Writer and world traveler Larissa Milne conjures a troubling statistic, based on the years she and her husband Michael have spent in cities across the globe, writing for the Inquirer and their own award-winning “Changes in Longitude” blog.
Outside of Philadelphia, Larissa estimates, “85 percent of people don’t know what a cheesesteak really is.”
So their new book, Philadelphia Liberty Trail, published by Globe Pequot Press last month, includes a sidebar on “cheesesteak etiquette,” while recommending some favorite local spots for tourists ready to venture beyond the neon lights of Pat’s and Geno’s.
“It’s a little bit different than the average guidebook that’s out there,” explains Larissa. “The publisher wanted us to produce a creative book that was similar to…a book they’ve had out for many years on the Boston Freedom Trail.”
Despite having more Revolutionary historic sites than Boston, Philadelphia lacks the equivalent of Boston’s famous Freedom Trail route. The couple set out to write the book that might create one.
While Liberty Trail includes advice on visiting slightly more far-flung sites such as Valley Forge, Fort Mifflin, Bartram’s Garden, and historic houses in Germantown, it focuses on the Revolutionary War history of Old City and Society Hill, and invites tourists beyond the usual stops at Independence National Historic Park. Some of the highlights in their book are the Physick House, Christ Church and Washington Square. There's also advice on where to stay and where to park, how to go on foot or take SEPTA, and info on restaurants that might not otherwise be on the radar for visitors.
Michael, a New York native, and Larissa, who grew up in the Philly suburbs, lived at 11th and Pine Streets before making an unusual decision in 2011. They sold their house, quit their jobs, gave away their stuff, and began traveling the world and writing along the way. They still don’t have a permanent address, but talked with Flying Kite about their new book from their current perch in Arizona.
Larissa, who’s also a consultant with Ben Franklin Technology Partners, loves to fill visitors in on the real story of Pennsylvania Hospital, America’s oldest hospital, which many pass on bus tours, but few actually visit.
“Benjamin Franklin was very instrumental in getting funding for that hospital in the early 1750s,” she says, after the local governing bodies declined to support it. Franklin spearheaded an effort to draw contributions for the project from local citizens: “It was like a Kickstarter campaign in 1750.”
The Milnes hope their book can help make Philadelphia a worldwide tourist destination, not just for tri-state day-trips, but for visitors who will stay, eat and shop in the city for days.
“I grew up in New York, and the image of Philadelphia back in the old days was, well, it’s kind of a drive-by tourist destination,” recalls Michael. “You didn’t stay overnight, you drive down, you see the Liberty Bell, you see Independence Hall, you get back in the car, you leave.”
But with major publications like Fast Company magazine and The New York Times recognizing Philadelphia as a top global destination, the Milnes believe it’s a perfect time for a new kind of Philly guidebook. And after seeing the world for the last several years, they still insist there’s nowhere they’d rather settle.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Larissa and Michael Milne, Philadelphia Liberty Trail