Travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Episode 462 Transcript

categories: USA Travel

transcript of Travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Episode 462

Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 462. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about Reading Market, The Rocky Steps, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, as we go to the cradle of America, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. These colorful guidebooks are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks. I have 25 of them right here on my bookshelf. Learn more at

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Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. Before we get in today’s episode I’d like to ask you one favor. I’m looking at creating an online course on learning how to travel, how to book travel online and some of those other things. Please send me email to host at with your travel questions. Now, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I’d like to welcome to the show Larissa and Michael Milne from and authors of the newly published Philadelphia Liberty Trail book. Larissa and Michael, welcome to the show.

Larissa: Hi, Chris. Good to talk to you.

Michael: Hey, how are you?

Chris: And also professional house guests and Airbnb stayers, but that’s a whole other podcast.

Larissa: That’s a podcast for another day.

Michael: We are global nomads, have been so for almost four years, with no home address.

Chris: We should say how many days last year did you spend in Airbnb?

Larissa: I calculated over 150.

Michael: About half the time we lived in Airbnb world.

Chris: There we go. If you have questions about that, check them out on their blog. We brought you on to talk about Philadelphia, a place where you lived for a number of years before you headed out into the world and that you’ve just finished a book on. Why should someone go to Philadelphia?

Michael: Philadelphia is where America began. Anyone interested in American History should visit Philadelphia. Sometimes it amazes me, we travel around the US a lot, we’ll see people in California, Texas, Michigan and they’ll go, “I’ve been to New York. I always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, but I’ve never been to Philadelphia.” Philadelphia is where the founding fathers got together to create this nation. You can still walk in the buildings where they debated the Declaration of Independence and signed it, but they debated the Constitution and signed it creating this new form of government. It’s really a special place to really any American who is interested in the history of the country.

Chris: If I don’t care about Revolutionary history, I’m guessing you have some things for me to do there as well.

Michael: Well, it’s a really big foodie city which people aren’t aware of. Europe [SP] picked it as one of the top foodie cities in America. It’s also a very walkable city. Fast Company picked it as one of the 20 most livable cities in the world, and it’s up there with Copenhagen and Singapore and Hong Kong. It’s really a compact Center City. It’s relatively affordable for the east coast. It’s a great place to visit to get a sense of history. There are some hipster neighborhoods, there are a lot of food opportunities. It really has it all.

Chris: And you say it’s a walkable city. I spent a summer there walking around the city and the day that I was there it wasn’t quite as walkable. Is there a good season to visit Philadelphia?

Larissa: I would say probably either the spring or the fall are ideal, just beautiful times. Philadelphia, because we’re a northeastern city, we have lots of fall foliage that changes color, the temperatures are mild, warm in the days and cool in the evening. Now in the spring it’s pretty much the same way. Now that’s a double-edged sword because the middle of the summer is when all the big historic festivities take place which can be wonderful and very festive, but if you’re not somebody who likes crowds, then there’s really no need to go in the middle of the summer.

Chris: I think I picked one of the warmest days of the year in Philadelphia. It was so hot actually that my camera, my video camera, stopped working because of the heat which I’ve never seen that happen before. I think a fall day sounds like a good recommendation. What kind of itinerary would you recommend for us if we’re heading to Philadelphia?

Larissa: What I would suggest for most people, I think one of the things that most people do want to see when they come to the city is the historic district which is the area that our book focuses on. I think that there are probably a good three days’ worth of activities that surround the founding of the nation. There’s Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, but there is so much more than that and we can certainly delve into that.

Chris: And all of that is going to be walkable?

Larissa: Absolutely.

Chris: Because the city was much smaller. Even though it was the largest city at the time, it was much smaller.

Larissa: Yeah. You can pretty much walk from one end of the city to the other end.

Michael: Of Center City.

Larissa: Yeah, of the Central Business District in about what, an hour?

Michael: Less than an hour.

Larissa: Less than an hour. It’s really not very large from that perspective, but in addition to all of the historic sites, the city does boast some really world class museums. There are several art museums, a few scientific museums, natural history type museums where you can spend at least a day exploring those. There’s also an area in the western part of the city that we call West Philly or also is known as University City, which is where the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are both based. There is a very kind of collegiate university town kind of vibe over there. It’s just a pretty cool area to hang around. It’s a beautiful college campus, university campuses. There are some museums, art galleries, things like that. In addition to all of that, there’s a wonderful park system that goes through the city that links into the rivers and the parks that are in the city so you can enjoy natural activities.

Chris: Okay. We wanna go back and do that all a little more slowly, but before we do, you mentioned museums. One of the museums gets more visits than a lot of other museums in major cities but not for what’s inside. People can probably picture at least one museum in Philadelphia, but I don’t know if they know they can.

