We have returned from our Phourth Phabulous Mama-Jonah Trip to Philadelphia! The first of these adventures (which I documented in a post called Philadelphia Freedom) happened back in July of 2011, when the little guy was four. We skipped the annual tradition last summer, when the three of us travelled to England for three weeks, but last Monday, off to one of our favorite cities went the lad and I.
Traveling with the little guy gets easier as he gets older, of course. He’s always been headstrong, and while that quality hasn’t diminished, he now, at eight years old, has far more rational reasons for wanting to do what he wants to do. This time we paid a visit to Battleship New Jersey, in which I had only a mild interest (and do still, even after having toured it). But that’s cool; I’m down with his enthusiasm for this kind of “boy thang,” despite not sharing it.
I went along cheerfully, hoping we didn’t have to endure any attempted campaign opps on the part of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, as it occurred to me that he could make an appearance for the Delaware River’s Tall Ships Festival. It didn’t happen, thank goodness and, in retrospect, I think Guv Christie’s too savvy to attempt a tour of this ship: there are far too many passageways that are so tight a human half Christie’s girth would risk getting stuck. Just as Winnie-the-Pooh found when he became lodged in Rabbit’s doorway, Christie would be forced to stay put until he lost some poundage and could be wrenched free. That’d play serious havoc with his Presidential campaign plans.
(Christie probably hates this ship—I can imagine him taking the name of the ship as a personal affront: “Battleship New Jersey?! I’m the fucking battleship in this state!”)
No Christie appearance meant even the rain didn’t dampen our spirits. We got a lot of walking in, loads of climbing up and down steep stairways; overall, it was a a wee workout with a somewhat interesting tour of a huge hunk of metal, and the boy was happy.
We mamas aim to please.
Another new experience on this trip (this one my idea) was a visit to the Eastern State Penitentiary, which claims the title of the world’s first “penitentiary,” designed expressly to encourage regret and reflection among its inmates. (The prison was originally conceived in the late 18th century but didn’t open until 1829.) The place has largely fallen to ruin, but it’s an excellent, sobering, thought-provoking museum. The recommended minimum age is 8 and that makes sense to me; I saw families with kids old enough to be disturbed, yet not old enough to make sense of it all. The little guy and I were both intrigued by the place; Jonah wondered afterwards if it is truly haunted and seemed to think it likely. (I’m on the fence about that one.)
We also loved our lunch at City Tavern (originally established in 1773 and called by John Adams “the most genteel tavern in America”). Okay, it’s not the original building, but the National Park Service rebuilt it in the 1970s to exacting specifications, the staff dresses in colonial garb, and the chef, Walter Staib, is a culinary historian and the host of the PBS program “A Taste of History.” The food was delicious, our waiter and the other staff were lovely, and the child loved his fish and chips as well as drinking his cider out of a metal goblet. Good times!
We did so much more that I can’t include here, and didn’t have a chance to get to many other things. We haven’t yet made it to the Barnes Foundation or the Rodin Museum, and I’d also like to visit the National Museum of American Jewish History and the African American Museum. Philadelphia has so much and just doesn’t get the credit for being a tourist destination, despite being named by the New York Times as third in its list of 52 destinations to visit in 2015. I guess the New Yorker I was standing behind in line to board our Amtrak train never saw that article. She visits Philadelphia every several months to get her hair done (“My sister turned me on to this great place, but I usually don’t see her when I come”) but attested that you can’t spend more than a few days in Philly because “you’d run out of things to do.” She was one of those charming people who is always right and, when you point out a mistake or inconsistency, changes the subject to the next thing they can be right about. To be honest, I’m torn between my desires to sing the praises of this gem of a city and to keep quiet about my enthusiasm. Because—shhhh, don’t tell anyone—you can still get a relative bargain on a hotel, making Philly an affordable, educational, fun vacation city for families.