Philadelphia and Brooklyn: Part 3

On our last day in Philadelphia, we made the attempt to fit in as many museums and sites as we can. We did pretty well.

Our first stop of the day was Independence Hall. We got up early so we could get free tickets when the booth opened for the day. I snagged the tickets. Curiously,they said to go through security an hour before our ticket time. Apparently, the security lines can get backed up. Fortunately, this was not the case. We had to wander around the secured area for Independence Hall until our tour time. There are some buildings there that don’t require a ticket. We wandered into a building that had original printed copies of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Also, they had the silver inkstand used to sign the documents. So it was a neat sidetour.

The gem really was the tour of Independence Hall. We got to see the Assembly Room. It’s the room where it happened. No seriously. It’s a decent sized room for about 30 people. There’s even the famous chair of the rising/setting sun that Benjamin Franklin quipped about: “I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I… know that it is a rising…sun.” Hope it is still so.

We also got a tour upstairs to see the Long Gallery with some amazing British era maps and some historic rooms. But really, the Assembly Room was the bee’s knees. After the tour, we took a brief tour of the Congress Building, where the House and Senate first met. Again, it was pretty neat to be in such historic places. As an added boon, I saw the reproduction of the painting of Marie Antoinette by Vigee de la Brun!

We briefly checked out an exhibit about Thomas Jefferson and Native Americans. He apparently had attempted to preserve some tribes’ languages, which is actually a point in his favor for once. (Yeah, not on the Jefferson train much). We also saw the first Supreme Court as well.

Then I stumbled upon a map that told us that we could visit Edgar Allan Poe’s house. Naturally, we had to go see it. We learned quickly that getting there was a bit more challenging since it involved going under the highway. They really don’t make it easy to get through it. Anyway, we managed to get to the house and it was magnificent. It’s not very big but well worth the trip. We got there just in time since they close for lunch. We had a whirlwind tour of the house, wandering in rooms. They aren’t furnished but it was neat to see the various places that Poe had lived part of his life. We also checked out the creepy basement. The best thing was a little furnished room off to the side where there were books and even CDs. We put on a recitation of the Raven and listened to the entire thing sitting in this Victorian style room. So neat!

After a spot of lunch, we checked out the Constitution Center nearby. I was quite glad to see the room of bronze statues of the signing of the Constitution. I got my picture with Hamilton. It was silly good fun. But then we were herded into a film about freedom, liberty and whatnot. Propaganda at it’s finest. Thankfully the rest of the museum was not so over the top. The exhibits talked about the Trail of Tears, the KKK, and other not so great things in our history. Sadly, it appears these events are not in our history as much as we’d like to believe. We did play a presidential trivia game where I somehow won against my US history wiz husband. Very strange. It was an interesting museum but I wouldn’t feel the need to go back. We did take a brief turnaround the Presidential exhibition that walked through the process of running for president. I did appreciate seeing some of the wondrous Convention knickknacks and buttons. We even got to sit at a recreation of the Oval Office and look very presidential (or not!).

Our final site was the famous Mutter museum. I had read about it in a book called Severed. Yes, it’s a book about severed heads. Highly recommend it! The Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia collects body parts and reproductions of body parts. It’s very old timey in look with wooden cases and exhibits. But you’ll need a strong stomach. I loved the wall of skulls where you can even adopt one (Great fundraising pitch! No seriously.)

They also have two shrunken heads of display; one is the real deal by the tribe that actually undertook the practice; the other was a copy by another tribe but it was still human. One of the weird things I learned in grad school is how to tell a real human shrunken head from a copy made from a monkey or another animal. Check the ear structure. Apparently, it’s hard to fake a human ear. There’s your important piece of knowledge! Grotesque but fascinating. They had a series of skeletons where you could listen to audio about how scientists learn to read skeletons, which was very cool. There were lots of organs, real or plaster casts, in jars. There were various bones or things found in people’s bodies. It got to be a little overwhelming. But these places are real treasures because so much is learned. Seriously, it’s not an easy museum to go to so have some caution. I got a little tired of seeing diseased body parts. But it’s worth checking out if you are into the human body.

That’s all for now!

Philadelphia and Brooklyn: Part 2

Then it was the crazy part of the trip: our day trip to Brooklyn. In 2015, I had the pleasure of going to the site immersive production Sleep No More in Manhattan. It was one of the best theater events I’ve ever been to. To summarize it briefly: it’s like a haunted house where there is a play going on. You wander where you will. I learned earlier this year that there was a similar thing in Brooklyn called Then She Fell, based on the life of Lewis Carroll and his creation Alice in Wonderland. I was hooked. However, every time we went to NYC, the play was sold out. So we made the decision that we’ll go to Philadelphia but take a day trip to Brooklyn to see the play.

We decided to make a day of it. We drove to Brooklyn and got in around 1pm. The trip itself was pretty painless. Lots of NJ Turnpike. One of the rest stops had a candy store where you could buy candy by the ounce. It was amazing. I wish this was everywhere! We drove through a lot of Brooklyn, which was fascinating. As someone who has spent most of their time in NY in NYC or Long Island, Brooklyn was larger than I expected!