Michael: The Philadelphia Museum of Art is on top of the world renowned “Rocky Steps”, which anyone who’s a fan of movies knows the Rocky Films. When he starts out in the first Rocky movie he’s an out of weight, out of shape pug, and he can’t climb up the steps ’til the end of the movie when they play the stirring Rocky theme and he can sprint to the top and he just knows he’s gonna beat Apollo Creed. Of course he doesn’t. I hope I didn’t ruin the ending for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

Chris: They did have time to see it.

Michael: But the neat thing about the Rocky steps, after Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, it’s probably the most visited site in Philadelphia. People come from all over the world to see it. It’s actually quite inspirational. You could go there any time of day, there’s somebody running up the steps. There are people who have just beaten cancer, and the Rocky films got them through their chemo and their treatment and they told themselves when they beat it they were gonna run up the Rocky steps. That’s the types of stories you have there.

Chris: I wanted to mention it too because I know two friends who have been known to travel around the world with a little tiny Rocky statue.

Larissa: Oh, you heard about them, did you? That would be us.

Chris: Oh, that’s right.

Larissa: That was actually Michael’s idea.

Michael: We’ve been traveling with our small Rocky statue. It’s pretty cool because since people do know Rocky all over the world, everywhere we’ve gotten people to jump up and down, raise their arms. The only place where they didn’t know who Rocky was, was in North Korea but I think that’s pretty understandable. In Vietnam, they thought he was Rambo. We’re actually going to retire little Rocky soon. He’s getting a little tired and his arms are falling off. Running around the world with your arms in the air, they’d get a little tired and worn out.

Chris: Well, now let’s go back to your itinerary. I think we started with Liberty Trail which we mentioned you’ve got your book on. What are we gonna do? Are we gonna do our first day in Philadelphia? Where are we gonna start?

Larissa: I think it’s up to anybody what they want to see, but usually people want to see the “greatest hit” of a given town. Most people want to head right for Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. That’s probably a great place to get yourself immersed right away. You can kind of park yourself right in Independence Mall, which is the big wide open area in front of Independence Hall. The Liberty Bell Pavilion is there and you’re facing Independence Hall. You can spend a good several hours just exploring both the Liberty Bell Pavilion as well as Independence Hall itself.

Chris: Now Independence Hall is visited with a tour, as I recall.

Michael: Yeah. Independence Hall is free, but you need to make a reservation ahead of time. Sometimes you can get there earlier that day and do so. They have time tickets to see it. It’s limited access but it is free. If you visit Philadelphia in the winter though you can just walk right up to it and go in and visit.

Chris: Liberty Bell, which used to be in Independence Hall, is now across the street in its own Pavilion which you can just walk into.

Larissa: That’s correct. Yeah. I should mention also, and we mentioned this in the book as well. In the summer when things are busy, there is a bit of a line to get into the Liberty Bell Pavilion. That’s simply because there’s security at the entrance which is not really a big deal. It just slows things down a little. Anybody who sees a line outside of the Liberty Bell shouldn’t worry too much because the longest I’ve ever seen anybody wait in line is about ten minutes. It moves pretty steadily. Once you’re in the Pavilion you can walk around at will and look at several different displays related to the Bell itself and then look at the hallowed bell.

Michael: When you go in the Liberty Bell, you might think that the British got the final revenge because there’s music playing in the background. That’s something called The Liberty Bell March by John Philip Sousa, but astute TV fans will recognize it as Monty Python’s Flying Circus theme song. Perhaps they got us in the end.

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Now you’ve written a whole book on the Liberty Trail and I think you just named the only two spots that most people know of the whole Liberty trail.

Larissa: Yeah, that’s probably true. That was one of the reasons why we set out to write this book. We were approached by a publisher who has written several additions of a book on historical sites in Boston based on a trail that connects all the historic sites in Boston known as the Boston Freedom Trail.

Chris: Right.

Larissa: They contacted us and said, “You’re from Philadelphia, you’re writers. We’d like you to write essentially the equivalent about Philadelphia. Surely there is something equivalent in Philadelphia, isn’t there?”

Michael: Since we have so many more sites than Boston.

Larissa: Yeah. We didn’t think that there was anything that strung all these sites together, but just to be sure we checked with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and sure enough there wasn’t anything, which really kind of surprised us, because there are so many sites. It seems to be an idea that’s been bandied about among the various tours and sort of boards and City Hall and what have you over the years, but nobody has ever put anything concrete together to link all these sites.

Chris: When we say concrete, in Boston it literally is in the concrete. I mean you can follow the trail, so that’s not the same thing in Philadelphia.

Michael: Philadelphia with twice as many historic sites but way less championship rings has nothing like the Freedom Trail. It was bitter. I’m talking about the championship rings. Philadelphia should have something. There wasn’t anything so we created it. Now there is the Philadelphia Liberty Trail for everyone to enjoy.

Chris: We won’t do every spot in the guide necessarily. We will let people still buy their copy, but are there a couple of places that you recommend that after you’ve done Independence Hall you have to see these two or three spots also?

