Philadelphia is the third largest city (by population) in the USA, yet it feels like a cute medium-sized city. There are narrow alleys that invite you to explore hidden treasures, people sit on their front-steps and talk to their neighbours and the nightlife is big enough to satisfy yet not so large that you feel like you might be swallowed up by it. It reminds me of a highly successful person who never lets the fact go to their head and lose track of their soul.
Where I lived
I searched for a long time for a place to live for a month or two, and I struggled to find anything that wasn’t going to bankrupt me. Finally, I found an adorable house where I could rent a room. My landlords were this older couple, perfectly adorable and fun. (“Wine?” was the standard question whenever I saw them.) They were meant to occupy the rest of the house, but they were never there so in effect, I rented the whole house for the price of just a room. Luxury! And my room had a spiral staircase that led to a gilded fairy princess bed with all the trimmings. When I saw that, I was sold!
What I did
Apart from some daily duties I’m not going to go into details on here, I spent my free time exploring the city, and after four weeks in gay isolation on the east coast of New Jersey, I was eager to explore the gaybourhood of Philly. Yes, a whole section is literally signposted as gay. The street signs within this area all have rainbow flags on them. Super cute.
My standard hangout was the local leather bar, a small little dive with a pool table where I hung out several nights, being taught the finer points of the game by a semi-crazy elderly Japanese guy who’d hustle you out of your money quicker than you could say ‘what-the-fu?’ Every bar should have a pool table. Being new in town, it is great to meet people over a game of pool than the tired old chats at the bar.
I didn’t explore Philly in detail, and nowhere near enough to write a travel guide. But below are some of the highlights
The Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall
Philadelphia is the cradle of American democracy. It was here that the declaration of independence was signed as well as the US constitution. It is also home to the famous Liberty Bell. All three are so steeped in western history that you have to go and see them, even if none of them is particularly old or impressive. It is check-box tourism at its best. You can do all three in an afternoon and still have plenty of time for coffee and cake (preferable at Café 12, where the cutest baristas will take the very best care of you. Oh, and if you go, quiz them on the proportion and fat content of milk and cream in half-and-half.)
The Mütter Museum
Philadelphia has some famous art museums, and I ignored them all. If it isn’t surrealistic art, I’m not interested. (And if it is modern art, I’m likely offended.) The museum I like should be weird and wondrous, and none is weirder or wondrouser than the Mütter museum of medical oddities. It is filled with warped skeletons, Siamese twin foetuses and other bizarre freaks of medicine. Some are borderline morbid, such as the medical science books bound in leather made from the skin of the doctors’ patients.
The queen of the museum is the soap woman, a generously proportioned woman who in her grave had her fatty tissues turned into soap through a strange mix of bacterial and chemical processes. This left her well preserved as a sort of overly hygienic mummy.
This may all sound like a big freak show, but despite the ample opportunity to make it so, the museum treated every specimen with great respect and care. It is primarily intended as an educational exhibition into the world of medicine. The fact that twisted individuals as yours truly find it all fascinatingly morbid is not their fault.
There was no photography inside, so no album follows. The picture on the side is taken from their website.