Weekend In: Philly pt1

The Memorial Day, I took advantage of free family housing (read: visited family) and went to Philadelphia, PA. I drove from Michigan. I brought a friend. I’d been to Philly previously for work, but this would be my first trip to see the sites and be a citizen.

Here are 5 things I didn’t realize about Philly:

1. Traveling on on the Ohio and PA turnpike is expensive.

Traveling on the turnpike is a great a idea for a number of reasons. It’s also horrible. Ohio has it figured out, with nearly exactly $20 in tolls from outside Toledo east through the state. Pennsylvania, however, is having issues. I-76, the PA turnpike, is under construction. And clearly paying for all of that with the tolls of one year. Crossing PA cost nearly $60, for one car. There’s a lot of construction. We did not take it west/home, and did not, really, take any more time. Six complete stops on the way there(Thursday, Friday); zero on the way home (Monday).

2. Probably, parking will be a nightmare.

I get city living, in theory. No, you don’t need a car. Great. Then why is it so hard for me to park mine?! Now, keep in mind there is an entire television show about the Philadelphia parking authority. I’ve seen it. It’s a shit show. And now I know why. Over night parking at “a cheap lot” cost $33 for 24 hours. Thankfully we found street parking seven blocks away for the remainder of the trip.

3. “City hot” is a whole other thing.

This weekend was hot. HOT. Summer hot. Nearly 90 degrees in Philly. But humid and stagnant and “city hot”. City hot is different because there is no escape. There was an occasional breeze — and they were lovely! — but generally the hot just descends on the city and doesn’t go anywhere. For three days. And you’re walking. Hot.

4. New Jersey is, like, right there.

I grew up literally across a narrow river from Wisconsin. I understand that states touch. I just did not realize all of that was happening so close to the city of Philadelphia. This was immediately obvious due to the traffic from everyone leaving the city for “down the shore.”

5. Chinatown is a must.

IMG_2574The Chinatown in Philly is absolutely fantastic. Nearby Franklin Park is currently hosting a Chinese lantern festival (through 12 June). Admission is $17 per person at night, to experience them in their full glory, but if you can only take a quick stop during the day, you won’t be disappointed. And it’s free! This picture and the one above was taken there. A surprise lion dance popped up down one street while the red pagoda entrance beckoned us into Chinatown proper. Stop for lunch at Dim Sum Garden. The three of us spent $28 on 5 items (total) and left food on the table. The soup dumplings were fun (be careful — they’re hot!), and the pork fried dumplings were the best I’d ever had. It’s no wonder they were voted Zagat’s Best Asian Restaurant in the city.

Vicariously traveling

I have quite a few friends who have taken some amazing vacations recently. Among the more exotic/ enviable locations were Playa del Carmen, Mexico; a Hawaiian cruise, San Juan, Puerto Rico; Austria; and the Czech Republic.

Being there is always better than hearing about it, there is no denying that. But there is nothing better than a personal reference – pro AND con – when considering future vacation spots. You don’t have to pretend you were there too to get the most of someone else’s vacation.

One of the most misleading things about travel and hotel websites are the ratings. Let’s say you book a hotel with a 4.5/5 stars. Amazing pictures, modern room, beautiful beach. No mentions of clothing optional… You’re sold. But you get there and everyone is much, much older. Or kids. Or swingers. Or college spring-break-orgy-holders. Or whatever isn’t you. The rating wasn’t relevant because the raters weren’t like you.

You know who’s like you? Your friends!

When you’re considering a vacation, ask your friends of their previous travels. But don’t stick to what they “liked,” and what they didn’t, dig deeper. Why didn’t that vacation work out? What had they hoped to find/do/get out of it that they didn’t? A “too quiet” location might be perfect for your “I need to get the $#^% out of here!” long weekend. A coworker’s “most disappointing country” might actually be perfect for the getaway you’re planning for the inevitable stir-craziness of another February in Michigan.

So ask questions and listen to the stories. Try not to get jealous. And remember, it could be worse. At least you won’t have to sit through the three-carousel slide show. Or you shouldn’t anyway. They probably have all the pictures on Facebook already.


*photo credit