It was the weekend of Independence, a few extra days off wouldn't hurt. I filled the car with family and bags and headed down the Turnpike. All roads branch off this toll road and in Jersey it is only a matter of what exit you live off of. Our exit would be the one closest to the Ben Franklin Bridge and America's First Zoo. A relic hidden within the town limits of Philadelphia, the zoo is a quaint place, not as large and bustling as the one in the Bronx, but friendly. It was a clean, quiet, entertaining walk between exhibits down shaded walking paths. It's size lends itself to a shorter visit taking less than half a day. It leaves plenty of time to venture through the rest of this historic town.
We were able to stop by a few landmarks, plaques placed throughout the city. The kids' favorite being the historic marker for the site of the first Girl Scout cookie booth. Where, in the window of the old Philadelphia Gas and Electric Co., Girl Scouts baked and sold their cookies to raise funds for their endeavors. Four years later the national headquarters for Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. adopted the annual cookie sale nationwide and a true tradition was established. We cruised the cobblestone streets down towards Penn's Landing to cool off with old fashioned ice cream sundaes doled out at The Franklin Fountain. A nostalgic place where soda jerks make honest-to-goodness egg creams and the toppings are house made. The fans are still belt-driven affairs and the register only accepts cash. The kids were filled with wonder and ice ream and sodas made from syrup and seltzer. It was a refreshing stop in so many ways.
Cool and relaxed, we were ready to gaze upon an ancient artifact, preserved within a glass building. A metallic wonder forged over 250 years ago. The security was tight around the grounds of the Liberty Bell and the lines were on the long side of a free attraction but I felt a visit to the Liberty Bell and the history surrounding it were especially important for the kids. So much nowadays is read or even more so seen on the screen of TV's and computers and "smart" phones, that we as a society have forgotten that these things, places, artifacts, landmarks, really do exist in solid form. We fought the throngs of tourists shuffling through the building and stood our ground to read all the history fixed upon the walls. I see no point in pushing people out of the way to secure a poorly taken photo with a phone of a significant historical piece that holds no meaning to the photographer (I mean picture-taker for I feel photographer denotes caring about the subject matter). The iconic piece was there looking out a glass wall toward Independence Hall. I felt goose bumps run atop my skin as I tried to detail the importance of the Bell and the building behind it to my kids. We were walking grounds that our country's forefathers stepped upon and railed against tyranny centuries ago. We were surrounded by ghosts of greatness.
We left the manicured grounds still discussing the history that had taken place here. The Reading Terminal was our next stop and did not disappoint. What more can be said about an old landmark filled with homemade offerings of every kind but "Oh my goodness". We bought fresh butchered bacon and sausage for at home and sampled America's Oldest Ice Cream, Bassetts (oh, it was so creamy and rich and good). The cooler in the back of the truck was now full with food stuffs for future grilling sessions back home and all we (I, really) needed was some beverages to wash it all down. Our SMV rode through the neighborhoods of Philly picking up beer from several of the local breweries to bring back home. And the tangle of streets eventually led to a dinner table with outside neighborhood flair.
No visit to Philly would be complete without grabbing a table and a cheese steak at the intersection of Passyunk and Wharton. Pat's King of Steaks and their across the street rival Geno's are landmarks and destinations and foodie goodness all rolled into one. The intersection glows with neon lights and hums with hungry people and the laughter of kids playing in the park next door. The grease rolls down your arms and the cheese covers your lips. The kids devoured their first-ever originals with Cheez Whiz in minutes while slurping on a lemonade. With bellies full, our trip to Philly was a good one.
Before leaving the area, we followed more history through Valley Forge and visited Washington's headquarters. We mapped our way back through time to Amish country and Bird-in-Hand. The coolers would be near bursting before we returned home. History would be all around us. And my family would be looking forward to our next road trip. But first there would need to be fireworks to celebrate our independence and my family will watch them with a better understanding of why the night sky is lit up red, white, and blue.