Tut 'n Philly

Trip Start May 16, 2003
1
6
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Trip End May 16, 2010


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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Sunday, April 1, 2007

Our trip to Philadelphia started about two weeks earlier when we managed to get tickets to the King Tut exhibit at the Ben Franklin Institute.  Tickets went fast, and we could only get them to the 16:00 entrance, we also bought an audio tour.  After all said and done, with ticketmaster's obscene fee it was almost $100 for that alone (two tickets and one audio tour).
We figured we'll make a day out of it, since Philly is a nice town, with lots to see.

We woke up early Sunday morning, to hit the road by 8:00, with a two year old, and a 7.5 months pregnant wife we left at what we considered "on-time" - 08:20. The day was pretty chilly, with smell of rain in the air, but we figured it was just a warning to other likeminded people to stay away and give us our space.  After a trip to the gas station and McDonald's for breakfast we hoped on the NJ Turnpike where it started raining a bit, we just made believe we were in England and continued through.

Arriving in Philly at the record time (around 10:00), we of course got lost and ended up near the end of our journey, the Ben Franklin Institute.  Since we had directions printed up from Independence National Historic Park to there, we traced our way back ... we got lost again (but in the area) and had to stop and ask for directions.  We met several kind gentlemen who pointed us in the right direction.

Once we got to the Independence National Historic Park, we had to find a place to park.  Originally we were going to park on the street to save some money, but we found a cheap parking place on 7th & Cherry, $10 for the whole day, with a friendly guy who gave us some tips (turned out there is no free parking on Sundays, as we were originally led to believe).
We walked a whole two blocks to the visitor's center, picked up our free maps and the best tip of the trip; get your tickets to Independent Hall early.  When we arrived at around 10:30, the earliest tickets (which are free) available were on 12:30, and this was not a busy day (cloudy, Palm Sunday, day before Passover).

Our first stop was down the road from the visitor's center, the Liberty Bell.  To enter the building you have to go through some ridiculous security check, fold up strollers, x-ray all bags, go through metal detectors only to .... go outside, turn a corner and back inside the museum.  The museum is pretty nice, goes through the history of the bell, its roll in pop culture and politics and culminates with the bell itself.  It's very impressive, but certainly not worth the hassle in our opinion.  Especially since you go outside, after the security check, and around the bell you can leave straight to the street (which means someone can also slip in).



By the time we finished it was almost 11:30, so we stopped for a bit to eat at Benny's, a few block down.  We ate some Philly cheesesteaks which were OK, but for $6 each (the deluxe version with fries) they were great.  By the time we finished eating it was 12:00 so we went to Independence Hall.


Again... security check for all babies, old women and everyone in between (I'm sure the good people of Philly heard of profiling ... it's not a dirty word).

Again ... after the security check you go outside, granted there are waist high gates but still...
This time you wait in a park.  We talked to a security officer there (who by the way are doing a great job and are well aware of the shortcoming of the system), who said that Independence Hall is number three on the "terrorists hit list".
This would be meaningful if:
1)      The US government didn't create the list
2)      The Fucksville corn festival (or any other cheesy gathering) wasn't on it
3)      New York City would have at least one target on it
4)      If you could find two (2) people out of a 1,000 in any Middle East country who might actually know where Independence Hall is, or what it is.
That being said, we understand the need for security for those national and important sites.

Independence Hall was very interesting (warning: no bathroom facilities), the one good thing about the park being closed up is that you could let the kids run around, collecting sticks and scaring the pigeons.   Every kid who went to school in the US is familiar with the picture of the founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence, and it is just amazing standing where they stood, and realizing that we could use a few more people like George Washington.
There is a tour every 15 minutes or so, and the whole thing lasts about 30 minutes, if you like history this is the place for you.



After a welcome bathroom break (clean public bathrooms are located across the street from Independence Hall, and in the visitors' center) we took a short carriage ride around Philly, the highlight for our daughter who was enamored by our horse - Spot.  The ride was very interesting (cost $30 + $5 tip), lasted for 30 minutes with our guide pointing out interesting landmarks.  After we bid farewell to Spot (his memory will live on for the next two weeks, at least), we crossed the street to the old Philly stock market, now mall wannabe, the Bourse Building.  Basically just a bunch of shops, with $7 magnets, Rocky t-shirts and NY/PA memorabilia, so we did the only sensible thing ... we ate ice-cream, and planned our next move.

Since it was already getting a bit late (14:30, and we had tickets for 16:00) we decided to take a walk to the Betsy Ross House, which was about 3 blocks away.  The walk was great, even though we were a bit tired (our daughter fell asleep), and we found a great gift shop, a block away from the house which sold great items at reasonable prices.  The Betsy Ross house wasn't impressive, we walked in and were greeted by a very small, tight gift shop (of course), with lots of overly touristy junk; the tour of the house ran a whopping $10 a person ... so we walked out.
At least they got rid the "sew the first flag" myth (which shamelessly made it into the history books), and now are claiming she sew the first flag of the navy, which seemed more plausible.



From there we went back to the visitor's center, luckily the horse drawn carriage ride help us get our barring, but when a crazy bum saw us looking at the map on the street he stopped barking (literally) and pointed us to the visitor's center.  We thanked him kindly even though he was pointing the wrong way, and went a block out of the way just to avoid a confrontation, a smart move by all means.

During our journey we noticed many black trolleys featuring the image of King Tut with the words "Tut Trolley" conspicuously written on them.
Could it be so convenient?
Yes, it could.  Turned out that they were bussing people from the visitor's center to the Benjamin Franklin Institute for the bargain price of $2 a head; this of course was our preferred method instead of going through the trouble of packing up, taking the car out of the lot, driving all the way to 21st street, getting lost, finding our way, parking and unpacking again.
We took the trolley (child and stroller rode free), our bus driver, a B.B. King lookalike, pointed out some landmarks for us (we sat in the front) including the Philadelphia Museum of Art whose steps were made famous by Rocky.   The closer we got to the institute we realized that we made the smart choice by taking the Tut Trolleys since parking around the area was around $20, we were notified, however, that the Trolleys stops running at 16:30, oh well.
At the Institute we bought a pretzel from a street vendor, cold and a bit soggy, not nearly as good as the NYC pretzels we are accustomed to, took some pictures outside (no pictures are allowed at the exhibition) and made our way in.  The staff was very helpful directing us to the entrance; we picked up our audio tour while standing in line, while they let people in at batches of about 30 at a time.  Of course we were #31, so we had to wait a few more minutes (not easy with a bored 2 year old), basically another 15 minutes wait or so.

The exhibition itself was great, too bad it was at the end of the day, starting out with a 30 seconds movie narrated by Omar Sharif (who we believe also narrated the audio tour), with the first room showing artifacts and King Tut's heritage and family history.  From there you go to more and more rooms with beautiful artifacts.  The rooms and hallways are lighted in a way to highten the artificial drama and importance of the pieces; it seemed like they want you to feel what it's like be in a pyramid (maybe someday). The famous coffin was amazing, much larger than expected, and the famous liver box was much smaller than expected  (mmmm.... Liver).  We took turns entertaining our daughter in each room, while the other fought the crowds to take a close look at the artifacts, this is where the audio tour came in real handy, by entertaining our 2 year old (not to mention an impromptu story on how Cookie Monster stole all of King Tut's cookies).



We took a cab back to our parking lot (around $10) and off we went.  If it weren't for the traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike it would have been a perfect day (but that's all part of the adventure).
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