Larissa: I think that what we’ve done, just to give you a quick background, is we’ve broken down this trail which is more or less about four miles long although it’s a very compact four miles. It starts and ends in the same spot. The trail is broken down into five distinct sections based on areas that it covers. I would say that once you’ve done Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, probably the place you should head next is a segment of the trail that we call Washington Square and Society Hill. It’s a little bit more of a residential area adjacent to Independence Historic National Park, but it starts at some place that we think is really special.

Michael: Yeah. Washington Square is a park right across from Independence Hall and it was a cemetery during the American Revolution where British and American soldiers were buried. There is a statute of George Washington there representing. It’s the tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution. Most people who go to Washington and see the Marine Corps outside the tomb of the Unknown Soldier don’t know that one for the American Revolution the war that got all this started exists, but it’s right there in Philadelphia, and it’s really overlooked. It’s off in a corner of this park and two million people a year go to Liberty Bell which is just a block away, but a very small percentage head a block away to pay tribute to the American Revolutionary soldiers.

One of my favorite buildings on the Liberty Trail is Carpenter’s Hall. This is actually in some ways more historic than Independence Hall because that’s where the first continental congress met in 1774. That’s where they came together from 12 colonies Georgia decided not to participate. They started talking about breaking away from the King, which was revolutionary talk for its day. One of the reasons it’s my favorite building is that’s where America’s first bank robbery took place. You could say that it was also America’s first dumbest criminal because the person who robbed the bank a few weeks later started depositing the money back into the very same bank he had just robbed. That raised a few eyebrows, and eventually he was arrested for the crime. Only in Philadelphia.

Chris: When you were saying the first continental congress that just reminds me of… here’s your question for winning a trivia. The first President of the United States is not actually George Washington, but the first person to hold that title is the president of that first continental congress.

Michael: You’re right. I forget the name.

Chris: John Hansen. I had to Google it. Elected president of the continental congress, first President to serve under a one year term. He’s actually under the Articles of Confederation. He’s after the revolution.

Michael: Right. There wouldn’t have been a President before the revolution. The article’s confederation is a predecessor to the constitution.

Chris: That’s right. Exactly, which was figured out in that Independence Hall. Any other spots that you want to highlight on the Liberty Trail before we move on to some of the other neighborhoods that you were mentioning earlier?

Larissa: Yeah. I had touched on the neighborhood that’s adjacent to Washington Square which by the way in addition to that incredibly moving tomb of the Unknown Soldier is an absolutely beautiful park and now it’s surrounded by very nice residences so it’s a very bucolic place to kind of sit and reflect or to just kind of absorb the history around you.

Michael: Chase Utley lives there.

Larissa: Yes one of the Phillies lives there. It’s a little bit of a high rent district. As you walk through Society Hill, there are a lot of sites that are a little bit less known. One of my favorites, perhaps because I have an undergraduate degree in Biology, is Pennsylvania Hospital which is not something that you normally think of as a site seeing destination, but it is the nation’s first hospital. It was founded in 1751 and it’s just a few blocks away. Again, everything is fairly close, and it’s an absolutely magnificent building. It’s a combination of colonial and federal architecture. There are some really historic monuments and things associated with that building in addition to being the oldest hospital, which was started by a crowdsourcing scheme devised by Ben Franklin. It’s got the oldest operating theatre and you can go visit that. It’s free to just walk around. It actually looks like a theatre so you can see why it was a theatre. It’s a surgical amphitheater.

Chris: They show movies?

Larissa: No. You would watch operations.

Chris: You’re saying theater; I’m getting confused here.

Larissa: That’s why I’m saying it. It looks like a theatre. There’s some funny stuff in there… amusing, I guess, anecdotes about how they would render the patient unconscious. They would basically clunk them on the head with a mallet and hopefully render them unconscious but not dead, so they could operate on them.

Chris: The good old days.

Larissa: Yeah. There are a few other things that are present in the building that kind of date back to the late 18th and early 19th. There’s some artwork that’s just phenomenal by an artist named Benjamin West, an ancient library which was named in the mid-1850s as the most important medical library in the country because it’s got just oodles and oodles of very old medical tomes. I find that a really fascinating place to go, and it’s definitely off the beaten path.

Chris: Excellent. Now you mentioned artwork and you previously hinted that there were a great number of museums in Philadelphia. Do you have your favorite museums?

Michael: Philadelphia has being drawing a lot of attention lately because about a year ago the Barnes Foundation Museum opened.

Chris Oh, right.

Michael: It’s a museum that used to be in the suburbs but it was moved after a contentious debate into the city. It’s the largest collection of Impressionist art outside of Paris, which makes it large in the US. What’s really cool about it is it’s right next to the Rodin Museum which has the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of Paris. An art lover can find two collections of French art right next to each other that they cannot find anywhere else in America. It’s actually quite difficult to find in the world.

Chris: Excellent. I remember hearing about the opening of that museum but I had forgotten all about it.

