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31 March 2015 @ 04:07 pm
Return to Philadelphia  
I was tempted not to even write a post about this since so much of it is reminiscing and catching up with friends, but I do go back and read my old posts occasionally. It'll have value for me even if it's boring for everyone else.

Nothing much exciting happened on Friday. We went to the airport after work, waited for our plane, got on ten minutes late, sat on the runway for half an hour, then took off. About the only memorable thing was the pilot subjecting us to a credit card advertisement halfway through the flight. Is that a thing now, or did we encounter a special case? I really hope it's not a trend that I somehow managed to miss before now...

We landed only fifteen minutes late, ran and got our bag, made it to the train with five minutes to spare, and headed out to our hotel, where we promptly went to sleep.

After waking up early (accounting for time change), we lounged around for a couple hours and ate some Kind bars after discovering that the hotel wanted $13 for an omelette, plus $5 if you wanted any meat on it. We didn't eat much, though, because just after eleven we headed out to meet up with spacialk, her husband, and another couple at Reading Terminal Market for lunch.

I'd been to Reading Terminal Market once before, when I was in university, I was honestly really provincial and almost never got off campus. Now that it was within ten minutes' walk of our hotel, I thought it was a great time to go back and take softlykarou along! I forgot how incredibly crowded it gets at any time close to when most people have meals, though, and while we managed to get seats and make our way through the crush, it was pretty claustrophobic. After softlykarou and I picked up Indian food, we ate it and chatted for about half an hour before we moved to the basement of the Bellevue, where there was a food court that was essentially empty. We stayed there until it was time for spacialk's nail appointment, then we all parted ways.

softlykarou and went out and kept walking on to South Street, a part of Philadelphia filled with a lot of quirky and fun shops. Most of the ones that I remember going to in university were still there--shops like Mineralistic, Armed and Dangerous, Garland of Letters, and Hats in the Belfry. Even Digital Ferret CDs, where I bought most of the music that shaped my college music tastes, is still around, though I only know that after checking the internet because they moved and changed their name. We popped into most of those, checked out the Wooden Shoe (an anarchist bookstore), Atomic City Comics (which had an X-Men arcade cabinet in it! But we didn't have any quarters...) and a thrift shop before it was time to walk over to desh's apartment.

It was a big longer than I thought--Philadelphia blocks are shorter than Chicago ones, but 15 blocks is still a hike--but we made it with enough time before dinner that we had plenty time to chat. We sat down, ate some veggies and spicy dip, and played a game called We Didn't Playtest This at All. Each game took about 2-3 minutes before someone (or no one, in one case) won, and desh told us that his board gaming friends will often use it to decide who goes first in the real games (so to speak) that they're playing. After a couple hours, we had to make it to our dinner appointment, so we said goodbye and set out for the subway.

After buying tokens--SEPTA still uses them to my bemusement and softlykarou's astonishment--we got on the Blue .line and headed out to West Philadelphia to meet up with daveax for dinner. gurami and greyselke couldn't make it, but softlykarou and I got a tour of his old Philadelphia row house, a century old and in great condition, filled with books and pretty much the model of what I want my house to look like someday. After that, we grabbed the wine, got into the car, and headed out to Sapori Trattoria.

daveax had known the owner for over twenty years, but friendship can't magic up empty tables, so we arrived at a packed restaurant and waited forty-five minutes for a table. When we finally sat down, though, it quickly proved itself worth every second. I didn't take pictures of all the food, to his chagrin, but here is secondo:

It was even more delicious than it looks

And here's the full list:
  • Antipaste: Salad with grilled octopus and farro; Tomino cheese wrapped in speck and grilled, with balsamic vinegar on the side; Pork/fennel/provolone sausage with lentils on polenta.

  • Primi: Fettuccine with pork and veal; Tagliatelle with tomato and veal ragú; Risotto scoglio with clams, mussels, shrimp, and calamari.

  • Secondi: Front: Orata (cooked whole, shown after deboning) with EVOO sauce; Left rear: Veal Stew, mashed potatoes with mascarpone; Right rear: deboned rabbit rolled with prosciutto and herbs, butternut squash and fennel on the side.

  • Dessert: Tiramisu, profiteroles, Sicilian ricotta with orange peel.

