If Montreal, Amsterdam and East London had a love child who was raised in the US it would be Philadelphia.
It might just be one of the best kept secrets in The United States.
Borrowing its name from the city of ancient Lydia in Asia Minor, the Englishman William Penn indeed intended it to take on its literal meaning of 'the city of brotherly love'.
Proud of its founding principle as inclusive and welcoming where all types of people (except for the native Indians who were eventually squeezed out of their lands on the river, oh the irony) could co-habitate in peace & prosperity, Philadelphia combines the youthful spirit of a well educated 20-something and the grand elegance of the first capital of The United States.
Wise beyond its years and bursting with character it would take a whole year of immersion to dig deep beyond the surface, beckoning a Virgil-style adventure through the infernal inner-city madness and sensory surprises every few steps.
Philadelphia has both that's for sure, with it's obvious prosperity and poverty layered from the ground up.
Literally a collage of enticing window displays, it's a walker's paradise especially if you love to pop in and out of boutiques, bookstores, eateries and markets stretched over days of non-stop exploring.
Joseph Fox Bookstore or the plethora of second-hand book stores, a tour of which takes you past the Old City and the Liberty Bell, and the Italian inspired neighbourhoods of South Street and South Philly where you can sneak into Isgro's for an Almond Horn.
... Or any one of the 87 farmers markets that serve the region with the freshest produce & local crafts you'll find.
The most central is Reading Terminal Market, a feast for the senses. This is a place for indulging in sit-down-and-eat oysters, baklava, donuts, pulled pork sandwiches and all kinds of imaginable tasty culinary naughtiness that the US is so famed for.
A city that knows its art from its elbow, you will love the striking murals that celebrate various social or cultural ideologies and understand why artists & designers flock here.
Make time for Magic Gardens, Isaiah Zagar's largest public artwork, an outdoor maze created with bike wheels, ceramics, glittering mirrors and broken bottles.
Coffee lovers will think they've woken up in in a parallel universe.
Philly's homage to the bean is palpable on every street and corner.
Make a date with the husband and wife founders of Function Coffee Labs whose European travels inspired a more scientific extraction of flavour from single origins, and who encourage an appreciation of the subtleties of flavour previously only fully developed by connoisseurs of wine.
Surprisingly bike-friendly, by far the best way to explore is to grab some wheels, don a helmet and hit the road. Philly offers a simple, often one-way, grid system; orientation takes about an hour. Get from A to B faster than driving.
But it would be madness to stay in the city.
The Schuylkil River Trail offers a scenic 60 miles of panoramic vistas to explore, offering easy access to Wissahickon Valley Park and a smooth trail that starts and loops back around to the Museum of Art, more impressive from the outside than in.
By far the most European city in the United States with its cafes, markets and even its energy, Philadelphia is worth planning a trip for in itself, although it's only an hour by train from New York, too. In fact many of the city's residents commute to NYC daily for their 9-5.
This is a city for seasoned travellers to savour slowly and devour with all your senses.
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