Michael: Those museums are located on Benjamin Franklin Parkway which leads right up to the Rocky steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Within about two blocks, you have three world class museums that are worth visiting. If you really get bored by that, two blocks from there is Eastern State Penitentiary. It’s this Gothic pile of brick and stone and granite that was built in the 1820s. It is one the most famous prisons in the world. It’s the first one that had a system which we take for granted now. We had a central spoke guard tower. All the cells run out like spokes on a wheel on a radius from the center. When Charles Dickens visited America in the mid-1800s, he wanted to see two sites, Niagara Falls and the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

The prison is still open for tours. It has probably the best haunted house tour in the country in October for Halloween, but anyone who’s near the Rocky steps that are into Rocky, that are probably into prison type things. If you’re seeing a lot of paintings and sculpture, you really need to go see something else in the Eastern State Penitentiary fits the bill.

Larissa: It puts a little bit of grit on things.

Chris: Any sort of sites — and with apologies to the Tourism Board — that other people recommend, that the guide books recommend or the Tourism Boards, but you would actually say better to spend your time somewhere else?

Michael: Well, there are two famous cheesesteak places in South Philadelphia that are open 24/7. They duke it out and they’re great to go after a Flyers game maybe at 2 in the morning or when the bar is closed, but they really don’t have the best cheesesteaks by far in Philadelphia. We would say skip those and there’s a place not too far from them, called John’s Roast Pork, which despite its name has the best cheesesteak in the city. It also has the sandwich that Philadelphians eat even more than cheesesteaks which is an Italian roast pork sandwich. We suggest John’s Roast Pork as a place to go, and that’s not written up as much.

Chris: Excellent.

Michael: Although it did win a James Beard Award. When you see this divey little place in an industrial area, you know it didn’t win for the ambience or the service, so that’s pretty cool. You know the food has got to be good.

Chris: You mentioned that Philadelphia is now a foodie city. To me, that seems relatively recent. In fact, we’ve covered Philadelphia before about nine years ago in the show, but there are some changes like that or like the new museums that made me want to do it again. Obviously, Independence Hall is still up at Independence Hall, but other things have changed in the city. Besides getting a good Italian roast pork sandwich… I’m still going to get a cheesesteak though. I’m a big fan of cheesesteak.

Michael: You can get one but…

Chris: I’ll be there two days. I’ll try both. What else should we try?

Larissa: You basically can get any kind of international cuisine in Philadelphia. There’s a really burgeoning Asian population in the city. South Philly, which traditionally was known as an Italian area, is now kind of an Italian/Asian/Latino area. There’s a phenomenal collection of Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian restaurants that I would recommend anybody try. That’s more on the ethnic dining area.

Chris: Is there a particular thing they’re known for? In our area, for instance. the Vietnamese restaurants tend to focus on Pho.

Larissa: A lot of Pho.

Michael: Yeah.

Chris: Which is spelled Pho, for people who are not familiar with that.

Michael: Even in a major city like Philadelphia, it’s still incredibly cheap. I don’t know how they do it.

Chris: It’s basically a noodle soup.

Michael: Yeah.

Larissa: Yeah, that’s made with beef.

Michael: Beef broth [SP] that’s cooked overnight.

Larissa: Yeah, but yet the vegetables are put in fresh with the hot broth, so it’s incredibly…

Michael: When we lived in Center City, we figured out that within a ten-minute walk of our apartment, we could go to restaurants of about 40 different countries. Basically, if you want to take a trip around the world but you don’t have time… we took a year and went around the world but we could have just done it in our neighborhood. Philadelphia is a great city to experience food from pretty much anywhere; again, other than North Korea, but any other country you could think of as a restaurant, there’s an immigrant population from that country.

Chris: Well, the portion sizes at North Korean restaurants are just too small anyway, so that’s probably why they don’t take off as much. You mentioned Italian, you mentioned Latino, you mentioned Vietnamese. For people who know burritos and Pho and spaghetti, is there a different restaurant that they ought to try among the ethnic restaurants that they wouldn’t think of trying?

Larissa: Yeah, one of the restaurants — it’s actually in the historic district — is a restaurant called Zahav. I’ll spell that for you. It’s Z-A-H-A-V. It’s actually a pretty high-end [SP] atmosphere but the food itself is Israeli street food. It’s fantastic. They guy that’s the restauranteur, he’s a native of the Philadelphia area but he actually went over to Israel and worked for several years before he came back to open this restaurant. A lot of the foods, if you’ve ever spent any time in the Middle Eastern Israel, you see there’s a lot of hummus, a lot of fresh grilled meats, shawarmas, things like that. It’s the sort of place that you wouldn’t necessarily expect tucked away on a cobblestone street, a block and a half from Carpenter’s Hall. That’s a good one that I would recommend people try.

Michael: Also, there’s a slew of new Cuban restaurants. Cuba Libre is a restaurant on the Liberty Trail. We also highlight the food. It’s just great to have some Cuban food in town.

