My last trip to Philadelphia (http://prubin.net/2011/11/25/philadelphia-plus-new-york-again/) the year before was a solo adventure with the sole purpose of attending the Popped Philadelphia music festival. A long-weekend ensued where I couch-surfed, played mario-kart with college students, made random friends from other countries and finally saw The Shins perform live. This trip looked to be a very different experience as I wedged into a van after work on Friday, crammed full of Boston’s Eire Og Camogie Team. Camogie (the female variant of hurling) is an Irish sport, similar in many ways to hockey though players are allowed to hold the ball, kick the ball and whack the ball with their paddle, or camogie stick rather. My girlfriend was one of the members of the team so jumping in a rental van with an overnight bag for the long-weekend sounded like a splendid opportunity to revisit a city that I hadn’t done much sight-seeing in before.
As it turned out, the sight-seeing on Day 1 consisted almost entirely of the Irish Gaelic Games, basically a large congregation of Irish Ex-Pats living in the U.S.A. playing stick-whacking (er, I mean hurling / camogie) and Gaelic Football, a sport similar to Aussie Rules but with a round ball. Still though, I couldn’t complain, there was plenty of food and drinks on-hand and being a spectator to some Irish sports (even though I was visiting an American city) was pleasant enough to pass the time. The Boston team played well (considering their limited practice sessions in the lead-up to the games) and were up against Toronto and some other U.S. city whose name I can’t recall (DC or Chicago probably). They lost their first game and although I was doing my best on the side-lines to offer support and drinks I was actually silently praying their second game went the same way so they could avoid going through to the finals and therefore being required to play again the next day. They put in a valiant effort and when the clock ran out the score was tied, resulting in some overtime play. The game was closely fought in extra time, but unfortunately Toronto came out with a single extra goal to win in the end. ’Hooray!’ I inwardly cheered, knowing that this therefore left the rest of the visit wide open.
Philadelphia that weekend was rather crowded, not just due to the proliferation of Irish visitors for the Gaelic Games, but also as a result of a large music festival on in town – Made in America. As to be expected, the Irish were out in full force every night, over-running any Irish bars found in the area. We all made it out to witness the spectacle, but after a long day in the sun with quite a few drinks already under my belt I opted for an early night and retired to the hotel room. The music festival was a tempting thought the next day, with Pearl Jam one of the headlining acts, but we opted instead to check out the rest of the city. Unfortunately, the festival was actually occurring on the streets of the city depriving us of visiting perhaps the most iconic of Philadelphia landmarks, The Rocky Steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As it turns out however, Philly has more than enough other sights to see and after hopping on a tour bus, we struck out to view the Liberty Bell.
As far as historic bells go the Liberty Bell is the only one I remember specifically visiting therefore I can ensure you its most definitely the most impressive bell I’ve yet to encounter. That being the case however, it wasn’t particularly impressive (in size at least), but did have a very informative and interesting display around it. I won’t bore you by regurgitating historical information about said bell, not that I retained much of this information anyways, apart from the fact that it was badly made and therefore susceptible to cracking. Quite amusingly however one of our party did actually successfully undertake a mission to lick said bell (she shall remain nameless). For those of you unaware why such a thing would be done, I shall refer you to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uKF9JpGCPU.
Food as always was of course on the menu and after stumbling accidentally upon the Irish Hunger Memorial we visited The Franklin Fountain nearby, a delightful dessert shop reminiscent of an older time when men frequented barber shops on a daily basis for a quick shave and cars were still something of a novelty. Although only founded in 2004, this ice-cream parlor shop featured a dazzling menu of home-made style desserts with tasty fountain drinks also on offer. Certainly not cheap, but after a lot of wandering through Philadelphia looking at old buildings and bells, an afternoon of sugary desserts certainly didn’t go astray. Keeping with the Irish theme of the weekend, a full-blown Irish breakfast was also ordered on the 2nd day and I do have to admit that the Irish certainly know how to put on a good breakfast. Setting aside any thoughts of what might reside in either the black or white pudding that was served, eggs, hash potatoes, baked beans and sausage certainly make a welcome cure for any hang-over, even though the resulting trip to the bathroom later in the day may prove somewhat gastronomically undesirable.
The last night out had the potential to offer a jam-packed evening of Irish drinking shenanigans but thankfully resulted instead in a nice quiet Italian dinner where the friendly owner of the Italian restaurant we stumbled upon kindly sold us a couple bottles of red vino from his collection (this was fortunate as the restaurant turned out to be BYOB only, an excellent feature of dining in some Philly restaurants . . . if only this existed in Boston)! All in all, Philly proved thoroughly entertaining on my 2nd visit with the downtown are and dining scene resulting in some truly excellent experiences. Whilst not the prettiest American city I’ve visited, I certainly wouldn’t pass up another trip back to Philly, since I’m still yet to actually have a proper Philly Cheese-steak Sandwich IN Philadelphia itself. All well, hopefully next time I’ll manage to avoid the Irish breakfasts and desserts and fit one in!