We had really enjoyed the Club Quarters hotel from our previous visit. The staff was great, the location couldn't be beat, and the price was right. So we stayed there again. This time we upgraded to a room with a kitchenette. We enjoyed the extra space -- plus the small refrigerator and the microwave. The hotel is within walking distance of most attractions, including Drexel, and public transit is easily accessible for more distant locations. Traffic in center city Philadelphia is horrendous, so we didn't even consider taking a car. As on our last trip we caught the train from Charlottesville.

Franklin Institute

One attraction that we didn't visit on our earlier trip was the Franklin Institute. Jim had very fond memories of this vibrant place from his childhood.

It IS vibrant and educational -- but it helps to be under the age of twelve, like most of our fellow guests.

Ben Franklin

The statue of Ben Franklin dominates the rotunda.

It is hard to overestimate the impact that Franklin had, not only on the formation of our democracy, but on the knowledge of the world around us. He might not quite rank as a scientist with Isaac Newton or Galileo, but he isn't far behind.

As a statesman he has few parallels.

Some quotes attributed to him seem especially timely:

  • Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.
  • They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
  • Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom - and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.
  • Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.

Hands-on water

A favorite exhibit was a water table with mud and flowing water The children loved getting their hands dirty and building dams in an attempt to stop the water (a futile exercise).

This is a more hygenic way to learn the same things that I experimented with in gutters and ditches when I was a child -- without benefit of hand sanitizer.

Newton's Attic

Another room full of various experiments to illustrate the concept of physics was called "Sir Isaac's Loft." Pandemonium reigned supreme!

There was an video called The Way Things Go, which portrayed a complicated sequence of contraptions, mostly dealing with fire, water and tires. Jim and I watched it for about twenty minutes. I'm happy to say that the children were more interested in active participation rather than passive watching.

The Brain

Jim remembered an exhibit of a huge heart that you could walk through. It was still there, but somewhat worn. We had the misfortune to visit it with about a half-dozen very noisy kids and it was rather claustrophobic and filled with steep and twisty stairs.

This newer exhibit was on the brain. The nets and pathways appeared to represent neural networks. But who cares, the kids were having a grand time crawling and climbing all over the place. The picture doesn't capture the decibel levels!


A quieter portion of the museum focused on railroads. The centerpiece of that exhibit was the Baldwin 60000, an experimental steam engine built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. The locomotive was very powerful, but also heavy and complicated to operate. Although it met its design goals the design never went into production and it was donated (sold for $1) to the Institute in the 1930s (?).

Jim remembered that his maternal grandfather had worked for Baldwin. We had a selection of old railroad equipment that we have found a home for with a local collector.

Sky Bike

One of the exhibits at the Institute was high over the food court. The SkyBike enabled a child to ride across the court on a high wire. The bike was balanced with a large counterweight to keep it upright. Plus there was a safety net and assorted cables that would enable staff to pull back a recalcitrant child.

We laughed that our first thought would have been an attempt to dump the bike overboard! Or jump.


Our next destination was the Septa office to get permanent senior id cards. This would enable us to ride free without having to haul out our Medicare cards each time. Our route took us down Franklin Parkway to City Hall where we found this very popular plaza fountain. The little girl shown here was conducting an experiment to see what would happen if she stepped on one of the fountain shooters. The answer: it apparently detects the back-pressure and disables that rank of shooters. She may not be aware that she is a budding scientist, but she is. I hope no one squashes that instinct of curiosity as she grows older. Take that kid to the Franklin Institute!

Philadelphia City Hall

On our way to Septa we asked at City Hall about tours. Taking one had been on our to-do list for this trip. Alas, the tower was undergoing repairs, as seen by the fact that William Penn is enveloped in scaffolding, and wasn't open for tours.

Next time!

Reading Terminal

Being in the neighborhood we had to visit the old Reading Terminal, now the Pennsylvania Convention Center. We took many a "ride on the Reading" to visit Jim's folks in the days before passenger service was stopped in the 1980s.

Jim & Philbert

Philbert, the Reading Terminal Market's "piggy bank," raises money for The Food Trust.

We had cheesesteaks at Spartaros, shown in the background. Next time we'll try Carmens, which had a better write-up in Trip Advisor (and a much longer waiting line). As if we weren't stuffed enough, we topped it off with ice cream at Bassetts, the oldest ice cream company in the US (there's a lot of that kind of thing in Philly).


On our walk back to the hotel we passed this old building that I had noticed on our earlier visit. It was an elegant structure with a gosh-awful plate-glass excrescence on the lower floors. Someone has purchased it and is in the process of (we hope) restoring it to its former beauty. The facade that had been covered by the glass is heavily damaged so we hope that it can be recovered. Click to see the remuddled facade.

After our excursion we returned to the hotel for a break. I had brought my fiddle along since I'm planning an intensive program of practice that will lead to memorized tunes and better playing. I brought the music for only a couple of tunes and found that spending a week practicing only two tunes, although pretty boring, leads to great progress! Git down!

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