure, we're open, and we're totally dead, so come on down."
So we motored in Plucky Mobile style and by the time we got there the line stretched halfway down the block. What the hell, Philadelphia? Are you punishing us for not staying very long?
But we stuck it out and were rewarded with a fairly fast moving line and best of all a superlative cheesesteak sandwich and yes, a roast pork. How superlative? It was so good that we abandoned all hope of the Challenge and just polished off the whole footlong of it. Tender and juicy meat without a hint of gristle, perfect crusty to soft ratio on the bread... A+.
To cap it off, we shared a table with a nice local couple who gave us tips on where to eat in Amish country because apparently we haven't had enough food.
Speaking of which, now we're back at the Sofitel, eating the aforementioned pudding, pilfering amenities ("Well, you are!" Rick said to Mary who protested, "But they are L'Occitane!"), and eyeing those beds.
"Why, Why, Do you always schedule us to leave early when we have a really good bed for sleeping in," asked Mary to Rick who patiently responded, "Do you or do you not want to go to the garlic festival in the Poconos?" She conceded.
Before we sign off for the evening, a couple of quick notes... keep scrolling because there are more pictures below. Also, if you just can't stand waiting for our Plucky updates at the end of each day, follow our Twitter feed (@pluckysurvivors)... we're actually using it a couple of times a day for updates from the road!
Tune in tomorrow for our recap of Best. Day. Ever! Which might be a little late depending on how very, very good said day ends up being.