Exploring Philadelphia Pennsylvannia

So on my “50 before 30” quest, I decided to take a day trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from New York, in order to tick off state 17. What an amazing day it was! I knew very little about Philly or Pennsylvania for the matter, except for that they had the Liberty Bell and Philly Cheese Steak.

First time on a train in the USA New York to Philly

My first major learning curve was actually getting to Philly. I was rather anxious about this trip, as I had never traveled alone by train before. It was incredibly easy and I laugh at how nervous I was. At Penn Station you can buy a return ticket to Philly by using the New Jersey Transit and SEPTA systems (Penn Station to Trenton Transit Center on the New Jersey Transit, and Trenton Transit Center to Philadelphia 30th St station on the SEPTA system). I got a tad bit overwhelmed and confused on the Wednesday morning I was supposed to catch my train. I could NOT figure out which train track I was supposed to get on. I walked around and around the NJT area in Penn Station and could not figure it out. Eventually, I asked a member of the cleaning staff, and he kindly told me that the tracks are posted 10 minutes before the train departs…. Now that would explain why there were about 40 people hanging around in the area not doing anything!  Long story short, I got on the right train, slept into the Trenton Transit station, and hopped onto the SEPTA line to get off at 30th St Station in Philly. SUPER EASY! The train conductor was really nice too. 

I was pleased with myself for managing this part of my trip – although slightly concerned about the older gentleman I asked to confirm I got on the right train…. He proceeded to sit down next to me, and tell me all about how much money he had made (and lost) through gambling at the slot machines, and how he is the best dancer in New Jersey (truthfully I didn’t want to know what he meant by this, so I did not ask). Soon a policeman sat down in front of us, and he quickly kept quiet and got off at the next station – not without inviting me to stay at his and his mothers five-bedroom house the next time I was in NJ!

As usual on my travels, I don’t just go after the tourist traps and major landmarks. I love to get a feel for the city, and do what the locals do. Sometimes it’s not always possible to do that, especially in a limited time period. In my first trip to New York I came across “Free Tours on Foot”, a tour company that offers walking tours on a “pay what you think it deserves” system. So imagine my joy when I saw that they had tours in Philly! I decided on the “Real Philly” tour, so as to get my fix of what the real city is like. I figured I could always do the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall etc (the major landmarks) after the tour.

What a great tour this was! To read more about it, click here. The tour explores parks, churches, cemeteries, the first hospital in the United States, various neighborhoods of Philly and the city center. We stopped for lunch at the Italian Market, where I sampled the famous Philly Cheese Steak. Our tour guide showed us examples of the artwork on display throughout the city, the LOVE sculpture and finally the Reading Terminal Market.

Philadelphia skyline from a park
Philly Town Hall Skyline

After the tour, I made my way back to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. While walking past the Independence Hall, I noticed two older gentlemen taking a selfie with a document that said “Marriage License”. Without thinking, I turned around and offered to take their pictures for them. It was such a wonderful moment to take pictures of these newlyweds (they had literally just gotten married) in front of Independence Hall. I later found out that same-sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania only in May 2014. It still bothers me that I live in a state (FL) that doesn’t allow for same-sex marriage. And it bothers me that we call it “same-sex marriage” and not just "marriage". It was such an awesome, incredible, emotional and inspiring moment to be part of their happiness for a few minutes. Writing this, after my entire trip to NY and Philly, it still sticks out as one of my favorite moments.

Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia, USA

After this moment, I went to see the Liberty Bell. I think in many ways the previous moment had opened my eyes to the many meanings that the Liberty Bell and the inscription

"Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof" 

has for so many different people. It has been used as a symbol to fight slavery, and to fight for women's rights. Across numerous struggles around the world it is a symbol of freedom and courage. Coming from South Africa, where our fight was for equality and life free from discrimination (and continues to be), these meanings were personal to me. The fact that they had a picture with Nelson Mandela in the building was also emotional for me, especially after his recent passing. The irony was that this picture was placed next to one of the Dalai Lama. South Africa has refused the Dalai Lama entry into the country, due to its relations with China. The irony. I guess we still have a long way to go, South Africa, and the rest of the world.

Anyway! I had a wonderful day in Pennsylvania. To find out more, check out my post of the tour I took the REAL PHILLY tour by Free Tours on Foot.