Categories
day trip dog friendly neighborhoods outdoors parks

The Navy Yard

The Navy Yard is my favorite getaway destination in Philadelphia when I’m feeling cooped up, like we all are now. There’s a sense of solitude and expanse as you stroll along the Delaware River waterfront. If you’re lucky, there’ll be cormorants hanging out on the piers. Amazing that it was a historic active military base not that long ago. The architecture is a mix : historic abandoned buildings, others that have been refurbished, and minimalist modern compounds of industry.

Getting There

There’s abundant free street parking and some free parking lots. It is a 2+mile hike or bike ride from the NRG stop on the Broad Street line. If you do drive, the front Broad Street gate may be closed on the weekend. To be safe, you can drive in from the Columbus Boulevard approach. You will get to a desolate industrial section and quarry. Don’t panic, just keep driving through until you see brick buildings ahead. We found few restrooms or places to eat that were open on the weekends. Plan accordingly. Or, pack a picnic and a blanket.

Dog-Friendly

There are huge expanses of grass for your dog to romp.  The Marine Corps Parade Grounds grass field was heaven for our shiba. Do keep your dogs leashed since it is popular for dog walks. There are few trash cans around the Park. We found some around URBN and 1 other spot only.

URBN Outfitters

The URBN Outfitters campus of buildings is a great starting place for exploring the Navy Yard. The cafe looks out on a naturally landscaped dry dock. The steps leading up to the watery dock are a favorite scampering place for children and dogs. There’s free parking nearby and Indego bike stations if you feel like a doing a full tour of the Navy Yard. The cafe has never been open when we’ve visited on weekends. It’s on our bucket list to come back and sample the menu this summer.

Central Green Park

Nicely landscaped free park and exercise area in the Navy Yard near Glaxo Smith Kline and Courtyard by Marriott. There’s a .2 mile paved walking/running track, a bocce court, ping pong tables, with a nearby basketball court, restrooms and free parking. It’s so dog-friendly with lush grass that our shiba didn’t want to leave. If you just want to hang out, there’s plenty of seating, between the lawn chairs, hammocks, and park benches. There’s also a tiered concrete seating area for outdoor gatherings and performances, whenever COVID-19 rules allow them. Check out the undulating, optical illusion office building across the street.

Categories
art dog friendly outdoors parks

Pavillion in the Trees

pavillion in the treesPavillion in the Trees, an official Hidden Gem of Fairmount Park, is an immersive outdoor art installation created by Martin Puryear in 1993. It was commissioned by the Association for Public Art, and was inspired by the artist’s longing for a secluded treehouse. The latticed wood pavillion rises 24 feet above the woodland floor and is reached by walking up a 60′ sloping ramp.

How to Find It

Part of the artwork’s allure is how challenging it is to find. Its address–Landsdowne Drive and Horticultural Drive–seems straightforward, but we learned otherwise. We were hosting out-of-town relatives and first-time Philly visitors. They decided Fairmount Park was the one attraction they wanted to explore here with their young children. Armed with both paper map and a map app, we headed out from the Shofuso Japanese House confidently, turned right, then wandered around 2 deadend paths. Scanning the horizon, we saw closed metal gates, deer fencing and caution tape.

We were about to abandon our search, when we spotted a brown wooden structure in the distance, beyond the barricades. “We’ll just go around then”, we agreed. We headed up the road by the Please Touch Museum, but the area was totally fenced in. On a hunch, I yanked at a yellow panel in the fence and it lifted up (see photo). We hefted the children over, avoiding the barbed wire, and we were in! We trooped into the woods following a partially cleared footpath and past a snake. Five minutes later, we found concrete steps and a legitimate path leading to the artwork’s plaque and ramp. Afterwards, we discovered that there are videos online to guide seekers, starting from behind the Horticulture Center.

pavillion in the trees

Repair and Restoration

The Pavillion experience was as solitary, serene and uplifting as promised. Google reviews had forewarned that the “In the trees” aspect was more a memory than a reality in 2019. A marker onsite explains that hundreds of invasive trees in Fairmount Park had to be cut down. The trees and deer were killing the longterm vitality of the forest. The obstacles we encountered were, in part, the protective deer fencing they installed in 2018.

The Pavillion in the Trees, like its owner (the City of Philadelphia), has faced hardship and decline, but is resilient. In 2017, a massive tree fell on the Pavillion. The tree shattered portions of the walkway and the installation had to be closed to visitors. The Association for Public Art rallied a repair crew and the Pavillion reopened in fall 2018.   

We enjoyed our outing and hope to return once the forest has time to reclaim its space.

Pavillion in the Trees

Categories
art holiday outdoors parks special events spring events

Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival

This year will mark our family’s third annual visit to the spectacular Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square Park.

This spring event features 29 towering illuminated lantern sculptures. There are animated and color-changing lantern designs ranging from whimsical to jaw-dropping in their intricacy. The sculptures are constructed onsite by 100+ amazingly skilled artisans from China. The specific designs and themes change each year. Many offer audience interaction (such as walking inside giant shimmering blue whale). Each year, they feature new takes on perennial favorites such as the red welcome gate and frolicking pandas.

