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A PLEASANT STAY IN PENNSYLVANIA’S `CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE’

SHARE A PLEASANT STAY IN PENNSYLVANIA’S `CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE’

In Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, I didn't expect to find love.

The city was too big, too complex, too many people, too intimidating, too everything. And time was short.In lieu of love, two of us settled for four pleasant days in Philadelphia.

Aside from arriving at the 30th Street Station in the middle of going-home rush hour, everything was pleasant - almost as if we'd planned it.

We didn't schedule too many things to do, and that was a treat. Not having to keep many appointments, I spent one afternoon just reading, often sitting on the tiny patio behind our bed-and-breakfast house on Spruce Street.

We walked just about everywhere - mostly in the neighborhood where we stayed. The only exception was the Museum of Art. We took a bus there, but walked "home."

Very soon, our spacious quarters - two first-floor rooms, each with private bath and sitting room with TV - did seem like home - except that it was neater.

Our hostess kept the refrigerator stocked. And a decanter of port was waiting when we checked in.

She helped to make our vacation fun. Every morning at 9, we climbed the long stairway to her apartment for breakfast in her ornate dining room. She took extra care to make the bacon crisp, the plates warm, the orange juice cold and the table settings attractive.

A widow, she entertains poker-playing buddies regularly and knows the best restaurants in town. One of her picks was the Garden Restaurant nearby. In warm weather, guests dine at tree-shaded tables in a sizable garden. When it's cool, they sit in cozy, soft-lighted rooms, dining on delicious food. Lunch entrees are $10 to $20; dinner, $14 to $24.

Finding good restaurants within walking distance of our B & B was easy.

Less than a block away was the 16th Street Bar and Grill. The menu has dozens of interesting possibilities - Mediterranean specialties such as spicy chicken with hummus, spicy falafel, pizza and pastas and fresh fish, garnishes of tomatoes, onions, olives and sour cream. Lunch entrees average between $6 and $8; dinner, $8-$12.

A few steps farther, the Magnolia Cafe on Locust Avenue specializes in Cajun and Creole cooking. Customers get gifts of small plastic necklaces, reminiscent of the lagniappe tossed to spectators during New Orleans' Mardi Gras parade. The tree outside is liberally hung with them. Both lunch and dinner entrees average $6.50 to $12.50.

Walking west on Spruce, we turned right on 17th and bought good Italian takeout and desserts at Gelateria Fratelli. Entrees are sold by the pound or portion. Trying to remember what I'd had, I see Torta Milanese on the menu and decide if I'm ever there again, I'll get it: layered Italian meats, cheeses and vegetables, baked in custard and wrapped in pastry, $4.50 a slice.

Ten minutes away was another excellent place: Sansom Street Oyster House - mostly seafood entrees, priced from about $7 (average lunch entree) to $12-$13 (dinner). My favorite, Susanna Foo on Walnut Street serves creative Chinese dishes with a French touch in a glamorous atmosphere. Entrees are $9-$14 for lunch, $14-25 for dinner.

Sightseeing:

We walked and walked and walked. That helped to pare calories, but mostly, walking was more convenient than any other transportation.

Sights were convenient, too.

Antique Row shop windows tempted us on Pine Street, from Ninth to 12th. At Seventh, we turned north and rested in Washington Square - a lovely park, and burial ground for hundreds of Revolutionary soldiers and victims of the yellow fever epidemic. At this point, we were close to Independence National Historic Park.

I'd been there not too long ago, so we continued to Market Street and detoured through The Gallery, a four-level shopping mall that stretches from Eighth to past 11th Street. Its roof covers 230 to 250 shops and restaurants and a few department stores.

Exiting on 11th Street, we walked north a block to the Reading Terminal Market, sampled the aromas of its eateries and foods for sale, then headed back to our Spruce Street digs by way of City Hall.

The highlight of our stay was a visit to the Barnes Foundation in Merion, a 15-minute train ride from Philadelphia's Market Street East Suburban Station. In a museum built in 1925 by the late collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes are more than 1,000 paintings by artists of many periods and techniques, including a massive collection of impressionists. The museum is closed July, August and holidays.

Barnes, developer of Argyrol, a silver compound for the treatment of infections, also collected wrought iron and other metal items. Warming pans, tools, andirons, oversized forks and spoons are hung among the glorious paintings - more than 100 Renoirs, 60 Cezannes, huge Matisses with glowing patterns; ancient art from Egypt, India, Mesopotamia and Greece; cases of primitive African figures; early paintings from Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and Spain.

It's an incomparable experience, and one that should be planned in advance.

The museum is open Fridays and Saturdays, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $1.

Only 200 visitors are admitted daily on Fridays and Saturdays - 100 with reservations, 100 without. On Sundays, only 50 with reservations, 50 without are admitted.

The museum is seven-tenths of a mile from the station - a pretty trip by taxi or on foot.

(Ruth Heimbuecher is The Pittsburgh Press travel editor.)