Timeline: March 18-27
Determined to see several sights our last day in Philadelphia, we were out early on our way to the first stop of the day, the Mutter Museum. Diligent sightseeing requires adequate sustenance though and so we dropped by Miel Patisserie for a late breakfast. We opted for the Le Parisien, Ham, Dijon mustard, and gruyere on country French bread, an almond croissant and a large latte to split.
The interior of the shop was reminiscent of a place you’d find in France and the food was equally good, a hearty portion, lightly warmed, the gruyere always a wise choice when paired with good ham. More than enough food to sustain us into the afternoon, the one downside being we weren’t even tempted to dip into the pastry case, the croissant having sufficed.
Arriving at the Mutter, we entered and spent two hours touring it’s amazing collection of medical oddities, anatomical and pathological specimens, wax models, and antique medical equipment. The original purpose of the collection, donated by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter in 1858, was for biomedical research and education. With origins as a collection of specimens and medical tools used for education in medicine, it now houses an assemblage of over 20,000 specimens, of which about 13% are on display.
Home to over 3,000 osteological specimens, two of note are the Mütter American Giant, the tallest human skeleton on exhibit in North America at 7’6″ tall and the Hyrtl Skull Collection, a collection of 139 skulls from Joseph Hyrtl, a Viennese anatomist. This collection’s original purpose was to show the diversity of cranial anatomy in Europeans.
Also on display are many historical artifacts, including a malignant tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland’s hard palate, the conjoined liver from the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, a piece of tissue removed from the thorax of John Wilkes Booth, a section of the brain of Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin of President James A. Garfield, and slides of Albert Einstein’s brain, the only place where members of the public can view them.
By tours end, after viewing dozens of embalmed fetuses, many of the 1,300 wet specimens (which include examples from every part of the human body as well as parts that aren’t supposed to be there, such as cysts and tumors), subjects and objects that might have horrified us before entering became common place and we left with a broader sense of the human body, and how far medical science has evolved from a time when these items were teaching tools.
From the museum, we walked back up to Arch Street and the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, head church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Built from 1846 to 1864 it is the largest Catholic church in Pennsylvania, and was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Constructed at the height of Anti-Catholicism and Know-Nothingism it is built with only very high clerestory windows that according to parish histories would inhibit vandalism; to protect the windows from possible future riots, the builders would throw stones into the air to determine the height of where the windows would be placed.
We have consistently found that stopping at a cathedral or large church in the middle of a day of sightseeing, regardless of the historical, architectural or spiritual importance of the facility is always a welcome break. The coolness of the sanctuary, the grandness of the structure, the need to observe some level of silence, all help you to re-focus your energy in a positive way. Such was the case that afternoon, rebalancing vitality and enthusiasm to move through the rest of the afternoon.
We wandered over to the imposing City Hall building thinking to take a tour, but none seemed available so we decided to walk back to the apartment and prepare for a long evening ahead. We’d purchased last minute tickets to see the Oscar Wilde play The Importance of Being Earnest, a book we’d both read recently. A short amount of down time, some of it preparing for our departure the next day soon took us to our departure for dinner at The Dandelion, a British style pub not far from the apartment.
A popular place, we’d been advised to make a reservation and did so for an early hour, thinking it would give us a leisurely dining experience before walking over to the theater. We were seated upstairs in a dining room that would become increasingly crowded during our stay. I ordered a Yards British IPA (a Pennsylvania brewery) that had the characteristics of a traditional beer of that ilk, just not as bitter.
To start we split an order of the Curried Crab, Cod, and Chili Cakes (green jalapeño, malt vinegar, and mayonnaise), two round deep fried balls of seafood goodness accompanied by a tangy curry mayo that promised good things to come. For our main we chose a side of chips and the Rabbit Pie (oyster mushrooms, Cipollini onions, smoked, bacon, grain mustard & white wine), which came out in a ceramic terrine, a light crust topping hiding tender rabbit in a rich creamy sauce.
It didn’t take us long to finish eating and we found ourselves with a bit of time on our hands. With a crowded dining room around us we decided it would be best to leave so as to free up the table and find some other spot to grab a drink before the show and I had a good idea where that would be. On the way is a spot that Shawn had recommended that we’d not had time to get to, Bru Craft and Wurst. We popped in for a quick one, as time was tighter than I’d originally thought and in the dimly lit space, hastily ordered a beer apiece.
Joanna’s choice was the Bruery Or Xata on draft, a blonde ale brewed with a heavy dosing of rice, cinnamon and fresh vanilla beans along with lactose for a little extra creamy character, making it resemble a carbonated horchata, while I went for a Russian River Salvation, a 9% strong dark ale that uses a Belgian yeast in fermentation to produce chocolate and raisin flavors that are well-balanced with a lingering dry finish. We had to rush to finish our drinks, not a good outcome for such good beer and the bigger surprise came when we got the check. In the dark space, I hadn’t seen the price of my beer clearly, the 12-ounce bottle costing $14, bringing our tab with tax and tip to $28. Ouch. Next time we’ll just drink at the show.
The performance was staged at the Walnut Street Theater, said to be the oldest continuously operating theatre in the English-speaking world and the oldest in the United States. Built by the Circus of Pepin and Breschard, which toured the United States from 1807 until 1815, in 1811 the two partners commissioned architect William Strickland to design and construct a stage and orchestra pit for theatrical performances. The Walnut was the first of its kind to install gas footlights in 1837, first to feature air conditioning in 1855 and was designated a National Historic Landmark and in 1966.
We arrived just in time to hit the theater’s bar, procuring our usual concert beverage, a double Crown Royal on the rocks. We’d purchased the least expensive tickets available at $50 a pop which put us in the next to the last row in the Mezzanine, nose bleed seats and yet still a good view of the stage. The downside was it was tough to make out the actor’s voices and so, still having the book on my iPad, I pulled it up and read along as the production progressed. Without a doubt seeing the lines acted out made a world of difference over just reading the material, the word play more evocative as it plays out on stage.
It being late in the evening, quite cold, and coming at the end of a long day, we opted to Uber back to the apartment for $5.38, closing out what had been a rewarding stay in Philadelphia. Although our Airbnb experience was less than we’d hoped for (spotty Wi-Fi, no instructions on how to interface with the apartments utilities, non-existent communication with the owners, and a partially completed repair job on the bathroom wall), the location had proved to be ideal, allowing us to walk wherever we wanted.
Having lived the bulk of our lives in car dependent Los Angeles, and now living in Charlotte, an even more auto driven environment, it was a delight to know there was a plethora of eating, shopping and sightseeing choices all within walking distance. I’m not sure how it would wear long term, but I think someday we’ll try to live in a similar environment. Who knows where we might end up next?
Mutter Museum: http://muttermuseum.org/
Cathedral Basilica: http://cathedralphila.org/
Know Nothing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Know_Nothing
The Importance of Being Earnest: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Importance_of_Being_Earnest
The Dandelion: http://thedandelionpub.com/
Walnut Street Theater: https://www.walnutstreettheatre.org/
Circus of Pepin and Breschard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circus_of_Pepin_and_Breschard