One of the things I wanted to do was take a graffiti art tour of Bushwick. So we drove there directly. What a beautiful place! There are beautiful pieces everywhere, the most I’d ever seen in one spot. We had a quick lunch of coal fire pizza in the area, which was tasty.

The tour itself was extremely disappointing. Our tour guide barely took us around the block. He would mention a piece from afar but didn’t actually take us to see the piece. It also was exacerbated by the fact that it was cold and windy day so standing still for 40 minutes was really bad. I had expected a lot more from this tour company; we had taken a tour of the Bowery and East Village in September that was great. This was honestly one of the worst tours I’d been on. We ended up wandering around the neighborhood some more and saw really astonishing works.

Our next stop was the Brooklyn Art Museum, which was really awesome. I didn’t know this until we were looking at a map that Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. I had never thought I’d see it person. What a treat! Each table setting is dedicated to an amazing woman. The level of detail was pretty astonishing. This was really the icing on the cake!

The museum had a fairly neat collection that included Egyptian artifacts, period rooms, and even Tiffany stained glass. One of the best things was a room of their overstock items. What a neat room! They also had these twin paintings of the people responsible for the construction of the Brooklyn bridge including Emily Roebling who had to finish the job when Washington A. Roebling got seriously laid up in bed.


After our sojourn at the Brooklyn Art museum, we drove to the area near the play for dinner. We found a Korean place that had pretty tasty food. I really enjoyed the seafood pancake  and this rice ball filled with tuna.

Then it was Then She Fell. It was worth it. Beautiful and heartbreaking. The play can only support 15 people at a time. It’s really a marvel of planning. You don’t get to wander around in the same was as Sleep No More but it works well. It was worth the day trip. I can’t say which is better because while they are more similar than any other play I’ve been to, they are very different. I don’t want to say too much because so much of Then She Fell is about the surprise and the journey.

Notably on the ride home, we heard the Cubs win against the Dodgers to go to the World Series. What a wondrous and magical day!

Philadelphia and Brooklyn: Part 1

Back in October, we took a trip to Philadelphia. I have been wanting to go ever since I had learned about the Barnes Foundation. I had seen The Art of the Steal several years before and was very intrigued. It was also on my list of museums I had to go to. Plus I had never been to Philadelphia before!

We got there late Thursday night. We took the train from the airport into the center of downtown and walked to our bed and breakfast near what was called the Italian market. It was about a mile long walk past beautiful older houses in quiet streets. We were surprised how quiet it was. Our bed and breakfast was very charming. You checked yourself in. Each room was themed. Ours was the Bohemian room filled with hunting pictures and a four poster bed. Once we checked in and threw down our stuff, we went out in search of food. It was late enough that many places had just closed. We ended up getting directed to a place that served food until 1 in the morning. It was a pub with a decent food selection that was playing the Cubs Dodgers game. It was fun to watch it through a mirror so everything was reversed! Afterwards, we wandered home and found lots of beautiful mosaics around the neighborhood. It seemed like a magical place!

The next morning, our first stop was the Barnes Foundation. I try to do the thing I want to do most first. Just in case.

When I walked into the very first room of the collection, tears sprang into my eyes. It was astonishing. They recreated the rooms in his house within the museum. Paintings from masters over time were hung together. It was crazy. It was beautiful. It was everything I wanted. The first room had these Matisse murals on top, a giant Cezanne of men playing cards, and a beautiful Seurat. The Cezanne painting would be my favorite of the collection. On all the walls,  there were metal pieces arranged around the paintings. What a charming effect.

It is clear that Barnes clearly favored Renoir and Cezanne to lesser extent. I had no idea that Renoir was so prolific; Barnes seemed to have so many! I’ve really liked Renoir before but the surplus of Renoir made me become very picky about which paintings I liked and disliked! Occasionally a Monet will pop up. A friend who had been there recently said to me, “It makes you think why this Monet is here.” Apt question! There were also paintings and iron pieces from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. They have a painting done in the style of Hieronymus Bosch.

Barnes collection is simply astonishing. It’s amazing how much he collected. More importantly, it’s rather fantastic art. It’s well worth a visit if you go.

However, my feelings changed about the motives for the museum.  When I saw the documentary, I had very mixed feelings. There was no question that greed fueled the motives to move the museum despite the will of the Albert Barnes who explicitly forbad that his collection be moved from his house in the suburbs. However, I felt that moving it to the center of Philadelphia meant that it could be visited by more people more easily. It’s suburban location required transportation, etc. However, upon going to the museum, the ticket price alone made me rethink that. $25 timed entry, $35 anytime entry. Even the Art Institute is less than that. So accessibility may be far more limited than I hoped. It’s still worth going but it’s worth noting.

We realized that we were next to the Free Library so we checked into the Special Collections. We got to see Grip, Charles Dicken’s pet Raven that may have been inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe! They had letters of Poe’s along with drawings by Beatrix Potter. We have to go back to go on the tour where they pull out items!


