Rub-a-dub-dub! Checking the weather forecast before boarding my flight from Tampa to Philly last month, I knew it was going to be a soggy, quick trip. Yes, call me crazy because I had planned less than 24-hours with feet on the ground in Philadelphia the end of March. Why? My prime objective was to enjoy a guided walking tour of the 9th Street Italian Market with tour operators Urban Adventures where I met a butcher, a baker, a candlestick seller and others who keep this historic market ticking.
Despite the drizzling rain, the two-hour guided tour of America’s oldest and largest working outdoor market was quite fascinating. Although much of the tour was outside, we ducked in and out of locally-owned businesses, including butchers, a bakery, chocolate shop, and kitchenware store, to name a few. Urban Adventures prides itself in leading visitors (and locals who take the tours) on small tours and introduce them to places they typically wouldn’t visit. I’ve been to Philadelphia before and have seen the Liberty Bell, walked through Independence Hall and visited the bizarre Mütter Museum, but had no idea the 9th Street Italian Market existed.
Sure, I could have visited the market on my own but I wouldn’t have learned about the history or met the owners of these businesses, many of whom are second, third, even fifth generation. I heard stories about their families and themselves.
“That’s Chubby Checker over there,” Charles Cannuli Jr, owner of Cannuli Bros. Quality Meats & Poultry said while pointing to a man in a black and white mural at the end of the butcher shop. “He used to work in the market.”
I was led into the back freezer, something no ordinary visitor could do but because I was on an Urban Adventures tour, I was granted access. Inside were butchered pigs with their hind feet tied together and hanging down from large, metal hooks. Cannuli Bros. is famous for their roasted, whole pigs. I’m a carnivore but couldn’t help but feel bad for these little piggies. Their pink bodies were slick with a shiny glean and stripped of their fur. Every pig looked like the other and if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought they were plastic.
Note: See an image here.
Eyes of an elk’s mounted head stared down on me while Sonny D’Angelo cut the perfect Kobe beef fillet and talked about his grandfather’s meat market. Today, Sonny is the third generation running D’Angelo Bros., which claims to have the largest selection of game meat and more than 40 types of sausages, made right there. D’Angelo, who is also an artist, has penned two cookbooks, Are you Game? and And Now We Call It Gravy.
While scooping up a selection of the most delicious Italian cookies I’ve ever tasted into a brown paper sandwich bag, the women of Sarcone’s Bakery talked about the five generations who have run the business. The buttery cookies came in shapes of crescents and flat ovals. Some were covered in a rainbow of sprinkles with others had chocolate or a berry jelly. A quarter-pound of cookies were $3.
The Candlestick Seller
Huddled in the corner of Fante’s Kitchen Shop packed with every kitchen gadget imaginable, including the PiZZa Ball the Round Rolling Pin and candlestick holders, Mariella Gioyannucci shared how she acquired the business from the Fante Family in 1981. The store has been a family-owned and operated retail business since 1906 and Gioyannucci began working in the shop in the 1960s after school. She and family had just emigrated from northern Italy. She spoke Italian but not English and was tasked at dusting the knickknacks. The Fantes treated her and her siblings like family and as they say, the rest is history.
Over at Di Bruno Bros. I sampled a lovely, sharp piece of Parmesan-type cheese drizzled with a sweet, aged balsamic vinegar. Like many of the other shops we visited, this one offered a discount to Urban Adventures tour participants.
Of note, many of the 9th Street Italian Market shops are cash-only establishments.
More than a Taste of Italy
Not all the flavor tasted and shops visited were Italian. The tour stopped in a Mexican shop which served fresh-baked, and oh-so-tasty flour tortillas with fresh pico de gallo of crispy onions, sweet tomatoes and sharp cilantro. They shop is apparently known for their crunchy tortilla chips and sadly, I forgot to get its name!
