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Philadelphia: City Hall Building Tour

Did you know that the tallest building in the world is in Philadelphia? No kidding … I am not referring to tallest as in the Burj Dubai, or Taipei 101 or the Petronas Twin Towers.

That tallest building in the world is the City Hall in Philadelphia. The City Hall is at the center of the city … so center that there is a sort of a roundabout (more like a “squareabout”) around the City Hall. If you can imagine it … they put the City Hall right in the middle of the intersection of two roads that bisects the city into quadrants.

The reason why this is called the tallest is this is the tallest masonry building in the world. There are no steel frames that support the building. The entire weight of the building is borne by the sheer thickness of the stone walls. Any higher than this, any building would have collapsed by its own weight.

The Philadelphia City Hall was actually the tallest building, period, in the early 1900s when it was constructed.

Despite this being over 100 years old, it is still very much a working building. You would find it hard to believe but within this relatively small space, there are over 700 rooms in all, making it one of the largest municipal buildings in the world even today.

The total height from bottom to the top of the statue of William Penn is almost 550′. I bet you can bet at least the contribution of William Penn to Philadelphia, PENNsylvania. He founded Philadelphia and that statue is the highest adorned statue in the world.

Not many people know about this but you could actually book yourself a City Hall Building Tour. It is but far the best tour we had so far because we were shown to almost every nook and cranny of the City Hall. You need to go to the bookstore of the City Hall and register yourself. We almost did not make it because we were late by 5 minutes but they were so kind to bring us to catch up with the small group. It is also darn cheap too … it was something like $10 only but the experience is awesome.

We did not notice it until it was pointed out to us. Do you know that there are over 250 sculptures adorning the entire building. Some of them are hidden from view that we did not know until they showed us. It is truly amazing how they designed this building to be the best of the best in the world.

Despite the small size of the group it was logistically difficult to get everyone to stay together. It is because the lifts are so small that it takes 3-4 trips to move us from one floor to another.

There are the “modern” sections where you have the normal office ceilings and vinyl floorings. This is the easiest place to upkeep because the rest of the building are so ornate that it costs a lot to just keep it clean.

The rest of the building are beautiful. Every room we were shown are different. One room alone would have cost a bomb to design, build and maintain … let alone hundreds of such rooms. The ceilings are beautiful …

… the carpets also seem to have been purpose designed for the theme of the building …

… and some floors are tiled …

… the furniture was preserved as it was over 100 years old …

Even the octagonal spiral staircase is mesmerizing just looking up.

We went into rooms not normally opened to the public …

… and we went into rooms that were public too.

The best part of the tour was when Suanne and I, yes just the two of us, were escorted to the top of the tower in an lift big enough only for 4-5 people. We were given some time on our own at the very top and because of the limited size of the lift, only the people who signed up for the tour were given access to it.

Yup … we were almost at the base of the William Penn statue … the highest statue in the world.

It used to be a heresy to even think of constructing a building taller than William Penn. There was an unwritten rule that no one must surpass the height of William Penn. Back in the 1980s, after much controversy, a building was built taller. The culprit is the One Liberty Place, that pointy building in the middle. Since then, well, who cares anymore.

Today, about the only clear line of sight to the City Hall is from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Philadelphia is a beautiful city past it days of glory. History could have made this city bigger and better than Washington DC or New York City but it just did not turn out that way.

Still … Philadelphia will always be known as the birth place of the United States of America, the home of Rocky Balboa and most of all, it will always dearly is known as the City of Brotherly Love.

Philadelphia is also the home of the Philly Cheese Steak … but guess what … we did NOT go to Pat’s or Genoa’s. What on earth were we thinking of?!? I am still kicking myself over it!

So, girls and boy … you may heave a sigh of relieve now. This is because this is the last of the Philadelphia series. I hope you enjoy it. If you enjoyed it let me know … if you don’t keep it to yourself!!

