Monday, October 23, 2017

Philadelphia: Where to Stay and What to Eat

This is my fourth post about our adventure traveling through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. You can find the first post from this trip here and links to all the other educational US travel our family has done here

Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and other benefits for some of the hotels and attractions we visited throughout the trip. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone. I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I whole-heartedly recommend. If you notice any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love a particular hotel, attraction, or restaurant enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay. 

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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


We arrived in Philadelphia in the evening of Tuesday, October 3 and left early on Friday, October 6. During the two full days we were in town, we filled our time with museums, monuments, tours, and scavenger hunts. How did we manage to pack so many activities into such a short amount of time? Part of it was by being really organized and setting a schedule ahead of time, but no matter how much preparation I'd done ahead of time, we would not have been able to do so much if we hadn't chosen the hotel we did. The Thomas Bond House was just a short walk from absolutely everything we wanted to do. It was so convenient to park the car once on Tuesday night and not move it until we left town on Friday morning. We saved a lot of time not having to deal with traffic and parking, which left us with more time to explore and enjoy Philadelphia. 

   

Dr. Thomas Bond built the house in 1769. In 1988, it was restored to its Federalist glory and opened as a 12-room inn. Each morning we had a wonderful breakfast to start our day. In the evenings, we enjoyed wine (soda or juice for Trevor) and fresh-baked cookies.

  

We stayed on the second floor in the William Penn room, which was ideal for our family of three. (Go here for an explanation of the stickers on Trevor's jacket.)


This is the view from the window next to Trevor. That's Welcome Park.


While the Thomas Bond House was perfect for our family, it may not be right for your family. Their policy is, "Children over 10 are welcome, as long as they will respect the historic fabric of the building, the value of the antiques, and are sensitive to the presence of our other guests." Not a problem for Trevor. The other guests wouldn't have known he was even there if he hadn't challenged them to chess. 


And when he wasn't playing chess, Trevor was working on homework. He was on Independent Study during the two-week trip, which means that he had to stay current with all the work his 6th grade classmates did. This translated to two reports, an essay, daily journal writing, four blog posts, an entire math chapter, an entire history chapter, a daily reading log, and a few other items. As it turned out, school was canceled during the second week of his Independent Study because of the fires, but we didn't know that at the time. Trevor returned to school one week ahead of his classmates in every subject and enjoyed a very easy week when school resumed!


Now that I've covered where to stay, it's time to tell you where to eat! We had fantastic food in Philadelphia, starting with Little Lion.


Not only was the food amazing, but they serve mocktails (and cocktails) made from colonial shrubs that were almost as good as the ones we made! (OK, fine. Their shrubs were actually much better than ours, which were pretty tasty. Meaning theirs were amazing. You should try them. And then try making your own! Perhaps rhubarb?)

  

Another restaurant you absolutely should not miss, no matter what? City Tavern. It's just across the street from the Thomas Bond House and dates back to the same era. Every detail, from the servers' clothing to the harp player, brings you right back to the 1700's. 

   

Check out our dining room. Apparently there are 10 dining rooms, plus the patio. 

 

The menu is based on authentic American cooking from the 18th century. Everything we had was fantastic. If it weren't 3000 miles from home, City Tavern would be my go-to special occasion restaurant. I'd love to try the rest of the things on the menu. Shout out to our server, Sierra, who made the evening extra fun!

  

Speaking of places I'd like to go to again and again... Reading Terminal Market is, in a word, awesome. It is an indoor public market and it is so large that it has street signs and friendly, green-aproned ambassadors to help you find your way around. 

  

We wandered up and down every aisle before selecting pizza, a beef sandwich, and a whoopie pie to share. Delicious! You could go there every day for a year and not repeat a meal. And based on the lines and the yummy smells, all those meals would be outstanding.


I also recommend a meal at Philadelphia's 9th Street Italian Market. It is the oldest outdoor market in the United States and it is an experience not to be missed. Many of the stands are for grocery items that won't work for a tourist staying in a hotel, but they're still worth a visit. 

  

There were plenty of places selling ready-to-eat food. We split some amazing pizza, a sandwich, and two flavors of Pennsylvania's iconic water ice. So good!


And while I'm talking about refreshing desserts, The Franklin Fountain is an absolute must. This old-time soda fountain serves up drawn sodas (we got one for the three of us, finished it quickly, and went back to try a second flavor because it was so good), sundaes, phosphates, and all sorts of other delicious concoctions. We tried the Ladies Choice, raspberry soda infused with peach ice cream and sweet cream. It was amazing. 


You can't go to Philadelphia without having their most famous food, the Philly cheesesteak. I did a bunch of research ahead of time and asked every Philadelphian we met for recommendations. Armed with that knowledge, we did a head-to-head taste-off from two of the most highly recommended, Campo's and Sonny's

  

They're located just a few storefronts away from each other, which was key to having a fair tasting. Steve and I split up, each buying an identical cheesesteak at the same time so neither would be fresher than the other. We brought them to a neutral location and opened them up. That's Campo's on the top. It's stuffed with more meat and was oozing with cheese. Sonny's fillings fit nicely in the bread. From a 'what you get for the money' standpoint, Campo's is the clear winner. (Those are The Franklin Fountain drinks on the right. Pineapple soda and Ladies Choice.)


