On rainy days early Friday afternoon the streets of Manayunk are quiet. Despite the quiet, if you look around, you can see the merchants gearing up for the busy nightlife to come. Manayunk is a section of Philadelphia 15 minutes from Center City, King of Prussia, and the Mainline running along the Schuylkill River, with a strip full of many diverse shops, restaurants, spas and recreational facilities packed into a very small space.
One wonders how they survive. How do all of these restaurants compete with each other? I walk down the street looking at all of the stores, restaurants and businesses in wonder. I like to come here in the early afternoon when fewer things are open and the streets are not crowded and one can have a choice of quiet restaurants at which to dine. I notice that some businesses have closed, but only a few, leaving the storefront properties available right there on the main street. It is prime commercial real estate to be taken by someone who will add their commercial interests to a place booming with business and activities in the evening hours and weekends. The Manayunk Stroll the Street program initiated this past summer to introduce visitors to Manayunk has helped make the business district even more visible.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day every Thursday this summer one could shop, walk, and stroll through the neighborhood late into the evening. The majority of the restaurants, bars and recreation facilities participated with free offerings. From enjoying $6 spiked lemonades from Bourbon Blue, or Spritz Watermelon Margaritas, or Pink Punch at Craft Manayunk along with some spiced chicken skewers to Jakes Wine Bar where you could enjoy Napa Pinot Noir or Pan Seared Figs with Gremzelax Crisp Prosciutto and Port wine reduction, you could enjoy your walk paying $6 for food and drink. Most likely next summer the same type of adventure, due to its success, will await you. Be prepared to stroll the streets and enjoy the nightlife. There are always activities in this small section of Philadelphia not only in the summer and night, but all year round, (more than I can possibly list in this article) and their calendar is readily available online.
If you would like to explore some adventure off the beaten path right in your backyard and not in crowded downtown Center City, Manayunk is available for you all year round and close to many of the suburban cities. You can find out more about this small, but popular, section of the city at www.manayunk.com. Just take a look at their events, or better yet, sign up for the newsletter or the online magazine so that you will be ready, at any time, to take advantage of the adventure that awaits.
As children living outside of Philadelphia in the ’60s and ’70s we thought of it as a large, dirty old useless city. As far as we knew there was violence everywhere; every street had a gang associated with it; the Mafia would often fight it out on the streets of South Philly; and the prostitutes, drug dealers and organized crime was known to reside at 13th and Locust streets — the Red Light District, right in Center City. The main train station (30th Street Station) was filled with empty holes and caverns where businesses used to be some time in the distant past. The most viable station we often saw in transit was the 69th Street Terminal, which had many dirty, shabby shops and restaurants and slimy, slippery floors. Philadelphia was a place to be avoided at all costs.
Even so, I remember visiting every so often on hot summer’s nights later as a young adult. I remember taking the Elevated line from 69th Street, getting off on Market Street, and walking down to Penn’s Landing for free concerts. Penn’s Landing was always extraordinarily hot. There were bleachers, more like stair steps made of stone and concrete, and not a tree or piece of shade in sight. Now, on the waterfront, there are free summer concerts at Spruce Harbor Park.
Multi-colored lights hang from the trees, and people swing in the breeze in hammocks in the shaded areas underneath. Picnic benches surround the stage where the band plays. The music can be heard from everywhere, even the lounge chairs looking out over the ice-cream parlors, snack bars, and restaurants on the long boardwalk that runs along the river. From the boardwalk you look out on the water and see small boats, large ships, and even naval vessels harbored there. Someone goes by on a goose shaped paddle boat straight out of a Snow White Disney Cartoon, as people are walking, eating, or sitting and talking.
Several docks are set together in a square configuration that resembles a manmade lake or very deep pool enclosing floating gardens. Large stores and museums are at one end of the Harbor Park portion of the boardwalk and a Hilton Hotel is nearby, while giant ships turned into high class restaurants are moored at the other end. You can enjoy walking on the boardwalk or through the shady park, maybe even stop for lunch in one of the luxury restaurants. Whatever is your choice.
