Monday, July 11, 2011

Philadelphia Day 3: Eye of the Tiger

Our morning started out the way most days do. Danny went to a different Crossfit affiliate and I pressed snooze on the alarm clock, warding off any inner urge to go run. This is vacation, I'm supposed to be lazy. It's a good thing that Danny wasn't in vacation mode, because he got a tip from a Crossfitter that Morning Glory was the place to eat breakfast.

Off to Morning Glory we went. Through the heat, humidity, and mist we forged on for the sake of a tasty breakfast. I would describe Morning Glory as glorious. Glorious is a word I reserve for things that are heaven sent. My dog (whom I love incredibly much) Tayler's middle name is Glory: Tayler Glory Lehr. 

Tayler Glory Lehr

The inside was cute, although not as cute as Sabrina's. I enjoyed the funky paint color on the wainscoting throughout the room, which was actually the color of a morning glory. We were greeted by a very nice waitress who served us giant cups of coffee in aluminium camping mugs. We were also given complimentary glasses of ginger lemonade, which sounds odd for breakfast, but was perfect in every way.

Ginger Lemonade,
notice the wainscoting?
 Again we asked the waitress what to get. She said that they were featured on the Food Network for their Monkey French Toast. While tempting, I was more in the mood for eggs. I decided to roll with the frittata thing I had going on and get the Sweet and Savory Frittata which has pears, brie, and bacon in it. How could that be wrong? Danny also kept with his theme of breakfast burritos and got one with sausage that is freshly made just around the corner from Morning Glory. He also ordered a pancake on the side. Like I said, the food was glorious. My breakfast came with this amazing homemade biscuit that I could not stop eating. While I'm usually a strictly butter girl when I do cross into carbohydrate territory, I tried some of the homemade jam on my biscuit and was pleasantly surprised. I also tried a bite of Danny's pancake with real, yes, REAL maple syrup and I was amazed. I usually find maple syrup disgusting and cannot tell the difference between it and a bottle of corn syrup, but real maple syrup is gold. In fact the waitress called it just that.

I'm thinking lunch is going to be light today.

Burrito woahito

It's 5 o clock somewhere? Just kidding,
a bottle of homemade ketchup!
Since we hadn't made it to the Masonic Temple the previous day, due to cameragate, we decided to go today. When we planned this trip I knew Danny had wanted to go to the Masonic temple. I agreed to this even though honestly, I knew very little about the Freemasons. I knew that they are sort of secretive, they've been around for a while, and there are a bunch of conspiracies out there about them. I asked Danny what he knew. His response was, "I think it's like a giant Moose Lodge, but fancier."

Fancy Moose Lodge
We arrived at the grand Masonic Temple, and bought tickets for a tour. We had some time to spare before the tour started, so we went across the street and played a giant board game.


Strong Woman

Deadlifting a Monopoly game piece

Care for a ride my lady?
The Masonic Temple tour started with the tour group waiting around in some fancy library/parlour. There was a picture of the current Grand Master Mason in the center of the room. I then looked around at the people who we were taking the tour with and noticed that the rest of the group had a good 40 years on us. I accepted this age discrepancy with an open mind.  It is well known amongst my friends that I am a little old lady at heart.

Our tour guide entered the room and looked very annoyed with all of us elderly people. He pressed a button in his hand and the room started talking. I could sense some confusion amongst my elderly comrades....Where was this voice coming from? Who was this person? Was it God or Morgan Freeman?

The tour guide then pressed his button discretely to silence the voice and described what we would see on our tour. There are 7 halls in the Grand Masonic Lodge of Pennsylvania. These halls are where the different Masonic Lodges meet. The 7 Halls are decorated in different styles/eras and look like they cost a pretty penny.  While the man was explaining what we would be doing he said that this was an architectual tour, however, if anyone had any questions about Masons he would answer them. Being that he is a Freemason who is pretty high up there on the Freemason scale, he knew what he was talking about.