Chris: That’s one that you’ll probably find better Cuban food I’m going to guess even in Philadelphia that you will in Cuba is one of the things that we’ve heard from people who’ve travelled there because it’s difficult to get all the ingredients fresh in Cuba still.

Michael: Hopefully that’ll change soon.

Chris: We shall see. I’ve been predicting it for so long I’ve given up. Excellent. The other thing we should mention, because we haven’t talked about it yet in terms of places to eat, I’m still a big fan for Reading Market.

Larissa: I knew you were going to get there. It’s a perfect way for you to bring it up.

Chris: I don’t know if I’m completely misguided that it’s just not the place to go anymore, but I thoroughly enjoyed that as a place to grab a quick bite after seeing the Independence Hall, for instance.

Michael: Reading Market is still one of the best food markets in the world. We can say that after having been to them all over the place. It’s really a magical place because it’s authentic. You don’t have chains so they’ve managed to keep all the chains out. It’s not like you go here and you’ll say, “Well, there are things I could have gone to Sbarro at the food court back home.” They don’t have anything like that. It’s local pizzerias. There’s a place called DiNic’s that serves one of the best roast pork sandwiches in the city, if not, the best. They actually won a Food Network competition recently. I’m not sure if John’s Roast Pork was in that same competition, but that’s where you can get the Italian pork sandwich. Make sure you get it with extra sharp provolone and broccoli rabe on top. That’s the true authentic experience.

The Amish come in on Wednesday to Saturday. You can get Amish food, you can get fresh eggs from their farms, fresh meats, fresh chicken. There are a lot of Asian vendors serving fresh seafood. What’s nice about Reading Market… well, there are a lot of places you can go as a tourist for a sandwich. If you happen to be staying there long-term and you rented an apartment, let’s say, or something like Airbnb, there are also a lot of vendors where you can buy food to cook, which lets you know it’s a market that’s there for local. It’s not just tourists.

Chris: Right, sure.

Larissa: I have to interject here because there is one place that Michael didn’t mention that’s probably my favorite, which is Bassetts Ice Cream. It’s a local Philadelphia ice cream that started in that market, and it is the longest continuously operating ice cream stand in the country.

Michael: When is it from? I think it’s from the 1880s.

Larissa: 1880s, ’70s — I’d have to look it up.

Michael: 1880s or ’70s, the marble counter has been there since it opened. You’re sitting there and they serve it in the old-fashioned sundae cups. You’re sitting at that same counter, and it’s still owned by the same family. Larissa went to school with that guy who owns it now. Sometimes I wonder if she thinks, “Oh, damn it. I could have married him.”

Larissa: When I was in college, I didn’t know that he was of that family because the name has changed actually from the original name, but yeah, just think.

Chris: Wistfully, she says. We should probably move along then.

Larissa: We probably should.

Chris: Anything else that we should see as long as we’re in Philadelphia?

Larissa: Chris, I’d actually like to mention one other thing about that market which is something that most people don’t know. It’s called Reading Terminal Market because it actually is on the ground floor of a large building that was originally the terminus for the Reading Railroad which no longer exists in the city.

Chris: And we should say that this is spelled like “reading” just like on a monopoly board.

Larissa: That’s exactly right. The thing that’s kind of cool about it is when the city 15 years or so ago when the city built a new convention center, they used the railroad terminus building as part of the convention center. If you actually go up the stairs from the market, you can see now what was kind of the grand entrance hall to the convention center. It’s got that same roofline that it always had. If you look in the floor, what they did was they put stainless steel lines in the marble floor from where the train tracks originally were.

Michael: You can still see the tracks. It’s the longest single span [SP] suspension railroad shed in America.

Chris: All right.

Larissa: Yeah. That’s one of those things that railroad geeks kind of like.

Michael: If you come back in about a year the old train line, you know the highline in the New York where they took the train line and renovated it, they’re working on that right now in Philadelphia.

Chris: Oh, interesting. Yeah, that was a brilliant idea in New York. It has turned into certainly a favorite park for a lot of people who live there.

Larissa: Yeah.

Michael: Along the lines of that, people don’t realize that Philadelphia is a city of two rivers. It has the Delaware River to the east and the Schuylkill River to the west. One of the reasons they don’t realize that is because Philadelphia hasn’t really played up its waterfronts. In the Schuylkill River now they have something called Schuylkill River Park. Recently they built a half mile long walkway that is suspended out over the river about 20 feet from the shoreline; great for joggers and strollers and whomever. I haven’t seen this anywhere in the world. It’s a walkway that goes directly over the river and then it ends at a skateboard park. Naturally, beyond that is the Rocky steps. You can do a nice two-mile jog along the river and then run up the steps and then really relive your Rocky moments.

Chris: What’s going to surprise me when I come back to Philadelphia?

