A visit to Philadelphia is sure to be steeped in American history and culture. It doesn’t get more American than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And it doesn’t get more authentically Philly than cheesesteaks at competing Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King Of Steaks, and the oldest farmers market in the country, Reading Terminal Market. But, when you’ve been there, done that, what else can you explore?
Philadelphia neighborhoods beckon the savvy traveler who can, by slowing down, get a glimpse of what it’s like to live here, to exhale and experience the heart and soul of a great American city. One neighborhood that’s not on the radar of many travelers, but should be, is West Philadelphia, or West Philly as it is commonly known, with University City as its bustling heartbeat. Aptly named — the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are located here — the area buzzes with youthful exuberance. The diverse, worldwide student population brings the magic of different languages, dialects and customs to the area.
Strolling along the bustling sidewalks, visitors will find a foodie’s dream with a vibrant street-food scene, high-end, locally owned restaurants and everything in between. Historic sites and museums are everywhere, with some pop culture icons as well, and the parks add a touch of green to the cobblestone and brick.
Here are some gems of West Philly not to be missed:
* The Penn Museum will take you back to ancient times in faraway places and other lands. You’ll find jewelry from Ethiopia, Mayan sculptures, an Egyptian tomb, the Granite Sphinx of Ramses and new Middle East galleries. After you’ve seen the amazing American History of Philadelphia, the Penn Museum gives you the world.
* World Cafe Live is a multi-level venue devoted to music and good food. Take a seat upstairs at the chic Upstairs Live Cafe, where you can get late-night food and drinks along with an eclectic array of live music (they don’t call it World Cafe Live for nothing!). Downstairs Live is a larger concert venue, hosting nationally known artists. It’s also the home of WXPN radio, which broadcasts a show of the same name.
* The Study at University City is a local gem for guests who believe the right hotel can enhance and elevate an already wonderful trip into the stratosphere. This is not a cookie-cutter chain, but a boutique that features local artwork in an onsite gallery; hand-blown glass light fixtures (locally made); display cases with artifacts of the city’s past; and its lobby, dubbed the Living Room, a vibrant and dynamic core of the hotel, a gathering place for guests to feel at home.
* Schuylkill River Trail meanders along some 30 miles of the Schuylkill river, and is a favorite of bicyclists, walkers, runners and families. Enjoy the green space along the riverfront, or use it as your way to and from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other area attractions. If you really want to get your exercise and American history on, you can pick up the trail in West Philly and take it all the way to Valley Forge National Historical Park.
* The multitude of cuisines in the West Philly neighborhood is reflective of the diversity of the student population. A true foodie destination that’s a bit off the beaten path, you’ll find African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian spots with daring fusions of flavors; upscale, chef-driven restaurants; and down-home Philly goodness. Highly recommended from the city’s foodie community: Marigold Kitchen (its gin-marinated venison gets rave reviews), Aksum, which blends Mediterranean and North African cuisine; and Dock Street Brewing (Philly’s first microbrewery) for all-American bar food, burgers and of course, beer.
For other insider tips on exploring West Philly, contact the knowledgeable staff at The Study at University City. They’ll make sure you get the most out of your visit to the neighborhood.
Mind-Blowing Facts About the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree acts each holiday season as a luminous magnet for camera-toting visitors. It towers above the ice-skating rink, with the golden statue Prometheus near its apron, carrying on a custom as old as Rockefeller Center itself—starting back in the early 1930s when the Midtown complex was still under construction.
The folks at Rock Center accept submissions each year. What do they look for in a specimen? A nicely shaped Norway spruce, typically at least 75 feet tall and dense enough that you “shouldn’t be able to see the sky through it,” according to head gardener Erik Pauze. Being from the tristate area generally helps—long distance is a consideration, but it’s not a deal breaker (1998’s tree was flown in from Ohio, and there was one from Canada way back when). The selection process takes a while, during which time the winner generally makes itself known. As Pauze says, “Sometimes I visit a tree several times over the year, [to] watch it grow or fill out. But when I see the perfect one, I just know it.”
Come late November, Today show personalities Hoda Kotb, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker and Craig Melvin will join a host of performers (Pentatonix and John Legend included) for the opening ceremonies, and the tree stays lit—and available for public viewing, selfies and Instagram posts—until early January. This year, a ceremony for hoisting the new Daniel Libeskind–designed Swarovski star atop the tree will precede the lighting by a couple of weeks.
Pining for more info? We’ll go out on a limb and guess you are. Here’s some tree trivia to keep you waxing botanic through the holiday season.
This year’s model
Height: 72 feet
Weight: 24,000 pounds (estimated)
Species: Norway spruce
Hometown: Wallkill, New York
Age: Roughly 75 years
Date felled: November 8, 2018
Date put in place: November 10, 2018
Date of star raising: November 14, 2018
Date of tree lighting: November 28, 2018
Up until: January 7, 2019
Number of lights: 50,000+
Average number of expected daily viewers during holiday season: 750,000
Through the years
1931 First Christmas tree on the grounds, put up by construction workers
1933 First official year of Rockefeller Center Christmas tree
1941 Four reindeer, in pens, flank the tree; later, they move to the Bronx Zoo
1942–44 Tree goes unlit due to World War II
1949 The tree is painted silver, ostensibly to make it look more wintry
1966 A white spruce hailing from Canada becomes the first tree from outside the US
1981 Last time a species other than a Norway spruce (in this case, another white spruce) is chosen
1997 Tree from Stony Point, NY, is transported by barge down the Hudson River
1999 Tallest tree ever, at 100 feet
2016 Tony Bennett, at the age of 90, performs at the ceremony for the fourth time in seven years
* Why a Norway spruce? Our research indicates that its characteristics of a straight trunk and the ability to resist wind make it a sturdy choice; and its size, on average between 80 and 100 feet at full maturity, matches Rockefeller Center’s height requirements.