Despite being annoyed, (he was kind of a pompous ass, which I realize makes me sound like an ass) the tour guide did answer a lot of questions about Freemasonry (without giving away any secrets). He talked so fast I couldn't remember everything he said. Here is what I can recall:

  • There are a bunch of conspiracies about Freemasons. He says that they are just a fraternity who spreads good will. Anyone who thinks anything else is silly.

  • To be a Freemason you must be a man (darn!), believe in a supreme being (but they do not discuss religion in the meetings), and  be of good morals and good reputation (whatever that means).

  • They are not allowed to discuss politics within the lodge. I find that hard to believe...Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Gerald Ford were all Freemasons and the list goes on.

  • The Freemasons donate approximately 2 million dollars to various charities a day. I also find this hard to believe. I don't know why, but I do.

There are lots of weird rituals and handshakes that go on. He said if we wanted to know more, we should become Masons. Since I'm not planning on becoming a man anytime soon, I'll have to live out the rest of my life wondering about these secret rituals.

Besides all this interesting secrecy, the 7 Halls are beautiful. If you are ever in Philadelphia you should check them out.

Oriental Hall

Gothic Hall

Ionic Hall

Egyptian Hall

Norman Hall

Renaissance Hall

Corinthian Hall

One of three banquet rooms. There is
a Turkey above the door, because Benjamin Franklin
(a mason) thought the Turkey should be the national bird.

Tom Thumb, also a Freemason

Even after going on a guided tour of a Grand Mason Lodge, I still am confused by the Freemasons. Are they a bunch of men in suits who know how to decorate halls and just want to have a good time or are they a super secretive fraternity of political and religious elitists? Danny is sticking with his "Fancy Moose Lodge" theory.

We stopped by the LOVE sculpture, which is a famous Philadelphia landmark. While we were taking pictures by the LOVE sculpture, we saw a man dressed in a dog suit. I was very confused and thought this man dog might be insane. Danny assured me that the dog man was promoting a new show on FX called Wilfred. Wilfred is about a dog and his neighbor. The neighbor sees Wilfred not as a normal dog, but as a man dressed in a dog suit. Last year when we wet to Chicago we saw Vince Vaughn... perhaps my brief brushes with stardom will continue on our next vacation.


Danny decided he was hot and thirsty so he suggested milkshakes. Even though I wasn't hungry, I know that the suggestion of milkshakes is very rare opportunity, and when it does occur, I do not turn it down. So we found Darlings Cafe which was on the way to our next destination. Darlings Cafe is known for their cheesecake along with other sweets. Danny decided we should try some cheesecake too, "Because you know Philadelphia is known for it's cheesecakes." I reminded him that it was known for it's cheeseSTEAKS not cheesecakes. We ordered a piece of their "famous" bananas foster cheesecake. Let me tell you, if every cheesecake in Philadelphia tasted like those at Darlings Cafe, it might just be famous for them too. Danny's chocolate milkshake satisfied his craving and my strawberry milkshake reminded me why I don't usually order strawberry milkshakes.

Darling's Cafe: Home of the original Philly Cheesecake
Our next venture would accomplish our third goal that we had set for ourselves while visiting Philly. Yes, we were going to go run up the Philadelphia Art Museum steps like Silvester Stallone did in Rocky. For some reason, Danny has a small obsession with Rocky movies...and Rambo movies...I guess it's more of a Silvester Stallone obsession.

