My semi-impulsive getaway!
I booked a Megabus seat and my first ever Airbnb room in advance, but I had no idea what the contents of the weekend would look like!
I start my weekend in the afternoon upon a fleet of blue busses lined up against a curb with only a fewstanding signs indicating their intended destination.
At the beginning of the bus ride I messaged my hosts indicating my trip departure, as the bus neared Philadelphia the host Sebastien asked if we were at the bridge yet, and moments later the bus is at the toll gate for the Benjamin Franklin Bridge! it was almost uncanny how he knew where the bus was with the time tables.
I get recommended to get off at the 6th and Market megabus stop to hop onto the SEPTA rail at 5th street station on the blue Market Frankford Line. I see this mysterious iron box that claimed tokens, but since it wasn’t happy accepting my George Washingtons I gave the fare booth guy exactly $2.25 for it was notorious that they will not give you any change if you do not have exact fare. The grumpy faced fare guy let me through the turnstile as I hear the rusty screeching of train wheels reach my ears.
I get off at Girard station and thankfully there is still enough light out to allow me to navigate the adorable streets of Fishtown. Narrow streets with short two to three storey buildings.
I find my lodging destinations as per Sebastien’s’ directions and a petite eye glassed lady Sari greets me cordially at the door. She shows me around their fun and charismatically decorated home and shows me how to use the house keys correctly. By the time I drop off my bags and being super happy with my first Airbnb selection, Sebastien has made it home and greets me warmly.
I inquire about First Friday’s that I’ve heard about to Sebastien and Sari, it’s their first Friday of the month where the artists come out to show their works and galleries are shops are open late in the downtown area. Sabastien recommends I start by going north on 2nd street and coming back down south to Market Street on 3rd. He also suggested if I wanted to go see more challenging art work, to then try 11th street through 13th street a bit later on in the evening. I take their advice and head back on the blue line to the 2nd street stop.
The streets are full with people making it a very festive mood, live musicians and lots of peddlers selling their wares. I poke my head into a lot of galleries and surprised at the high concentration of art galleries lining the streets.
Nothing really captivates me so I end up cutting across Ridge to travel down 3rd street. On my ambling down 3rd I see the a window of a smoke shop featuring cigars that catches my attention. I step into Harry’s Smoke Shop to see a jolly faced shopkeep behind the counter speaking animatedly to a guest and greets me into the store. I am enticed by the back end of the store where I see leather couches and armchairs with a few locals hanging out with a cigar, and on the other side of the wall a walk-in floor to ceiling humidor.
Absolutely fascinated and with minimal exposure to cigars in the past, I was intrigued to learn more. I eventually inquire the shopkeep for a recommendation, and I get countered with “What foods do you like to eat?” “Jamaican, Korean, Indian, Mediterranean….” so I get a “I usually wouldn’t recommend this to people I’m not familiar with their tastes, but I’m going to suggest a medium to bold selection for you” he hands me a black and gold labeled cigar with Jericho Hill on the logo to sample the aroma and the nose is earthy loam with a bouquet of cardamom-y sweet and tangy black pepper-ness ringing through my nose. I heartily agree with his selection, and proceed with the $9 purchase as he snips off the end with his handy cutters and educates me on how to properly light a cigar with a torch lighter. I do my best to pull the smoke into my mouth and then push through my nose by moving the air by closing my tongue on the roof of my mouth. Its an intense yet unexpected palette of flavors. With nothing else calling my attention, I hang out at the counter reveling in my first full blown cigar experience while I observe the shopkeep greet his guests and ramble off his opinions and suggestions on all the products in the store.
I got to watch art students buy cigar boxes, teens with valid ID’s buy cigarettes, and sophisticated gentlemen in suits come out with their selections from the humidor make their purchases while I tugged on my evening pastime. I got even complimented when I got my ash about an inch long without letting it fall off. I see the other regulars come in with food and find out that it is a BYOB establishment. The smoke has gotten to my head so I take a short break to the pizza shop for a hawaiian slice. I stuck around for the rest of the evening noshing on my pizza and then lighting up my ‘Jericho Hill’ for another round as I got to listen to the locals shoot the shit about the baseball game on the big screen for the evening and throw around some outrageous stories of people they’ve known in their lives.
Carlos the shopkeep invites me out to a drink if it turns out he doesn’t have to work the evening shift at the restaurant he helps out at, we walk into at Revolution House restaurant a few blocks away from Harry’s Smoke Shop, he was relieved of duty after checking in with the Manager so grab a round of drinks “Original Sin” cider for Carlos and “Trust No One” rye cocktail for me. My new friend is a former Cop and Marine now living life as a human encyclopedia on cigars. For my first evening in a new city, I compliment myself for a successful evening as I wrench off the cigar infused clothes and fall into a heavenly soft bed at the host’s house back in Fishtown.
I was intrigued by the La Colombe Torrefaction building in Fishtown, I was familiar with the coffee shops in NYC so I was excited to look forward to good coffee. I am wow’ed by the grandeur of the space and salivatious baked goods on their front counter. I order their cappuccino and serrano ham biscuit.
To be amazed even more to see fabulous bent plywood rocking chairs in the rear seating area and a gleaming copper still - which made apparent why they had bottles of rum for sale on their menu. Rich frothy cappuccino and chewy savory biscuit goes straight down the hatch in the blink of an eye.
Breakfast accomplished satisfactorily, I was ready to go stomach the famous Mutter Museum of Medical History. Quiet grandeur of the dark wood decor and tall glass cases with rows of skulls! What an intriguingly imposing sight! Conjoined twins preserved in oversized glass jars, and wax models of different diseases and malaise.