* For the most part, the same LED lights, which were first introduced in 2007, are used each year (though their total number has grown from around 30,000 to around 50,000).
* The Swarovski-crystal star that tops the tree first appeared in 2004—and has been reimagined by architect Daniel Libeskind for 2018. The new version has 3 million crystals, 70 glass spikes and, with a brightness of 106,000 lumens, may be powerful enough to turn night into day.
* Those in charge maintain the tree with regular watering—as it’s outside, it retains its freshness better than it would in a house or apartment.
* The inaugural tree lighting was broadcast on radio in 1933; 18 years later it made its televised debut on the Kate Smith Evening Hour.
* After the tree is done spreading holiday cheer, it’s sent on its merry way to be used as lumber for Habitat for Humanity.
The Best Ways to Spend the Festive Holidays in Beirut
The holiday season is one of the most exciting times to visit Beirut. The city streets are decked out in shimmering lights, dazzling displays of ornaments and that incomparable festive buzz.
There’s plenty to experience in Beirut during the holidays and Four Seasons Hotel Beirut is your ideal home away from home, perfectly located to take in the sights, sounds and excitement of the festivities, which are just a stroll away. To ensure you make the most of your trip and don’t miss out on the best activities of the season, our concierge team is happy to share a helpful insider’s guide to celebrate the holidays in the city.
Partake in Festive Culinary Delights
Celebrate the holidays at Four Seasons Hotel Beirut with an exquisite array of innovative offerings and culinary delights. From a holiday-themed afternoon tea to delightful delicatessen evenings, and even a pop-up caviar and oysters bar, revel in a host of magical moments, all backed by legendary Four Seasons service.
Admire the Beautiful Christmas Trees
Downtown Beirut is the place to be if you want to see the most popular Christmas lighting events in the city, as the famous Martyr Square welcomes Christmas with VIP appearances, music and a countdown to the Christmas tree illumination. Other celebrations include the Beirut Souks Christmas Tree Lighting event and our very own Four Seasons Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony.
Holiday Ice Skating
One of the best ways to get in the Christmas spirit and have some winter fun in Beirut is by wrapping up warm for an ice skating session at Beirut Ice Skating, just a few steps from the Hotel.
Visit Byblos Christmas Village
Without a doubt, Lebanon’s most comprehensive Christmas attraction is the Byblos Christmas Village. An hour drive from Beirut, enter a world of Christmas bliss with stunning lights, decorations and other festive attractions. Admire the sky-high Christmas tree that has been featured in The Guardian and Wall Street Journal. Numerous food stalls and a traditional Christmas market add to the merry atmosphere.
Shop for Gifts
Shopping in Beirut at Christmas is a sightseeing opportunity in itself, as ABC, Beirut Souks, Aishti Seaside and Le Mall all boast dazzling Christmas displays and impressive seasonal decor both inside and out. From department stores to high-end boutiques, shopping for your Christmas gifts in the city definitely won’t disappoint.
Check Out the Christmas Street Food Market
A popular annual event Souk El Akel, Christmas market edition is a food celebration showcasing Lebanon’s vibrant culinary world of foods including Lebanese, Middle Eastern and international bites, and can be found at various locations throughout the city. Entertainment, parades, kids area, food court, and much more await.
Attend a Christmas Concert
One of the season’s most anticipated highlights, Beirut Chants Festival welcomes during December performers from all over the world, both established and emerging, to share heart-warming performances in the many beautiful and historic churches of Beirut.
The Bern Old Town: Shopping and cultural experiences of a special kind
The Bernese love laid-back, hour-long shopping trips – and will do so in any weather. Thanks to the longest weather-protected stretch of shopping promenade in Europe, this is in fact quite feasible. The arcades are admirably suited for a jaunty stroll among the historic city scenery.
It is in the Bernese Old Town in particular where one can be witness to the unique historical ambiance and combine shopping with a journey through time into the past.
The Kramgasse forms the centerpiece of the Bern Old Town. This alley was once Bern’s busiest trade route for marketers and shopkeepers who loudly advertised and sold their goods here, and swapped the latest news. The six kilometer long series of arcades form a distinctive feature of the Old Town. The history of this arcade passage reaches back to the earliest city development (1191), and even then served to accommodate market stalls and businesses. Traders could thus trade and earn their living in any weather.
The Bernese also demonstrated their practical sense in putting the nether regions to good use. They built vaulted cellars under every house in order to be able to store their goods. Nowadays, entirely different treasures are hidden in these cellars. Descend the steep stone steps, and find yourself in a different world. The underground reveals trendy and traditional bars, clubs, theatres, cellar cinemas and special fashion shops. There’s no other place that offers such historic settings for a shopping excursion!
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