I am passing chowtimes over to Suanne who had lots of recipes lined up to share. I am gonna plot over the next few days to start on another tortrous series … New York City! Be afraid … be very afraid … muahahahaha …

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Philadelphia: Betsy Ross House

The American flag is best well known as the Stars and Stripes. At times, it is also known as Old Glory. It is the best known flag in the world and is easily distinguished.

The history behind the Stars and Stripes are often attributed to a seamstress by the name of Betsy Ross. Although it had been disputed but the fact remains that Betsy Ross is the person who is best known as the person who first sewn the original stars and stripe.

We went to make a short visit to her house. It was really a small place and there does not seem to be many tourists here. Somehow I felt that this place is more commercialized than it is historical. I think it is run by a company.

The tour brought us to the various rooms during Betsy Ross’ days. Strange thing is that we do not really see much of the stars and stripes. Historical info regarding the American is scant … this place is more about Betsy Ross than the American flag.

Anyway, we did learn a few things here. The original flag has a circular arrangements of 13 stars which represented the 13 colonies at the time of independence. The stars on the flag was originally designed as a 6-pointed star because it is supposed to be easier to make. However, it soon became a 5-pointed star when Betsy demonstrated how easy it is to make a 5-pointed star with a few fold and a clip of the scissors.

Also, there are a total of 28 flag of stars and stripes designed up to today. Believe it or not, all of these designs are legal US flags and can be used interchangeably. As everyone knows that it currently stands at 50 stars but the US government has designs up to 56 stars for future use.

Trivia: Which state represented the 50th star? Which state will likely represent the 51st star in the future?

I snuck in the picture above because I did not want to create another posting just for this. This picture above is the US Mint which is located just next to the Contitution Center. We tried to go in but they said “no camera”, not just “no pictures” but “no CAMERA”! And they don’t even have lockers in the place. This is stupid because who would not have a camera to visit a place like this? So, if you want to visit the US Mint, ditch your camera, ya hear?

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Philadelphia: Museum of Art

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest art museum in the US and is certainly a world class one at that. The main museum building with it’s imposing facade was built about 80 years ago. They have a few other buildings, including the Rodin Museum that collective is known as the Art Museums.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is perhaps best known for the wide steps leading to the front entrance. This is where one of the most stirring musical score was shot on the 1970s movie Rocky. I bet if there is one image you remember from the movie is where Rocky raced to the top of the stairs in one of the more triumphant pose ever.

The Art Museum put up a statue of Rocky Balboa at the foot of the stairs. Needless to say, there were hoards of tourists coming here to take the pictures of the statue.

And of course, a lot of goofy tourists also had the obligatory picture taken at the top of the stairs in boxing poses.

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Contrast Suanne’s pose with the real clip above.

The view from the Art Museum is one of the most beautiful view of any city. It looks directly down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway right into downtown.

When we were there, it was “pay what you wish” day. Normally it would have costs $14 per person. We dropped $10 for the both of us.

There were also performances inside the museum. We did not quite like it but took the opportunity to just take a seat on the steps like everyone else. There is a serious lack of seats in this huge museum.

Well, Suanne fell fast asleep. When the show was over, everyone got up and Suanne continued sleeping. Gosh I could never sleep like that. So, I did not stir her up and left her to sleep for a few more minutes. He he he … people were walking up and down the steps and was wondering what this lady is doing sleeping right in the middle of the busy steps. Suanne got mad with me for not waking her up. I admit … I am wicked but she was so cute sleeping right in the middle of the busy central stairways.

Alright … boring pictures of the art works if you click “read more” below:

More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Philadelphia: Philly’s Gourmet Cafe at The Bourse

Around the area called the Independence National Historical Park are many buildings. Some are small and others, like the Philadelphia Bourse are large “modern” multi-storey buildings.

The Philadelphia Bourse was the first commodities exchange in America. Today, it is just an office building and also a place where tourist had food in their visit to the Independence National Historic Park.

