Experiencing Philadelphia Using All Five Senses

Philadelphia skyline - photos by Jennifer Kim
Philadelphia skyline – photos by Jennifer Kim

By Jennifer Kim

It is 7 a.m. There is a hustle and bustle in South Philly. Stands of produce and fruits are readily placed in front of storefronts. Over a few blocks, the grills and spatulas are warming up until they’re piping hot. Every day hundreds of cheesesteaks are consumed. Today is no different.

Across the parkway, the majestic building of the Museum of Art is waiting to meet the intrigued breathless visitors, accomplishing the Rocky ritual of running up the museum steps. The boathouses along the Schuylkill River anticipate the night. It is their time to shine at dusk. At night, lively throngs of wanderers searching for fun find themselves stumbling along South Street. This is Philly. This is a city filled with sensuality.


A legitimate Philly moment cannot be complete without the taste of a Philly cheesesteak. There is a controversy over which places are the best cheesesteak joints, but one thing is for sure—they are cheesesteaks and not a steak and cheese sub.

Cheesesteaks are an original Philly creation, dating back to the 1930s. The clanking of the metal spatula against the grill, the clouds of steam rising from the sizzling grilled meat, and the procedure for ordering your cheesesteak all contribute to the Philly cheesesteak experience.

Each cheesesteak is handled with tender care as strips of steak are carefully placed inside the buns topped with caramelized onions and cheese. Cheese whiz. The secret behind the ultimate Philly cheesesteak is the cheese. American and provolone are the standard substitutes for the cheese, but it cannot replace that bright orange goo from the jar.

With the warm cheesesteak in my hands, my mouth is watering with anticipation. The first bite is blissful. The chewy bread has the right toasted crunch to it, while the heated blend of steak, onions, and cheese whiz melt together making it the perfect blend of harmony in my mouth.

The oil spots staining the parchment paper don’t deter me from the juicy cheesesteak. Instead, I hungrily seek more. The dripping grease only adds to the flavor. A bit disgusting? I don’t think so. In fact, it is essentially the trademark—it wouldn’t be a Philly cheesesteak without it.

No one said it would be healthy, but when in the city of brotherly love, you have to indulge Philly style. The uniformity of each bite brings cheesesteak fanatics from all over the city. It is this consistency that makes the Philly cheesesteak irresistible. I go ahead and buy another to go.

Top 5 Recommended BEST Philly Cheesesteak Joints:

Jim’s Steaks 469 Baltimore Pike Springfield, PA (610)544.8400 and 4th & South St. South Street, Phila. (215)928.1911 website

Abner’s 38th & Chestnut Phila. (215)662.0100

Dalessandro’s Steaks – Henry Ave. & Wendover St. Phila. (215)482.5407

Pat’s King of Steaks – 9th & Passyunk South Phila. (215)468.1546 website

Geno’s Steaks – 1219 South 9th St. Phila. (215) 389.0659 website

The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the famous steps where Rocky trained
The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the famous steps where Rocky trained. Photo by Painet


Sylvester Stallone’s famous performance as Rocky Balboa in the film Rocky is an unforgettable underdog tale of a club fighter facing his opponent, the reigning heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Every morning, his intense workout regimen goes through the streets of South Philly, ending with the 72 steps of The Philadelphia Museum of Art. In an act of triumph, he ritually throws his arms in the air after his last step of the entranceway to the art museum is climbed.

Do not be intimidated when you are faced with the steep elongated staircase guiding you towards the museum. This is a call for an excellent group activity with friends to encourage you when breathing becomes harder with each step.

68…69…Hearts are beating to the steady rhythm of feet pounding against the limestone steps. 70…The adrenaline is now running through the veins as the procedure of raising the arms begins. 71…72…Arms are now high above the head pumping fists into the air as people jog in place confronted by the colossal edifice in front of them.

A few feet away, a chunk of bronze is plastered against the smooth cement ground. The footprints of Rocky Balboa’s Converse high tops are imprinted against the gray concrete marking history. My own Nike running sneakers graze over the bronzed artifact tracing the footprints. He must have been at least a size 10.

Heavy breaths slowly break into even steady sighs. With feet pressed against Rocky’s footprints, you will find yourself overlooking the Ben Franklin Parkway outlined with the world’s flags. Just above the horizon, peaks of the city’s skyline protrude the sky. And just below, another set of people continue the tradition of the reenactment of the Rocky pilgrimage, pounding their feet against the historical steps.

Philadelphia Art Museum
Benjamin Franklin Parkway & 26th St. Philadelphia, PA 19130
(215)763.8100 / website
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am to 5pm
Admission: Adults – $12, Seniors (62+)-$9, Students (with valid ID) – $8, Children (13-18yrs) – $8 (12yrs & younger) – Free, Sundays – Free (donations recommended)

The Ninth Street Italian Market - photo courtesy of Turnhere.com
The Ninth Street Italian Market – photo courtesy of Turnhere.com


Spurts of Italy are strewn all over the block. My nose has guided me into the very heart of the Old World — the 9th Street Italian Market. With over thirty authentic shops and more than forty produce stands lining the streets of South Philadelphia, the eclectic aromas of the market are whirling in the air. More than a hundred years worth of immigrants linger in the community as seen by the antique shops handed from generation to generation.