Michael: I think it’s how friendly the people are. I think Philadelphians kind of get a bad reputation and a lot of that is due to the fact that they’re extremely passionate about their sports teams. Around the country when you watch sports programs, there’s a tendency among some announcers to kind of mock Philadelphians and say they’re kind of rough around the edges. We may be, but we’re also friendly and welcoming to outsiders. You stop somebody on the street and ask them for directions, they’ll help you out.

Chris: The only thing I would say about the sports teams in Philadelphia is that the Phillies have one of the best mascots in the league. That’s all I’ll say.

Larissa: No argument there.

Chris: It used to have one of the better teams. Unfortunately now I just bet on the mascot.

Larissa: Yeah, and that’s a whole different podcast.

Michael: It’s going to be that way for a few years.

Chris: You mentioned a college neighborhood, too. Of all the things you mentioned in the beginning, that’s the one we haven’t talked about.

Larissa: Michael just mentioned that there are two rivers. As you head west on Center City, the central area of Philadelphia which is not called downtown, by the way. It’s known as Center City. It’s basically the central business district and the historic district. You hit the river and you cross over the river, you’re in West Philadelphia geographically. That area is also known as University City because that’s where University of Pennsylvania is located, as well as Drexel University. It’s a pretty happening, hip kind of environment there. There’s a lot going on. There are art galleries, theaters, a lot of cool funky shops, free [SP] parks.

One of the things that kind of forms an entertainment linchpin in that area is a radio station called WXPN, which is associated with the University of Pennsylvania. They have a building there called the World Cafe. That’s based on a show that’s syndicated all over, at least, the country. I think it might be somewhat internationally now. It’s known for just really diverse alternative type music all over the country. It’s a great place to go. It’s a venue where there are a couple of different venues inside. There’s a smaller sort of bistro kind of atmosphere place, and then there’s a larger concert venue.

One of the great tips that I’d like to share with people when they come to town is the radio station which you can hear. It’s at 88.5 on your FM dial. They do something every Friday called the Free at Noon Concert. Whatever musician happens to be coming to town playing at whatever concert venue that they can get to come in for an interview at lunch, they interview them and then they do a concert at that venue for free. It’s one of those things kind of like Independence Hall where you just have to go on line. You have to get a ticket but you go on line and it’s free. You can just go on line, get a ticket and go see a concert venue.

Chris: Who has played there?

Larissa: Adele played there, I think, before she was famous early on; a couple of blues musicians; Joe Louis Walker; a few others. It’s just a real myriad of people have played there.

Chris: Excellent. We’ve talked about the best time of year to go, but is there a specific day or festival that you really should be in Philly for?

Michael: If you’re into things that are different, have you heard of the Mummers [SP] Crew?

Chris: That’s what I thought you were going to say.

Michael: If you’re here in January 1st, there is this parade that takes about seven or eight hours. It’s a lot of guys, a lot of union workers, construction workers, dressed up in glitter and gold, strumming banjos and dancing in the streets. It may be an acquired taste, but it’s not something you’ll see anywhere else. It goes on for over six or seven hours. If you’re watching the TV when you’re in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, you switch back and forth and you see the Rose Bowl. The bands there are so well-rehearsed and so regimented. You’re like, “Wow. That’s pretty cool,” and then you see the Mummers. It’s a complete opposite and you know what? The Mummers are Philadelphia. They’re just out there having a good time, and that’s what we say you should be doing in Philadelphia. Just got out there, have a good time. Don’t worry about what people think about you and just enjoy the moment.

Chris: Excellent. Recommendations on places to stay or neighborhoods to stay?

Larissa: I would actually recommend the historic district, which is on the eastern end of the Center City area partly because it’s just so magical. When you’re staying there, it’s a little bit quieter at night and it enables you to walk around this incredibly historic area, one of the most historic areas in our country and see these buildings at night when they’re just lit up by a soft glow of light. I think that’s really special.

Michael: One of my favorites is the Wyndham Hotel. If you get a room in the back, you overlook a cemetery, which is okay. That’s good, it’s quiet, but it’s also the cemetery of Christchurch where you have five signers of the Declaration of Independence buried; more than any other burial ground in America. Also, Benjamin Franklin is buried there. You can see his grave from your room, which is pretty cool at night.

Chris: Excellent. One warning you would give about Philly.

Michael: Parking. It is not for nothing that there is a TV show called Parking Wars that focuses on the Parking Authority of Philadelphia and the propensity to give out tickets which I’ve received a few. The meters are very difficult to decipher. You need a PhD in Electronic Engineering. When we go in town, we used to look at them and go, “What? Where do we put the coin? What do we do?” The signs are a little confusing, so that’s one of the reasons we recommend if you’re flying in, the airport is very close to Center City, which is cool. It’s a cheap ride. You don’t need a car. It’s a walking city. If you live close by and you do have to drive in, just be very careful about where you park. Make sure you get back and you feed that meter on time.

Chris: Okay.

Larissa: Or just park in a lot.

Michael: Yeah. Park in a lot or take the train.

