Monday, August 22, 2005

We Rode the Ducks and walked through history

Yes, we had Tourist Day on Friday. Going to Center City this time was so different from the Friday prior. It was refreshing to just walk around like every other tourist in the city and pretend I didn't come from Philly. I let the city be our guide.

That was one the best decisions I have made all year.

First, after parking the family jalopy, we had to Ride the Ducks! All these years of hearing those annoying "quackers" made me say, "O.K., it's time for the ultimate in tourist cheese." Bust on those quacking tourists if you will, it was worth it! Not only did we have someone else tell our guest about all the history flourishing in Center City, but we also got to be public spectacles and it was EXPECTED! How cool is that? We rode down South Street where a bunch of people cruising in an amphibious vehicle making duck noises was actually quite normal in comparison to some of the surroundings. And the yummy smells coming from Jim's Steaks was positively intoxicating! Geo was going crazy - "Mmmm, fried onions!" Of course, we drove past the obligatory Philly historic hotspots (i.e, Elfreth's Alley, Betsy's home, Ben's grave, etc.) We ignored the rain which fell and took in the whole tourist scene. Getting around Center City isn't so bad ... when someone else is driving.

Call me a bad Philadelphian but there were a few sites we drove by I never even knew existed. One was the Irish Memorial Monument located at Front and Chestnut, Penn's Landing. The large bronze piece not only memorializes the thousands of men, women, and children who died of starvation between 1845 and 1850, but it also honors those who braved poverty and loathing to start a new life here in America. Surrounding the memorial is stone that actually came from Ireland. I looked at it as one of those "many other things" that makes our city so alive with history and teeming with culture.

Another little tidbit of Philly history I never knew was the story behind the stones along Dock Street. All of central Philly is laid out in grid pattern except for this street which winds through the Society Hill district. Dock Street was actually a creek that drained into the river back in William Penn's days. Commerce and residents used the creek as a disposal ditch for waste. After years of pollutants and human sewage being thrown in the creek, it became stagnant and disease ridden. Rumor has it that the yellowfever epidemic originated from the creek's filthy condition. So Ben Franklin got an idea. He decided to fill the creek with discarded stones from ships found along the Delaware River. The stones filled in the creek, the creek became a street, and those same stones are still used today. Yes, those evil cobblestones that play heck on the front end of many cars is actually the original ballast material discarded hundreds of years ago.

As I mentioned, and as some of you may already know, Ride the Ducks tours are in amphibious vehicles. When our vehicle got to the ramp underneath the Ben Franklin bridge, we went right into the Delaware River and toured the waterfront up close and personal for about ten or so minutes (I'm guessing ... I didn't time it). It was interesting to see what was on the river side of the piers along I-95 without the use of a rental boat.

Though we didn't go too far downriver, we did see in the distance the smokestacks of the SS United States. That ancient cruise ship used to always give me the hoo-boo-jeebees. I'm not to keen on large behemoth objects in vast amounts of water. Then I read the history of the SS United States. My perspective took a different view. I read how it has been sitting there since the 60's basically rotting away. I felt sad. Now, thanks to the Duck tour, I have found out that the ship was recently purchased by and will be back on the seas in about a decade.

Out of the river and back on dry land, we passed a few more historic pinpoints and we wound up back to start at Independence Hall. We kept our quackers (the baby had fun with that all over Center City) and gave thanks to our lovely driver, Veronica.

I highly, highly recommend to anyone who may found themselves with guests from out of town to treat them to a Ride the Ducks tour. In my opinion, you will not regret it.

Since it was only 2:30, we figured on walking around a bit more before heading home. From the Duck launch we made our way down to South Street We looked at a few shops, ate some lunch, and walked even more. South Street didn't hold our interest so we walked on down to the river. From the river, we walked across the I-95 Dock Street bridge into Society Hill. We wandered on through back to the historic district. As we strolled up to Independence hall, the clock shown 5:30. Holy chowder! With the esception of lunch, we had walked for over three hours. We were exhausted except for the two year old - she still had energy to burn. We slowly made our way back to the parking garage which housed our auto and headed on back to the Northeast.

It was fun to play tourist. I learned a lot about a city of which I claim to be a resident my entire life. It was an experience that I urge all Philadelphians, who think they know their own hometown, to do. You might surprise yourself in what you really don't know.

The pictures are courtesy of my camera (except for South Street - that's Geo's SLR).


PaxRomano said...

Philly is a wonderful city, those of us who live in and around it often forget what a great place it really is.

Matt said...

excellent post!

Maidink said...

Pax - there is just so much to do - one tends to forget all that Philly has to offer. From Center City, West, North, South, Southeast, and the Northeast, we have it all plus one. I'd say East Philly but I hear they renamed it New Jersey ;)

Matt - thank you very much, my good sir!

Fist Tickle Brick said...

I didn't know Philly had the duck tour. I will definitely have to do that next time I'm there. I wish I'd have done the Boston one.

And I've only been to Philly once, and I liked it a lot.

Maidink said...

We have Ride the Ducks, Super Ducks, and Land Sharks. We have amphibious vehicles everywhere in Center City!

My next one will be in Baltimore.

Philly is pretty cool. You should have your next Beer Tour here! We have Yuengling not that far away!

Bigandmean said...

My wife and I were in Philly in March - your cuz Rose graciously served as our tour guide one afternoon. Philly is fantastic. We had a ball and can't wait to go again.

Maidink said...

B&M - Come on up! March is a good time. Not much snow left and temp is just right.