22 September 2007

Philadelphia I

I had meant to include a few photos in this post, but apparently my camera-to-computer cable went to God. After I find or replace it, though....

We went down to Philadelphia this week to see the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute Science Museum; figured something educational like that would justify the girls' missing a couple days of school. 1776 is the younger one's favourite movie, so we also planned a visit to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. There was also one more important stop, which I'll discuss in part two of this.

Neither of us felt like trying to drive in downtown Philly, so we got a hotel room out in the suburbs and then rode the train in from Paoli. The walk from the Suburban Station to the Franklin Institute turned out to be rather shorter than it looked on the map, and along the way we passed through Logan Square, which has a really nice fountain in its centre (perhaps not as large as the one in Chicago, and certainly not as fancy as the one I saw in Toulon, but nice nonetheless).

Once in the Franklin, we started with the IMAX film about the finding of King Tut's tomb. Narrated by Omar Sharif*, it was quite impressive, though I would have been much happier seeing it in a regular cinema. (The stairs were too steep and the rows of seating to narrow for my taste - I don't do heights.)

As I'd expected, no photos were permitted in the King Tut exhibit. (Why do museums always do that?) Not all of the material in the exhibit came from Tut's tomb - there were things from his father's, and from others - but it was all interesting. I'd love to have that golden dagger, for instance, or the cosmetic jar with the lioness on its lid. My real favourite, though, was the fan.

Everybody knows what an ankh is: A cross with a loop above the arms, the Egyptian symbol of life. The fan was a semicircle (sort of) of gold attached to the top of a handle; originally it held a bunch of ostrich plumes, though they're long gone. The fan is heavily decorated, of course, with a scene showing Tut riding in a two-horse chariot, getting ready to shoot a pair of odd-looking ostriches. And right behind the chariot, running along on two little legs and holding a similar fan in its hands, is ... an ankh. Looks like something Disney would have dreamed up.

My wife spotted one weirdness. Each item had two cards describing it - one card next to it in the case, and another at the top of the case, presumably so that if the room were too crowded one could read that card above people's heads and decide if it was worth the trouble of trying to get close enough to actually see the item (or for something to read whilst waiting for the people in front to move). The texts on the two cards were identical - but in two places, on the top card the "fi" in the word "figure" had been replaced by a thorn:


Yes, we checked; the cards inside the cases read correctly. It was just the upper cards that had this odd quirk.

The IMAX film had taken up almost an hour, so we didn't have time to see much else in the museum. The most interesting permament exhibit, to me, is the Baldwin 60000 steam locomotive, so after leaving the King Tut exhibit we test-operated a couple of geedunk machines and then headed down to the first floor.

The Baldwin 60000 is a three-cylinder 4-10-2, built in 1926 to demonstrate some of Baldwin's newest technological innovations. The railroads found it overly heavy, at a total weight of over 350 tons for the engine and tender, and were wary of most of its features, so it was put in stowage in 1928 and was eventually donated to the Franklin Institute in 1932. It's set up on a short section of track, with a hydraulic system to move it back and forth a few yards; visitors can enter the cab and listen to a short talk about the engine and its history which includes a "demonstration" of the controls: A visitor mans the throttle, while the museum guide operates the switches that actually work the hydraulics.

After leaving the train area (they also have a 4-4-0 and an early 0-4-0, which I didn't pay as much attention to as I should because I was so fascinated by the big Baldwin) we made short stops in the Space Command exhibit and the gift shop before heading out. By this time the museum was closed, except for the King Tut exhibit and presumably the theatre.

After passing through Logan Square again, and giving the girls another chance to splash in the fountain, we headed back toward the train station. Along the way we stopped at TGI Friday's for dinner. This was the first time I'd ever been to a TGIF, though I did eat at a TGI Thursday's** once in Dubai.

Right outside Friday's is a fountain that gives me problems deciding whether I want to smack the artist first, or the person who decided to put it out on a public street. I can't find a picture of it on the web, so as soon as I can hook the camera up to the computer....

After that it was back to the train and then the hotel. More later on the next day's adventures.

* One of those "wow - is he still alive?" people.

** The name "TGI Friday's," of course, comes from the expression "Thank God It's Friday" - because that means tomorrow's the weekend and I won't have to go to work/school. In the Arab countries, though, the weekend - meaning the days off work at the end of the five-day work week - are Friday and Saturday. So the restaurant chain there is TGIT's, with the same menu and decor as in the American restaurants, as near as I could remember.

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