Chris: Before we start to wrap this up with my last four questions, what else should we know before we go to Philadelphia?

Michael: I’d say it’s more than history. We were talking about a slogan for “Philadelphia should be life, liberty, pursue happiness”. The history is great. You’ll spend three or four days looking at that, but beyond that, it’s an extremely dynamic east coast city, which has a lot to offer. It’s different than a lot of cities we’ve been to. After traveling all over the world, Philadelphia would still be one of our top five cities.

Chris: Why? Two reasons why it’s your top five city.

Larissa: It’s a city with a soul.

Chris: Okay.

Larissa: It’s a city when you go there, you walk the streets and you feel that there’s something there beyond just tall buildings and corporate restaurants or shops or what have you. It’s got a character that’s unique to itself. It’s like no other place in the world. I would compare it to Paris or to London in the context that when you’re there, you know where you are, you know why it’s that city. Philadelphia is like that.

Chris: Okay. Michael, you’ve got a different answer.

Michael: My three interests when I travel are architecture, history and food, and Philadelphia excels at all three.

Chris: Excellent. Last four questions. You’re standing in the prettiest spot in Philadelphia. Where are you standing and what are you looking at?

Michael: Rittenhouse Square. When William Penn designed this city, he laid out five squares.

Chris: Okay.

Michael: Four of them would be green and one would have City Hall which is where City Hall is now. Rittenhouse Square is in the lower left quadrant of Center City. In the springtime when the trees are blooming, it’s just a magical place. A documentary film was made about it just showing the changing seasons at Rittenhouse Square. There are people playing Frisbee, there are kids playing there. It’s right in the city and it’s a great spot.

Larissa: I would probably say something called the Swann Fountain, which is in Logan Square, which is one of the other squares. That square has actually been converted into a circle that has this magnificent fountain that’s kind of a round fountain with lots of swans. When you stand there, as you circle around it and look around, you look right up Benjamin Franklin Parkway which that ends at the Rocky steps.

Chris: Besides the Mummers Parade, one thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Philadelphia.”

Larissa: I think probably in the spring. When you’re walking around in the spring is the Penn Relays Racing Festival or track and field festival, which is officially known as the Penn Relays Carnival. As you’re walking around the city, you see lots of groups of four guys dressed in track suits. They’re all high school guys from all over the country. They come to this incredible track and field meet. That’s something that’s very unique to the city.

Michael: I went to grad school in Philadelphia. I was moving there from New York. I arrived on the day of the Penn Relays and I didn’t know that’s what was going on. I thought they were gangs. I said, “There are so many groups of four guys that are in the same sweat suits walking around; yellow sweat suits, blue sweat suits. They were all tall and skinny. It’s just a sight to behold. The other one is the Army-Navy Game. That is held in Philadelphia most years and it has been held for over 100 years in Philadelphia. That’s in early December. That is truly a special event. It tracks the students the students from both academies and their alumni. It’s just party time in Philadelphia for the Army-Navy Game.

Chris: I didn’t realize that’s where they held it. Interesting. Last two questions. Finish this sentence: You really know you’re in Philadelphia when what?

Michael: You see a guy selling armpit pretzels.

Chris: What?

Michael: Oh, you want a description. Okay. Philadelphia is a big soft pretzel town. When you come to Philadelphia, make sure you get mustard because you don’t just eat the pretzel like you do in New York. You put mustard on the pretzel in Philadelphia.

Chris: Of course.

Michael: It’s also a softer pretzel, but they sell them in these groups of four or six depending on the bakery. They’re kind of scooched together. You see these guys at the intersections with their arm raised in the air holding one sample of one set of six pretzels. The other one is usually held underneath their other arm. They’ve come to be known lovingly as armpit pretzels. Get the one that he’s holding in the air.

Chris: Yeah, that seems like a good advice there. If you had to summarize Philadelphia in just three words, what three words would you use?

Larissa: I think I might say, “Yo, it’s Philly.”

Michael: The spirit of independence.

Chris: Excellent. Larissa and Michael Milne have been our guests, where can people read more about your travels?

Michael: Well, we have our blog at We’ve been on the road for almost four years. We write about our travels and we provide travel tips there.

Chris: Excellent, and your favorite recent article?

Michael: We just published one about our book coming out, so that’s my personal sentimental favorite.

Larissa: I think maybe the most recent one was Travel Tips All About How Airbnb Will Change the Way You Travel.

Chris: Excellent. Thanks so much for coming on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your love of Philadelphia.

Michael: Thank you very much, Chris.

Larissa: Thanks, Chris.


In news of the community, we received a lot of feedback on the episode we did last week on North Carolina. Almost all of it positive, I would have to say, but I want to start with one dissenting voice from Jonathan because it needs an explanation and a little bit of an apology on my part. Jonathan was offended that we’d left out Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Western North Carolina. He wrote this:

Dear Chris, I am not a travel blogger just a well traveled bloke who enjoys life living in Asheville, North Carolina. With that said, my lady and I listened to the Amatuer Traveler Podcast on North Carolina. The description given on that podcast would not make me want to visit and I got the feeling didn’t make you want to visit anymore then you already do.

