Big City, Small Town: Philly Fanatic

With its history, food and fun, there's a lot to love about this city.

Benjamin Franklin, crafted in white marble, sits with his head cocked just slightly to the side as if listening. Even with the Franklin Institute's rotunda buzzing with parents and kids of every age, the 30-ton statue of the writer, statesman and scientist dominates the space. Above Franklin's head, the domed ceiling soars 82 feet to a beautifully restored ocular that punctuates the Pantheon-like design.

But it's a Franklin quote projected on the wall that grabs me: "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn." It's a good piece of wisdom as our family of five kicks off our Philadelphia weekend.

An image of the Earth projected onto a curtain of fog welcomes us into the Changing Earth exhibit, where my daughters tap into their inner Hollie Strano in a green-screen booth to report the weather. (It's not as easy as Hollie makes it look.)

Everyone finds something to occupy their curiosity in the Electricity exhibit. I'm fascinated with Franklin's inventions, especially his battery, which connects nine Leyden jars to generate a greater jolt of power. My son tests his iPhone on the Electrical Signals wall, which illuminates tiny red LEDs in response to electrical signals made by placing a call or sending a text from visitors' cell phones. And my girls shock each other around the static electricity display.

But we all find our groove together on the Sustainable Dance Floor, which lights up blue, green and red as we stomp our feet to generate its power. Then, out of nowhere, a huge crack of electricity overhead clears the the floor. We jump, laugh and look up to the giant silver Tesla coil that we'd all missed until it had given off sparks.

For the rest of the afternoon, we check out the two-story giant heart, throw a few pitches to a life-size Kenny Lofton in the Sports Challenge area, climb aboard the monstrous Baldwin 60000 Locomotive and ride the Sky Bike that's suspended 28-feet above the museum's atrium.

There really is too much to see in a day at the Franklin's three floors of interactive exhibits and activities, so we leave the flight simulators and planetarium show for later, and head to the Reading Terminal Market for something to eat.

Philly's market — 20 years older than our West Side Market — is home to 80 merchants and enough variety to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. So we walk the aisles taking in the bakeries, flower shops, and meat and produce stands. It doesn't take long for our choosy eater to zero in on Profi's Creperie, but deciding on the pizza crepe among the sweet and savory offerings isn't so easy. My wife and son hit Mezze for Mediterranean sandwiches and hummus. And since the Travel Channel's Adam Richman declared Tommy DiNic's as having the best sandwich in America, I have to try one of the hot Italian pork sandwiches with sweet peppers and cheese.

Full and tired, we walk back to our hotel, stopping for pictures under Robert Indiana's Love statue in John F. Kennedy Plaza.

Our second day takes us to the 55-acre Independence National Historical Park, where we peruse the President's House, adjacent to the Liberty Bell Center. The open-air site pays tribute to the home of our first two presidents and the role that slaves played in those early years of the U.S.

The juxtaposition makes a sobering statement as we view the bell that symbolizes our freedom and independence, its crack a reminder that we must strive for such ideals even today.

On our tour of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted, I'm struck by the cramped quarters. Here, 56 men gathered during a sweltering summer in 1776 to defy King George III and then served as home for representatives of 12 states when they came to the city to draft our nation's framework.

As I gaze at Washington's "rising sun" chair in the Assembly Room, arranged how it was during the Constitutional Convention, it's hard not be disappointed in our modern politicians who have forgotten the spirit and sacrifice of those early statesmen.

We end the day with a little election of our own, heading to East Passyunk and South Ninth for a Philly cheesesteak throw down: Pat's King of Steaks versus Geno's Steaks. Everyone gets a half sandwich from each "wit-out" (without onions) but with "whiz" (cheese). Though Pat's seems to take the popular vote, it's close and just the kind of experiment we're sure Benjamin Franklin would have approved.

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