I was a little nervous for this part of the trip. I mean, Rocky ran up those steps...what makes me think that I am physically capable of doing anything that Rocky has done? When we finally reached the great steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I started regretting my lackluster strawberry milkshake...and wearing jeans. Who wears jeans while running?  We stopped by Rocky's statues for a little inspiration:

Danny and his hero
I'm not saying a statue talked to me, because that would sound a bit crazy. However, he was definitely looking at me and I may have pretended that he said, "Yo Jessicaaaaaaaaaa, you can do it." Clinging onto Rocky's words of wisdom, I took a big gulp and looked up to my final destination:

Philadelphia Museum of Art


I pumped myself up by singing what few lyrics of the Rocky song Eye of the Tiger, I knew. I put one foot in front of the other and ran. "It's the eye of the tiger it's the end of the fight...."  Those are the only lyrics I know so I just sang them over and over again.....and before I knew it I was at the top. You know what? It was nothing compared to a Crossfit workout, heck it was nothing compared to my weekly jogs. I almost felt a little disappointed in Rocky.

Eye of the Tiger...end of the fight

Conquering Philly
Next it was Danny's turn. We traded the precious new camera and I captured his quintessential Philadelphia moment. Of course if it was easy for me, it would be a piece of cake (cheesecake?) for Danny.

Go Danny go

Get it
After sweating up a storm, (not because of the work, but because of humidity) we went into the art museum and bought tickets too see the various art pieces. I felt a little weird being in an art museum after doing something so unarty. The air conditioner outweighed my thoughts of irony.

The Philadelphia Art Museum is huge, however they were doing some remodeling while we were there so we did not get to see everything. Unfortunately I have been spoiled by the Art Institute of Chicago and didn't find Philly's to be as magnificent.  These are some of the pieces that I found exciting:

Thomas Eakins, The Concert Singer

Thomas Eakins, The Agnew Clinic

Degas, The Ballet Class

Rodin, The Thinker

Andy Warhol, Four Jackies

These are plaster casts of various people's belly buttons.
This is the only time I got in trouble for taking a picture...
go figure.

There was a nifty vintage pharmaceuticals
 poster collection

A very old French monastery in the middle of the museum...
pretty cool.
Knights in shiny armor
 artsy view from the museum

After the art museum, we walked around a bit and tried to find a place for dinner. We settled on Village Whisky. It's near Rittenhouse Square, (one of William Penn's five squares) which is a rather upscale part of Philadelphia. Village Whisky was just a hamburger/whisky bar joint, so we figured the prices couldn't be that bad. When we arrived at Village Whisky and placed our name with the hostess, I was surprised to find a familiar face asking how many our party was. It was the mousy cat lady from the chocolate shop. She recongnized us too, probably because Danny is the most recognizable man in the whole world. Yes, she was still wearing her cat glasses. Maybe she works two jobs to pay for such fancy specs.

Rittenhouse Square

I read online that the duck fat french fries were the best. I have never had duck fat anything, but I decided if I wanted to be a real foodie, I should. So we ordered those along with the King Whisky hamburger for myself and a bbq pulled pork sandwhich for Danny.  We both ordered Philly Pale Ale Yards to drink. I must say they were delicious. While scarfing duck fat french fries down my face I decided that I liked them, but to be honest,  I like regular french fries too. Maybe I'm not a foodie after all. The hamburger was outstanding. I even exclaimed, "I think this is the best hamburger I've ever had!" When we got the bill, I quickly refuted my previous statement, "This is not the best hamburger I've ever had."

Duck Fat Fries. A moment on the lips
forever on the hips

King Whisky

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

With our stomachs full and our wallets empty, we headed back to the hotel.....stay tuned for day 4!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Philadelphia Day 2: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

 Danny and I both woke up early despite having jet lag. Danny decided to check out one of the local Crossfit gyms. I decided that I didn't want to walk around Philadelphia complaining of soreness all day, so I went for a little jog on the hotel treadmill. The hotel gym was in the basement with little windows that peered up to the city street above. It was kind of fun to stare at people's different shoes walking by without them knowing I was looking. Now that I think of it, that sounds a little creepy.

I can see you!

After sweating up a storm, we cleaned ourselves up and headed off to Sabrina's for breakfast. The clouds were threatening with rain (which turned out to be a promise), but it was warm outside. I decided that the hilarious television show, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, was the perfect title for my slightly sarcastic, rainy day blog.