I cut each sandwich into chunks. Campo's cheesesteak basically fell apart, while Sonny's split nicely with the bread sturdy and holding all of the fillings. 


As for the taste? They were both outstanding and I'd have either one again in a heartbeat. Steve had a slight preference for Campo's because of the meaty flavor. Trevor preferred the flavor of Sonny's. Both looked to me expectantly for the tie-breaking vote. It was so difficult! Ultimately, I went with Sonny's because the onions were caramelized a bit more than Campo's and the bread was tastier. But it could have just as easily gone the other way. Have your own taste test when you're in Philadelphia and let me know what you prefer!

We had the best time in the City of Brotherly Love! Tomorrow I'll share our next destination. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Philadelphia: Family-friendly Fun Things To Do in the City of Brotherly Love

This is my third post about our adventure traveling through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. You can find the first post from this trip here and links to all the other educational US travel we've done here

Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and other benefits for some of the hotels and attractions we visited throughout the trip. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone. I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I whole-heartedly recommend. If you notice any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love a particular hotel, attraction, or restaurant enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay. 

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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Philadelphia ranks as one of my all-time favorite cities. Our nation's history is everywhere you look and there is so much to see and do. Not only that, but Philadelphia has great food and is pedestrian-friendly, two things that matter a lot to our family. We arrived in Philadelphia in the afternoon on Tuesday, October 3 after spending the day in Delaware. We stayed for three nights and packed a significant number of attractions into our limited time. There's no time for rest when you vacation with the deRosiers!

Obviously, the #1 attraction in Philadelphia is Independence National Historic Park. We walked through the whole park the evening we arrived. The buildings were closed, but we got spectacular, tourist-free views of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. 

  

Of course, we returned the next morning to properly explore Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, the Visitor Center, and the surrounding area. Allow at least three hours to see it all. 

  

While we were there, Trevor earned the Junior Ranger badge. I strongly recommend having your kids do this at every national park they visit. It's fun, free, and they end up with a nice souvenir badge. Trevor also collected Independence NHP Trading Cards. Each ranger at the park carries some and give them out to kids who approach them and answer simple questions. 


The US Mint is another don't-miss in Philadelphia. They offer an excellent self-guided tour. We loved watching coins being made and were fascinated to learn that if coins drop on the floor at any point during the manufacturing process, they are destroyed. As you might imagine, security is very tight at the Mint, which includes a complete ban on all photography. Our lone photo is of the exterior of the building. 


We had a fantastic time at the Museum of the American Revolution and the hours we spent there flew by. It is packed with so much information, interesting displays, lots of video, and plenty of hands-on exhibits to keep kids (and adults) entertained.  
 
  

I want to mention one thing in particular that the Museum of the American Revolution does extremely well and that is having "Please touch" signs. Here is Trevor touching a piece a true piece of history- part of the last surviving Liberty Tree. 

  

We ended our time at with a fascinating film, which concluded with an unveiling of General George Washington's actual headquarters tent from the Revolutionary War. No photos allowed, obviously. 

Of course, we had to do the Philadelphia Urban Adventure Quest. (We've done Quests in Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Phoenix, plus we did beta testing for them in San Jose and San Francisco.) It's a mobile phone scavenger hunt and it is so much fun! It's a great way to explore a city and it always takes us to places we might otherwise not have seen. I've been to Philadelphia a handful of times before, but had never been in Elfreth's Alley before. It was really neat. 


Other stops along the Quest included Washington Square, the Betsy Ross House, and Christ Church. 


We made two dumb mistakes and ended up with the worst score we've had among the 8 Quests we'd done, but that didn't matter one bit. We worked well together, saw things we otherwise would have missed, and learned a lot about Philadelphia. 

After the Quest, we headed to Philadelphia's Magic Gardens. If the word 'garden' evokes visions of trees and flowers, think again. PMG is an immersive art museum and gallery made up of tiles, mirrors, bottles, and so much more. It is the work of Isaiah Zagar and it is overwhelming in the best of ways. The indoor space features mosaics on the walls and ceilings and hints at is what to come when you step outdoors.  

  

Outside, every surface is covered. It was difficult to know where to look or which way to go. We followed the winding paths and staircases randomly, with each turn revealing something new. If you're up for a challenge, try the scavenger hunt at Philadelphia Magic Gardens. The three of us worked together and still couldn't find everything... even with hints from the helpful employees! It might be the most difficult scavenger hunt I've ever done, but it was so much fun and really helped us (Trevor in particular) focus our attention in a place with visual overload.

   

One of our favorite discoveries was this phrase that we recognized from Shelley Pearsall's outstanding book, The Seventh Most Important Thing. We listened to it on CD during our drive to Oregon over the summer and it made the time fly by. I highly recommend it for preteens, teens, and adults. 