After the Urban Adventures Philadelphia Tour…in the Rain
Urban Adventures keeps their groups small. About 20 people had registered for the tour I joined but they broke it down into two smaller groups. My guide took time to chat with everyone and I discovered I was the only out-of-towner, which is kind of awesome for Philadelphia that so many locals want to learn about their backyard. After the tour, the guide pointed us in the direction of lunch.
I ended up at RIM Café for a hot chocolate “Volcano,” quite frankly because the line for the famous Philly Cheesesteak at Geno’s Steaks seamed endless. I couldn’t wait to get either some nourishment or sugar in me. RIM Café was quiet yet fun. I had the place to myself and the barista made my hot chocolate in front of me. If I was on my game I would have had video running on my phone!
She placed whipped topping in the bottom of a glass, followed by hot chocolate then shaved different flavors of chocolate over the lava of chocolate overflowing the rim of the glass. All the while, the glass was spinning on what looked to be an over-sized chocolate cake. The interior was dark with cozy pockets to escape the rain. I sat on a sofa watching a scene from the Godfather while a digital fire twinkled in a nearby screen.
My flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 9:40 p.m. yet I received notice it was delayed to 12:40 a.m. Yikes! I made my way to the Independence Visitor Center, in the rain, but stopped along the way to enjoy Philadelphia’s magical murals by artist Isaiah Zagar. Yeah, they seemed to be a little out of place since I associate Philadelphia with 1700s history, not 20th and 21st century art, but I totally fell in love with them. Most made me smile when I found little witty phrases or spotted the overall design and some had me saying, “Huh?” But that’s art.
Soaked to the bone, I grabbed lunch and dried off a bit. I grabbed a selfie with Rocky and shared it on my social media channels, just as the sign asked then browsed the National Park Service displays. Although tempted to see the Liberty Bell, I passed. The line was long and frankly, I was to the point of being cold, wet and miserable and didn’t want to deal with the security to get in, since I knew I had TSA at the airport to deal with later.
I had big plans to explore Philly by foot but I just didn’t have it in me. Knowing I needed to be up at 5:30 a.m. the next day, I gave into common sense and hopped in a cab for the airport. In a way, I felt defeated.
Thank You, Southwest Airlines!
Since my flight the night before had 30 people on it, I was hoping the next nonstop Southwest Airlines flight to Tampa would have availability and it did.
“There are 60 other passengers, I think we can get you on,” the ticket agent told me and added, “You’ll lose your ‘A’ boarding status.”
I wanted to hug her. I was so happy to get home earlier. I was at the point of being miserable and remembered what being cold to the bone meant. Although I had my Scottevest Essential Travel Jacket I didn’t bring my favorite wool cardigan sweater for that extra layer of warmth and I didn’t get warm until I was snug in my down-topped bed. That 5:25 p.m. flight didn’t depart until 8 p.m. but I still got home earlier than if I kept that now 12:40 a.m. flight.
As for hotel accommodations, I stayed at the Fairfield Inn Philadelphia Airport which was a comfortable property. It seemed new, the bed was comfortable, staff were friendly and continental breakfast was hearty and bountiful.
Mistakes Made on this Trip
- I should have learned how to use Philadelphia’s public train system.
- Although my hotel was great, I could have taken the train from the airport to the hotel and saved about $15 (including tip).
- Or, I should have booked my stay for downtown Philly because I ended up paying for taxi fare on the night of my arrival and into the city for the tour the next day. Staying downtown meant I wouldn’t have paid “two fares.”
- I could have saved on taxi fare from the city center to the airport if I figured out how to use the train.
- I should have brought my wool sweater!
Why Philadelphia in March?
I had won a free tour with Urban Adventures through the website Solo Traveler (go check it out and sign up for the newsletters, if you haven’t done so already) and I needed to redeem it by March 31, 2014. Although I had a few months to use it, I waited ‘til the end to make my arrangements.
Philly, I hope we meet again, soon. Perhaps in the sunshine.
View more images of the trip on my Flickr stream.