 Sabrina's Cafe is nothing to brag about on the outside. The inside is a different story. It's the perfect twist of antique charm with modern day funk. Across from where I sat (under the air conditioner unit) was a chalk drawing of The Last Supper. Surrounding the table were various aquatic animals, with the walrus representing Jesus. This led to us Lehr folk singing I am the Walrus (coo coo ca choo).

Sabrina's Cafe

I am the walrus

Our waitress was this funky blonde girl with multiple tattoos. Tattoos have become pretty popular recently, but I'm pretty sure Philadelphians were the original tattoo aficionados. Everyone is tattooed there. I'm talking about real hardcore Philly tattoos, not some lame tribal tattoo around a bicep. (Forgive me, everyone I know who has gone tribal) I'm pretty sure our waitress had a bald eagle holding a snake tattooed on her thigh. 

Anyway, enough tattoo talk. We asked the tattooed waitress what we should get. She recommended the breakfast burrito with a side of guacamole, the lox platter, or the bleu cheese and pancetta frittata with sweet potato fries. My 1/4 Jewish self was tempted to go with the lox platter, but the combination of two of my favorite things (bleu cheese and pancetta (only a 1/4 Jewish folks ) won out. Danny ordered the breakfast burrito and a pancake on the side.

Breakfast burrito boom shakalaca
Perfection on a plate

I don't know if I have had a better frittata in my life. Danny could say the same for his breakfast burrito. The portion sizes were ginormous. I felt like this literally could be my last supper. If you are ever in Philadelphia go to Sabrina's Cafe. Breakfast heaven awaits you.

Next we waddled through the streets of Philadelphia to Washington Square. When William Penn made plans for the city of Philadelphia, he designated 5 squares of park like space for the city. The center square is now city hall.  The open squares allowed for recreating, breathing fresh air, and helped to stop the spread of fire.

Washington Square

Like many American dreams, Penn's original vision for Washington Square didn't quit pan out at first. It became a burial ground for the city's African American community and a place of sorrow. Later during the Revolutionary War, soldiers who died in battle were brought back to Washington Square and laid to rest. To add another layer of sadness to Washington Square, Philadelphians who died from an outbreak of yellow fever were also buried there.

Washington Square has since been restored to Penn's original vision and is a place of beauty, recreation, and reflection. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (from the Revolutionary War) is there and reminds us all to be thankful to those who died for our country. A less serious tid bit about Washington Square is the Moon Tree. The Moon Tree was planted from a seed that traveled to the moon (via rocket ship) in 1975.  While Danny was reading about the Moon Tree, a lady in scrubs walked by and yelled, "The Moon Tree is dead!" She was right, the Moon Tree is dead. I suppose it makes sense for Washington Square to be the final resting place of yet another significant entity in American history.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

"Beneath this stone rests a soldier of Washington's
 army who died to give you liberty"

Dead Moon Tree

Next it was off to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. The best part about these two historical quests is that they are free. I'm pleased that the government hasn't tried to suppress us with monumental fees to see these symbols of our nation's freedom.

The Liberty Bell isn't quite as big as I imagined. It isn't inside Independence Hall anymore and has it's own special (air conditioned) building for viewing. It also does not ring anymore, but it is still a symbol of, "...the American Revolution and it is a symbol of liberties gained and liberties denied." While waiting in line to see the bell, I whispered various bell sayings and songs to Danny like, "Let freedom riiiiiiiiiiiiiiing," and "You can ring my belllllllll, ring my bell!"

Let freedom ring!

You can ring my belllllllll, ring my bell

Ding dong the witch is dead

Onward we marched to Independence Hall. The outside of Independence Hall was in need of repair thus construction was going on while we were there. Luckily we were still able to tour the inside for free.