I'll share one final must-do before wrapping up the post and that is the National Constitution Center. Wow- what a museum!


Unfortunately, there is no photography allowed in 99% of the exhibit space. I'm not sure why, but I'm a rule follower, so I didn't question it or try to sneak photos. But I would love to have photos of Trevor in a voting booth, listening to actual quotes from a Democratic president and a Republican president from history and deciding which resonated better with him. I wanted a picture of him competing in a fun trivia game show. (He did really well, so he must have actually learned something from my efforts last year!) I'd love to have recorded his expression as we applied to vote in various years throughout history and he learned how many people were disenfranchised for so long. I'd definitely want photos of us dressed up like Supreme Court justices. That would make a fun Christmas card!

Fortunately, photos were allowed in one room, filled with life-size statues of the men present at the Constitutional Convention. At 6'4", George Washington dwarfs Trevor. At 5'4", James Madison is more my size.

  

Photos were allowed in the lobby, too. President deRosier, 2020?

  

As you can see, we had an amazing time in Philadelphia. And I haven't even mentioned where we stayed or what we ate! Those deserve a separate post, so come back to read that on Monday.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dover: Capitol, Cheddar's, Air Mobility Command Museum, Murderkill, Bowers Beach

This is the second post about our adventure through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. You can find the first post here. Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and other benefits for some of the hotels and attractions we visited throughout the trip. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone. I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I whole-heartedly recommend. If you notice any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love a particular hotel, attraction, or restaurant enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay. 

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Dover, Delaware


By 9:00 am on Day 2, we were on the road from Annapolis, MD to Dover, DE. Our first destination was The Old State House. What a beautiful area! The historic area of Dover, like Annapolis, is very pedestrian-friendly, clean and safe, and clearly caters to tourists interested in history. There were docents on hand to guide visitors and explain everything. We learned so much about the early years of The First State. 

  

Speaking of which, Delaware is very proud of the fact that they were the first state to ratify the Constitution (December 7, 1787). Not only is it printed on their license plate, but it appears on monuments, statues, t-shirts, and pretty much everything else. 

  

We found Delaware's Liberty Bell replica between the Old State House and the current Legislative Hall. Notice that Trevor has three large stickers on his jacket. These are the passes we had to wear while touring the Capitol in Annapolis. After we left, Trevor peeled my sticker and Steve's sticker off of our clothing and put it on his own. 


It has been very interesting to compare the levels of security between all of the various capitol buildings we've visited. We've experienced everything from airport-level ID checks and metal detectors to absolutely no checks or visible security. It's fascinating. 

When we went through security in Dover, we had to show ID and each got another sticker to wear. Here's Trevor inside the Capitol with his three Maryland stickers and one Delaware sticker. 


We enjoyed our visit to the Legislative Hall. Afterward, we did a little geocaching nearby and found a cache by VisitDelaware. Our first Delaware cache! (Notice that Trevor is now wearing three Maryland stickers and three Delaware stickers.)


My personal Delaware highlight was meeting up with a former student of mine, Amerina, and meeting her husband and daughter. He is in the Air Force and stationed in Dover. I haven't seen Amerina since she graduated from fifth grade in 2005. She found me on Facebook a few years ago. When I told her we'd be in Dover, she enthusiastically accepted my offer to meet up and suggested lunch at Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen. The food was outstanding and it was wonderful to catch up with her. 


I'm still a hair taller than Amerina. I can't say that about too many of my former students! Many of them dwarfed me before they even finished fifth grade. 


Our next stop was at the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base. 


The indoor exhibit area was excellent, with plenty of opportunities for kids to climb in, on, or under. 

  

The outdoor display area was impressive. 
  
  

Although we are not military, we live in a military town and have many Air Force friends. Trevor thought it was so cool that there was a display about Travis AFB when we were 3000 miles from home!


Delaware's #1 tourist destination is Rehoboth Beach. Unfortunately, it was an hour away the wrong direction, so we weren't able to include it on this trip. I did want to visit a beach in Delaware though. I scoured the map for promising beaches near Dover and ended up discovering Bowers Beach. It looked like a nice place to stop and stroll for awhile. When I read that Bowers is also the mouth of a river named Murderkill, I was all in. I'm weird like that. As it turns out, Murderkill River was most likely not named for any sort of death. And it was indeed a lovely place for a stroll. 


Bowers Beach is rebuilding their dunes following destruction by storms and, at least right now, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for swimming or sand play. But there was a very nice rock jetty for those who want to enjoy a nice walk by the beach. It was just what we needed on this beautiful October day. 


All too soon, it was time to leave Delaware and head to our next destination, Philadelphia. As we drove north through beautiful Delaware, we kept seeing one crop over and over that we couldn't identify at highway speeds. I finally asked Steve to pull over because it was driving me crazy not knowing what all the huge fields were. My best guess is soybeans.


I did a little research and learned some fascinating facts about agriculture in Delaware. Did the rest of you know that soybeans are a major ingredient in crayons?!


We learned so much about The First State during our short time in Delaware. I hope we're able to return someday and explore the southern part of the state!