Pennsylvania – Day 5/5.5: Exploring Philly and Valley Forge

My first night in Philly my host took me to a party and we didn’t end up getting back to his place and going to sleep until 2 a.m. I then woke up at 6:30 a.m. to be ready for the 7:00 a.m. EST priority booking of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets. Yeah, I’m super nerdy, I know. I figured I’d be able to go back to sleep once we got the tickets – it was a group effort, but it took an hour and a half to get them. Woof. Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted the whole day in Philly.

As was true in Boston, parking to ride the train into Philly was a bit of a hassle. First, my Google Maps directions took me to a train station that did not exist where it said it did. Second, my Google Maps directions took me to a train station that did not, that I could find, have any public, or non-private, parking places. At last, after twenty-five or so minutes of driving around, I found a train station with $1 public parking. Huzzah.

Unfortunately, the train was delayed because of the weather. It was rainy and cold and overcast. Blargh. Thankfully, I’d thought to grab my umbrella. Fun fact: I don’t think I’d used an umbrella in years until this day. I’m usually just out in the rain en route to somewhere else and don’t really care, but a day wandering around? That definitely called for an umbrella.

Eventually the train came and I asked someone where to go for the transfer I needed and managed to find it without any issues. I started the day at the Liberty Bell and was surprised by the speed with which I got up to see it. It was a little anti-climactic. I wandered through the exhibits leading up to it and then BOOM. There it was. Not that I’m complaining. I loved how quick it was, it was just unexpected. There were maybe ten people ahead of me and it only took like five minutes for them to finish their pictures and it to be my turn. I even waited a few minutes and went back for a second round of pictures because my first round kind of blew.

The Liberty Bell in front of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA.

The Liberty Bell in front of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA.

Then I started wandering. I came across the Bourse, a touristy looking food court/shopping place, which looked like a good place to get souvenirs, and it was. I found my souvenirs and then popped a squat and whipped out a map and made a plan for the rest of the day. I took a picture of the map with my phone so I wouldn’t have to carry it around all day and then continued on my adventures.

I wanted to do a sort of big loop so I wouldn’t have to do much backtracking. So next I went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Isn’t it a little strange to think that if our forefathers hadn’t responded the way they did to the British most of us might not be here?

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Philadelphia, PA.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Philadelphia, PA.

Next up was Independence Hall. Unfortunately, that required backtracking because I had to go get a free ticket from the Independence Visitor Center which I’d already passed. Sometimes I love tours and sometimes I find them annoying. This one I loved. It was super chill and relatively quick.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA.

I learned that Independence Hall was built in 1753 and was the largest structure in the colonies at that time. I also learned that Independence Hall started as the Pennsylvania State House. The Pennsylvania government invited the Second Continental Congress to use their space in May of 1775. They also invited the Constitutional Convention to come in May of 1787. The Assembly Room is where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed.

The Assembly Room, where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA.

The Assembly Room, where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA.

Did you know that of the fifty-five men who helped write the Constitution only thirty-nine signed it? Interesting.

I went to the National Constitution Center next because the signs out front said they had an original draft of the Bill of Rights, which I thought would be cool to see. Lucky for me the $13 admission price was waived with my handy dandy reciprocal museum card. Oh yeah! I did a quick round through the Religious Liberty and the Founding of America exhibit and then went and watched the one-woman performance of Freedom Rising. The performance was kind of meh. I couldn’t get over her dark purple nail polish and rings, they clashed horribly with the pantsuit she was wearing and I couldn’t help but wonder if the costume designer would be really peeved if they saw this. On second thought, maybe they didn’t have a costume designer at all. That would make more sense. Anyway, the show was just rah, rah, America and my time probably would’ve been better spent exploring the rest of the museum.

I checked out Signer’s Hall where there are life-size brass statues of all the signers and dissenters of the U.S. Constitution. It was a little strange to see how small some of the men were. For some reason, I’d imagined the founders of our nation to be formidable, but they were just average guys, some only as tall as me. It was pretty neat to walk among them and be reminded that they were just regular people, even if they did start something much bigger than themselves.

Life-size founding father statues in Signer's Hall, National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, PA.

Founding father statues in Signer’s Hall, National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, PA.

I saw the draft of the Bill of Rights and a few other important historical documents, but I was most excited to explore the Speaking Out for Equality: The Constitution, Gay Rights, and the Supreme Court exhibit and I was not disappointed. The museum did a really good job of chronicling and explaining the LGBT movement and the significant legal cases that affected the LGBT community. They had everything from early views of homosexuality in the news and media and the first gay activists’ publications to selections highlighting both arguments from high profile Supreme Court cases and recent clips from tv and movies. It was really fascinating.

I only barely had time to walk through the exhibit What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? so I didn’t get to read and learn as much as I would’ve liked, but it looked interesting. If I’d had more time I would’ve stayed and looked at it more thoroughly. I had to move along, because I was trying to make it to the Betsy Ross house before it closed.

I didn’t end up making it to Betsy Ross’s house in time, so maybe I should’ve stayed at the National Constitution Center longer. Oh, well. Instead, I walked through Chinatown to the Reading Terminal Market.

Chinatown, Philadelphia, PA.

Chinatown, Philadelphia, PA.

It’s almost cruel to walk through such good smelling places when you’re broke and can’t afford to eat out. When I wandered around the Reading Terminal Market I found myself resenting all the people around me who were laughing and enjoying their delicious smelling food. Especially since I would be having a bagel with peanut butter and an apple for dinner, again. Needless to say, I didn’t stay and continue to torture myself for long. The Reading Terminal Market was cool though, lots of restaurants and food markets and shops. It was a great place to people watch.

It was getting dark and I was exhausted and didn’t want to have to worry about finding the train stations once it was completely dark, so I decided to call it a day. If you’re in Philly, I definitely recommend checking out the National Constitution Center and specifically the LGBT exhibit. It was wonderful. Also, if you have some time to people watch, go to Reading Terminal Market and, if you can afford it, have lunch.

The next morning, before I headed back to New York to finish out my adventures in that state, I stopped at Valley Forge. I was worried it would feel creepy like Gettysburg, but decided to go anyway. Mostly it just felt peaceful.

Valley Forge, PA.

Valley Forge, PA.

The weather was gorgeous and it felt historic, but not haunted like Gettysburg. I also appreciated being able to explore the Mulhenburg Brigade Huts and glimpse what life was like for the soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

Spacious and comfy....Inside a Mulhenburg Brigade Hut, Valley Forge, PA.

Spacious and comfy…Inside a Mulhenburg Brigade Hut, Valley Forge, PA.

So, yeah. Pennsylvania was a little rainy and cold with a couple really nice days. I explored the major cities and some of the historic sites and had a pretty great time. Stay tuned for the By the Numbers post and up next it’s back to New York to explore the Hudson Valley, New York City, and possibly Long Island.

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