July 8: A Forgotten Day in American History?

Today we were in the old nation’s capital. Tomorrow we will be in the new one.

Thankfully, Paw-Paw let me sleep in some this morning since I stayed up until two a.m. last night on a very important phone call. I got up and got ready around 9:30 while Madison and Paw-Paw looked at some of the tours available and tried to decide what we would do. We figured the easiest way to check everything out would be to go down to the visitor’s center right by Independence Hall and see what the historic area had to offer.

We got free tickets to tour the hall and also signed up for a hop on/hop off bus tour that ran all day. We had a couple of hours before our tour of Independence Hall started, so we walked across the street and looked at the Liberty Bell.

As important as these things are, I always feel kind of let down when I see them. The Liberty Bell is a symbol of this country, but really all it is is just an old broken bell. It’s famous because a couple of guys couldn’t repair it. I understand the symbolism, but I always expect these symbols to be much more impressive than they are.

We had just enough time before our Independence Hall tour to ride the full route of the bus tour and check out the city. It was one of those double-decker buses, so of course we climbed up on top. I heard Bus Guide Joe come up behind us and say something to a man about UNC. The man was wearing a UNC hat and I swear the tour guide said that he was going there, so I turned around and asked him. It turns out that he is moving down to Chapel Hill next semester to study at Playmakers for graduate school. He is actually living in the apartment complex that I almost did before one of my roommates dropped out. We spent a few minutes talking about the town and ridiculous basketball team we have coming back next year. He said he was in town for the UNC vs. dook game last year and loved the crazy Tar Heel fans running around.

He took us on a 90-minute tour around the city, seeing all the big sights: the Betsy Ross house, Ben Franklin Court, U.S. Mint, City Hall, the Art Museum (“Rocky” steps), the zoo, and the historical district. Joe knew his stuff about the town and was constantly giving little stories about the city and all the architecture, sculptures and history. It was a great overview and gave us a fill of what we wanted to come back to.

We made it back just in time to catch our Independence Hall tour (actually, we were late, but the guy was nice enough to let us in). Our ranger was the worst guide that we’ve had all trip. He has to be new, and very, very shy. It was pretty obvious that he’d memorized the guidebook in chunks. His pattern of speech was crazy: “On July — fourth seventeen — seventy six, the Declaration of — Independence was — not signed but — adopted.” This is not an exaggeration. When someone asked him a question he wouldn’t look them in the eye, but instead looked down at the floor. Insecurity isn’t a good trait in a tour guide.

Like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall was less than impressive. It’s a fairly small two-story building and other than what happened there, there is nothing impressive about it. It was originally the Pennsylvania State House before it was used for the drafting of the declaration, Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. On the lower floor, there are two main rooms: the judicial room, where the Pennsylvania court met, and the legislative room, where the legislature met. The latter is where our important documents were born.

Most of the furniture pieces are replicas except for George Washington’s chair, with it’s half exposed sun. The guide talked a little bit about what happened there, but it wasn’t anything more than I learned in AP US History in high school. Upstairs was the governor’s area where he would entertain foreign dignitaries or other important people.

And that was it. The tour was over. Again, other than thinking about what happened there, it’s nothing exciting to see.

We walked outside and went to a little building that housed some of the original copies made of the declaration, AoC and Constitution. These are not the original and final documents, but they are copies that were made around the time that these were being drafted. We got our own complimentary copy of the Declaration. All the “s”s look like “f”s.

Next we got a short tour of the old congress building that was used when Philly was the national capital. Again, nothing too impressive and most everything around was a replica. At this point we were done with Independence Square. It was good to see, but not on my top list of great tourist spots in the country.

There is one thing that you have to do in Philly: get a Philly steak. I have been here twice before and went to Pat’s King of Steaks both times. Pat is supposed to have created the Philly Steak. Unfortunately that is in South Philly, pretty far from where we were. The bus tour guide mentioned that Rick’s in the Reading Market in downtown and recommended that instead of Pat’s. Rick is apparently the son or grandson of Pat.

We walked the few blocks over there and got in a pretty short line. We went in the mid-afternoon so I guess we missed the crazy lunch crowd. Madison and Paw-Paw had never had a steak before, so I had to give them a little talk on how to order. We got our order and had to fight for seats, which was awesome.

There is nothing healthy about a Philly steak. It’s the greasiest thing in the world.

That being said, they are so freakin’ good!! I’m glad that they both agreed with me, and I have to say it was better than Pat’s.

We had to walk off this heavy lunch, so we went a few blocks down to what’s called Love Park. It’s a nice little fountain with the famous “Love” sculpture sitting in front of it. (If you don’t know the sculpture, I’ll have a picture up soon. It’s the one where the letters are stacked in a square and the “o” is crooked.) We got a few pictures before we were bombarded by a wedding party that was singing and dancing and taking pictures around the sculpture. They were hilarious and having way too much fun!

We got back on our tour bus at this point and went to the “Rocky” steps in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum. I really wanted to go in and check out the museum, but by the time we got there it was close to closing and there was no reason to pay for 30 minutes. Instead, we took some pictures in front of the statue of Rocky and Madison and I raced up the steps. I won. And I’m no longer impressed by that scene in the movie. It’s only 72 steps, and supposedly Sylvester Stallone only ran eight and had his body double run the rest.

We rode around the last part of the tour again (with a tour guide that wasn’t anywhere near as good as the first) and ended up back at the visitor’s center at around six p.m. We were pretty exhausted at this point, so we got the hotel shuttle to pick us up and crashed back at the hotel. They Philly held us all over (except Madison, of course) so we decided not to grab dinner.

Tomorrow we will be getting up early to head to Washington, D.C. We hope to go ahead and tour Arlington tomorrow when we get there. Right now it looks like we will be staying two nights and then heading home some time on the third day.

We’ve actually reached the end, and the time seems like it has flown by!

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