Independence Hall under construction

Independence Hall
 The tour started in the West Wing, which brought images of TV political dramas to my head. We then went on to the Federal Courtroom.  Above the judges chair, the British Coat of Arms once hung. When Washington and his army got all riled up about independence, they dragged the coat of arms through the street and burned it.

Federal Courtroom
The courtroom is interesting but let's be real, we all came to see the signing room. This is where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed. Pretty much everything that I could remember from US History came flooding back to me, "No taxation without representation," and "...the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness," were echoing in my head.

2 of the 3 most influential people in American history.

Signing Room or Pennsylvania Assembly Room

 The big chair in the back of the room, that you see pictured above is Washington's original chair. There is a half sun engraved on the chair. Apparently James Madison  recorded everything that was going on during the federal conventions. Ben Franklin said of the chair, "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." I like this Benny Franklin guy. He was a double signer...meaning he signed the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Plus he says things like this:

Wisdom from a forefather
Rising Sun Chair

We then toured Congress Hall which is where the representatives and senators met. Danny and I pretended to be representatives while taking in history.

Representative Lehr and Representative....Lehr
Of the two Representatives pictured,
 whom would you want representing you?

We went on to venture over to the second federal bank in the US. The first one is closed to the public. The second bank now houses an art collection of various revolutionary figures in the US. My favorite picture was of Martha Washington.

Second Bank

I think Martha and I would of gotten along well.

Then it was off to Elfreth's Alley, the oldest residential street in America. It is still occupied today. This was right up my alley (pardon the pun). I love houses. I love old houses. I love cute, old, houses. Elfreth's Alley is literally just an alley surrounded by modern day buildings, but with it's cobble stone street, patriotic shutters, and lush flower boxes, I felt like I was transported back to the 1700s. Since people still live here, you can't go inside (although there is one that has been converted to a museum that is tourable). I was content with just looking at the outside and imagining myself living there.

Elfreth's Alley


From the backyard of the museum
While I was getting really excited about all the cute houses, I had an idea. My idea was for Danny to take a picture of me sitting on the front steps of one of the houses. I felt a little weird doing this, as the home that I chose has people still living in it. However I needed a picture, so that when I am tired of my house and it's suburban ways, I can have something to dream about.  I was all set to go, sitting on the steps, big cheesy smile in place, when my normally not very clumsy husband, broke my brand new camera. 

I was crushed....and the camera was too. How would I document our trip? How would I write a blog without my words are never enough. Of course Danny felt bad so I tried not to let my disappointment show, but when you've known someone as long as we've known each other, it's easy to tell when someone is faking it.

Danny took a picture of me on the steps with his iphone. We then discussed how we really needed  iphone4s because our camera phones don't have flashes.

Faking Bliss
We were headed off to the Masonic Temple when we happened to pass Benjamin Franklin's grave and the Betsy Ross house. For those of you who are historically inept, Betsy Ross made the first American Flag. This is what she looks like in doll form:

Yes, she always has that look on her face
Betsy's house

Beware of men dressed in colonial garb
If you are really desperate to see Benjamin Franklin's grave you can pay $2 to check out his grave and the cemetery. Or you can do like we did and walk past the cemetery, stick your phone through the iron fence posts, and take a picture of his grave. Benny's grave isn't very impressive, no large statue or grandiose tombstone to commemorate this great man. Simple and elegant is how I would describe it, perhaps much like Benjamin himself. We threw a penny on his grave like other's did. I couldn't help but wonder if we should of thrown a 100 dollar bill on his grave rather than a coin with Lincoln's image on it.

Benjamin Franklin's Grave
It's a good thing we didn't throw a Benjamin bill on Franklin's grave, because we then decided to take a detour from soaking in history and buy a new camera. You would think that purchasing a camera of similar quality to that of your new Sony Cybershot would be easy in a large city such as Philadelphia. You thought wrong.