My lady and I do not visit the Piedmont or the coast very much, we have, but the mountains offer so much they alone are a reason to visit. The first aspect to mention, which your interviewee failed to mention, is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The United States’s most visited national park and it is free. Great hiking, water and landscapes, and flowers in the right time of year. From the Smokys one can head south or east. West or northish will bring you to Tennessee. Maybe you even head further into NC with your motorcycle. Western North Carolina is a well know motorcycle haven. From cursing to switch backs, something crazy like over 300 in 30 miles.

We will head south. Bringing us to great rivers for swimming or soaking up the magic. Maybe some rafting on the Nantahala or finding the filming locations of Deliverance. Camping, boiled peanuts, giant trees and other nature all along the rivers. The Cherokee, the few that were not forced to Oklahoma, have their “lands” at the foot of the national park. A sad place with great potential but a seeming lack of care. If there is a stickball game, a ne jo di, being played it is a must watch. At the south-western tip of NC we reach Brasstown and the John C. Campbell Folk School. A place of peace and art. It has gotten very expensive over the years but if you have some money saved up take a class or if they are having a festival make the trip to join in the festivities and learn the history of the mountains and the school. From Brasstown little towns like Murphy, Franklin, and Highlands and more hidden areas are just a winding road away.

East from the Smokys one heads towards Asheville and the Pisgah Forest. The great city of Asheville, population 40,000(80,000 when they add the little villages around it to make it seem bigger), sits in its valley vortex surround by forest and mountains. Find a tubing tour or drink a beer or two. Donuts at a beach Boardwalk are not the must eats in NC. Asheville is where you eat. It is hard to find a bad place to eat in Asheville and everyone can find something from local meat to local vegan. Asheville is millintly local. The bumper stickers holding together the hippies’s and yuppies’s cars will tell you, ” Be Local”. With Asheville as a center hub adventure surrounds you. Adventure and beer. Most micro-breweries pre-capita in America. Hiking, Art, Festivals, Mountain Towns(Weaverville, Boone, Hot Springs, Wanyesville, etc.), Music, People, the Appalation Trail. Come to NC at least WNC.

Love the podcast,
Jonathan always traveling with my lady Sanni

I said I needed an explanation and a little bit of an apology. The explanation is we’ve actually done an episode of Amateur Traveler already on the Great Smoky Mountains and Asheville, and that is episode 345. We also did one on the outer banks as well. I really had Karen focus in between the two. That was my choice, not Karen’s. My apologies that I didn’t mention that in the show because hopefully at that point then we wouldn’t have offended Jonathan by leaving out, as he said, the most visited national park in the United States. As I understand, and I have not been there yet, a very beautiful part of the state that I do want to see.

As more of a dissenting view, I got a comment from Jeremy on the episode that said:

“As someone who grew up in North Carolina, I was really happy to see the Amateur Traveler devote an entire episode to the state. Karen did a wonderful job of highlighting many of the places and things that make the state so special. In particular, her description of the state fair during Bulls games and the Raleigh Museum brought back some great memories for me from high school and college.”

“I do however have one major correction. There are two distinct types of barbecue in North Carolina. The vinegar-based barbecue that Karen described is associated with the eastern half of the state. The west/Piedmont is known for a barbecue style that includes tomatoes or ketchup in the sauce and uses only the pork shoulder. The regional rivalry over the two styles is so intense that an argument broke out in the legislature a few years ago when someone introduced a bill to try and make the Lexington Barbecue Festival in the west North Carolina’s official barbecue festival. If you’re traveling anywhere in the state and want to find a good barbecue spot especially in the east, I’d recommend checking out as a resource.”

Jeremy, that sounds like a great website. I have to check that out. Jeremy continues:

“I want to give a plug for my hometown of Edenton, which would also be a good stop on the way to the outer banks from Raleigh. It’s been recognized by a few magazines as one of the prettiest small towns in the country, and it was hugely important in colonial North Carolina. Edenton is the third oldest town in the state and was once the colonial capital. The town contributed a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, Joseph Hughes, a signatory to the Constitution, Hugh Williamson and one of the first Supreme Court justices, James Iredell. Edenton’s biggest claim to fame though is the Edenton Tea Party in which 51 women pledged to boycott English tea. It was the first known organized political action by women in US history. Thanks again for a great episode.”

Thanks for all of you who gave feedback for this episode. I’ll be reading some of it, I think, in later episodes because we’ve got a lot of it as I said. With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler.

Again, if you have travel questions, that’s really going to help me as I put together an online course on learning how to travel. Send those to host at along with your feedback. If you have feedback on this episode, post a comment to this episode You can follow me on Twitter @chris2x or Instagram as well. As always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

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