I hadn’t visited to Philadelphia since I was a kid, however, I was lucky enough to get to spend a few days there visiting my Aunt recently. The great weather certainly helped, but I am sure it wasn’t the only reason that I enjoyed it so much. While I didn’t get to walk all over the the city as much as I might have liked if I had more time, I did get to spend some time walking around the Italian Market and the nearby neighbourhood of East Passyunk. We also visited some of Central Philadelphia and its historic monuments.
First off, East Passyunk and the Italian Market areas of Philadelphia are almost completely made up of row housing. It is dense, vibrant and walkable. The Italian Market itself is a pretty amazing place, it is also known as the the South 9th Street Curbside Market. This name actually may be a more accurate moniker for the market now as the area is no longer predominately Italian, but actually has a very diverse immigrant population. The idea behind the curbside market is that the produce could be easily offloaded by trucks and that with most of the customers of the market being commercial enterprises like restaurants, that they would also likely pick up the produce in vehicles. There used to be a number of these markets around the United States apparently, however now the Italian Market is one of the last remaining ones. There have been attempts in the past to have it removed, because to some it was considered unsightly. In the last few years the market has won out and has received historical place status.
To me the market reminded me of the fresh produce markets that I have visited in many other places in the world outside of North America, this is not Granville Island. It smells a little bit like rotting vegetables mixed with car exhaust and that made it seem truly authentic. While we were there, we did stop into the Villa di Roma Italian restaurant, all you need to do is picture an Italian restaurant from your childhood or a movie and this was the place. It had both the faux brick walls and excellent Italian food. Next door is one of the most impressive cheese shops I have ever seen as well. It is worth it to just step inside the door and smell the amazing array of cheese.
Just to the south of the Italian Market are two of the most iconic food staples of Philadelphia, Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks. These two cheesesteak places stare at each other across an intersection, and while they are a little kitschy and touristy, you should still make the trip to try them. While I was there, my son and I each shared one cheesesteak from each, I am not entirely certain which one was better, but they both were pretty delicious. Walking around this area known as East Passyunk, you can tell that while it is certainly on the border between working class and hipster cool, that it is a tight knit community. There are murals celebrating the area, community gardens and shared little libraries. Definitely seemed like a great place to live.
The other area of the city that we walked around was the main historical area. In Central Philadelphia, which is both the central business district and the birthplace of the United States independence movement from Britain in the late 1700’s. In a very small area is Independence Hall, where the american constitution was signed, a small museum where the liberty bell can be viewed and a newer museum called the National Constitution Center. While I didn’t subject my kids to any of the museums, the grounds and parks of this area are well worth a walk around. About a block to the east you can see the house the Thomas Jefferson lived in at the time. It is currently being renovated but it is still quite impressive to see it.
While I may not have explored Philadelphia as much as I might have wanted to, it certainly has made me want to go back and see more and I most definitely will.