I admittedly was apprehensive about the idea of spending my summer alone in Philadelphia. With everything closed, no gatherings or events, and very few other students on or around campus, I was worried it might be a bit dull. However, thanks to a combination of long walks, an adventurous roommate, and an Indego Bike subscription, my summer ended up being one of great exploration and discovery.
With gyms and pools closed, my first discovery came from needing to find an alternative way to stay active! While running down Walnut Street one day, I stumbled upon the Schuylkill River Trail. I had seen it and walked down the stairs to look at the river multiple times, but had never actually ventured down the trail. With not much else to do, I decided to give it a go. The long winding path branches off of the South Street bridge, hovers over the river briefly before meandering along the river bank through small pockets of trees and grass. It takes you up past the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the waterworks, and through Fairmount Park. With clear arrows and no intersections, you never have to stop and don’t risk bumping into people! It is the perfect place to run, walk, bike, or just relax on the grass. Sometimes being in the city, or stuck on campus can be restricting and exhausting, so having the opportunity to escape into a different world makes a huge difference. And if the trail is not inviting enough, I might add that there is a dog park too… with a viewing deck!
My second discovery came through a personal decision to boycott fast fashion and try to shop second hand as much as is possible. A few conversations with friends and some google searches had me on South Street (thanks Indego Bike!) perusing the wide variety of options. From basics at Goodwill to funky dresses at Raxx, I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent on quirky South Street, and would highly recommend it to anyone!
Finding green space in a city can often be hard, and so my next discovery was more of a rediscovery as it was certainly this summer that grew my appreciation for it. On top of a parking lot next to the FMC building sits Cira Green: a rooftop park that looks over the Schuylkill River and across at the city. The view is impressive at any time of year but particularly beautiful during summer evenings. Open to anybody and their dogs, the park is always lively and inviting, and was my favorite place to picnic and socially distance with friends.
One of the most useful discoveries over the summer were the farmers and food markets sprawled across the city! In West Philly, the Clark Park Farmers Market is a fun and vibrant place to go. Open every Saturday, all year, at 10am, one can buy an enormous variety of fresh produce, delicious freshly baked goods, homemade condiments, crafts, and really fun flowers! This market is just a 5-10 minute walk from campus and takes place in Clark Park, one of the most happening and interesting places I have visited. Regardless of the time of year if you show up at 9am you will likely find parents meeting for coffee and children playing, 10am: a free-to-all art class taking place, midday: a student nursing a cold-brew whilst reading a book, and 3pm: around 45 old men playing chess, cackling. And during the summer at 6pm on Saturdays, you will find that the park appears to transform into a festival ground with drums beating and people dancing. There’s something for everyone at Clark Park.
The Rittenhouse Market also happens every Saturday, and is hard to miss! It doesn’t quite compare to Clark Park, but it too boasts a great variety of goods, including more plants and art and the opportunity to wander through the city whilst you are there.
The Italian Market down in South Philly was recommended to me by a friend, and though a little further away, in my opinion, is very much worth the trek. An exciting array of cultural and ethnic foods line each side of the street, while delicious scents linger through the air. Though the produce is good, the best part of the market is the South Philly Barbacoa, an unassuming Mexican restaurant that serves delicious tacos! Needless to say, all calories burnt riding there were quickly replenished.
I did not stumble upon my last discovery quickly or by accident. It was instead months of observing the incredible artwork painted on to the walls of so many buildings across the city before I learned that Philly is the mural capital of the world! Enormous figures, portraits, messages and patterns painted in all colors and media seem to spontaneously pop up on walks, across from railroads, across trains themselves, and on the streets. Inspired and created by so many different artists and creatives, the murals are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to art in this city! On my walks, runs, and rides throughout the summer, I was able to tick different murals off my list, some intentional but most by accident. I was initially just in awe of the aesthetic value they provide to their environments, but this semester have been able to take an entire class about Mural Arts in Philadelphia and have learned about the incredible messages, meaning and background of each one. Memorializing sports stars, raising awareness for mental health, encouraging sustainability, channels for reconciliation between prisoners and victims, and even spreading information about Covid-19: murals are an incredibly important aspect of the urban fabric of this city, and were my most impressive discovery this summer!
I admit… being in Philly, and particularly at Penn without the other students is not quite the same … But when the winter air gets me, and I start to feel sad, I climb into the time portal that is my camera roll and reminisce; captured mornings on the trail, flowers at the market, tacos about to be devoured. Smiling faces seated upon bikes and thrifted t-shirts contrasting against brightly painted walls: A strange summer well spent.