Evening Cultural Performances

Time your visit so you can catch the cultural artists’ performances at 7:30 or 9:30 pm. There are acrobats, a lightning fast mask-changer, dancers with spinning plates and more. Our family also enjoyed watching artists create spun sugar Chinese zodiac symbols on a stick or paint designs on grains of rice.

Event Details

For 2019, the event runs from May 1-June 30, with free park admission up to 6pm.  Entry from 6pm-10pm is by paid ticket, when the lanterns are lit up. There is a beer garden plus multiple global and American food choices with fountain-side seating. If your children get antsy, treat them to onsite Philly mini golf or the classic carousel. On good weather weekends, it is advisable to book your tickets online in advance, or face a wait.

 

 

Categories
art creativity neighborhoods outdoors shopping

Cherry Street Pier

cherry street pierOn a blustery October weekend, we trekked from the 2 street station to explore  Cherry Street Pier.  This latest Delaware River waterfront renovation  is next to Race Street Pier and Fringe Arts. The Pier offers close-up, wraparound views of Ben Franklin Bridge.  The $5 million transformation of the 55,000 sq. foot Pier has much to offer. There are walk-in artist studios, sustainable plantings, shopping and food trucks for quick bites and drinks. We saw flyers about music and live entertainment as coming attractions.

FESTIVAL FOR THE PEOPLE

cherry street pierA 3-weekend-long free Festival for the People hosted by Philadelphia Contemporary launched the Pier. This eclectic celebration of visual arts (tattoos to technology) encouraged visitor engagement.  We spun fluorescent sculptures and watched others pecking out verse on old-school manual typewriters. However, we gave a pass to riding industrial tubing seesaws and joining drop-in yoga.

ARTISTS’ STUDIOS

What we enjoyed most was chatting with the artists and exploring their work. We learned that there was a lot of “hurry up and wait” for the artist tenants here. For example, an artist confided she had only 3 days notice to get her space ready! That explains why many studio spaces were still in progress and closed to visitors. It’s described as a gallery shopping experience. So, cherry street pierit would be helpful to see prices for the artworks.

MYSTERY WOOD STRUCTURES

Also, we are curious to discover what the huge wood structures (shown in the yoga photo) are for. They looked like they’re for sitting and eating. But the chairs were too short and tables too massive for us to move. After strolling the Pier, we recommend heading to nearby United by Blue for instagram-worthy french toast and salads.

 

 

 

Categories
art creativity holiday outdoors special events summer events

Last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary

last bastille day at eastern state penitentiaryOn July 14, 2018, I ambled behind hundreds of sweaty revelers down Fairmount to celebrate the last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary. For the past 24 years, the historic prison has co-hosted a Bastille Day show and after-party with their neighbor, the London Grill.  It began as a lively intimate restaurant party each July 14. But the event soon exploded in size and pageantry into an elaborate music and drag cabaret extravaganza. The 2018 publicity claimed it is Philadelphia’s largest free theatrical performance.

The Guillotine and Edith Piaf last bastille day at eastern state penitentiary

The pre-show featured multiple beheadings of juicy watermelons, based on thumbs down votes from the crowd. The annual executioner this and every year was  Sean Kelley Senior VP and ESP’s first employee. The main attraction, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, made a dramatic entrance on the main tower parapet.  John Jarboe was a winged Edith Piaf in gold lame, crooning and rappelling down the stone fortress. When he reached the entry door, he unfurled a huge banner proclaiming RESISTEZ!

Joan of Arc, Ben and Cautionary Tales

What followed was a rapping and dancing procession of famous heroes who fought for freedom and justice. Joan of Arc made a live phone call to Senator Pat Toomey’s office, encouraging the crowd to shout out their protest messages.  The Handmaids appeared as a harbinger of worse disasters to come, and Marc Zuckerberg sang You Belong to Me (courtesy of the Police.)

Marie Antoinette and Tastykakes

last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary

The eagerly-awaited annual climax was the appearance of Marie Antoinette. She was enacted with gusto and a frightful pink wig by Terry McNally, co-owner of The London Grill. She swigged Chardonnay and mocked the complaining masses below. Finally, she uttered her famous line, for the last time: Let them eat Tastykakes!
The crowd below was pelted with a rush of  Tastykake butterscotch krimpets –2,000 packages were flung down from the balcony. The lucky bourgeoisie in the receiving area checked their wrappers to see if they were a lucky winner of a large Tastykake stash. I took that as my cue to head out as Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me boomed down.