Our camera search started at a mall located downtown. It might have been called Liberty Mall? or Independence Shopping Mall....something to that patriotic effect. We found a K Mart and started the camera search. Apparently cameras are a hot commodity in Philadelphia because every single one that we picked out were sold out. Frustrated with K Mart, we left and went to Radio Shack.

A nice lady at Radio Shack assisted us on our camera hunt. She had Flo Jo like finger nails, but handled the cameras with ease.
Flo Jo

We finally decided on a camera so the lady with the long fingernails went to see if they had it in stock. She came back asking us if we wanted the good news or the bad news first. We chose bad. The camera we had picked out was out of stock. Good news? They had the same camera....only in a different Being a female, I don't care what color my camera is, as long as it takes pictures. Danny surprisingly did not want a pink camera. I was shocked, my Danny cared about the color of the camera? My secure-in-his-manhood, silly, goofy, confident Danny is embarrassed to carry around a pink camera? Sadly, he is folks. In a fit of frustration, (I was missing out on history here people) I said fine we can get this other more expensive red camera. The long nailed lady described it as "red hot!" It ended up not having some feature that Danny wanted so... off we went.

I came across a Staples and quickly texted my favorite Staples Copy Center employee, Melisa Gries, and asked if they sold cameras. They did. Of course Staples was sold out of the camera that we wanted. I picked out a Canon with similar capabilites to our broken one and with a little convincing from the nice man at Staples, Danny said okay to the red (Red Hot!) Canon.  With a camera in hand and oodles of history/cheesesteaks awaiting, we were back to our pleasant selves.

First picture with new non pink- however Red Hot, camera
 With the camera debacle behind us, we decided to go to Tria: A beer, wine, and cheese bar that is conveniently located right across from the Alexander Inn. It was happy hour and that meant only one thing: an inexpensive beer for me, wine for Danny (again...he really couldn't handle the pink camera?), and some fancy brie like cheese with cherries and bread.


A little note about Tria. Everything was great but there are more waitresses than there are tables in this place. To make the waitress/waiter situation even more puzzling, all the staff are wearing everyday the customers. I didn't know who was coming or going, ordering or taking orders, serving or being served.

Nothing says classy like fancy cheese and dried cherries
 A brief pit stop at our hotel room and we were off to Jim's for cheesesteaks. Jim's was recommended to us by our Penn State medical student friend, Todd. He told us that Gino's and Pat's (the two cheesesteakeries that claim to be the original makers of the Philadelphia classic) were for tourists. I researched cheesesteaks before heading to Jim's and discovered that the classic Philadelphia style cheesesteak has thinly sliced beef, cooked onions, and melted cheese on a roll.  The cheese can either be provolone or Cheese Whiz. While Cheese Whiz has not been around since the dawn of cheesesteaks, it is now considered by many Philadelphians to be the only way to go. I learned that when ordering at Jim's you need to know what you were having before you make it up to the counter where the cheesesteak maker is impatiently waiting for you to order. I also learned that when ordering a cheesteak with Cheese Whiz, you simply say, "Cheese steak wit whiz." No not, "with whiz," leave off the "h" or you will be taken for a fool.

While eating my first classic cheesesteak, my thoughts were of deliciousness and how despite the questionableness of cheese that is squirted out of a can, ordering wit whiz was definitely the way to go. The cheesesteak can be a representation for all that is good and evil in America. It's innovation, tastiness, simplicity, and its ability to be made quickly and cheaply earn it credits in my foodie mind. However, it's high demand leads for rude and impatient employees. Its tastiness combined with cheapness comes at the price of whatever harmful carcinogens are bottled up in a can of Cheese Whiz. If eaten every day or every other day the cheesesteak will add to America's growing waistline.  The cheesesteak may symbolize America more accurately than the Liberty Bell itself.

He added unamerican

All American Girl
 By now you are probably tired of reading about our first full day in Philadelphia...try living it. After Jim's it was time for a stroll to the river and back to the Alexander Inn for some much needed rest and digestion.

Stay tuned for day 3.........