Monday, June 17, 2013

Arrived in Philadelphia

Going the long way, or so it seemed - Perth to Sydney, Sydney to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to New York by plane, then shuttle to Penn Station and a train to Philadelphia. About 37 hours door to door.

No particular problems with the travel, but a mental note that it's not really worth booking the shuttle from JFK airport online - you have to queue at the Ground Transportation booth anyway. The shuttles arrive as needed, so apart from a possible discount for online purchase it's not a bit difference to reserve a seat.

Pennsylvania Station is an art deco wonder, but a number of monuments in the city of Philadelphia have an impressive scale and lean towards Art. Many buildings have stylised brickwork, or engraved reliefs of Masonic symbols, showing the town to be quite the 18th Century boomtown.  Now, of course, in post-imperial decay the continuing American boosterism is not matched with confident building works. Urban renewal and restoration is said to have made Philadelphia less scary, at the cost of yuppies.

The Philadelphia Sofitel is a nice, restored older building and I was upgraded to a good suite with such mod cons as the Americans desire - a lockable bar fridge (but no milk) and complimentary cookies. We had just started supper when the power went out, and come the morning there was still a problem with water, power and then hot water. Hopefully it's mended now, but it was a bit of a reminder that standards are down.

A couple of nice walks - to the Penn Landing on the Delaware River, site of the founding of the city and then to the Magic Gardens for a look at some fabulous mosaics. We stopped at the Reading Terminal markets - think Victoria Markets crossed with a broad food hall - and admired the stuff that people eat. There are a lot of obese people and lots of ways to eat one's way there. Lynda tried for a healthy breakfast at another food market, but the yams were candied and the bacon sweet-as. I had an iced-coffee under the Starbucks brand which was (a) disgusting and (b) surprisingly drenching when shook.

Natch we walked past the queue to see the Liberty Bell, seeing as it's an old urban myth that the bell had anything to do with the story of the American revolution. Instead, the "Olde City" has some curious attractions, such as the layout of a normal workman's cottage (think smaller, fewer rooms than a tent) or a prosperous lawyer's home (attics and cellars seemed the invariable rule). The bigger old buildings have that American pretend-classical look from when the country longed to be the New Greece and it's interesting that the rock columns are not ageing well.

Lots of quaintness - along the Avenue of the Arts there are some old gaslights and there's evidence of old transport patterns with cobblestones and tram tracks.

It's quite warm and a bit humid; Sydney t-shirt weather. Very satisfactory as Perth was just starting to get unpleasantly cold with all the ailments of winter.

Lynda has sampled two of the local delicacies - the "Philly Steak Sandwich" (minced beef and cheese in a roll) and Oyster Stew (a milky soup). There is every sort of cuisine as far as I can see with the only surprises being a lot of Afghan restaurants with water pipes a key feature, and a tendency to have Chinese-Japanese restaurants with a lot of Vietnamese or Thai dishes on the menu.

The other odd thing we saw when walking was a number of Psychics shops, usually offering all the divinations from palmistry to tarot. Obviously they're set up like hairdressers, for a substantial passing trade. Presumably they know I'm not going to visit. Pennsylvania was founded, like Rhode Island, on a bedrock of religious toleration and even today there is a surprising number of the softer theologies having their own venerable meeting rooms - Quakers, Ethicists and Humanitarians alongside the Baptists and Catholics.

Here are some of the buildings I liked:

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