Memorial Day Weekend in Philly

We've loved our historical/fun weekends away for Memorial Day the past couple years, starting with Mystic Seaport in 2013 and then continuing to Colonial Williamsburg in 2014, so Philadelphia seemed only natural this year to kick off the summer. Marcus learned the words to the national anthem and pretty much every other patriotic song this year in school, and he's also been learning about George Washington and the Revolutionary War, and he was really excited to see the Liberty Bell. Samantha--once we explained that she wasn't going to miss Baby School for this--that it was actually the case that Baby School was closed, shut tight, with no one at all there and no fun she was missing out on--can get excited about pretty much anything.

With Chinatown meat skewers and dumplings and sushi to nosh on at the airport, we flew JetBlue down on Friday night and returned Monday evening, staying meanwhile at the Loews Philadelphia downtown. From the airport we hopped onto a lovely train that went to Jefferson Station, just a block from the hotel; you could buy tickets right on the train, and sail right over. The hotel itself was great. We had a huge corner room with a king-sized bed, a chair-and-a-half plus ottoman that Marcus slept on, and plenty of floor space for Samantha to camp out in a nest of pillows and blankets (and the plush bathrobes, which the kids cuddled up with).

Our hotel also had a fantastic location, right by (so we learned) the site of the first circus building in the country. (Marcus was fascinated by these historical markers, located all over the city. "So they're like another kind of Freedom Trail?" our Boston boy said.) We also happened to be diagonally across the street from "the big guitar," which Marcus loved as a landmark (the Hard Rock Cafe), and also the Reading Terminal Market, where we went for breakfast that first Saturday morning, as soon as it opened at 8:00, for soft pretzels and hot donuts.

From there we walked straight to the Visitors' Center at Independence Mall to get (free) tickets for Independence Hall, and then we got on line to see the Liberty Bell, which both kids were excited about. They sat on the steps of the former President's House and looked at their National Park Ranger activity books while we waited.

Once inside, both approached their activities very seriously, sketching the bell and (for Marcus) doing a word scramble of the words written on it.

We went across the street to Independence Hall, where we had a hoot of a park ranger as a tour guide. "How many third, fourth, or fifth-graders do we have here?" he asked. "Great! Well, if you are in third, fourth, or fifth grade, you should be aware that the railing here is the perfect size for you KNEE to get STUCK. Do NOT put your knee through the railing! We do NOT like to cut the RAILING!"


From there, we went back to the Visitors' Center to use the bathrooms, get the kids their ranger badges, and talk to a dulcimer player in period costume. He, too, was a hoot. "I take requests," he said. "What's your favorite song?" "Old MacDonald," Samantha told him immediately. He obliged.

Lunch was at Pizzicato a few blocks away--okay, not great food, with awful service, but convenient. "You might want to tell other people with kids that there's hot sauce right on the calamari," Robert told the waitress, nicely, "because we had thought it would be on the side, like a dip." Her eyes got wide. "I'd never heard of kids eating calamari before!" Sigh. Still, we were only half a block from the site of Ben Franklin's home and print shop, so we paid, tipped skimpily, and walked over.

The kids liked the Storytelling Bench in the courtyard, and Marcus also liked answering trivia questions (1. "Name two countries that Ben Franklin visited." 2. "Where was his house?") to get colonial trading cards from the park ranger. You could have done both the storytelling benches and also the trading cards at many more locations, but we did not obsess over them--though if we had visited each of the ten storytelling benches, the kids would have earned free tickets on the carousel, which seems like a pretty great deal.

Marcus liked the underground Franklin Museum, and both kids liked seeing the site of Ben Franklin's bathroom. Samantha is pretty sure that Ben Franklin is "that other president," after George Washington. "I wonder what the country would have been like with Ben Franklin as a president!" Robert mused.

Our next stop was the Mint, which unfortunately wasn't in production as it was a Saturday, but was nicely empty, and had some great videos you could see of what the production process actually looked like. Both kids liked watching the robots making the coins.

