My Town: Matthew's Philadelphia
When 14-year-old Matthew isn't playing tennis, practicing the sax, or downloading music off the Internet, this eighth grader is out in search of adventure—or a good book of Greek mythology. Matthew's dad owns a language school, and his mom's a psychologist. They work on the same floor of the same building, just a few blocks from his two uncles' law offices and his cousin's art gallery. In other words, this is Matthew's city, so who better to lead us to the essential spots?Here, the Philly gospel according to Matthew:
"If you want to really experience this city, you have to walk. Everything's kind of bunched up, so you can go on foot from the center to the south side in 10 minutes. More people ride bikes here than almost anywhere in America, but ever since I crashed mine into a fence last year, I walk. Don't let me stop you, though—you can rent a bike or blades at Drive Sports [2601 Pennsylvania Ave.; 215/232-7368].
I live in Center City, really the heart of Philadelphia. We're close to the Ben Franklin Parkway, which leads from the Philadelphia Museum of Art [26th St. and Ben Franklin Pkwy.; 215/763-8100] to City Hall, modeled after the Louvre. On Wednesdays the Art Museum stays open till 8:45. You can pick up a self-guided family audio tour; I just head straight for the medieval armor. When you stand at the top of the museum's steps—you know, the steps they used in Rocky—look down and check out the giant fountain with spitting turtles and fish at Logan Circle.
There are lots of other cool museums; another on the parkway is the Rodin Museum [22nd St. and Ben Franklin Pkwy.; 215/763-8100], home of The Gates of Hell—you can see every detail in all these miniature angels and demons and lost souls falling into hell. Younger kids will like the Please Touch Museum [210 N. 21st St.; 215/963-0666], where there's always a button to push or a lever to pull. Right around the corner is a big, beautiful old building, the Franklin Institute Science Museum [222 N. 20th St.; 215/448-1200]. If you come to Philadelphia this is one of the places to go, I'll tell you that much. There's an exhibit where you touch a metal ball charged with static electricity and your hair stands on end. There's tons of other great stuff too; the coolest is probably the Imax Theater, where the screen covers the whole ceiling, so you have a picture behind you and above you and in front of you. Just be prepared to leave with a sore neck!
A walk to take is from the Art Museum down to South Street. It's almost two miles and really shows you the best of the city. You'll see the old town houses on Rittenhouse Square—stop for some music and a picnic in the park. South Street has every kind of store you could imagine. Sometimes I go just to see all the funky people.
The other neighborhood you have to visit is Old City, home of Independence National Historic Park [Third and Chestnut Sts.; 215/597-8974], which has the Liberty Bell. A copy of the Declaration of Independence is in the park at Independence Hall [Chestnut St., between Fifth and Sixth Sts.]. Old City is actually a mix of old and new—there are lots of good restaurants, like the Griffin Café [230 Market St.; 215/829-1050] and Fork [306 Market St.; 215/625-9425].
Of course you've got to try a cheese steak—ask for fried onions, hot peppers, and extra provolone on top. I'm partial to the ones at Tony Luke's [39 E. Oregon Ave.; 215/551-5725], but they're good at almost any deli. And don't forget to have a soft pretzel—they're sold from carts all over and are way better than the famous New York ones, which you basically have to use a saw to break. For pizza it's Mama Palma's [2229 Spruce St.; 215/735-7357]. They have weird toppings, like Peking duck, but my combo is bacon, sausage, and pepperoni. My parents call it a heart attack on a plate.
For fresh air, head to Penn's Landing [Columbus Blvd., between Market and South Sts.; 215/922-2386], a huge wharf. On Sunday afternoons in the summer, there's music and crafts, and sometimes magicians and animal shows. At night you can see the moon on the water, and the stars seem to be falling toward you.