The band plays. This time a Cuban Band, maybe something else next time. Cuban Jazz and Salsa music fills the space as we sit trying to eat our ice cream before it melts in the 90 degree heat. It is good to be in the shade listening to music and watching a few people dance, moving to the Latin beat.
We walk out of the park and go a few blocks down Columbus Avenue. We climb the stairs to the bridge leading over this six lane road to find a cross-over with a stone and brick slab designs on the floor and not a scrap of paper in sight. Large, red-brick flower-box gardens line the sides full of echinacea, daisies, sunflowers and gardenias creating an elevated urban garden.
Descending from this garden, we make our way down the cobblestone streets. We walk down Dock Street, make a hook around many large, stone buildings and monuments to find a Chinese restaurant where we have an early dinner. We are in no hurry. Spot Hero, an internet parking app, gives us more than 20 hours of nearby parking for $14 in a lot that usually costs $16 per hour. But we will not stay that long.
We end the day on a pleasant note. The day has been good. I begin to reimagine Philadelphia. The whole riverfront has been redeveloped. The little broken down, dirty city that I remembered doesn’t exist any more. I want to explore the new, lively version of the city more fully. Old City seems to have come back to life, near the riverfront anyway, and the stations. I would like to see the rest.
From Lindbergh Boulevard it is difficult to tell where Bartram’s Village ends and Bartram’s Garden begins. Bartram’s Village, built in 1942, began as a housing project built adjacent to Bartram’s Garden, and was one of the oldest in Philadelphia. In 2018 the Bartram’s Garden Project received a 1.3 Million Kickstarting Grant to revitalize it into mixed income apartment buildings. Bartram’s Garden’s Boathouse, which we were seeking, is located along the river behind what is now Bartram’s Garden Village. It offers several opportunities for boating several times a week with kayaks, tandem kayaks, row boats, and paddle boats. Its position along the Schuylkill river makes it a prime location. The water is very smooth and the river wide at the Boathouse launch. But on weekdays the offices and welcome center close at 4 making the evening boating launch difficult to find for those unfamiliar with the area.
The GPS leads one down highway 76 and off the Passyunk Avenue exit. After many twists and turns we come to an empty lot with locked gates. The scene is surreal. We enter a small parking lot along a fence with small patches of grass beginning to break through the parking spaces as nature begins to reclaim the asphalt and concrete. We see a very large towering sign saying Bartram’s Garden, but no people. We don’t find any signs or instructions, only a walking path leading in two directions that seems to go nowhere. A road only open to authorized vehicles leads deeper in. We are lost. We look around for signs. They don’t exist.
We find one man fishing near the deserted parking lot who directs us to go farther down the road to the next turn. He motions to the bridge farther down the river where we see several row boats and kayaks along the river bank. We drive back out onto the busy, cracked, concrete road and turn right heading pass many large, brick buildings. They look old, but renovated. The small, brown sign we pass with yellow writing on the right side of the road says Boathouse, but points into several buildings. We continue until we come to the next twisting street and turn right.
The name of the housing complex is also called Bartram’s Garden for short, which is a bit confusing, but we continue to drive until we come to a sign that says parking. We drive down a narrow road pass several close to buildings, park off to the side of a circle, and make our way onto a wide, asphalt walking path, not sure which direction to take. We only see long grass and weeds. Some of it near the road has been trimmed with much left wild and many paths leading into nowhere like the Vincent Van Gogh painting of The Wheat Field. The next sign that says Boathouse points into a clump of weeds. We keep walking. Our persistence pays off. After almost 15 minutes of following the path it loops around the field of weeds and we come to a picnic table near the Boathouse where we have lunch. In the meantime people are arriving to open the Boathouse for their Summer Tuesday Free Boating Event. Guests are beginning to show up.
