The City of Brotherly Love

Costa Rica

Rocky Balboa, the last in the plucky underdog battles through movies has put the City of Brotherly Love back in the spotlight. I visited Philly, Sylvester Stallone’s home beat, and found the cradle of a nation proud, fit and ready to go 15 rounds with any of the top US destinations.

Take the bus tour.

William Penn (family seat, Buckinghamshire) founded Philadelphia (literally “loving brother') in 1682. It’s the oldest city in the US, and one of the few to boast several centuries of genuine, stand-out history. It makes New York, 80 miles away, look like a newcomer. The 90 minute bus tour joins up the many architectural highlights, including several versions of Greek temples and the splendid 548 ft high City Hall. We felt like returning heroes, minus tickertape, on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, lined with the flags of many nations, including Wales. It’s a sumptuous itinerary, over the Schulkill River, past Philadelphia Zoo, the USA’s first. Then back through Philly’s elegant, ancient heart, past 300 year old Elfreth’s Alley, the nation's oldest residential street.
City Tour £13.30.

The Rocky Road.

Don’t run too fast up the famous Rocky steps, leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art – (now 13th among Entertainment’s “101 Most Awesome Moments.”) There’s lots more walking ahead in the galleries of one of the world’s great art collections. Later, at a slow amble, we sampled segments of the training runs Sly took all over Philly. There’s a “Rocky Philadelphia Weekend” (on foot, trolley or car,, taking in the Italian market, the country’s oldest and biggest, where he toughened up by punching sides of meat. Taker a break at Sabrina’s Café (Christian Street) for French toast and frittatas stuffed with cheese. Isgro’s, nearby, does great cannolis. Adrian’s, Rocky’s restaurant in the film, is Victor’s Café.

Choose the cheesesteak

It’s one of the most famous standoffs in fast food. Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's stare each other down across 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue. Cheesesteak was invented here and each one claims to serve the very best (around the clock), although Johnny Hot, Tony Luke, Chicks Deli and Chinks, other past Best of Philly winners, would argue the point. Cheesesteak is sliced pieces of steak with one of three types of cheese on a hoagie roll, a long Italian bread. (Rocky calls by at Pat’s for an cheesesteak during training.) To win the grudging respect of a local, ask for “cheesesteak wit' or 'witout' (you get onions, or no onions). A certain George W got it right. Never, ever (like Presidential candidate John Kerry) ask for Swiss cheese.

Salute king Tut.

200 years after they ran George III’s army out of town and washed their hands of monarchy, the locals welcomed back a king. This was the world’s star travelling exhibition, featuring 130 objects from among the fabulous 3,000 year old treasures buried with the boy king in his tomb. It’s 30 years since the golden artifacts last toured. (But not the mask, which never leaves Cairo). The audio tour was narrated by Omar Sharif. This show needed big blocks for the queues to bust, and Philly obliged.

Liberty chimes

It’s the world’s rarest music, the chiming of the 2,000-pound Liberty Bell, symbol of the nation’s freedom from Great Britain. Cast in England in 1751, it last sounded for Washington's Birthday in 1846. And not even another win for Rocky will persuade them to ever ring it again. Instead it basks every night in glorious, glowing light in a new £7m glass pavilion, in full view of Independence Square. This entire complex of original buildings on the square, the launch pad for the USA, is now a national park. Soft-hatted rangers led us on the excellent tour through the gracious old Independence Hall. It’s much as it as when the states first united in 1776 to sign the elegantly written Declaration of Independence, penned by Jefferson. (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ….”)

Eat to the Havana beat.

The allure of Cuba! It started with illicit cigars. Then America embraced that wicked Latin rhythm from Havana. Now food is the latest US import from the forbidden island. Douglas Rodriguez, son of Cuban immigrants to Miami, is the rising star of “Nuevo Latino” cuisine. We tried updated Cuban classics in his new place Alma de Cuba - tables set with red-oil lamps on green mosaic tile floors. Almond-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon with cabrales cheese (aged in mountain caves), and rum-cured marlin for starters. Our mains were crisp roasted pork with sour orange mojo, served with congri (red beans and white rice) and sweet plantains, and honey grilled swordfish, with sweet pea mash and mushroom escabeche. The cost, including my neat Cuban cliché of a pudding, a fat chocolate cigar (almond cake wrapped in chocolate mousse) and wine? £86.

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