I believe that things happen in life for a reason. Take, for example. my friend Frances Vavloukis…
I first met Frances way back in my Whole Foods Market days. She had four kids and biceps women 20 years younger than her would die for, or at least spend a lot of money to buy. Frances is Greek. And gorgeous. And she knows e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e from New York to Philly to DC. She’s a true dynamo. She owned a catering and culinary education company called Organically Scrumptious and wanted me to let her teach in the Annapolis WFM store, which of course I thought was a perfect idea.
Frances taught the classes, shortly becoming so enraptured with the Whole Foods philosophy that she applied for a job with me in Marketing. Within short order she was leading a brand new Culinary Center and bringing cool people like Rip Esselstyn, author of the Fire Engine Diet, to ‘lil ole Annapolis.
Here’s the kicker: Frances was going through personal hell. But she still got up at 4:30 in the morning to train her fitness clients, then worked a full 8 hour day, then catered or taught Spinning classes at night. She literally nickel and dimed all four kids through private school, braces, sports and life as a single mom. I once asked her how she did it–how did she survive, how was she always smiling– and she told me that sometimes a positive attitude is the only choice and that the kids ate a lot of cheap dishes like pasta and that they were expected to be respectful and responsible and helpful to each other while she was away from home working. She didn’t give them a choice. Guess what, they are the loveliest of lovely humans, every one.
A couple of years ago, Frances renewed a friendship with an old acquaintance, who quickly became her Prince Charming. She left Annapolis to be close to him in Philadelphia and I thought I probably wouldn’t see her again. It left a little hole in my heart. She reinforced so many things I cherish, like how to keep on chugging on. And how to work hard. Really hard. And how to live in the present, accepting life’s many miracles and gifts as they come to you with grace and appreciation.
And where is this story going?
Earlier this summer I received an invite from Loews Hotels to experience their Summer Like A Local Campaign. Essentially, the hotel was offering special deals on rooms in Annapolis, Philly and other cities and were hooking guests up with cool things to do around town. The deal runs through September 7th with stays through September 30th.
Guess what? Frances lives in Philly! When she heard I was coming to town she immediately planned a rendezvous, so the kiddos and I hit 95 North with an overnight Philly Fun Day in mind.
So what is the point again? Frances’s friendship has meant a lot to me, yes. But for the purposes of this article, seeing her is what motivated me to take Loews up on their offer to visit Philly… which motivated me to find some cool places to go… which I am now sharing with you.
About the Hotel:
Loews Philadelphia is located in the heart of downtown Philly, on Market Street. It’s close to just about everything. There is a subway stop across the street and the circulator bus route stops right out front. We used valet parking, which was a wise choice. Philly is beautiful, but still colorful. I’ve read reviews suggesting visitors should park in the close-by burbs and Uber into Center City to avoid the $40 valet fee, but the convenience of walking just two steps into the hotel at 11:30PM with two kids and luggage was just too good to pass up. And $40 is cheaper than what I am used to in NYC, so it didn’t hurt too bad.
Loews Philadelphia is modern, clean, hip and easy to navigate. The Grand King had stunning views over the downtown skyline. At 365 square feet, it was spacious. The drawer and closet space kept us organized. I was able to squeeze in some late night work at the large desk and the extra chair was helpful when the kids got over excited. #1 refused to sleep next to her brother, so we requested a roller bed, which she said was very comfortable (??!!)
Frances and her family made several suggestions for our adventures the next day. We started out with breakfast at Reading Terminal Market, which is just two blocks from Loews.
Reading Market is a former train terminal now laid out with aisles and aisles of goodies. Unless you want chocolates, cookies or ice cream for breakfast, we recommend Down Home Diner, which served a hot meal that stuck to our ribs.We also liked the many doughnut offerings and closely eyeballed the Pennsylvania Dutch cinnamon sticky buns and other treats.
If you are in the neighborhood for lunch or want to pack a picnic, you can try everything from local produce to Chinese, sushi, Middle Eastern foods and sandwiches. Be sure to pack Beiler’s cider donuts, 4th Street Cookies snickerdoodles and Bassett’s Butterscotch Vanilla ice cream to go.
After breakfast we walked four blocks to Independence National Park and the Philadelphia Visitor’s Center, home to an interpretive center, tourist information, two great movies about the American War for Independence, clean bathrooms, a gift shop and tickets to area attractions. My goal was to take advantage of free exhibits, so our only purchase there was tickets for the circulator bus, which is called Philly Phlash. I highly recommend that you use the bus, which costs just $5 per person per day, is air conditioned and has multiple, convenient stops all over town.
The several blocks around the visitors center include amazing historical sites like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed), Congress Hall (where George Washington was inaugurated) the Betsy Ross House and the very cool National Constitution Center. There are many, many sites in the near vicinity, so I recommend the National Park Service app and one of your favorite travel apps for Philly-centric information.
After three hours at Independence Hall we were all hungry again, so we headed back to Reading Terminal, largely because the kids wanted Bassett’s Ice Cream, which Frances told them they absolutely had to try. We walked from the market toward Love Park, ice cream dripping all the way. The park was crowded with locals, and I didn’t want the kids to feel like they couldn’t enjoy the property, so instead we went to the water fountain park in front of City Hall.
If the leaders, movers and shakers in Annapolis had any sense they would install some fun parks downtown that would 1) prove that the city isn’t completely stuck in 1750; 2) make guests play so hard that they would get tired and hungry so they would patronize the restaurants; 3) encourage locals to stay, play and pay and 4) did I mention move beyond 1750, as lovely an era as that was?
The kiddos were very tired after their very late night, so we didn’t get much farther, but they say their highlights were:
- the ranger-led tour of Independence Hall, as well as playing under the beautiful trees and around the fountain while we waiting in line (you have to get a timed ticket for entry to the museum).
- The Independence Hall and Philly Visitor Center gift shops
- Reading Terminal Market–they loved exploring each booth and vendor, food sample and window display
- Philly Phlash- #1 says to tell you “What a Relief!”
They (and I) were completely underwhelmed by the Liberty Bell, which we stood in line for and then when we finally arrived found ANOTHER line just to take a photo by it. #touristtrapyoucan’tescape). At least we can say we did it.
Things they wanted to see but weren’t able to were:
- The Franklin Institute (currently hosting The Art of the Brick LEGO exhibit)
- Smith Memorial Playground
- The Philadelphia Zoo
- Franklin Square
Frances already told us we were welcome to come back soon, and believe me, the children are asking in chorus “when can we see Miss Frances again” at least weekly.
She served them huge slices of cake even when they didn’t eat hardly and dinner and hugged them and told them they were so cute and so good, so now they love her like a second mother. I love her too. She’s just one of those sticky kind of people.
Philly is a little sticky too. You know there are so many layers to peel back, to explore, and you can’t wait to return. Thank You Loews for a wonderful place to rest!
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