by Brynn Furnace, KTA Program Administrator
Last month, Joe and I had the pleasure of leading a wonderful group of 12 around Philadelphia. Despite an ominous weekend forecast, we cheerfully gathered together at the Park & Ride Lot, rain gear in hand, ready and excited for 3 days of exploration. For some of the group, this was their first experience with a KTA program. As we made our way down the Forbidden Drive Trail, snaking along Wissahickon Creek, the ice began to break as the group shared stories and interests. By Sunday, this group of strangers had become fast friends, requesting contact information so they could keep in touch.
On Friday, after hiking in high humidity, we checked in to the Philadelphia Hotel Bella Vista and went our own ways to freshen up, explore South Street, and grab a bite to eat. It wasn’t long before the tempting aromas from the abundant shops and restaurants had our mouths watering and our stomachs rumbling. Several of us chose to indulge on a Philly classic: the cheesesteak.
The next morning, we gathered for breakfast at the Morning Glory Diner, where we feasted on a delectable, home-cooked meal. Fueled up for the day ahead, we headed for the Historic District to meet Marianne Ruane, KTA member since 2011 and professional tour guide. Marianne led us through the well-known historic sites (the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Old City Hall, Ben Franklin’s House, etc.) but also showed us places we would have never thought to see. We ventured down alleys just wide enough for a carriage to pass and visited buildings teeming with history, all of which could have been missed in the blink of an eye. Thanks to Marianne’s expertise, the group received a full and fascinating historical experience.
A full morning of walking really worked up our appetites. At the end of the tour, the group set a path for Reading Terminal Market. With over 85 stalls of delicious, fresh food to choose from, we split up to meander the aisles in search of a scrumptious lunch. The most difficult part of the trip was deciding what to eat. Everything looked and smelled so good!
Free time until dinner allowed group members to go off and explore individual places of interest. Joe and I decided to tour the Italian Market. The amount of fresh produce, meats, and cheeses was incredible. We couldn’t help but purchase a few treats to bring home (including the most delicious cannoli ever).
When the group reconvened for a late dinner at Victor Café, we chatted about how everyone had spent the afternoon. In addition to visiting places like museums and art galleries, most of the group admitted to taking a small siesta to recharge for the evening. Dinner at Victor Café was unlike any other. The exquisite dinner, drinks, and desserts were accompanied by phenomenal operatic performances by the waitstaff. Truly a dinner to remember! Unfortunately, the rain that had so marvelously held out let loose and poured down on us as we trekked back to the hotel. On the bright side, we had only to dry off and crawl into our cozy beds for some food-induced sleep.
Sunday morning was much cooler and less humid thanks to the prior evening’s storm. Fully rested, the group gathered and walked to Sabrina’s Café, a cute restaurant minutes from the hotel. After a hearty breakfast, we loaded up the vehicles with luggage and hikers and headed for the Schuylkill River Trail. With such gorgeous weather, the trail was bustling with walkers, runners, and cyclists. It was great to see so many people utilizing this great resource. The group was able to hike past several Philly landmarks, unvisited the day before, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Boathouse Row. Upon reaching the East Falls Trailhead, we piled back into the vehicles for one last ride together back to the Park & Ride Lot.
Joe and I truly appreciated being able to hike with and get to know these 12 members. We thank them for their flexibility and companionship and hope to see everyone at future KTA events. A special thanks to Jack Hauler, Christine Chmielewski, and Marianne Ruane for being excellent, informative hike leaders. I learned so much about Philly’s history, culture, and trails in one weekend, and I am very grateful to have been part of this experience.
Below is feedback from attendees:
“Gary and I had a great time. It was nice to meet and hike with new people. We definitely saw parts of Philadelphia that we’ve never seen before. The Forbidden Drive Trail is beautiful. The personal historical tour of Philly was really nice too. Hopefully we’ll be able to go on some other hikes with KTA in the future. Thanks so much for coordinating the trip.” —Dawn B.
“It was a fun and interesting weekend and group. Thank you and Joe for your organizational skills and dealing with the unexpected.” —Ed L.
“Thank you so much for an amazing weekend! I enjoyed it tremendously. I thought it was a good combination of being in the parks along with history and visiting other interesting places. I especially liked the opera at Victor Cafe! Thanks to both of you for all your work to make the weekend go smoothly for us. The various personalities were a lot of fun, and I enjoyed getting to know both of you.” —Betsy S.
“Diane and I especially appreciated the Park & Ride Lot so we didn’t have to drive into the busy city. We had a very nice room at the Bella Vista. The guided historic tour was my highlight of the program. For me the only negative was the much too late 8:30 PM dinner at the Victor Café.” —Ellie N.
“It was a pleasure getting to meet such nice people and have talks about many subjects. If the mileage had been listed, I might not have gone, knowing I cannot do long hikes. I also didn’t realize how many blocks we would be walking. Thank you for all the meals. That was unfortunate that the Bella Vista wasn’t serving breakfast anymore. Our room was comfortable, clean, and cute. Thanks to Jack, Christine, and Marianne for guiding us around. And to you, Joe and Brynn, for driving us around.” —Diane P.
Keystone Trails Association