Washington DC was great and spending quality time with great friends is always worth the stop. However, we still had half our vacation to go. Our next stop was Philadelphia. We spent 4 days in Philly, saw a lot but didn’t scratch the surface of what this great city had to offer. Our first stop (literally as we drove into the city) was the Adventure Aquarium, which coincidently actually sits in Camden, N.J. across the river but whose really keeping track? I will confess this stop was originally planned more for the boys than it was for the parents but soon after we got there I realized we were all in for a treat.
The Adventure Aquarium proudly boasts about the Hippo display. I have seen hippos, they are fun…these were the highlight of our time there. We went straight to the hippo enclosure which was basically giant room with land/water enclosure that had two hippos inside. They had just dropped food in for them so they were very active. It was not too crowded and we soon found ourselves face to face (8 inch Plexiglas separating us) with a giant bull hippo. I know hippos are big but until you have been next to one, it is hard to get a grasp of how amazing they truly are. It is really hard to explain how much fun it was to just sit and watch the hippos but we could have stayed there all day. Finally, we pried ourselves away and went on to see the rest of the aquarium. The Adventure Aquarium has a lot to offer. They have a giant shark tank with a walking tube through the center which Connor was a little nervous about at first but didn’t want to leave later on. As we came up to another tank that had various fish and rays, we got there at feeding time. The term feeding frenzy does not do justice to what we witnessed. Hundreds of rays, fish and small sharks in a fury of action right in front of our face. Pieces of squid, shrimp, and fish everywhere you look. Caleb stood right next to big brother taking it all in and loving every minute. I could spend all day talking about what the aquarium had to offer but I won’t. It’s worth checking out if you find yourself in the area.
After the aquarium we made our way over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge into the City of Brotherly Love. We had booked a few nights in an apartment using Airbnb. This was our first time ever using it and I would definitely recommend it. I would however suggest making sure you don’t end up on the third floor with no elevator and parking a block away. Needless to say my Fitbit logged some serious steps that day. Our apartment was in a more hipster, newly revitalized part of town that included a lot of locally owned restaurants and shops. It was a cool location. There was a Whole Foods a block away so after we got settled, we walked over and got some groceries and dinner and just chilled after a long day of driving.
The next morning we got up, loaded the kiddos into the double stroller and set on our way to the historic district. Our first stop was the Liberty Bell. We waited in a small security line before being ushered into a small museum that led to the bell. It was crowded but not overwhelmingly so. We were able to take several pictures around the bell before setting out to see the rest of the sights. We decided to head over to Independence Hall (formerly known as the Pennsylvania State House) to see where the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution were debated and signed. Little did we know we were about to stumble upon a real treat. Everyone knows that the Declaration of Independence was debated and ratified on July 4th (it wasn’t actually signed until August 2 1776) but it was done in extreme secrecy. It wasn’t until four days later after a newspaper received a leaked copy that it was read to the general public for the first time. As a result, for the past 30+ years, the National Park Service at Independence Hall reenacts the original reading, in character, in the courtyard behind the hall. We didn’t know this and just assumed they did this sort of thing all the time. We were wrong and blessed with a real treat. We sat back and listened to “Col. John Nixon” read the Declaration as “Benjamin Franklin”, “John Adams” and other Founding Fathers walked around encouraging the crowd to support this new ideal. Connor was given a copy of the Declaration and even got to meat Franklin. After the festivities, we got tickets to tour Independence Hall but our designated time wasn’t until later in the day so we headed on over to the Reading Market. Reading Market is a cool old indoor market that had the same feel a Pikes Place Market out in Seattle. There were lots of tourists and locals alike checking out what the vendors had to offer. We were there for one reason. Cheese Steak! We had been told that Carmen’s had some of the best in the area. I was not disappointed but I don’t think the same could be said for Kristin (don’t mention cheese sauce). After lunch, we grabbed some ice cream and began our trek back toward Independence Hall for our tour where we saw the actual chair George Washington sat in as he oversaw the Continental Congress and one of Thomas Jefferson’s actual walking sticks on loan from Monticello.
Our family loves a good duck tour (if you don’t know what I am talking about, google it). We try to hit one whenever we can. They tend to be a fun way to see whatever city you were in and the one in Philly had a lot to offer taking you past the historic district, the museum district, a dip in the Delaware River (past Will Smith’s parents’ house) and of course the Rocky steps and statue.
After the duck tour, we walked back towards our place passing through one of the 4 parks originally established by William Penn that holds a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that contains the remains of a soldier that fought in Washington’s army.