Soon everything is ready. Life jackets are provided for everyone. We sign a waiver, learn the necessary rules, are reminded of a 30 minute limit, and are ready to go. The volunteers and employees are very helpful when it comes to choosing the right life jackets, choosing the right boats, and helping us step down into boats constantly shifting back and forth under our weight as we climb in. In a tandem kayak with life jackets on, whistles attached just in case of an emergency, and black shiny paddles, we push off heading up the river toward the designated limits — a tree in one direction and down river a large, metal bridge.
We row out into the river on the smooth current moving ever closer to the tree and examine it and a few gardens growing on what used to be docks. We move along the shore, and even move back and forth across the large river a few times noticing several nooks and crannies we could probably explore along the way, but not on our first trip. We want to see as much as we can. We head down toward the bridge. Before we reach it, our time has ended. We return to the smiling faces at the dock, disembark and attain our goods that were left safe at the docks. It was a good afternoon and an interesting place that we may never have noticed except for the internet and our persistence.
Bartram’s Garden offers many opportunities for those who are interested: Summer Tuesday Free Boating; Saturday Free Boating which includes free bike rentals to ride The Bartram’s Mile Trail the third Saturday of each month; and Every Last Wednesday Free Fishing with rods, bait and instruction provided. Bartram Gardens also offers memberships on many levels, that allow one to partake of classes and community events as well as get organic foods from their Sankofa Community Farm. This hidden enclave on the backside of Bartram’s Village and along the river, offers many opportunities for those who live in the congested neighborhoods nearby. It is just down the road from many small homes and apartments offering summer fun and also education opportunities on gardening, nutrition, and health and wellness in a safe, family setting.
Bartram’s Garden wants to revitalize downtrodden communities through education and community, and through helping to revitalize unused plots of land in the city for the good of the whole community. You can find out more about Bartram’s Garden and their many volunteer opportunities at www.bartramsgarden.org or call 215-729-5281.
Oldest Botanical Garden In The USA.
According to Wikipedia, “Bartram’s Garden is the oldest surviving botanical garden in the United States. John Bartram (1699–1777), the well-known early American botanist, explorer, and plant collector, founded the garden in September 1728 when he purchased a 102-acre (0.41 km2) farm in Kingsessing Township, Philadelphia County.” It was run for several years focusing on research and the transatlantic sale of native, North American plants. It came upon hard times in 1850 and was sold to Andrew M. Eastwick.
Eastwick continued running the business and continuing the botanical research until his death in 1879. There was a movement to preserve the garden and its resources. Eventually after raising funds and with help from an organization in Boston, the garden was turned over to the city of Philadelphia. Bartram’s Garden Village (previously Batram’s Garden Housing Project) which is very close to the Garden, is close enough to almost be considered the same land.
Since the invention of the internet and better technology, small towns with a lot of activities are the places that offer the best of both worlds — the excitement of the city and the warmth of a small community. Many of the small towns in Montgomery county and other areas, like some of the sections of Philadelphia, are beginning to blossom and offer the type of community people want. The borough of Ambler in Montgomery County, Pa. offers the tranquility of a small town with a lot of activity. It is easy to walk the streets instead of driving, while taking full advantage of the many amenities. There is a building boom taking place. Houses and condos are being built rapidly, or renovated, in this town that has been recognized as the best small town in PA by Thrillist Travel in 2017. The infrastructure that suits the millennial population’s need has developed.
There is no need to drive all the way to the next city or even downtown. You can easily walk or bike. Even so, if you want to drive or are a visitor you can. There are meters in the downtown section. During lunchtime hours, after six, and Sundays they are all free. If you cannot find parking on the street there is a large municipal parking lot right at the center of all of the activity. You can also find parking in the nearby residential areas on the street. No need to drive all the way to the city anymore. You can find the activities right there and not bring the car. You can walk if you’re a resident, or bike, if you would like, to get to the exciting, hot spots.
Just down Main Street you see two coffee shops plus other places that sell coffee, ice cream parlors, Gelato bars, Indian Mexican food restaurants, and even large Yoga studios, dance classes, hardware stores, and pizza shops. On week nights the trees are lit up in a girdle of bright, white lights, along the main street that gives adds to the festive atmosphere. Crowds of people mill around traveling to various places. The crowds are not overwhelming and hard to navigate. There is a feeling of excitement in the air. One can get around easily looking at the various shops. Music is pouring out of some of the restaurants. People are talking — some are eating water ice and others are going in and out of Limon’s Mexican Restaurant. Everything is alive and buzzing.
