Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The city of Brotherly Love should be called the city of Bicycle Love

The ride into Philly from our campsite by the railroad was something more than leisurely, and something less than muscle failure (see, e.g. the first day of Maine). The route into Philly came equipped with an optical illusion: we appeared to be riding downhill most of the way, but we only travelled at 8mph. After 20 miles of this, we became rather frustrated by our lack of progress. Then, Philly opened its big, bicycle friendly arms and embraced us with a smooth bike path down the Schyulkill (pronounced skoo-kl) right into the heart of downtown.

Across the Schyulkill was a mansion-turned-hostel where we spent two nights. The hostel was called Chamounix Mansion, and it was only a 5 mile ride from downtown. Not bad for $20 a night! Their cheap rates freed up some space in the ol' pocketbook for a night on the town! After the preceding statement, the readership would normally be treated to stories of extravagant limousine rides, libations, and celebrity sightings. Not so, readership.

After spending roughly a month on a bike lugging a trailer, we have developed a routine: ride bikes all day, go to bed at 8PM. We attempted to go to a brewpub, whereupon we would spend hours over beers and make dozens of new friends. We succeeded in arriving at a great beer place, but failed the second and third parts of the plan. We did, however, experience a veritable tabernacle of beers. Monk's Cafe comes as close as you can to worshipping beer without being accused of alcoholism. Interesting Beer of the Night Award went to Vanessa, who had an ale aged in Japanese sake casks.

The next day gave us a glimpse into Philly life in a way that no tour guide could. Liz planned to get back to her car back in Delaware Water Gap by Greyhound bus, which allowed her to take her bike only if she boxed it up. Thus began the scavenger hunt around Philly for a bike shop that had a box big enough for Liz's chariot. We rode around for a few hours, enjoying bike lanes almost the entire day, until we stumbled upon a most excellent and friendly bike shop that gave us a box. We strapped the box to my bike, which made me as wide as a car. They also pointed us in the direction of the Tattooed Mom, a great restaurant which had hundreds of those cheap, cheesy vending machine toys to play with while we waited for our food. We then wheeled the bike box over to the Greyhound station, and bid Liz adieu.

Enough with the play-by-play, and on with the color commentary. Philadelphia is not the murky, hostile town that I expected. From the moment we rode into the city. we all sensed a unique energy in the city. The city was busy, but not bustling. People were active, but not tediously so. We saw folks young and old in every manner of dress buzzing by in bike lanes on every style of bike imaginable (except pennyfarthings, which are weird). We saw rowers, hipsters, runners, lawyers, cyclists, immigrants, rollerbladers, and tourists, all of whom were actually friendly. Folks said hello, no cars honked at us, and the food was excellent. What more can you ask of a city?

Plenty, actually. You can ask the city, "Can you serve me a big plate of history?!" Philly served it up hot and fresh (actually, over 200 years old). We visited Independence Hall, which is the maternity ward into which our country was delivered. The building itself was innocuous and small, and looked like the hundreds of rural town halls that we had seen throughout New England. But once we were inside, we could almost see the ghosts of the founding fathers milling about and arguing over the language of the Declaration of Independence. If you, dear reader, find yourself yearning to connect with the spirit of independence and democracy, visit Philadelphia.

The room where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

The actual chair that George Washington sat in while delegates from the 13 states debated the Constitution.
The place where Jerry sits.

So strong was our desire to connect with the forefathers that the next day we were only able to ride 8 miles before we were drawn in by the smell of Ben Franklin's favorite drink: Ye Olde Beer. Early into our ride, we passed the smell of malted barley and beer-a-cooking. Naturally, we popped our heads into the Manayunk Brewing Co. to see what was brewing. As homebrewers, Vanessa and I take a purely scientific and culinary interest in beer. We ordered a flight of 2 oz. tasters of Manayunk Brewing Co.'s beers, which proved to be some of the Best Beer I've Ever Drank (seriously good beer). Given the quality of this beer, Vanessa and I "researched" the beer for the next 3 hours. During our research, we met the head brewer and chatted with him a bit. As we were about to leave, we began talking to a gentleman named Maurice about bikes and the insurance business, which helped extend our research for a bit longer. Needless to say, we didn't ride too far that day!

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