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Philadelphia, the place where it all began

Jonathan van Bilsen



October 8, 2016

Philadelphia, the place where it all began

There are so many wonderful cities in North America, and many are within driving distance of Toronto. I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Philadelphia over the 4th of July weekend, and was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable my stay was.

Philadelphia is of course the birthplace of American politics, and the first capital of the 13 states that made up the United States of America. Flying there takes about an hour, but the drive, which takes about eight hours, has some pretty interesting stops along the way.

Lanark County in eastern Pennsylvania, is home to all things Amish.  From farmers on horse drawn carriages, to arts and crafts made by the talented Amish population. The roads are windy and clean, and driving through some of the back roads gives you an amazing opportunity to see wonderful, framed houses in various colours, all with meticulously landscaped gardens.

Farms and pastures dot the countryside with horses, cows, sheep and donkeys lazily grazing in the summer warmth. Many of the homesteads do not have electricity, as the Amish culture, especially the more strict followers, do not believe in modern technology. It is also important to take care when driving along the country roads. Signs warning of horse drawn carriages are everywhere, but they are something most of us are not used to, and could prove to be a bit challenging.

Arriving in Philadelphia immediately gives you a sense of a large city. It is well laid out with wide roads and your GPS will direct you to your destination. I stayed at the Sofitel, which is right downtown. There is no shortage of hotels, many of which include breakfast. The one thing to keep in mind is that parking downtown is usually around $30 a day (US dollars, of course), but the convenience is worth it.

The first thing I do when I go to a city, no matter where in the world I am, is to get tickets for the Hop On/Hop Off trolley. Most cities have them (albeit by various names), and the experience offers you a great way to see the entire metropolis in a few hours. From there you can decide where to get off and walk around. Most trolley companies run until 6PM in the summer months, so start your day early. If you plan to do a fair bit of sightseeing take the two day package, as it is only a few dollars more.

One of the ‘must see’ attractions is Independence Hall, the place where it all began. Here you are guided through the court room, where many a trial has taken place as well as the Assembly Room, where George Washington’s Rising Sun chair sits stately at the back of the room. You can see the chairs where Benjamin Franklin and John Adams sat, and it is almost as if you can hear them arguing about the constitution of the newly formed country (very little has changed).

The room where the constitution was signed is also part of the tour, and if you are lucky, you will be escorted to the second floor (dependant on the size of the group) to see the Governor's Council Chambers and the Long Gallery. There is also the committee Room, where many of the breakout sessions took place. 

The Hall was built in 1732, and in 1776 the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence within its walls. The history is deep and interesting, and the guides do an excellent job of bringing all the historical elements to life.

The only way to see Independence hall is through a guided tour, which is offered at no charge. Tickets however, must be ordered in advance or picked up at the visitor centre the day of your tour. Tickets are free, but do specify the time of your tour. It is best to organize that on line before you go.

Another historical spot is the Liberty bell, complete with crack. It seemed smaller than I expected, but interesting none the less. The famous crack is clearly visible, and there is a large hall leading up to the bell, which is filled with information about its construction and use.

There are many museums and churches worth a visit, and if you go on the fourth of July, as I did, you will be fortunate to see the big parade. If shopping is your thing there is a huge Macy’s as well as a C21, both, right downtown. 

The old City Hall is an architectural marvel and well worth the visit, and while you are walking you may want to take in China Town and the birthplace of Betsy Ross, originator of the US flag. You can even have your picture taken with the statue of Rocky Balboa, located just outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on the ‘Rocky Steps’.

All in all, Philadelphia and the surrounding area make a pleasant visit, experiencing history and culture. Just be sure to avoid any political conventions during your visit.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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