 

Categories
day trip dog friendly neighborhoods outdoors parks

Washington Avenue Pier

Washington Avenue PierWes, our shiba inu Apollo and I celebrated our first nice weekend in April with a hike along  Washington Avenue Pier.
The park is located off 1301 S. Columbus Boulevard where it intersects with Washington Avenue. Although I’d driven by it in South Philadelphia for years, I’d never ventured over.  I thought there was not much to it–just a waterfront lookout. When it made the 2018 list of 25 best Philadelphia parks, I decided it was time to explore. Plus, our pup needed a good run.  Locals park in the Ruby Buffet shopping center by the Steelworker’s building, and look for the wooden pole signage for the trailhead.

Delaware River Trail

We trotted to keep up with our lunging pup. We headed first down a soft cinder path, detouring to a sandy Washington Avenue Piernook, for Apollo’s introduction to the beach (he was not a fan). Next, we climbed a 16′ spiral staircase lookout, part of a 65′ sculpture by Jody Pinto. Be prepared to sway a bit as you perch on the top step. Spiro offers excellent river views  from the Ben Franklin Bridge far left to the Walt Whitman down right. We were about to head back to the car, when Apollo bolted toward a bed of wildflowers.Washington Avenue Pier

Wildlife Sights

 

Apollo’s hunting instincts were spot on. He led us on a hidden gem of a hike along a paved Delaware River Waterfront Authority trail for about 1.5 miles. We passed a few bicyclists, hikers and a rogue pier fishing family. However, we had the trail mostly to ourselves, and saw more wildlife than on our National Parks vacation! There were seagulls, hedgehogs,cormorants, ravens and geese. The trail was lined with budding trees, abandoned piers and spectacular river views. It leads to the new Philly public fishing Pier 68.

Washington Avenue PierOur non-sporting class dog sniffed from a distance at several feral cats. The strays looked well-fed and stared at us calmly from the other side of a chain link fence. We soon discovered why the feral cats looked fit. We met 2 volunteer cat lovers who were out bringing food and fresh litter for the cats. Their homestead also adjoins the Walmart shopping center  lot. Washington Avenue Pier

On our way back, we stopped to watch a tiny tug boat towing a large barge down the river. We’re looking forward to doing a return visit this summer, when all the trees are in bloom. Let’s hope the Pier keeps its low-key, off the beaten trail status going forward.

 

Categories
dog friendly outdoors special events spring events

Sakura Sunday

 Fairmount Park’s Cherry Blossom festival on Sakura Sunday has become our annual rite of spring. It was gloriously warm for mid-April with 1,000 cherry trees lush with blooms. The event price is reasonable: it includes live music and dance, Japan House admission, fashion shows, hands-on culture demonstrations and rampant cosplay.

Prettiest in Pink

We headed straight to one of our favorite events, the 
Prettiest Pet in Pink contest. There were 20 dogs, from a chubby corgi to a huskie, showing off their canine talents in pink finery. Loved the kimonoed shiba inu and the derbied cockapoo. The winner is picked by popular vote. I’m rooting for the woman with the tiny dog who has entered for each of the last five years!

Japanese Traditions

The Horticulture Center was transformed into hands-on demonstration areas to explore Japanese culture. You could learn to play Shogi, brushstroke your name in kana calligraphy, learn the proper way to wear a kimono and more. The biggest line was for free shiatsu massages in the back.

 

Anime Cosplay

For me, the main attraction is to people watch! There are hundreds of fans who arrive in full coordinated costumes to celebrate their anime favorites. The Little Akiba stage in back hosted a student designer as well as a fan anime fashion show. They were fun, but the audience was more impressively bedecked than the runway models.

You can check out more  photos on my instagram account barbhmphilly.

 

Categories
flower show outdoors winter events

Flower Show Insiders Guide

There is no better cure for the winter blahs than the immersive sensory experience that is the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show. Where else can you be transported to Lanikai Beach or Buckingham Palace just by riding an escalator? 2017 will mark my seventh annual show visit. Here’s my Flower Show Insiders Guide, to help you navigate this huge Convention Center event.

Miniature Settings

Arrive as early as possible, wear comfortable shoes, bring a bag for giveaways and plan to spend at least four hours. Get a selfie at the sure-to-be-breathtaking entrance and then head to Miniature Settings before it gets too crowded. These are meticulously crafted landscapes that amateur gardeners spend ages creating for a shoebox-sized space. Your next stop is nearby, featuring exquisite jewelry and finely detailed “petal paintings”  crafted from organic materials.

Floral Competitions & Demos

Head back toward the entrance to enjoy the multimedia performance and then take a splendor break. Enjoy a snack and find a seat at one of the program talks to people watch. Budget at least an hour to shop and see floral demonstrations in the back half of the show. If you’re a PHS Member, there’s a free lounge plus free beverages and comfortable seating for the non-shoppers to relax.

Best of Show Aisles

The rest of your schedule depends on what you fancy: bonsai, floral arrangements, topiary, best in show specimens, international design, the landscape architect’s showcase and much more.

The 2017 theme is “Holland: Flowering the World” and the show runs from March 11 to 19. You can save on the show ticket price, get free plants, attend year-round events and more by joining the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.