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Philadelphia - The Long Weekend


Philadelphia – The Long Weekend.

DAY ONE:

Morning – Head out with your CityPass, a discounted ticket booklet to five of Philadephia’s major attractions. If you don’t mind making like a tourist your CityPass allows you access to the Philadephia Trolley Tour, a Victorian-style trolley bus that winds its way through the city’s historic neighbourhoods and is a great way to get your bearings. You can jump on and off at any one of 20 locations, so make time for the salubrious mansions of Fairmount Park, set amid 8000 acres of wooded hills and graced by beautiful vistas from the top of Belmont Plateau.
Philadelphia was the birth place of the American Constitution and you can’t really leave without at least a glance at the Liberty Bell (housed in a plate-glass mini-museum on Chestnut and 5th Street), but if the queue proves too daunting then nip down Sansom Street to the White Dog Café, an award-winning restaurant that has become a focal point for ground-breaking community activity. including the Table for Six Billion Please project. They serve a killer brunch of fluffy omelettes stuffed with jack cheese all washed-down with a glass of Bloodhound Bloody Mary.

Afternoon - Philadelphia is one of the easiest cities in the US to navigate on foot, so head towards the Delaware River and the Old City for the best examples of the famous Trinity Houses. Named for the father, son and holy ghost, these tiny, charming residences (two rooms on each of their three floors) are best preserved on Elfreth’s Alley where cobbled streets and Flemish Bond brickwork serve as a surprising counterpoint to America’s more expected, modern architecture. Each June the homes (most still occupied) are opened up to public viewing, but if poking around other people’s private parts is not for you then why not take a film tour of Philly?
Most notorious as the location for Sly Stallone’s behemoth Rocky franchise, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is awash with fans recreating his triumphant run up the steps, but less bellicose sights include the atrium at the Lord & Taylor department store (where Andrew McCarthy starred in Mannequin) and City Hall (location for much litigious wrangling in Jonathan Demme’s Aids-drama Philadelphia). From City Hall it’s a short walk to Rittenhouse Row (recognisable from The Sixth Sense and Trading Places). Here you can indulge in posh afternoon window-shopping at stores that include Ralph Lauren and Diesel. Then nip in to the Capricchio Café and Espresso Bar at the boutique Warwick Hotel for a cup of sensational java.

Evening – Philly’s bars and clubs open early and are a world away from New York’s Chelsea Boy attitude. The best time to visit for queer goings-on is late April/early May when the Equality Forum program presents a seven day extravaganza of arts, dinners, talks and the SundayOUT festival, a day-long street party held between Penn’s Landing and the Independence National Historical Park in the Old City. Many of the bars on Locust Street are packed with Philadelphians and out-of-towners and if you can’t make it for Equality Forum this is still the place to come to kick-start your evening.
Begin, however, with an unusual dinner at Alma de Cuba, one of legendary Philadelphian restaurateur Stephen Starr’s roster of twelve restaurants. Alma de Cuba, just off Rittenhouse Square, serves up racy fare with distinct Latin American touches including Costa Rican coffee-rum glazed tuna and sides of black beans and Yuca fries. After a few cocktails at Bump, head to South street where Woody’s provides gay clubbing in a cosy old-school and unpretentious atmosphere.

DAY TWO:

Morning – You might want to take things easy after the excesses of a night on the town, so head to the Independence Visitors Centre for a two-hour guided Mural Arts Tour. That might not sound like relaxation, but it all takes place aboard an old-fashioned trolley-bus that winds through some of Philadelphia’s more diverse neighbourhoods – so sit back and relax. The city is the unofficial Mural Capital of the World with over 2700 of the things and each one tells a fascinating story of community and creativity.
Back at the IVC head down Filbert Street to the Reading Terminal Market, a huge foodhall where you can get lost both exploring and sampling some of America’s more eclectic culinary treats. Pay particular attention to the stalls run by the local Amish community (they are impossible to miss) with their home-made pastries and preserves. If you want something a bit more recognisable, grab a huge cheese sub – it will easily fill you up for the rest of the day.

Afternoon – If the weather is pleasant and you feel in need of some retail therapy head out on the Regional Rail Line R6 (from City Centre stations) to Manayunk. Derived from an old Indian word meaning ‘where we go to drink,’ this inner-city village has a decidedly European feel and claims to have the highest concentration of furniture shops anywhere in the East of America. But if a brand new Ligne Roset sofa is not on your wish list then don’t worry; Main Street is a Mall-free stretch of galleries, quirky boutiques and charming coffee shops, many with al fresco seating for continental-style people-watching.
If you are in Philadelphia in June then pay a visit to the Manayunk Arts Festival (23rd-24th) which, as well as offering emerging artists the chance to sell their work, sees the whole of Main Street spill out onto the sidewalk with special events, offers and displays. Just remember to empty your credit card before you go – everything here is tax free.

Evening – Back in the city centre you might want to stop off for high tea at the Swann Lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel, just like Charles and Camilla did on their much-publicised visit. If you’re not staying in the royal suite then head back to your hotel for a quick brush-up before taking in a show. Philly’s Art scene can’t compete with Broadway but The Academy of Music at the beautiful Kimmel Centre is celebrating 150 years activity in 2007 with a packed programme that includes ballet performances of Carmina Burana in March, Verdi’s Falstaff opera in May and the hit musical Wicked in August. Post-show there is just time for some Crispy Calamari at the appropriately-named Pod restaurant on Sansom Street before hitting the bars of Rittenhosue and Locust once again. If your visit coincides with a Friday night check out the huge and legendary Shampoo nightclub; ‘Shaft Fridays’ is the biggest gay night in town.

• GTT travelled to Philadelphia courtesy of US Airways and the Phildelphia CVB. For flights log on to www.usairways.com or call 0845 600 3300.

Essentials:

Academy Of Music – 240 S Broad Street. Call +1 215 893 1935 or log on to www.academyofmusic.org

Alma de Cuba – 1623 Walnut Street. +1 215 988 1799 or log on to www.almadecubarestaurant.com.

Caprrichio Café and Espresso Bar – 1701 Locust Street. Call +1 215 735 9797.

Four Seasons Hotel – 1, Logan Square. Call +1 215 963 1599 or log on to www.fourseasons.com.

Independence Visitors Centre – 5th Street at Chestnut Street.

Kimmel Center – 300 S Broad Street. Call +1 215 670 2300 or log on to www.kimmelcenter.org.

Philadelphia CityPass – Call +1 208 787 4300 or log on to www.citypass.com.

Pod Restaurant – 3636 Sansom Street. Call +1 215 367 1803 or log on to www.podrestaurant.com

Reading Terminal Market – 12th Street at Filbert Street.

Shampoo – 417 North 8th Street +1 215 922 7500.

White Dog Café – 3420 Sansom Street. Call +1 215 386 9224 or log on to www.whitedog.com.

Woody’s – 202 South 13th Street. +1 215 545 1893.

Andrew Copestake

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