Sunday, October 30, 2011

Biking Philadelphia

When Bill said that October's Educause Annual Conference would be in Philadelphia, it took me about five seconds to decide to join him.  I have been to Philadelphia a couple of times and knew how I would entertain myself while Bill was in meetings. Biking in Fairmount Park, the largest landscaped park in the world at 9200 acres, topped the list. I emailed Breakaway Bikes, a shop that I had seen online as being closest to the park, to be sure I could still rent a bike this late in the season. 

Bill and I began the day fortified by a Belgian waffle from the Bonte Cafe along with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.  Full of rich butter, with European sugar caramelized on the outside, authentic waffles have to be cooked in an imported-only, super hot waffle maker. Crispy on the outside, and creamy on the inside, they tasted to us like the most delicious waffles west of Belgium.

From there, Bill headed to the convention center and I walked over to Breakaway Bikes. In minutes a nice young man set me up with a hybrid Fuji bike for the day, with helmet and kryptonite lock, and told me how to get to the bike path, about a half-mile away, and the park a mile beyond that.  

The Schuylkill River (pronounced "skoogle") cuts the park into East and West. The Waterworks, built in 1815, dominates the entrance to the East side.  Disease had already made people aware of the need for a reservoir of clean water and a system to send it to the city.  The complex became a Sunday afternoon destination for picnicking, skating, and walking. It is now open for tours.
Above the Waterworks, The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses a huge art collection, and was built as part of the 1876 centennial celebration.  The museums's 72 stone steps were made famous by Sylvester Stallone in the 1980 Rocky III movie.

I could have spent hours in the museum, but today I intended to explore the 40-plus miles of trails in this park.  I thought I would ride along the 20-mile loop on both sides of the river, and methodically take in the Colonial houses on the adjacent bluffs.  The first house I cruised by, Lemon Hill, made me realize that to ride the river trail and see the houses, I would be doing a lot of up and down.  The houses were built to take full advantage of river views below.  Up, down, and all around, became the motto of my day. 

My Fuji felt comfortable and smooth as I cruised along the riverside. At times, I shared the road with runners, but, in some areas, they had their lane to the left, I had the center, and cars were off to the right.  This is a biker's dream. 

Pedestrian and bike traffic were light on this Thursday morning, although my travels were occasionally impeded by Canadian geese. I could stop often to take pictures without becoming a road hazard. A cool autumn breeze kept me company as I rolled along.

I had printed off a park map while still at home.  Although it had limited detail, it gave me some idea of where the trails went and how I could get to different houses and high points.  I was pretty impressed when I crossed the river on this bridge!  Wouldn't bikers and pedestrians like this kind of accomodation in Albany? 

When I thought about life in the mid-1700s, it seemed almost unbelievable that the city had become so populated and foul that wealthy residents were already seeking country homes here, a fair distance in those days of about four miles from the center city. Eight colonial homes are scattered throughout Fairmount Park, all originally having significant acreage for farming, and overlooking the Schuylkill River.  Some are open to the public.  I knew I wouldn't be able to take time from my bike ride to tour the homes today because I was determined to cruise by every one of them.  If I get the chance to go back again, I now know which of the eight I would want to go inside.

Mt. Pleasant, above, built in 1762, with its unusual architecture for that period, and additional buildings for the servants and smokehouse, was originally the home of a Scottish sea captain.  I would choose to tour this house because so many of our founding fathers visited it.  I liked picturing George and Martha Washington getting out of a carriage here for a dinner visit. John Adams proclaimed Mt. Pleasant the finest house in Pennsylvania.  And, before becoming a traitor, Benedict Arnold bought the property for his wife.

Cedar Grove, above, was built way back in 1748 by a wealthy widow.  What was it like out here for a woman alone (with her staff, of course!) at that time?  Wilderness surely must have been within sight of these rural escapes. This stone house boasts a "must-see" kitchen.  I liked the look of Cedar Grove with its stone construction, numerous chimneys, and beautiful windows.

Fairmount Park has a huge amount of land for recreational use with tennis courts, a riding stable, and ball fields.  I came across a track meet here at the Belmont Plateau.  I had to put my bike in the lowest gear to get to the plateau's summit, but was rewarded by benches under large oak trees that made a restful spot to enjoy this spectacular view of Philadelphia.  I sat down and ate the apple I had bought from an Amish vendor the day before at Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market.

The bike path supposedly continues as far as Valley Forge.  I exited the park for a short distance, but came across construction and detours almost immediately. I circled back, seeing no reason to leave the park's beautiful designated bike trails, and returned to the city along the river. 

After leaving my bike at Breakaway Bikes, I managed to beat Bill back to the hotel with some time remaining to freshen up.  He had an hour and a half dinner break which he intended to spend at the famous Monk's Belgian Cafe and Beer Emporium, not far from the hotel. A pub dinner with Bill and the evening vegging out at the hotel alone seemed like the perfect end to my biking and sightseeing day.

No comments:

Post a Comment