They have a good variety of choices with the Box Lunch Program where for a few bucks you can pick up burgers, sandwiches, fried chickens and almost every kind of take aways you could think of.

We went to a sit down place called the Philly’s Gourmet Cafe. This place is meant to cater to the hoard of tourists with a huge variety of food choices.

You get to pick what you want and they charge you by the weight of the food.

I like breakfasts like this because I get to choose only the amount I want. I also had a piece of Bourbon Chicken because it looked so delish. I had never come across a place like this in Vancouver — anyone know of one?

I had no idea how this works. They charges solely by the weight of the food. Suanne and I tried to figure out what would give us the best value for money.

Coffee is not by weight though.

The picture above is just out of place but I like it so much I thought I stick it here. I want to go into a tirade on the importance The First Amendment is but I’ll leave it to you guys to just read it for yourself. It’s late for me … gotta hit the sack right after publishing this post.

Philly's Gourmet Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Philadelphia: The Independence Hall

The little building below used to be called the Pennsylvania State House. Today, the unassuming build is now known as The Independence Hall.

It is in this building that two of the most important document of the United States were signed. The two documents are the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

To visit the Independence Hall, you need to apply for the tickets. We applied for it online prior to leaving home. It’s easy to do that and in the interest of saving time, you should also apply for it before you go. You are allotted a fixed time to report for the guided tour and the passes are named.

Despite having applied (and given the time), we need to still pick up the passes at the Independence Visitor Center. You can also show up and ask for passes but because of the popularity of the tour you will likely not get the time you want and may even be given a time a few hours ahead.

The tour started on schedule and security is tight. I am quite surprised because this is such a small building. I guess despite its size, this building is of great importance to the Americans.

The area around the building are off-limit except for visitors with passes. We were led in groups to the various areas of the building.

Right in the middle of the building is the bell tower steeple which used to house The Liberty Bell. Today, in its place is a new bell called the Centennial Bell.

And, ladies and gentlemen, the room above is the place. This is the room of high treason. The room where the brave men of the revolution debated the dangerous topic of independence. If their act in this room fails, each and everyone of them will undoubtedly be tried for treason by the colonial British.

It is in this very room that the words of the Declaration of Independence was debated and later adopted. The adoption of the Declaration of Independence is that one act on the 4th of July that declared that the colonies in America is no longer a part of the United Kingdom.

Shortly after, it is here that the Declaration of Independence was formally signed.

A couple of trivia for you all … (1) what is the name of the person who drafted the Declaration of Independence, and (2) what are the opening words of the Declaration of Independence?

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Philadelphia: Liberty Bell

If you are in Philadelphia and you want to visit just one place, you should go to the Independence National Historical Park. This is where the events of the independence of the US occurred. This place is called the Independence Mall.

When we were in the Independence Mall, the first order of our visit is to see the Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell is located in the newly opened Liberty Bell Center.

It is actually quite a large building considering that the purpose of the building is just to house the Liberty Bell. Everyone is subjected to security checks from one end of the building. Walking to the other end, there are exhibits that describes the history of the Liberty Bell.

Here it is … the real Liberty Bell. It sure was hard to take a picture in front of the bell because of the crowd. The bell is placed in front of a glass wall facing the Independence Hall.

So, what is so special about the Liberty Bell. Well, this is the bell that was rung calling the residence of Philadelphia to the reading of the Declaration of Independence four days after it was signed.

Despite its history significance, the Liberty Bell is defective. The bell were purchased from London in mid 1700s. When it was delivered and first tested in Philadelphia (not actually used at that time) it cracked when rung!

They repaired it but the repair did not last long. When it was rung again about 100 years later during a celebration of George Washington birthday, the crack widened all the way to the top of the crown. It was totally ruined and since then it had never produced the toll it is supposed to make.

I am thinking that what makes this bell unique and so recognizable is the crack on it. Without the crack, it would have looked like just any other bell.