  • Alcohol: 2011 Roero Arneis, Tintero (Langhe); 2011 Valpolicella Ripasso, Secoli (Veneto); 2014 Brachetto d'Acqui, Banfi Rosa Regale (Alba); Cioccolatto cello (owner's private make); Grappa Affinata Gewürztraminer, Marzadro (Alto Adige).
We ended up staying for hours in classic Continental dinner fashion, drinking wine with the owner, another man our friend met outside while on a smoke break, and some of the waitstaff. By the time we left, it was after midnight and nearly everyone had long since closed up and cleaned the restaurant out. It was one of the best meals I've had in a long time and a real example of the benefits of being a regular.

After that, we drove back, daveax dropped us off at our hotel, and went to sleep.

We didn't have anything to do Sunday morning and only had to get to lunch at noon, so we lounged around for a bit on Sunday until we decided it was time to head out. We somewhat misjudged the time, though, and ended up on Penn's campus half an hour early. With so much free time, we walked around a bit and I pointed out some places to softlykarou, like the English department at Bennett (now Fisher-Bennett) Hall, the parking lot where the unnamed food truck that I always used to get spaghetti and meatballs from before Professor Potok's Irish lit class was, Locust Walk, the bizarre new anti-plagiarism signs everywhere ("Nursing--you wouldn't share needles. Don't share your work."), and the LOVE sign. Of course, that led to touristing:

I know about Love Park, but this will always be the original to me.

It took twenty minutes to get a picture because of all the other people who were doing the same thing, and by the time we finally did it was almost noon, so we headed over to Houston Hall and Pari Cafe Creperie, formerly a food truck over by the gym and now a takeout place in the building. After some confusion where I couldn't remember exactly where it was, I followed my nose upstairs and we snuck up behind jdcohen.

While we were waiting for greyselke and her husband and daughter to arrive, jdcohen told us about his new job as an attorney for the city of Philadelphia and the bone-chilling terror he now feels when he sees the phrase "any and all records pertaining to." We swapped stories for a while--mostly jdcohen and softlykarou, as I deliberately chose a boring job--until the others arrived, and then we got crepes. Huge crepes. I remembered them being as big as my outstretched hand, and they were exactly the same as I remembered, just with more varieties. I got a gyro crepe with feta spread, which didn't exist when I was an undergrad.

We finished our crepes and chatted while greyselke's daughter picked all the strawberries and Nutella out of her crepe, and when she was finished when took a tour of the campus. Much of it was as I remembered, including the brutalist high rise dorms that I spent three years in, but there were some changes. The old movie theatre where we watched The Fellowship of the Ring had vanished along with the entire block it was on, replaced with some shops and a black and silver apartment complex that looked like it should also be a moon colony. We stopped for gelato in one of those shops, and I found a treasure on one of the shelves that I was really tempted to steal:

I couldn't deprive others of the joy of discovery, though.

After eating gelato, we walked over to see if the Indian buffet place we ate at so often was still open (it was) and walked by the Chili's we ate at so often, which is now an Asian fusion place called Tarka. greyselke's daughter was loaded with sugar, and demanded that she be allowed to walk everywhere. She lasted a few blocks until her parents put her back in the stroller, and she was hugely unhappy about that for about five minutes until she was out like a light and stayed asleep as we went down to the new riverwalk on the east side of the Schuylkill. According to jdcohen, they wanted to put a riverwalk there but the railroad didn't want anyone walking too near their tracks, so their response was, "Sure, we'll just build it on the river, then."

We walked up and down the river a bit, then greyselke had to leave, so we all said our goodbyes and jdcohen, softlykarou and I walked the dozen blocks to his apartment past lovely row houses and cute shops. Once we got there and said hello to his wife, we settled down with glasses of grape/cherry juice blend (we bought that basically by the case in university) and loaded up Soul Calibur II to determine whether the soul still burned.

And it did! The situation was pretty much the same as it was a decade ago. jdcohen is better than me and I'm better than softlykarou, but all of us are close enough that no match was a total stomping unless one of us discovered a long-forgotten cheesy move again. We played that for an hour, remembering old times but with much less yelling nowadays, while jdcohen's wife did some work, then we shut it down and chatted for a bit until it was almost time for our dinner reservations, so we headed out to Brauhaus Schmitz.

I hadn't realized how much I missed German food until I got there. The last time I had it was over a year ago when we were in D.C., and much to my disappointment, there's no German restaurant that's convenient to our apartment in Chicago, so I pretty much dove face-first into the communal cheese plate and the roast beef, sauerkraut, red wine vinegared cabbage, and potato dumplings I ordered. After a delicious and satisfying meal, we said our goodbyes to jdcohen and headed back to our hotel where, other than the people in the next room deciding to sing an aria at 11:30 in the evening, nothing of note happened.

