One of the privileges in life is the ability to travel, whether that’s by train, plane, or other wheeled vehicle. You always hear that it’s about the journey, not the destination. I am a full believer in that statement. And, I believe that even though you might reach the destination, you’re still on the journey.
Over Fourth of July I was able to spend four life-changing days in Philadelphia – the nation’s first capital, the city of brotherly love, and a city that would teach me so much about culture and about myself.
“I love everything about Philadelphia, and its food is like the city itself: real-deal, hearty, and without pretension.” –Lisa Scottoline
I arrived in Philadelphia at 30th street station where Emily, my mentor, was waiting for me. After walking along the Schuylkill River and dropping my bag off at her apartment; she, Mark and I began our four day excursion all around the city.
First, after getting lunch at Magpie Artisan Pies – a small pie shop that makes homemade savory and sweet pies – where we had open-faced macaroni n’ cheese pies, shared a mini sour cherry pie, and sipped affogatos, we went to the ‘Magic Gardens.’ This urban park is actually an art project from an artist who, inspired by South American traditional art and cleaning up the city, made a large mosaic garden full of discarded debris, ceramic tiles, glass, on which he painted words of wisdom and inspiration. Everywhere you look, there was something new to see and discover, whether it be a quote or portrait you didn’t see on your first look through.
These mosaic murals aren’t just in the Magic Gardens, but all over the city, along with other art murals depicting different features of the city. You can’t help but be inspired by the creativity that the city exudes.
Following the Magic Gardens, we made our way to Old City Philly, to Independence Hall. We didn’t take a tour (we’re saving that for another visit, because even with four days you can’t possibly do everything) but we were able to see some re-enactors dressed up and recite the Declaration of Independence.
I wanted to take a picture with a re-enactor, but I guess I chose one who didn’t want to smile. I suppose it would’ve been out of character.
Walking through Old City Philly, we stopped at Old City Tavern before making our way to the Harbor and Penn’s Landing, where their summer festival was taking place. There were families lounging in hammocks, food trucks selling authentic Philadelphia food, roller skating, and playing carnival games.
For dinner, we had Dim Sum in Chinatown. I’d never had Dim Sum before and it was delicious!
Even though I had only been in Philly for a day, I was already starting to fall in love with the city – its food, culture, and diversity was nothing like I had ever seen or experienced. This girl clearly doesn’t belong in the suburbs anymore. I’m ready to trade my backyard for a small balcony in the concrete jungle. There are just so many coffee shops, restaurants, sites, museums, and things to do (and all within walking distance – I wouldn’t need a car!) that I don’t think I would ever get bored.
Today, I shadowed Emily at her job as a freelance content developer and social media manager. Everything she showed me really inspired me and got me excited in expanding my career aspirations and visions for the future. She showed me how you really can make it as a writer and an English major as long as you are open to the opportunities out there. And, with this trip and being open to new foods, new places, and new paths, I was reassured that there’s never an end to wonderful experiences you can acquire. She opened me up to all of this and reminded me that everything happens for a reason and that even our struggles can be turned into strengths and opportunities. For a college student whose future is so open and uncertain, I needed this reassurance. That’s what’s so amazing about having Emily as a mentor; she’s there for me whenever I need career advice or just a friend to talk about my anxieties and insecurities.
Continuing our tour of inspiration in the city of Brotherly Amor, we headed to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where we saw people dressing in swimsuits, jumping in and out of the huge center fountain. We also popped into the Free Library of Philadelphia. It blows my mind that in a few years I might be a local member, checking out books and using it as a quiet space to do work.
Our real destination was the Barnes Foundation: a modern building built around this preserved home of a wealthy man who collected works of impressionist and modernist artists. The walls within this museum held the most wonderful and awe-inspiring works of art from Picasso to Monet, to Cézanne, to Renoir (there was a lot of Renoir – which I loved). I was already a fan of impressionistic art, but this was just out of this world and overloading my senses.
Before our dinner reservations, we walked past the Rodin Museum (another excursion for the next trip) and took pictures of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
This gigantic museum can be seen from all the highways leading into the city, because it is truly massive. You’d need to devote a whole day (at least two meals and possibly a nap) to do the entire thing. We decided to go to Vedge for dinner instead. Emily said she made the reservations back in April just to make sure that we could get a seat. I’m so glad because it was a vegetarian’s dream in terms of cuisine.
