The problem with business trips is that they tend to be more business than “trip.”
At first, the destination may sound thrilling and exotic, but the reality of airport, hotel, conference room and taxi is anything but. Most business travel happens within the confines of comforts that actually keep us from sinking our teeth into the city that surrounds us. There is always a plan, an agenda, and a departure time. As such, business travel is the opposite of exploration.
Such was my trip to Philadelphia this past weekend. My purpose was business and my time was 2 days–just 48 hours. I already knew that most of those hours were blacked out for meetings, appointments, dinners, appearances. I also knew how much I wanted to get out and explore Philly.
I live less than two hours away from the City of Brotherly Love and yet sadly, don’t get to visit as much as I’d like. It’s the places closest to home that we overlook the most. I may have jumped from Sydney to Santiago to St. Helena in a single year, but that doesn’t make Philadelphia any less fascinating and filled with adventure. I knew that.
Alas, I knew I would only have a few hours of free time, if I had any at all. Not knowing how to spend any precious free moments, I put it out to all my great travel friends on Twitter: @WheresAndrew “I’m going to #Philly, what should I see/eat/do?”
In just a few minutes, I received a flood of responses. These are just a few Philadelphia recommendations that stood out, ranging from drinking hot milkshakes to viewing pieces of Albert Einstein’s brain:
- @valeriesgm Don’t miss 13th Street in Philly! Start at Modern Eye, wine at Vintage then the amazing gelato at Capogiro!
- @ElleninTurkey Wander the area around Rittenhouse Square. Lots of nice cafes and such. Eat a cheesesteak.
- @L01SC John’s Roast Pork for THE BEST cheesesteak! (limited hours)
- @Eric_Devlin Franklin Institute Science Museum
- @anniemal I highly recommend Le Virtu or Amis for dinner. Parc for people watching. Sonata or Bibiou for gourmand BYOB. Enjoy!
- @prbake Take a morning jog down Kelly Drive/Boathouse Row. U will be glad u did.
- @istovi7 Go see the Mutter or Mummers Museums, 2 diff spots! For a great brunch go to Sabrina’s! Their stuffed French toast is boss!
- @LostAngel77 The City Hall observation deck is a must. Spectacular views!
- @GirlArchaeo Also try the City Tavern where you can drink period beer made to the recipes of Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and Adams!
- @SuzeMars check out the Mac and cheese at Delilah’s. I think there’s at least 8 cheeses in it. She had an awesome throw down w/ @bflay
- @5yearsout Hot milkshakes at Franklin Fountain.
- @travlin_girl Shane Candy @ 110 Market is amazing and my absolute fave. One of oldest candy stores in the US. Chocolate covered pretzels = best!
- @picture_philly The Mutter Museum is a unique place. They currently have Albert Einstein’s brain on display.
- @amandaelsewhere Eastern State Penitentiary, Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens, Rosenbach Museum & Library = top sites in Philly
- @PHLVisitorCntr since you will only be a block from Chinatown- Dim Sum at Ocean Harbor – They start serving at 10 a.m. on wknds
- @amberdegrace Head to the Varga Bar – pinup art, food, & finely crafted beer! Also, Johnny Brenda’s is my fav venue, in Fishtown.
- @melanierenzulli I think of Philly, I think of fresh, hot pretzels with mustard way up in NE near Tacony. YUM!
Despite all my good intentions of following my followers’ recommendations, my time was too limited to do much of anything. Delayed trains and extra meetings left me with practically no time to explore Philadelphia.
On my first night, I ate dinner with colleagues at El Vez, a technicolor Tex-Mex restaurant in the heart of the city.
“I can’t believe I’m eating Mexican food in Philadelphia,” I tweeted, feeling guilty for eating something so out of place in a city known for spectacular Italian food and hefty cheesesteaks. Though I admit, it was great Mexican food, especially the black truffle guacamole.
My evening of luxury continued at the distinguished Rittenhouse Hotel, where I checked into an enormous suite with a view of Rittenhouse Square. I may have missed their famous high tea, but I hit the bar with a friend and slept like a king (which is all I really care about in a hotel, honestly).
The next morning, I ventured down into Rittenhouse Square, crouched over from the cold. Dogwalkers walked their dogs, whose frozen panting coughs made little white puffs in the air. Church bells rang and I kept gazing upwards at all the shiny towers that mark Philadelphia as one of America’s architectural giants.
Then I looked down at my watch and realized I only had forty-five minutes until my next appointment. I quickly stepped into Reading Terminal Market and its welcome blast of warm, aromatic air. I ate a walking Sunday brunch, strolling from one stall to the next, tasting everything from crisp organic Pennsylvania apples to some amazing treats from the Flying Monkey Bakery. After a day of work, I returned and grabbed the obligatory Philly cheesesteak from Carmen’s.
All day long, my friends on Twitter had been debating the best cheesesteaks in Philadelphia: Pat’s, Geno’s, or Jim’s. If I’d had the time, I would have gone to all three–just to be scientific about it–but I ate at Carmen’s because I was there.
Stuffed with sizzling tender steak and onions and gooey with melted provolone cheese, the best sandwich on the East Coast was the culinary antidote to the cold outside. I tried to save my dinner for the train, but grew too impatient and ate most of the delicious mess while riding SEPTA back to 30th St. Station. So much for New Year’s resolution to eat less red meat (oh but what a way to break a resolution!)
I dislike this kind of harried travel. In and out of a place, rushing from one meeting to the next and then barely catching a glimpse of the world outside. Wishing to explore the endless city blocks around me, to spend time watching this little piece of the world and taking in all in. In the end, settling for a sandwich to make me feel like I’ve somehow connected to a place when in fact, I’ve utterly failed.
Tired and craving another cheesesteak, I wandered around the station, waiting for my train to be called. Just outside the food court, I ran into Sherry, a bleached blond Philadelphia native with a steely Philly accent.
“You like it here?” she asked.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
“Yeah, I love Philly,” I responded. “But I had no time this time,” I said, almost as an excuse.
“I like Philly, too,” she agreed. In fact, Sherry likes Philly so much she’s never left–not even come to visit her country’s capital just two hours south.
“People are real friendly here,” Sherry offered, then smiled and shook my hand.
“You’re just gonna have to come back, that’s all. You ain’t far.”
Except she said fah so that it sounded more like “y’aint fah.”
And she’s right. I yain’t fah at all.
I’m just gonna have to go back.