Ties of generations are strung together like the aged cheeses hanging on display in shops like Claudios, blending together their sharp and pungent scents. A few feet from there you can detect hints of the ocean. Stands are placed outside the storefront of Anastasi Seafood featuring the fresh catch of the day. Continuing the tradition of vending outside, you encounter whole bodies of squid and fish that contain the overwhelming zing of the blue ocean.

Relief can be found in the perfumed aromas wafting through the street. You’re standing pressed up against the display glass just inches away from the savory delights. The sweet smells are intoxicating. With your eyes closed, you breathe in the box of fresh Italian cookies, and sweet ricotta-filled cannolis from Isgro Pastries. The world stands still. It’s like heaven in a box. In an instant, you will be ushered out the doors by the throng of loyal customers and catch a breeze of incense thrown about by the gusty wind.

Just around the corner, The Spice Corner is discovered as the source of the unique incense. Spices, herbs, and seasonings line the shelves of the store abounding in their baskets and jars. The powerful spices fuse together in the air, reminiscent of specific holidays. The aura of the Old World drifts farther away as I continue walking past the old-fashioned shops and back into the city streets.

Ninth Street Italian Market
Located on 9th St. and runs from Wharton St. to Fitzwater St.
For directions and further information, visit their website
Hours: Tuesday -Saturday: 9am to 5pm
Sunday – 9am to 2pm

Stores mentioned:
Claudio’s King of Cheese: 926 S. 9th St. (215)627.1873

Anastasi’s Seafood Ristorante: 1101 S. 9th St. (215)462.0550

Isgro Pastries: 1009 Christian St. (215)923.3092

South Street
South Street – photo by Urban Image

The Spice Corner: 904 S. 9th St. (215) 925.1660


Whether it is strolled along during the day or night, you are assured to hear the sounds of South Street Philly. The unique atmosphere of South Street is defined by its sounds. The beats of local bands are thumping out of the pubs while a crew of buddies clink their bottles of Yuenglings, a Pennsylvanian brewed beer. Cheers for brotherly love.

Shrieks of laughter are heard across the street as teens burst through the crown-shaped handles of the glass doors leading to Condom Kingdom. The absurdity of the name states exactly how it is.

A hodgepodge of risqué sex toys decorates the store causing customers to blush with embarrassment, and others to have fits of giggles. From pasta shaped like body parts to numerous flavors of condoms, the crowd entering into the store is just as varied as the merchandise displayed.

A round of “oohs” and “ahhs” are passed from one onlooker to the next as they meander through the contemporary and edgy art galleries. The galleries are modern, but offer the viewer an alternative approach to art.

A hip and vibrant crowd of men and women swarm the streets. The chatter of gossip and updated news fills the air as females sashay their trendy and popular outfits down the street as it were a runway. Honks interrupt their chitchat as males roll down their windows hollering out catcalls. The women respond with calls of their own, which usually reciprocate into squeals of tires peeling down the street. More howls of laughter detonate into the air. And so life continues on in the boisterous South Street.

South Street Philly Info:
PO Box 63675 Phila. PA 19147 phone: 215.413.3713 Fax: 215.627.7035 website

Boathouses on the Schuylkill River
Boathouses on the Schuylkill River – photo by Jennifer Kin

Condom Kingdom
437 South Street Phila. PA 19147 phone: 215.829.1668 website


Boathouse row along the Schuylkill River is one sight that is often overlooked. You’re walking along Kelly Drive, just beside boathouse row, and encounter stacks of kayaks, canoes, and boats lined up in columns in front of the Victorian-style crew houses. Each crew house — all are very distinct from one another — is draped with the school or club flag proudly displaying their symbols and crests. The few residences are trimmed in prominent collegiate colors of blue, yellow, green and red.

An older woman in her sixties suited up in a faded sweat suit, and accented with a colorful headband, marches by with her arms rigidly swinging by her side. Crossing the paved path in a blur is a young woman whizzing by on her skates. Along the river are patches of grass, where a man and his young children are seen chasing after their two Labradors playfully.

In the meantime, a young student on a bicycle, hunched over by his heavy backpack, rings his bell, warning the family of his arrival as he pedals on through. There is an assortment of city slickers, trading their city attires for comfortable and relaxed outfits for leisure activities along the river. The river is speckled with rowers, smoothly gliding over the water almost as if it were untouched.

Sunset falls. The orange and yellow rays cast shadows of the art museum glistening on top of the ripples of the river. The boathouses magically light up the night sky with their white lights. The lights neatly trim each house and outline individual windows.

The illuminated houses reflect off the river creating a mirror image of the spectacular view. Cars racing by on the highway across the river are greeted into the city with enchantment, or those leaving the city are given a festive farewell.

Schuylkill Navy of Philadelphia
Kelly Drive Phila. PA 19130 Cross Street: 26th Street boathouserow.org

Jennifer KimJennifer Kim is a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and an intern at GoNOMAD.

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