Famous stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
It’s not often I would be grateful to a dog trying to nip at my heels.
But halfway up the famous Rocky steps, the yapping critter just provides a welcome excuse to take a breather.
Forget the Liberty Bell, this is the very heart of Philadelphia.
Once, the 72 stone steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art would only be taken by the hardcore art lovers, desperate to see the Van Goghs, Duchamps and Picassos inside.
But on January 1, 1977 they had became famous across the globe thanks to one (fictional) person – Rocky Balboa.
For just as the low budget movie – released in the UK 40 years ago this month – made a star of Sly Stallone, it also made a modern movie mecca of Philadelphia.
That triumphant scene of Rocky racing up the steps – finally confident he might have a chance to beat Apollo Creed – has gone down in silver screen history.
And now each day hundreds of people try to recreate it – some tourists, some locals, some fitness fanatics, and some people like me, who frankly, are definitely more like Sly at the beginning of the movie, barely scraping it to the top.
But ask any native Philadelphian – whether from the art crowd or a downtown businessman – and they are guaranteed to have a favourite scene, even a favourite line.
Few movies after all could more perfectly capture the essence of a city; Philadelphia has always been home to the underdog with the can do attitude.
It was here the founding fathers banded together and defied the overwhelming forces of Britain to gain independence. It’s here teenage runaway Benjamin Franklin set up home and invented everything from flippers to bifocals and became the first US Postmaster General.
Likewise, the movie itself – released in the UK this month in 1977 – would never have been made if the studio had its way. It had squeezed the budget, until it was barely a shoestring.
But like his hero, Sly – who wrote and starred – was not letting his baby go down without a fight. They got creative. And just a few months after its release it was picking up the Best Picture Oscar.
It’s a success story that you can’t fail to miss in Philly.
At the foot of the art museum steps, now stands a two-tonne 10ft-tall bronze statue of Rocky himself – pure crack to the selfie addicts.
And as well as Rocky fun runs each summer, there’s now a four-hour private driving Rocky tour (awfullynicetours.com) where superfans can visit the locations of the original and 2015’s Creed.
While the steps will always be the knockout highlight, the tour – £274 for six people – also gives you a much better chance to actually see the real down n’ gritty Philly.
You see the Italian market, with its intoxicating brightly-coloured streets of fresh food and meats – and Pat’s King of Steaks, the most famous home of the Philly Cheesesteak.
You also visit the Italian Stallion’s home in Kensington, where the rumble of the El-train is a constant hum behind the banter of beer-swigging men sat on their doorsteps.
To say “Kenzo” as the locals call it, is the poor part of town would be like saying Trump is centre right. It hasn’t just been hit by the credit crunch, it’s been suckerpunched.
Adrian’s Pet Shop is boarded up. The gym is closed. Many homes are empty or demolished.
But it’s not an area without hope.
Five minutes away is Front Street Gym, featured in Creed and run by the legendary Frank Kubach, the 69-year-old veteran. The gym is everything you’d expect from the movies: a little boy not much over eight is running circuits up and down the stairs, a skinny Irish lad is at the punchbag,
another two teens are having a spar in the ring. You can smell the hard work and determination – these kids are literally fighting their way out of the ghetto.
Of course, for those who prefer their history a little more distant than the 70s, Philadelphia is also the city where the United States was born.
One of the daily 75-minute Constitution Walking Tours (£15, theconstitutional.com) will take you past the Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell museum, the President’s House – where George Washington lived – the home of Betsy Ross, credited with creating the Stars and Stripes flag, and even Franklin’s grave.
But to really get your teeth into Philadelphia’s history, the one place you can’t miss is City Tavern (citytavern.com). Run by Walter Staib – friend of the Clintons and award-winning US TV star – the restaurant serves up traditional 18th dishes and ales, using the original recipes of the time.
Founded in 1773, it was a watering hole for Washington and John Adams and threw the country’s first ever Fourth of July celebration in 1777.
Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Ale is deliciously refreshing – and there’s even a surprise for the vegetarians: Staib discovered an old letter penned by Thomas Jefferson detailing a recipe for stir fried tofu.
If you’re more of an art lover than a history buff, then you’ll also be knocked for six by Philly. The Barnes Foundation and Rodin museum both have exquisite works, several even us non-experts will recognise from school textbooks.
But the most fun way to get an art fix is a two-hour Segway tour (from £67, phillytourhub.com). The city has one of the biggest street art programmes in the US, and boasts amazing murals created by artists who live there.
Having watched Me Before You on the plane over, the idea of getting on a Segway – and riding it down the main road – was more hairy than standing alone outside Rocky’s house using an iPhone in a new pair of trainers.
But after a few wobbles, drama queen tears and an unfortunate incident running over a traffic cone in the training area, I was out on the street, holding up the traffic and feeling like I really was King of The Road. It really is much easier than it first seems – and you’re in radio contact with the guide the entire time.
One art installation you won’t see on that tour is the famous Love sign, which sits next to City Hall. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re popping between the big department stores on Broad Street. But take it from me, it’s best to go with someone else. The irony of having to ask a stranger to take my picture by the Love sign because I was ‘All By Myself’ did little to stem the fear I’m turning into Bridget Jones.
The courtyards around City Hall have a nice cafe culture vibe – but if that’s your thing also head to Rittenhouse Square.
The area around our hotel, The Warwick at Rittenhouse (warwickrittenhouse.com), is perfect for afternoons and evenings enjoying alfresco drinks – with the occasional crafts fair. The hotel itself has the tri-factor: uberchic, ubercontemporary and ubercool. And it’s just a five minute walk to most of the main shopping streets and the unmissable One Liberty Observation Deck (£15).
The 360 degree outlook is on the 57th floor of the One Liberty skyscraper and is open day and night. I’d recommend going in the evening, when you can see Philly lit up for miles. While Rocky might be right when he says the world’s not all sunshine and rainbows, it certainly looks pretty good from up there.
And unlike the view from top of Rocky Steps, for those like me that regularly ‘need a taxi to get from the bedroom to the bathroom’, this sight comes with another advantage – a lift.
This article was sourced from http://newszuma.com