Unlike the other two days, we got up early and headed straight out because we wanted to get tickets for a tour at Independence Hall. They had some available for 10:40, do we picked them up,and walked over to the Liberty Bell. I remember coming to see it right after they built the current enclosure, but it had been a much more bare-bones affair then. Now there are displays all over about freedom and liberty and, somewhat to my surprise, how slavery of Africans and genocide of Native Americans doesn't have much to do with either of those. There was even a mention of how when the crack in the bell first appeared, it ran right through the word "liberty" on the bell itself. Poetic.

After some photos of the bell, we headed over to Independence Hall, where we got a tour from a ranger that I would best describe as quirky. She showed us around the lower floor, where the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution were all debated and signed, and then led us up to the upper floor and let us look around for a bit until the next tour group had to make it through. After that we still had a bit of time before we were meeting a friend for lunch, so we bought some peppermint tea and went to Washington Square, where some small children were running in circles around the fountain, before heading over to Campo's for cheesesteaks.

We ate as our friend told us about blacking out while waiting for a student to show up for a lesson, and then after we were done we parted ways. He went back home to finish recovering, and we headed over to our hotel to drop some stuff off and sit down for a moment before walking over to the Constitution Center north of Independence Hall. It was new the last year I was in university, and greyselke and I went soon after it was opened, but now they had a huge display of American history and various interactive elements to go along with it. For example, here's president-elect softlykarou at her inauguration:

I solemnly swear...

There were "no photos" signs everywhere, but the employee standing nearby is the one who asked if we wanted to be sworn in and told me the best place to take a picture, so I had official sanction.

After looking around upstairs, we went to to an exhibit of Jacques Lowe photography on the Kennedy family. The exhibit portrayed it as the first real attempt at photographic mass media management--portraying Kennedy as athletic when he actually had back problems, the whole "Camelot" thing, etc. There was also a neat section about how they created the photos from restoration work on other prints, since the negatives were stored in a vault in the World Trade Center.

Around 4 p.m. we left the Constitution Center and walked to Elfreth's Alley, the oldest continuously-inhabited street in North America and one that's mostly in original condition, barring electrification and installation of other modern conveniences. There was a museum, but I had been led to believe it wasn't open January through March when it turned out it was just closed on Mondays. softlykarou did get this picture of me while I wasn't looking, though:

And he walked into the Hedge and was never seen again...

Dinner that night was at Morimoto, which also opened the last year I was in university and which I hadn't gotten to go to before. softlykarou described the decor as like being inside a cyberpunk movie, with low colored lighting and a funky soundtrack and curvilinear white furniture, but the meal brought me back to the sushi we used to get at the sushi shop in Chiyoda. We ordered the bone marrow appetizer, softlykarou got a roll, and I got the chef's selection. They still put too much rice on their nigiri--the fish should be draped over all the sides, not flush with the rice underneath--but the taste was exactly what I had been hoping for at basically every sushi restaurant I've been to since I came back to America. It was exquisite. Absolutely worth the money if you're ever in Philadelphia.

After we were finished with dessert, we took a brief detour to a CVS to pick up some things and then headed back to the hotel to sleep and get ready for our early flight.

Not much this day for the same reason as Friday. We woke up and, having packed the night before, threw on some clothes and went down to wait for our shuttle bus. While on board, we chatted with the only other occupant besides the driver, a crisis management specialist who bonded with softlykarou over interventions and told us about her sudden decision to take a trip to Thailand.

Then we got to the airport, got on the plane, and came home.

It was really fun! It was the first vacation we took post-Japan--we've gone other places before, but it's been for an event, like a wedding or one of softlykarou's conferences. This is the first time we've just been somewhere to go since the last time we went to Tokyo, and if you count times we went by ourselves, it's the first time since we went to Singapore. And we'll probably be back, since we have a lot of friends there and there's a lot we didn't get to see. We missed eating at the City Tavern, or visiting Penn's archeological museum, or going to the Art Museum and running up the steps, or eating dim sum in Chinatown, which admittedly we can do in Chicago but we spent the entire last year of our undergrad days talking about going to dim sum and we never did it.

It was a great trip and I'll be glad to go back. Hopefully sooner than ten years down the line!
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Current Music: Survivor - Eye of the Tiger