The next day we thought we would attempt to tackle two of Philadelphia’s fun, kid friendly attractions. We began our day at the Philadelphia Zoo. Our family likes zoos and we try to visit them any chance we get. The Philadelphia Zoo will certainly rank among one of the top zoos we have ever been too. I would recommend this attraction to anyone regardless of age. As soon as you walk in, you are greeted with an overhead chain linked tube that granted the smaller primates access to explore. As you are checking on the exhibits on the ground level, at any given time there may be a monkey above you. The have similar tubes around the park for other animals including the gorillas and big cats. Speaking of, the must see, can’t miss exhibit we encountered that day was the Silver Back Gorillas. We happened to stumble upon a play date between an older silver back and a younger silver back that had only recently been introduced to the exhibit. The keepers hope that one day the two may live in one pen together but must slowly introduce them. We happened upon one such introductory times. They played nonstop for the entire time we were there. The enclosure had an indoor area with swings, logs to climb on and barrels to beat on. The enclosure also had access to a large outdoor area that afforded them the ability to run and play to their hearts content. The two silverbacks played tag and wrestled all over the inside and outside areas. To watch these amazing animals interact socially was an amazing experience to say the least. To round out our day at the zoo, we visited the big cat enclosure, Bear Island, and of course, no trip to the zoo would be complete without visiting Connor’s favorite, the giraffes. Of course, Connor got a souvenir, a stuffed giraffe appropriately names ‘Philly’.
After the zoo, we headed on over to the Franklin Institute. The Franklin Institute is an interactive science museum built to honor the achievements and advancements by Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin. Once inside, we were treated to more than we could ever possibly experience in the short time we had. There was a full size fighter jet to sit in, scale replicas of many of Franklin’s science experiments and even a whole room of netted platforms that Connor had a ball climbing all over (once he got over his initial apprehension). I must say, the highlights of the Franklin Institute had to be the giant model of a human heart that you get to walk through and the train area. The Human Heart was 30 feet tall and allowed you to explore the inner makeup of the heart and the path that blood passes through. Fascinating. The Train area has several full sized trains that you could climb on interact with. Connor absolutely loved this part. They had an interactive steam train that was 25 feet tall and 60 feet long. We went back on it several times for Connor to get his fill.
The next morning was travel day, but first, we promised Connor a stop at the US Mint. Connor has recently found himself fascinated by coins. It doesn’t matter if it’s a penny, dime, quarter or a challenge coin. Connor wants it so getting to see money being made was a pretty cool experience for him.
After spending a couple of hours at the mint, we hit the road towards Gettysburg. No trip across eastern Pennsylvania would be complete without a stop in Amish Country. We got off the highway and made out way through Lancaster and Bird in Hand admiring all the Amish Culture had to offer. We explained to Connor the differences between our lifestyle and that of the Mennonites and Amish. He enjoyed seeing the horse drawn buggies and peddless bicycles. We stopped to explore some of their shops and treated ourselves to handmade ice cream and pretzels (Yum!).
After we got our fill of Amish Country, we headed on our way to Gettysburg. We were staying at another place booked through Airbnb. This location was a working farm run by a family of German Immigrants. When we arrived and got situated, we decided to head down to Gettysburg for some dinner. We drive into town to discover that it was Bike Week. Being a little more crowded than we had anticipated, we found ourselves stopping at The Dobbin House for Dinner. The Dobbin House is the oldest building in Gettysburg and was standing during the battle. It also served as the first stop north of the Mason Dixon line for the Underground Railroad. They still have the slave hideaway intact and on display for all to see.
The next morning we woke up and Connor had the unique opportunity of helping with the farm duties. He got to pick some vegetables, feed the sheep and collect the chicken eggs. This made his vacation. I just wish he was this excited and willing to do chores at home. After Connor completed his farm chores, we set out to explore the town of Gettysburg. We parked our car and checked out some antique stores and may have even brought home some authentic Civil War Antiques. After exploring the town we made our way to the National Battlefield for our tour. We had booked a vehicle tour prior to our trip in which a certified battlefield guide drove our car and brought us to all the major historical markers on the battlefield. Incredible experience. Our guide tailor made our tour to ensure all of us (kids included) got the best tour possible. He told us all about how the battle began, where it turned and what could have been done differently on both sides (the North and ‘those rebels’). He would stop the car and we’d get out and he’d tell us about the cannons (the actual cannons fired) or the monument, or the barn or whatever happened to be the focal point of his talk. He even brought Connor out without us and told him about a stray dog that joined up with one of the Northern Brigades that is credited to saving several soldiers’ lives. The 2.5 hours flew by and I could have stayed for hours more. After our tour, we walked through the Gettysburg National Cemetery which is home to a large number of Gettysburg’s Union fallen and is also the sight of the Gettysburg Address.
Our next stop was dinner at Friendly’s where mommy, Connor and Caleb decided we would celebrate daddy’s birthday a day early with some yummy ice cream concoctions. One of the best parts of Gettysburg National Battlefield is that it is open until 10pm. Given that it is widely proclaimed to be one the most haunted sights in America, this makes sense. We decided to drive through on more time as the sun was setting and the whole place takes on a different feel. You really get a sense of what it was like for the soldiers 150+ years ago as they prepared to fight for their lives. It is peaceful and serene. A different kind of beautiful. They even have a group of volunteers that reenact what it was like to sleep on the battlefield. I would highly recommend taking a drive after dark to experience this.
Gettysburg was bucket list item for me. I was not disappointed. I came, I saw, I shed a tear or two. It’s an amazing stop that reminds you of what our great nation as overcome in the past and reminds us that we have what it takes in us to overcome anything that we encounter.
Finally, we woke up the next morning and packed the car to hear out. Our time in Pennsylvania had drawn to a close. But first, Connor needed to do his chores and we were sent off with a giant traditional Penn Dutch breakfast by our gracious hosts.
written by Daddy