But still, the Liberty Bell is special to the hearts of Americans as it represents liberty and independence. It is old and the wood that held it shows its age. After all, this bell is almost 250 years old today.

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Philadelphia: The Potbelly Sandwich Works

In the past week we were in vacation, we see quite a lot of Potbellies. There was one just nearby our hotel and since we had no idea where to go for dinner, we decided to just go into this place and check it out. I don’t recall seeing any Potbellies in the Seattle area. Are there one there?

I like the name Potbelly. It gave me the image that it is a place where potbellied big eaters congregate. And on top of that it is not just sandwich … but sandwich “works”.

The place were virtually deserted but it is quite a big place though. I guess it is close to closing time for them. The service was great and patient. We appreciate patience because we had no idea what we wanted and really needed help.

We ordered “A Wreck” — nice name, huh? We love the wholewheat bread especially … it is very light and crunchy to the bite. Light is good because you get to taste more of the ingredients than the bread.

It is served warm and has salami, turkey, roast beef and ham with Swiss cheese. It was pretty good and is better than the Subways that we had in Vancouver. At just only $4.19 (such an odd number), it was a cheap meal.

We got ourselves a bowl of soup too. I can’t remember what it was really.

Potbelly Sandwich Works on Urbanspoon

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Philadelphia: The Eastern State Penintentiary

Suanne wanted to visit the Rodin Museum but I wanted to visit a prison instead. Philadelphia’s Rodin Museum has the biggest collection of the Rodin’s works outside of France. That picture below was Suanne’s last happy face picture with Rodin’s famous work — The Thinker. I think this is the real deal … the original The Thinker and not a replica.

As usual, she being a super nice person, went along with my choice … but …

… we had absolutely no idea how difficult it was to walk from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Eastern State Penitentiary. On the map, it looked like it was a short walk but we did not count on the climb … and in searing mid day heat too. Suanne complained about my great idea as she huffed and puffed all the way up to where the prison was.

After a 20 minute slow walk, we thought the worse was over when we saw the prison walls. Well, the worse was yet to come. When Suanne is upset, I better keep quiet. He he he … I love the way she gets mad … sometimes, not always.

It was worse because this freaking place does not have air-conditioning. But of course, right?

It was worse indoors than outdoors. It was stuffy and humid. And we had our last liter of water finished by the time we got there. We wanted to buy some drinking water but it costs $2 per bottle. No siree … that’s cut throat.

Suanne wasn’t too happy but I really enjoyed the visit. It is actually a state of the art prison facility of it’s time and is described as the first modern prison system. Back almost 200 years ago, the prison system were based on physical punishment for the incarcerated.

It is here that the new radical “Pennsylvania System” was first experimented successfully which became a model for prisons all over the world. See the picture above. The floor plan of the cells are arranged in long corridors like spokes in a wheel with the hub being the central control center of the prison where they can monitor every cell.

The picture above is at the hub, is where the prison guards can see down every corridor. This way they can reduce the guard to prisoner ratio.

So, what is so special about the Eastern State Penitentiary? The name, penitentiary. Here the goal of the prison is not to punish but to help the incarcerated to seek “penance”.

Every prisoner is given a room by themselves. They lived in solitude and given an environment where they can reflect on their behaviour and find genuine remorse. Prisoners are only given a Bible to read, that’s all.

It is also operated in total silence. No interaction is allowed. That is why each cell have everything they need including for the first time, luxuries like their in-cell potty and heating too. The heating was a real luxury at those time especially when not many houses have these type of fancy heating.

Perhaps the most famous inmate here is Al Capone. The plaque above shows all the prisoners who had volunteered to fight in a war and died. The prison put up the plaque to remember their sacrifices … but … instead of putting up their names, they put up their prison ID instead.

The “Pennsylvania” system fell out of favour eventually. It is now replaced with many other systems but it was a prison that was revolutionary and is a model for new systems.

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