Friday, July 4, 2014

Cheese Steaks and a Graveyard: A Day Trip to Philly

Now, I'm certainly not a Greenhorn when it comes to Philadelphia, but I'm no expert either.

My mother was born there, and years later my oldest sister, Julie, was born there as well. I spent several days of my youth in the city. My sisters and I roamed the Roxborough neighborhood around my mother's childhood home on Pensdale Street. 

The street where my mom grew up.
We played in the recreation center across the street and I remember playing in the graveyard on the corner (you'll see my childhood fascination with graveyards in past and future writings).  Some of my fondest memories are of time spent in Philly with my mother, father, sisters and grandfather --who we all called Pop Pop.

Recently, my mother and father planned a day trip to Philadelphia, and because I'm not a very responsible adult and I never have anything of importance to do, I decided to tag along.

The initial idea was to get a cheesesteak at our favorite cheesesteak place and the plans beyond that were very few. We were to place flowers at my grandfather's grave, and something we rarely do in Philly: to actually make some quintessential Philly tourist stops.

On the day of our trip, July 3rd, we left the NY border and crossed into Pennsylvania reaching and passing through a place I can't remember if I'd ever known, but I may have... and forgot --The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. It was a great little drive. It's 40 mph speed limit slowed our pace, which is my best advice for travel. We stopped only for a brief moment to try to snap pics of some circling hawks.
Hawks in Delaware Gap.
I really want to go back there to explore more thoroughly. 

After the "Gap" we met up with Pennsylvania State Route 611. A north south route, we saw the rolling hills and farmland of north eastern Penn. It was a great way to enter Philly and a first for me.

We got to the Westminster Cemetery around 12:30 pm. The early predictions of the threat of rain seemed to pass as the clouds left and the warm early July sun shone on us favorably.

The way to find my grandfathers site is to first find the monument to Kitchen, Pots, and Bacon. If you are wondering, yes, you just read, "Kitchen, Pots, and Bacon" --just visit the cemetery someday, drive around, and then you'll see it. 

My mom placed flowers at Pop Pop's grave and she wondered aloud if she'd be back again. Then we laughed as she suggested that her cousin stole her burial spot at the family site. The cousin was hit by a car years ago and died. Not a funny circumstance, but my mom's suggestion that her burial site was stolen, certainly was.

After leaving the cemetery and crossing the Schuylkill, I yelled at my father for making a wrong turn in Manayunk, but of course we ended up right where we were supposed to. He has a great sense of direction and can navigate through Philly pretty darn well for a guy from Corinth, NY. 

We visited the old church that my parents were married in, and that our small familial clan from upstate NY would attend while visiting Pop Pop. We always got cheesesteaks after Mass, which is a perfect a Sunday afternoon accompaniment for the communal wafers. 

After visiting St. John's, we moved on to get what we traveled 300 plus miles to get. Lunch.

Now there is always debate about which Philly Cheesesteak place is the best, and I can't give a head to head comparison here, because I'm so decidedly biased. I only go to Dalessandro's. It's our place. That's it.

We made it to Dalessandro's around 1:00 pm (there were Illinois and Florida license plates on the side road to confirm the sandwich desire). We hoped  that we would have missed the lunch rush --wrong.  It was absolutely packed. It's tiny and you might think it would get tense, but the staff is great.
Dalessandro's at Lunch Time.
Carol in particular, is  a spunky but cordial server. The customers also lessen the possibility of problems. They file in --orderly and friendly. "Excuse me. Pardon me. Did you need a seat? Have you ordered yet?"  When I got to the counter, the woman taking the order said "only one size, sir" to my silly order of "large" and she asked me if I wanted ketchup, which is a first for me. Of course, I said no to the ketchup.  My suggestion is "with onions and mayo" and have a orange cream soda to wash it down.

Filled with yummy goodness, we went about our way to explore touristy Philly. No need to get too specific on these next parts of the day. If you want you can read a million Philadelphia travel guides for that side of Philly. But here are some highlights:

*I almost caused a multi-car pile up while waiting for a jogger to cross the road.

*We saw the crews set up for the Philly Fourth of July Jam (found out later that the Roots were the backing band for acts such as Nicki Minaj and others).

*My mother got her taken picture with a Fife and Drum company of actual active duty troops.

*It was hot, very hot. We cooled off in the Independence Hall visitor's center my father asked a Thomas Paine impersonator if he had any "common sense." My mom got her grandchildren some Philadelphia souvenirs. 

*We went to South Philly and searched for the much talked about, Federal Donuts, but it was closed when we got there. The girl on the other side of the store window gave the "cut off" motion across her neck, which I had never seen for saying, "we're closed." But I sadly understood. I will do another day trip just for Federal Donuts, if I have any takers on a co-pilot.

So, we did it. A little Philly tourist time well spent --and quickly!

We then went back for a quick stop to get "to go" cheesesteaks for my sister Sara's family. My niece Adeline said it was her new favorite food. Maybe she will continue the pilgrimages to Dalessandro's when she gets to driving age. She could even look for her great grandfather's grave near Kitchen, Pots, and Bacon.

Around 5:00 pm we headed north, and from Jersey all the way to home, we slowly crawled the various turnpikes, parkways, and thruways in a steady downpour that felt as if our car was underwater. 

We, the tired three members of our travel entourage, were content, even happy despite the slow rainy trip home. We felt as if the travel angels in Philly gave us a short, perfectly timed window of sunny skies and friendly Philadelphians

The possible rain and mobs of people to come the next day, the Fourth of July, could be for other travelers. We got exactly what we were looking for: a nice day, a visit with Pop Pop, and a tasty Philly Cheesesteak.

-The G.O.

No comments:

Post a Comment