You hear a band playing at the Lucky Well, right across the street from the Ambler Theater, a Non-Profit 501c3 membership theater that plays both first run and alternative movies. Want live theater? In the same block Act ll theater offers live performances of plays and musical performances. Just at the end of the Main Street you walk into the Sweet Briar Cafe, famous for its many flavors of ice cream and deserts. It serves you a variety of meals. Breakfast lunch and dinner served in a warm setting with friendly waitstaff. Several booths located close together permit the unplanned conversation between residents of the community while dining and relaxing. It is a small town where people know each other.
If you want more you can explore the many other shops and stores off the beaten path, but close to Main Street. You can enjoy many festivals during the summer including a Restaurant Week Festival, The Annual Ambler Bike Race, and just south of the town a trail that is an extension of Wissahickon Park Trail. Very close by in the town of Gwyned, celebrate the coming of autumn by sampling many types of beer at the Oktoberfest. These are just a few things happening that you can take advantage of in this small, but growing, exciting town.
Liming Spokane On A Sunny Afternoon — Old friend Dr. John Gilmore is back as a travel writer. Hopefully, you see him regularly.
ByJohn W. Gilmore
Using a Lime Scooter for transportation is enjoyable and convenient in Spokane, WA. The small, electric scooter moves slowly, allowing me to look at the shops, stores and buildings that I would pass too quickly in a car, while allowing me to travel a longer distance than on foot.
Spokane, a city with almost a quarter million people, seems to have been created to support a much larger population. The streets are wide and the infrastructure well defined. Everything is clean, unlike most cities of its size in the US. There are people moving about, but the streets downtown never seem crowded. The openness of the large spaces and wide streets provide a feeling of quiet and tranquility. The large spaces are probably a leftover benefit from a world expo that took place here in the 1970s when they built many buildings and improved the infrastructure to accommodate large numbers of tourists.
A Lyft driver who has lived here all of his life told me that this downtown section isn’t the only downtown section.
“The city is very long running along the river, There are a lot of malls and business districts dispersed all along the city so there are clumps of people at different places,” he said. “The part we are in is mostly for Conventions” (thus the Spokane Convention Center).
He says there are many office buildings, banks, and a very large number of hotels in this part of town, which makes it convenient and inexpensive for people from out of town to fly in just to use the facilities. “A lot of people fly in from all over the west coast to save money. It’s cheaper to fly in here from all along the coast and even from Seattle to have meetings, because it doesn’t cost that much. We are geared for it here. We also spend more money than most cities on clean up and maintenance.”
Perhaps this part of city seems so quiet because of this. The large size with fewer people provides a great deal of comfort for the people who live there. It is a very long city with activities taking place in pockets. You don’t get that crushed in, rushing feeling you get in most downtown areas in the southern part of the city near The Convention Center with its many business related buildings and hotel complexes. There is a laid back feeling in this small city, but there are very few people of color. I float around as a stranger — a large black man over six feet tall and 260 pounds, receiving none of the strange looks and glances I receive in many East Coast cities, suburbs, and small towns, which is a bit refreshing. I find what I am seeking — Atticus Coffee Shop on Howard St.. It is said that one can tell the quality of a city by its coffee shop.
The coffee shop is full of people on this weekday afternoon. They sell many coffee related wares: beans, teas, cups, coffee pots and all of the rich, delectable desserts that go wellcwith coffee. In the rear whole families gather together sharing coffee at a small cafe cut into the store just for the purpose of large group gatherings. The tables are heavy, dark wood. Some are large enough to accommodategroups of six to eight with smaller two and four seater tables nearby crunched together in an adjacent space. Service is good, but just a bit slower, more relaxed than in larger cities.
