I had a slightly abnormal childhood in many ways, and one of those was just how many different places I lived. Some of my fondest memories though come from spending most of elementary school in Northeastern Pennsylvania in what I now call “The Office” Territory – Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and so on. Every few months, more during baseball season, as a family we would visit Philadelphia to do some shopping, or watch a Phillies game or just appreciate the history of the city. Those were good trips and of what I can still recall, it’s thanks to those experiences that I’ve always liked Philadelphia. The problem is, I haven’t been back since then, not since the mid-80s even though I live less than 2 hours away from Philadelphia by train. That’s a little strange, and is just another reason why I was so happy to have the chance to return and explore the city again, relearning and reacquainting myself with what is a completely different city than the one I knew as a kid, in all of the best ways possible.
Why Hospitality and Personality Matters
I’ve written a lot about upscale travel and hospitality and with good reason – they matter. The way in which you enjoy your time in a city depends as much on the service and quality of a great hotel just as it does what you see and experience. That’s why I was so happy to work with Curio – A Collection by Hilton on this trip to Philadelphia. The goal was simple, to share how I experience Philadelphia, from the major sights to those little moments of joy that I discovered along the way. I’m actually going to devote another post to Curio, that’s how impressed I was by them, but briefly said their properties include unique hotels and resorts around the world that are definitely NOT a cookie cutter experience. They each have their own spirit and soul and, more importantly, they each perfectly reflect the cities they call home. I was compensated for my time by Curio, but as always my thoughts and opinions are always entirely my own.
The Logan Hotel is a shining example of this lovingly quirky style; a mix of refinement, art and service that together create special moments. The way in which they embrace the city, from food offerings to the locally inspired artwork all motivated me to get out on my own and discover what makes Philadelphia so great. On any trip we take, it’s the local experiences and special moments that define the city for us. None of us have the same experience in a new city, no two of us feel the exact same way about a new destination. That’s why I was so excited for this opportunity, and what I discovered surprised and delighted me in ways that can at times be rare, but ultimately are the reasons why we all travel in the first place.
Learning to Love the Food
Food isn’t only one of the most important aspects of learning about a new city, but it can be at times difficult. It can be hard to know the best places to visit or what the iconic not-to-miss local favorites are. Luckily, I have friends in Philadelphia who, along with the concierge team at The Logan Hotel, were able to direct me to some truly outstanding dishes during my short time in the city. That was really my only problem; there wasn’t enough time to eat everything I wanted to try. The best way I found though in Philadelphia to enjoy as much of that classic local cuisine for which is the city is so very well known is to simply spend some time exploring the massive Reading Terminal Market. First opening its doors in the 1890s, today there are more than 100 merchants set inside this classic building. What’s more important though are who those merchants are: small cafes and restaurants, cheesemongers and bakers and everything else a great market should have, including classic Philly delicacies. Suddenly wishing I had more stomachs than I currently possess, I took bites of as many different things as I could, finishing none but enjoying all. We all know Philly’s famous cheesesteak, but the city’s obsession with meat only begins there. Sausages, pork sandwiches, brisket – you name it, and people were enjoying it at lunchtime. The roast pork in particular interested me because outsiders don’t hear a lot about it, but for many folks who call Philadelphia home, it’s the best sandwich in town. Seasoned and cooked to perfection and served with provolone cheese and (usually) broccoli rabe, it is indeed one of those rare perfect sandwich combinations. Cheesesteaks are great, but the roast pork sandwiches definitely give them a run for their money; just one of many ways I learned to love and appreciate the food throughout the city.
Learning to Love the Sights
As one of America’s oldest and most historically important cities, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in Philadelphia. I soon learned that three days were nowhere close to being enough, so I made it a point to visit some of what I thought would be personal highlights. Walking through the Colonial-era Old City on a Bow Tie Tour, exploring nearby areas on my own and investigating the Parkway Museums District were all how I chose to spend my time. One of my favorite stops though was one I’d wanted to visit for a very long time – Eastern State Penitentiary. Opened in 1829, this was the world’s first true penitentiary. Penitent – the idea was that no man was past saving, if only they had the opportunity to reflect on their crimes. That doesn’t mean this was an easy place to be – Eastern State was a hard life. Each prisoner was in solitary confinement with limited access to the outdoors. The many eerie hallways were actually made to feel like a church – always keeping that idea of penitence in mind. The prison finally closed in 1971, this massive fortress in the city no longer practical. For years it was abandoned, and a small forest even grew in the cellblocks. It was a blight, which is why the city thoughtfully brought it back to life and in the 1990s, it became the city’s newest and perhaps most unlikely tourist attraction. I loved every second though of exploring the corridors and small nooks around Eastern State, a type of industrial beauty that you don’t see every day.
Learning to Love the Spirit
What’s most important to me when I visit a city is how I feel; what I perceive to be the spirit of that new place. Like snowflakes, no two cities are the same and the way in which we experience them are intensely personal. I’ve run afoul of that here on this site, criticizing cities other people love, but that’s the beauty of travel, that’s what makes it so much fun. Travel is an intensely personal experience and it’s always unpredictable, making any trip an adventure. Thinking back to before I left home, I felt neutral about Philadelphia. Since I hadn’t visited in decades, I didn’t have a lot to base my opinion on other than the fact I have a few friends who live there. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed my time exploring the city so much, I was rediscovering the city again but because it had been so long, it was essentially a brand new experience for me.
Where we spend the night also matters, and The Logan Hotel couldn’t have better prepared me for understanding the spirit of the city. It sounds hokey, and it probably is, but this hotel recently went through a massive overhaul, changing everything, and in the process incorporated elements that represent what they love most about Philadelphia. Every art piece, no matter how small is a nod to the city and neighborhood; the rooftop lounge offers sweeping views and even many menu items are a reflection of the city. One morning I was in the elevator and a staff member entered behind me. He asked me what I thought of the newly remodeled hotel and after saying I liked it, he was beaming. “Good,” he said, “I just always hope everyone loves it here as much as I do.” That’s a special moment, that says something and it’s not a sentiment that can be planned or rehearsed, it just has to happen. If The Logan is representative of what the other Curio Collection hotels must be like, I can’t wait to experience their other destinations, just as unique and just as passionate about sharing their communities with me through their delicate but expertly guided hand.