Letters to Liona: Hello from Philadelphia!

Liona is my 9-year-old niece. She lives in rural Wisconsin where I grew up, and like a lot of starry-eyed country kids, she's fascinated by cities and dreams about traveling and seeing the world. I wanted to find a way to share my journey with Liona and give her a little snapshot of what life is like in different places, so I've decided to write her a letter each month. Thought you might enjoy following along, too.

Dear Liona,

Hello from hot, hip, history-filled Philadelphia! The picture above is a view from the center of the city. The tall white building in the middle is City Hall, and on top of it stands a 37-foot-high statue of William Penn, the man who founded Philadelphia way back in 1682 (the state of Pennsylvania is also named after him).

Philadelphia is a city of many firsts. It's known as the birthplace of the United States, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed by people like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. And it was the very first capital of the U.S., before Washington D.C. became the capital. 

Philadelphia is also home to America's first library, first hospital, first zoo, first art school, first theatre...and first roller coaster!

There are a lot of awesome things to see and do in Philadelphia. Ready to explore the city with me? Let's do it!

First, let me introduce you to some of the coolest people in Philly (the city's nickname): my good friends Leah and Drew and their two boys, Emery and Soren. They've welcomed me into their home for the month with many lovely dinners on their porch...

...and with almost as many epic lightsaber battles.

May the force be with us as we venture out into the wild and wonderful city of Philadelphia. :)

Philly's name means "City of Brotherly Love" — that includes sisterly love, too! 

Philadelphia is such an old city that many of the streets are made of cobblestones or bricks. That's how roads were made hundreds of years ago, long before cars were invented, when people rode horses and clip-clopped along the stones. 

Below is a picture of the way William Penn planned out the city, with the streets in a neat grid pattern and five parks (the white squares), one in the middle and one on at each corner.

One of the parks, Washington Square Park, is dedicated to all the soldiers who fought for freedom in the Revolutionary War, when America was becoming a country.

The statue is of George Washington, leader of the revolutionary army. The inscription behind him says, "Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness."

When George Washington became the first president, he moved into the first White House — right here in Philadelphia, in 1790. There's not much left of that house, but you can still see parts of some of the walls below. It's much, much smaller than the White House that President Obama lives in today!

And here's Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed. This very spot is where the structure of our government and our laws were put into place.

In July the Democratic National Convention happened in Philadelphia, and Hillary Clinton officially became the first woman candidate for President of the United States.  

There were parades and protests and rallies, where people marched and held up signs to tell our government leaders about things they think need to change.

There were also a lot of political jokes.

My favorite discovery in Philadelphia is the murals — there are over 3,000 murals on buildings all around the city, all made by local artists and people in the community. So cool! Here are just a few of them. Which ones do you like the most?


All this mural-watching is making me hungry. How about a pretzel?

Soft pretzels are a classic Philly snack — the first American pretzel factory is in Pennsylvania! — and they're shaped differently than your average pretzel. Kind of squished-looking...but still perfectly pretzel-y.

Another Philly food thing: tomato pie. It's basically a big rectangular pizza with a great tomato sauce, and maybe a tiny tiny sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Yum!

(I added a fried egg and some more tomatoes to mine, which is definitely not normal. But was it delicious? Of course it was.)

Finally, there's the great Philly summertime dessert, known as "water ice." It's a cup of finely shaved ice, like a sno-cone, with flavored syrup added.

My favorite flavor? Lemon!

Let's make a stop at the Italian Market, where they have about a million different kinds of cheese and pepperoni and olives and sausage. You can ask to sample anything, and this guy will cut you off a fresh slice or two to munch on.

We'll taste everything and then buy our favorites, and bring them home for an Italian picnic feast!

One fun thing about Philadelphia is that it's really close to the state of New Jersey, which is on the Atlantic Ocean. 

We can hop in the car, and in about an hour and half...be at the beach!

Back in the city, let's finish our tour with a trip to the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Right now there's an exhibit showing all kinds of  African fabrics and fashion, which I really liked. How fun would it be to wear that dress on the left?!

There's also a colorful string jungle that you can walk through. It feels like moving through an endless string waterfall.

I'm going to miss Philadelphia. Before I leave, let's get one more treat: a scoop of insanely good gelato from Capogiro. MmmmMmMmmMmmm!

So long until next month, from Nashville!