Philadelphia Freedom

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Sue Ettmayr
Sue Ettmayr

SUE ETTMAYR declares the cheesesteak at Talk of the Town to be the best in the city

My godson in New Jersey surprised us with a trip to Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. As we crossed over the Ben Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River and into the city we argued about where to find the best Philly cheesesteak.

But first we had to work up an appetite and see what this City of Brotherly Love had to offer. Top of the list was the Liberty Bell. It was smaller than I’d imagined. Just like seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time at the Louvre in Paris, also smaller than I’d imagined.

My goddaughter at the Liberty Bell.
My goddaughter at the Liberty Bell.

The passageway depicted the historic significance of the city going back to the slave trade and the abolition thereof.

A photograph of Nelson Mandela’s visit to Philly was next to a photo of the Dalai Lama. These two men are also next to each other at Madame Tussauds in Manhattan, New York.

A selfie station offered with a life-size cutout of Pope Francis.

My selfie with Pope Francis
My selfie with Pope Francis

Tourists were encouraged to: “Welcome the Pope to the birthplace of religious freedom by snapping your photo with this cutout and share it on social media with #PopeInPhilly.” I obliged.

Outside, groomed horses and gleaming carriages awaited tourists. The carriage seats were upholstered in diamond button mesh style. The tourist buses all depict the first flag of the USA designed by Betsy Ross (1752 – 1836). Her house was our next port of call. Ross was a successful upholsterer and her first flag depicted the then 30 States in a circle of stars. As a skilled artisan Ross represented the many women who supported their families during the Revolution and early Republic. Apparently the United States is about to launch notes depicting famous American women on their currency and Betsy Ross is a hot contender.

Next was a walk through Philadelphia’s Elfreth’s Alley, which dates back to 1736. Quaint double-storey houses with painted shutters lined the narrow cobbled lane. National monument plaques were visible next to every doorway.

The United States Mint is hardly an impressive building. Security is tight with no photographs allowed. The vast mint floor below the tourist area and behind glass was getting a spring cleaning with mops, brooms and dusters out in force. The walls had images of the history of American coinage. In the foyer, two oblong and five circular works of art caught my eye. A closer inspection revealed Louis Tiffany’s decorative favrile mosaics depicting the making of coins from 1901. The mosaics reflect Tiffany’s free use of colour. To make them he used his iridescent favrile glass, mother-of-pearl and transparent tesserae backed with gold or metal leaf.

The Betsy Ross house and her American flag
The Betsy Ross house and her American flag

The figures of children in the mosaic panels illustrate the ancient Roman coinage process of melting, granulating, annealing or drying, weighing, stamping and finishing. The furnaces danced and the gold gleamed. Shimmering blues and greens of water and sky and the vivid red sails of a ship can be seen in the background of several of these masterpieces. For safety and ready access to transportation, ancient mints were built on islands or near water to secure the shipments of coins from the perils of land travel.

It was time to head off to the once bustling Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where my godson spent four years working on land and on an aircraft carrier. The decommissioned JF Kennedy aircraft carrier was docked there. However the place closed down in the 1990s, after the Cold War, putting 7,000 people out of work. Various businesses have taken over the buildings but the neglect is apparent.

Later we walked past the white granite memorial to Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Netanyahu who, at the age of 30, died leading the Uganda rescue on July 4 1976 when a small force of Israeli commandos landed at Entebbe airport and freed 103 Jewish hostages held captive by Arabs, Germans, and Ugandan troops. Netanyahu spent his younger years in Philadelphia.

Pat's King of Steaks
Pat’s King of Steaks

By now we’d worked up an appetite and were ready to tackle the cheesesteak eateries. The Philly cheesesteak is a long crusty roll filled with thinly sliced sautéed rib eye beef and melted cheese. The art lies in the balance of flavours, textures and the “drip” factor.

Geno’s Steaks and its rival shop Pat’s King of Steaks across the road from each other started cheesesteaks in 1930. Both eateries were filled with locals and tourists. We shared the cheesesteaks then drove to my godson’s favourite place, Talk of the Town. The cheesesteak at Talk of the Town was the best of the three cheesesteaks. With full tummies and a head full of interesting sights, we said goodbye to Philadelphia and the Philly cheesesteaks.