With Samantha napping, we walked back to the hotel for some free popsicles and "water ice," a Memorial Day weekend afternoon treat. Popsicles, a swim in the pool, and then out to dinner--we walked to Chinatown, which was a short walk away, to go to Nan Zhou for delicious hand-drawn noodles and dumplings and their really excellent (soft, gingery, perfectly cooked) "house special meatball rice" plate. Back at the hotel that evening, we joined other families with kids in a conference room for "Big Hero 6" on a big screen, with pillows and blankets for the kids to stretch out on the floor, and three kinds of lemonade (Robert was partial to the watermelon), freshly made popcorn, and individual goodie bags of candy. Marcus loved the movie, and Samantha got nervous at a few places but consoled herself by sitting on my lap and eating as much chocolate from her goodie bag as she could.

On Sunday morning the kids slept late, and we walked over to Farmicia to meet Robert's sister Amanda, Andre, Baby Katy, and one of Amanda's friends for brunch. We hadn't seen any of them since Christmas, and since Amanda now lives in South Jersey, it worked out to get to see them, and we were very glad of the chance.

Marcus spent all of brunch itching to get his hands on Katy, and finally pounced on her when I got up to go to the bathroom at the end of the meal. He pretty much didn't let go of her until Amanda loaded her into her carseat to drive back home.

We walked from Farmicia over to a Rita's for chocolate ice cream (Samantha), blue raspberry water ice with gummi bears (Marcus--who else?), and lemon gelati (Robert and me). Fortified, we took a cab to the Franklin Institute and met up with a babywearing friend of mine and her husband and three kids. The kids got to make paper, climb through the giant heart, build little rovers, and much more.

Aimee's daughter and Samantha are only a day apart in age, and Marcus is in between her boys, so everyone had fun. Marcus particularly liked posing on this forced-perspective painting in the optical illusions room.

Next on the agenda was splashing in the fountain outside of the museum, and then walking to Chinatown for Terakawa for miso ramen, gyoza, char siu onigiri, tempura shumai on a stick, and a little side bowl of curry chicken on rice. Both kids loved everything, and devoured it. Robert grabbed some Peking duck pancakes from Sang Kee just a few doors down, just in case we didn't have enough deliciousness.

We finished out the evening by walking to Franklin Square, just a few blocks away, for the playground, a "cake shake" with frozen custard and a Tastycake butterscotch cake in it, and a round of Philadelphia mini golf. Who got a hole in one on the Liberty Bell hole and made it ring? Ahem. Only Christina on the first try! We walked home from there via Tea Do in Chinatown for some Jenga and a coconut boba smoothie, and the kids took a long bath in our extra-large hotel tub before bed.

On Monday morning, Memorial Day, we struggled to find some place open for breakfast, and ended up at a chain pretzel place near the hotel for pretzels, since the markets were all closed. We walked by this cool art installation in honor of Philadelphia schools. A cab took us to Penn's Landing to tour the Becuna and the Olympia, a WWII submarine and an 1890s warship, which both kids thought were pretty neat.

Samantha was nervous at first on the stairs, but soon gained courage, and walked all over the ships by herself.

Marcus loved fitting through all the doors and hallways, while Robert kept getting stuck (head, shoulders, etc.) in various places. We retrieved him, don't worry.

We sampled some of the hammocks and shuffleboard at Spruce Street Harbor Park briefly, but the food choices there were pretty limited.

We crossed a beautiful wide pedestrian footbridge (which puts the Fiedler bridge to shame) and walked over to Sonny's for cheesesteaks (Marcus loved mine with onions and provolone, and ate fully 1/4 of a big one, plus all of his burger, while Samantha mostly ate cheese fries and the extra cheese out of the fry cup) and then the Franklin Fountain for (good, but not worth the hour-long wait) ice cream sundaes.

Our final stops were another storytelling bench and then the Betsy Ross house, and then we went back to the hotel to pick up our bags.

We all had a great weekend, and after the train back to the airport made it home safe and sound, ready for another week. Marcus also wrote his own take on the weekend. This is Chapter 2, "Adventure to Pennsylvania," in his journal book, apparently. He was very annoyed at himself for forgetting "to write in paragraphs" on the second page.


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Created: 5/26/15. Last Modified: 5/26/15.