Our next stop was Independence Hall. However, we had not realized that it was ticketed and had gotten there long after tickets had been given away. So we decided to get some food at the City Tavern, a tavern dedicated to food of the colonial era. That was well worth it! It’s a few blocks away. All the servers are wearing period outfits. I had Benjamin Franklin’s chicken dish with a glass of chardonnay. It was pretty tasty! They also had wonderful breads, also period recipes!

After lunch, we met up with a friend who lived in Philadelphia who gave us a lovely tour of the area. We got to see Benjamin Franklin’s grave, covered in pennies, and several other revolutionaries in a nearby graveyard.  We saw some of the less popular but equally interesting revolution buildings nearby. It was a wonderful tour!

Afterwards, we headed off to the Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, just mere blocks from our B&B. I had spotted it on a Google map as I was figuring out how to get to the B&B. Simply put: this building is covered inside and outside with mosaics. It was the result of efforts by artist Isaiah Zagar who wanted to revitalize the neighborhood and protect it from proposed highway project. It’s truly a magical place! There’s so much to see inside and outside. Outside, there’s a multi-level garden area with lots of nooks and crannies. What a place to have an event! He also is responsible for all the mosaic walls we’d seen in the neighborhood!


After a short rest at the hotel, we went to a local seafood place. We sat outside and met this lovely lady with her dog. My husband and the dog bounded throughout the meal. I had a delicious lobster while he had crab. Ah…fresh seafood. Nothing like it!

We ended the evening with a ghost tour that mostly took place in the historical district. We got to check out Washington Square, which like Lincoln Square, was built on top of a graveyard. Much more common than I had previously supposed! We also learned that there is a painting of Marie Antoinette (By Vigee de la Brun!) in the Congress building next to Independence Hall. At night, she is said to step out of the painting and wander around. Pretty awesome.


That’s all for now!

NYC Fall 2016: Part 2

What a lovely day. We started out walking the full length of the High Line, a repurposed elevated train line turned into walking path/park. We had originally intended to go to the Whitney but it was a wondrously beautiful day. I really love the High Line. I love the repurposing of industrial space into a place of nature and art. I love how it curves between and even through buildings. You never know what you are going to find on the way. We found people selling campaign buttons (Hillary yes, no to Trump). One time, someone was writing poetry on demand with a typewriter; another time a lady was walking her grey parrot.


The art was amazing. There were various pieces of sculpture including this piece with a tree growing out of a car.


 I also found some beautiful pieces of street art while on the highline. This one was the roof of a building that you can only see from the Highline. We ended up walking the entire length of it, passing the giant trainyard.


For lunch, we needed a quick place and found this large but empty Italian place. We got some great NY greasy pizza.

It was time for a graffiti tour! We signed up for a tour of the Bowery and the Village with Graff Tours. We met at an intersection and our guide found us. The tour was great. Our tour guide showed us some amazing pieces around the neighborhood and told us about the artists involved. At first I was annoyed since we were walking by so many pieces that she wasn’t talking about, and then I realized that there was so much art, she could have spent hours going over it all. She took us the best pieces; ones that we wouldn’t have known about! I finally got to see a mural by JR who is a photographer who takes these incredible photos of people and puts them up in large form on buildings. This one (left) is of a NYC ballerina. I had seen a TED talk about his work in the favelas of Brazil. Next to it was this astonishing mural by Os Gemios (right). It’s so vibrant. Sadly, a building will be put up next to it and it may obscure the view of it.

We ended up at this impressively large stencil mural by Logan Hicks of a city street. He invited everyone he knew to go to a street, took a photo, and then made it into stencil mural. What a beautiful tribute to the city!


Then it was time for more mischief! My husband and father went to see the battleship USS Intrepid the day before. They learned that Star Trek the experience was going on. My husband was kind enough to go back with me to see it. Holy cow, it was so cool! The whole premise was that you were trying to join Star Fleet. You take a series of tests and quizzes and you have a watch sensor that tracks your progress. At the end, they tell you where you may be best suited. You had to scan a klingon in sick bay to figure out what might be wrong. There was navigating of ships through dangers. Phaser game. There were seven kiosks quizzes that you had to take to get a good score. And yes, there were props of uniforms, objects like tricorders and universal translators. It was great.

But the best part was taking the Kobayashi Maru test while on the deck of the enterprise. I took it and failed… At the very end, I was sorted into the Science with a secondary in Command. Whoohoo!


We had just enough time to go on the battleship and check out the planes on top.


Next, it was time to meet a college friend for some drinks near Union Square. It was a nice little cocktail bar off 2nd. Tasty drinks and great company.

Dinner was with good friends and my parents at a Spanish place in the Village. We like it because we can get lobster there, a good staple of any trip to NYC. After dinner, we wandered through Washington Square Park, which was hopping. There was a production of Midsummer going on, which was rather neat to see a few minutes of. There was a pianist playing beautiful music into the September night.


The following morning was our last day in NYC. We had a lovely brunch with friends in the cafe at Union Square. I had some delicious avocado toast. The weather was perfect, which was nice considering the fears about approaching hurricane. We walked around the area, taking in Madison Square Park nearby. What a wonderful trip!

That’s all for now!