People move in and out looking at the wares. Some, who are just interested in the coffee, enter in through the backdoor taking a break from their daily activities to catch a quick cup. There are many desserts, condiments, and more teas than I know much about. The baristas seem happy and relaxed, like many of the people I have seen in the part of town near the convention center and The Riverwalk.
This is a slice of their daily lives, but to me just a chance to hang out in a new city; a time after a busy conference when I can collect myself before a long flight with two connections across the country. I am the ultimate tourist, not engaging in much, but drifting from one place to the next just watching the people. I am the only black person in this whole coffee shop. There are very few in the city, but I have seen a few Latino individuals and black people as I took my Lyft around town.
Many of the black and Latin American drivers have drifted in from other cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles looking for quieter lifestyles and a smaller city. They seem happy to be here. I have heard, however, that there are some racial issues, but no more than in the rest of the country. I have not experienced them myself, yet again, I don’t live here. I still haven’t seen everything, and doubt that I will. It is not something I think of regularly anymore. There are other things you can concentrate on here as a tourist.
Taking a slow ride along Riverwalk, you cross a bridge over the falls with a spectacular view filling you with inspiration. You wind pass large buildings, museums, gondolas suspended on steel cables perched high waiting to take you on your sunset tour over the falls. In the other direction on your Lime you drive through the Spokane Falls Community College with its winding paths weaving through large, stone buildings, and modern architecture until you arrive back at The Convention Center where you can start again.
These scooters are not attached to any one part of town. You find one parked by the side of the road, unlock it with an app, and then drop it off at your destination. No money exchanges hands. It works like an Uber so you can pick one up and leave it as you would like. It is a great way to see Spokane. Don’t get caught riding on the sidewalks though. I have heard you can get a ticket for it as l was riding on the sidewalk along…with everybody else. Yet again, I think it is a little safer.
The National Park Service (NPS) is heralding a report that shows that 9,005,244 visitors to national parks in Pennsylvania spent $395.6 million in the state in 2014. That spending resulted in 6,678 jobs and had a cumulative benefit to the state economy of $566.2 million, the NPS claims.
“The national parks of Pennsylvania attract visitors from across the country and around the world,” said Northeast Regional Director Mike Caldwell. “Whether they are out for an afternoon, a school field trip, or a month-long family vacation, visitors come to have a great experience, and end up spending a little money along the way. This new report shows that national park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy – returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service – and a big factor in our state’s economy as well, a result we can all support.”
Pennsylvania’s national parks: Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, Eisenhower National Historic Site, Flight 93 National Memorial, Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Friendship Hill National Historic Site, Gettysburg National Military Park, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Independence National Historical Park, Johnstown Flood National Memorial, Steamtown National Historic Site, Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, Upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, and Valley Forge National Historical Park.
According to the 2014 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (30.6 percent) followed by food and beverages (20.3 percent), gas and oil (11.9 percent), admissions and fees (10.2 percent) and souvenirs (9.9 percent).
The 99th Pennsylvania Farm Show, the largest indoor agriculture exposition along the East Coast, is Jan. 10-17 at the Farm Show Complex near Harrisburg. It will feature thousands of commercial and agricultural exhibits and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, says State Rep. Jim Cox (R-129).
New activities will include a larger food court, cheese competition, food demonstrations by well-known chefs, a high-tech WoodMobile, lumberjack demonstrations and an Ag Olympics.
Admission is free with a $10 fee for parking and shuttle service.
Impulcity.com has named the top 17 Christmas towns and Bethlehem, Pa is number 1.
“Bethlehem has gained its name of “Christmas City U.S.A.” because it’s completely dedicated to keeping big business out of the holiday season, and sticking to original Christmas traditions,” Impulcity says. “It seems like there’s something going on every day of December to get people into the holiday spirit.”
Impulcity specifically cites Christkindlmarkt and the “epic” gingerbread competitions.
It should also be noted that Paradise, Pa. in Lancaster County ranks number 5.
“It holds the National Christmas Center of America, which even has its own store and 20,000 square feet of exhibits,” says Impulcity.