The next day was the Fourth and, to avoid the large crowds congregating for the festivities in Old City and The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, we decided to hit some less-touristy spots.
First, we went to this outdoor space called Circa Green – located on the top of a parking garage. It was nice to lay in the grass and look at the clouds surrounded by skyscrapers. You’d never expect to find this in the middle of the city – and I’m not going to reveal its exact location, just in case you try to find it and claim it as your own.
Just some casual yoga with your mentor. You can call it exercising our independence on Independence day. How amazing is it that we live in a country where you can just do a backbend on eleven stories above the ground on natural grass?
Then, we crossed the river to University City where we toured the University of Penn. It had the most gorgeous buildings I’d ever seen, and I was struck with envy that students actually get to pass them and go to class in them on a regular basis. Now, I’m entertaining plans to at least take a summer session here. Who wouldn’t want to attend such a prestigious and beautiful university?
University of Penn even has its own LOVE statue.
I was feeling a little anxious when we got back from Whole Foods where we picked up ingredients to make dinner that night. So, I went for a solitary walk around the city. Doning my headphones and queuing my weekly podcasts, I wandered around Rittenhouse, Old City, Walnut Street, and Market Street. Along the way, I just breathed in the city – its history, vibrant consumerism, and surprisingly comfortable feeling.
I passed through Washington Square Park, strolled past the Post Office, and wandered through City Hall before making my way back to Rittenhouse and exploring some of the streets around Emily’s neighborhood. I found a lot of apartments for rent…and I started getting even more ideas. But truthfully, I was mostly reflecting on my time in the city and how much I felt changed and happier. I felt like I had found a place where I could see myself belonging, where I felt valued and loved for who I was.
“LOVE” is definitely the theme of this trip for me. Not only did I fall in love with the city, but I’ve received so much love from Emily and Mark. After grilling vegetables and veggie burgers for dinner, they sat down with me and we talked about how I was struggling and came up with a solution.
Recently, I’d been feeling very lost and confused, not sure where I was going with life and not enjoying life at all. It was becoming a struggle to look forward to anything, feeling like I didn’t contribute anything to the world (that I was only here existing), and I couldn’t see any improvement in the future despite knowing that it had the potential to get better. I was searching and searching, but I just couldn’t figure out what was missing in my life. Turns out it was independence. It was the planning for a future in which I could live my life completely dependent on me and no one else.
Deciding to live on your own without your parents or anyone backing you financially is a scary progression of life that most young adults in college aren’t ready for. Even though you might move away from home, your parents are still there to provide at least something toward financing you in college – whether that’s through tuition, room and board, or procuring loans. This is precisely what I was struggling with: I was so scared that I would fail trying to live without my parent’s financial support that I sunk into a negative and defeatist mindset, which translated to all areas of my life.
Emily and Mark showed me just how capable, smart, and prepared I was to make this step. This verbal reassurance and confirmation that they would be there to help guide me, gave me the courage to be honest with myself and face my fear head on. They showed me that I do have a lot to contribute to the world and that there are people who depend on me. So, we drafted a plan that I can put into place to get to where I want to be: totally independent and making a difference in people’s lives.
With this new and exciting plan to put into action and dreams to look forward to, we went down to the Schuylkill boardwalk to watch the fireworks.
Despite going through such a transformative trip, I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to stay. And, with each passing minute and hour, I was acutely aware that my time in the city of brotherly love was running out.
On my last day in Philly, Emily and I had morning coffee at La Colombe while watching all the businessmen and women power walk to work in their New Balance sneakers.
Then we went to Emily’s gym for a yoga class before heading back to Whole Foods for vegetarian cheesesteaks (which I can cross off my Philly tradition list), kombucha, and mochi ice cream. It was a perfect way to end my trip.
Going back to the train station, by heart was heavy. I almost cried because I didn’t want to go. It felt like I was leaving my home. But, Emily reassured me that this wouldn’t be my first and last trip. We already talked about me coming to visit again in (maybe) August, September, and definitely October (most definitely for my birthday).
Now, whenever anyone asks me how life is going in Harrisburg, I’m sad to say:
“I would rather be living in Philadelphia.” –W. C. Fields