Their storyline of how the museum used tales of the original Grimm Fairy Tales and associated the trials and tribulation of the tales with prevalent diseases, infant mortality rate with high risks for the mother to illustrate the context in which many of these stories were based upon. Absorbing as much as I could of this fascinating chunk of history, I got respite from the intensity of the information in their quaint garden before heading out into the real world again.
I weaved the streets of Walnut/ Chestnut and Locust eastward soaking in the architecture of the city. Their multi tiered buildings with narrow alleyways connecting them are just adorable. It has a hint of mystery waiting to happen around the corner through some of these alleys.
Finally hungry, I bust out my roast pork, pineapple, jalapeno sandwich from Rotisseur in stellar view of the Benjamin Franklin bridge in the raised amphitheater space next to the Seaport Museum.
Recharged from only half the sandwich I continue my wanderings southward to come across Philly’s open air market, and little pockets of restaurants and shops interspersed through the quiet rows of peaceful houses.
I let myself indulge in Japan made vintage opera glasses, Italian pumps and a black dress from the collection made by the ladies at Nostalgia Vintage at the 5th and Passyunk Avenue junction for $100.
From the recommendation of the young ladies at store, I venture further south on Passyunk and got to see the famous Philly Cheesesteak joints so heavy with the meaty aroma I was wondering when the Cheesesteak juices would start condensing from the air surrounding the kitchens. The one thing I chose not to do was get a Cheesesteak, somehow I didn’t feel obligated to get one, considering its a Philadelphia established culture icon. I was full from the aromas!!
The ladies at Nostalgia Vintage sent me to a lingerie shop called Harriets, with hand written signs in the window “store closing soon everything 40% off!!” I step into the small shop to see two tiny yet loud elderly ladies dressing up customers and fitting bras, I was drowning in the hose section when a guy walks in with ill fitting jeans and standing grey hair that looked like it was supposed to be gelled down but not. He’s trying to strike up a conversation while the ladies exclaim “Can’t you see !? We’re working!” and throw insults at him while he tries to talk about RAM memory in computers and how he’s got one, and maybe he should get a computer for the store (even though its about to close for good….) I realize when the two ladies start report to him their hours for the week after trying verbally to kick him out, is that this ungelled hair slouchy bored man is their Store Pimp!! I was impressed that such a store staffing organization/structure existed. So out of desire to help the vocal(and probably wanting to retire) ladies, I was compelled to purchase two pairs of stockings for a total of $8.
Burnt out from shopping, I discover myself really far south at the Tasker Morris Station on the red Broad Street line. I walked so much I was only three stations away from the south end of the line! With brain not functioning anymore like the preserved brains in jars I saw this morning at Mutter Museum, I end up at Harry’s Smoke Shop wanting a place to sit down and finish the other half of my sandwich, oh and to say Hi to Carlos of course. He was watching a movie with another guest in the smoking area in between assisting customers at the counter. I walk right in and plop myself down in an armchair. As my feet got less sore, the regulars started to filter in to occupy the remaining seats bringing in their own bottles of choice whether it may be red wine, rum or beers.
I hit it off with Pete when I make a music request for Max Roach the jazz drummer, he starts reeling off stories about the motown era and how he grew up around music under his parents and now he currently volunteers at the only active three masted ship Commissioned by the City of Philadelphia named the Gazela at the Penn’s Landing Marina.
With nowhere pressing to go to, and relaxed around the regulars, with a impressively delicious glass of red wine offered to me, I follow through with Carlos’ next suggestion - a short cigar with a red and gold medallioned ‘A-Fuente Gran Reserva’ mellow on the tongue but spicier on the nose. Through the evenings conversation it becomes apparent that over half of the regulars are Veterans from all walks of life that served this country, all looking for a comfortable place to sit and not be bothered on their Saturday evening. The evening wiles away through smoke and conversation as I make new friends who encourage me to reach out to them if I ever find myself in Philadelphia again, upon learning that I will be departing the next day.
I continue savoring the offerings of La Colombe with their house coffee and blueberry coffee crumb muffin, walking through the brisk yet brightly sunny morning, stretching my legs through the diagonally placed streets in my chunk of Fishtown exploration. There is the stereotype of race and tension issues in Philadelphia, but maybe because I’m from from a city lifestyle, I would cordially say ‘good morning’ to those locals staring down at me, and they all returned the greeting back. Being upfront with manners I find is the best way to be, and being vocal upfront lets the world know I’m capable of making noise. Granted, I was probably far from the supposed riskier parts of town, but the parts I saw seemed manageable to me.
I check out of the host’s house leaving them a two paged hand-written Thank You note for a really comfortable stay and take my last train ride to 2nd street. I was anxious to see this ship Gazela on Penn’s Landing that I heard so much about!
Under the brilliant Sunday sunshine I was presented with a majestic ship painted white and green with ropes crisscrossing every single direction imaginable. Delighted to see this ship I stayed on the marina trying to imagine what it must be like to sail on a operational 1880’s vessel. Famished from my imaginary sailings I was ready for a happy meal to fill me up before the bus ride back to NY.
I end up snatching the only outside table in front of the Victoria Free House British Pub. A spot of tea with milk, black pudding, fried tomatoes, sherry mushrooms and curry sauce sopped up with brioche toast is an queenly winner for my tummy.
I am so grateful I got to make this trip happen and make new friends! The return bus is on time, and I am left with only praise for my semi-impulsive weekend getaway.
Bye Philadelphia! Hope to see you soon!