Philly’s Ultimate Gem

If you’re familiar with the movie Rocky, then you probably recognize the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s famous steps. If that doesn’t ring a bell, maybe this picture will…

*Taken from Google*

All jokes aside, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or PMA for short, is one of the most important museums in the United States. The PMA is one of the largest and oldest museums in the United States. It boasts an impressive range of artworks from all across the world and across time. Architecturally speaking, the museum is a beautiful neocolonial style with flanking columns and colorful decorations.

*Taken from Google*

Entering the museum, I was greeted by a Jazz performance. As fate would have it, that Friday night happened to be their monthly event night. It was a beautiful experience to be serenaded through my adventure of artistic pursuit.

Upon entering the impressive museum, I made my way up the stairs, past the giant statue of Diana, and turned right.

Turning the corner, I was heading toward the Asian Art wing. The museum is quite large, but I had been to this wing once before and it was my favorite one. Displaying different sculptures and architectural pieces directly unto its walls, the PMA is transformed into different worlds. First, the Medieval Cloister – I think I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves for this one.

It’s all in the details:

Waiting at the other side of the blast-to-the-past was the Japanese Teahouse.

It’s really no wonder why the museum is such a gem. I would recommend it to anyone visiting! Aside from the beautiful pieces displayed in the museum, though, there is one little not-so-hidden gem that takes place outside the museum. Because the museum is built on a hill, it looks over the beautiful Philly horizon.

Taking a deep breath, it’s easy to fall in love with Philly. It is, after all, the City of Brotherly Love.

P.S.: If you hang back, sometimes buses will come bringing tourists from all over the world, and they will literally charge out of their bus and run up the steps to relive the Rocky scene –  I think it’s so hilarious.


Philly’s Nighttime Hidden Gems

Philadelphia is not only the USA’s most historic city, it also happens to be my “home” town. I put “home” in quotations, because I’ve only had the privilege of calling this gem of a city my home for the past two-and-some years I’ve been living here as a student at Penn.

As you may know, it is hard to be a tourist in your own city. For me, I feel like I’ve been there and done that (even if I haven’t), or there’s just no sense of urgency to see the wonders of my own backyard. Realizing that Philadelphia is a World Heritage City though, changed that for me. I pushed myself to see something new every week.

One night, I went on a trip to Race Street Pier in Philadelphia’s Old City district. They had put up an exhibition called “Ghost Ship”.

The three-dimensional public installation features a mystique ship light projection unto black sails. Located at the Delaware Riverfront, the installation speaks to Philadelphia’s long social history since the 1600s. Recorded reflections by artists and experts tell the diverse tales of the colonial era.

Race Street Pier is the perfect viewing platform for the Ben Franklin Bridge. While it isn’t too cold out, they also have a beer garden with hammocks and beautiful lights. The misty atmosphere and faded lights brought out the city’s magical atmosphere…

Directly next to Race Street Pier is Cherry Street Pier, where they were hosting a design exhibition.

Projects ranged small and large, and there were works done by local universities including Drexel and Penn.

One design I found particularly compelling was a smaller scale one: noded bricks that locked into place. I thought it was a simple and elegant solution that solve any unevenness in building processes. Again, the architecture student in me prevails through my interests!

As the hunger in my belly began to build, there was really only one place, in my heart, to venture for dinner: Chinatown! Taking the trolley over to center city, I heard Chinatown before I saw it. Before I reveal my delicious dinner, allow me to interrupt the feed with some of Philly’s Finest Fluorescent Facades:

They really caught my eye on my walk over, and I thought they poetically served as a visual representation of the night’s electric air.

Chinatown was hosting a bazaar that night, so the streets were overflowing with people bringing pineapple drinks, skewer sticks, and even tacos, for some reason.

Escaping the chaos of the street, we found refuge in Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodles, my favorite Hidden Gem, where I concluded my day with the best bowl of House Special Noodles (beef balls, beef brisket, bone broth soup, cilantro, and hand drawn noodles, of course).

It really doesn’t get much better than this, does it?

New York, New York

The household names of New York gems are as follows: The Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park, the New York Slice (of pizza)… the list goes on. Being a Philadelphia local, I have the pleasure of being just one bus ride away from The Big Apple. As busy as the college student life can get, I always try to escape to New York at least once a semester, for sanity’s sake. This time, I decided to explore this World Heritage City’s Hidden Gems.

I sleepily made my way to my local Philadelphia Megabus stop at 6:30AM and dozed through the two-hour drive. The next thing I knew, we were here: New York, New York. I hop unto the rustic but charming Metro at 28th Street, off to seize the day

*28 Street Metro Station*

First stop: The State of Liberty, South Ferry.

Or more precisely, its viewing point at Battery Park. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by an adorable sight: Battery Park has an urban garden, and it seemed that a group of school children were out on the fields, busy at work. They had their own clipboards and were busy recording, I’m not sure what.

I had never been to Battery Park before, but I think it might be my favorite park in New York now. Which is a bold statement to make, considering New York has over 1,700 parks throughout its five boroughs.

Amidst the bustling mile-long line of tourists en route to Lady Liberty, Battery Park had a meticulously planted landscape lush with flowers and greenery. The edge of the park, which overlooks the water, is lined with benches that provide a fantastic view of the famous monument.

Although she may be tiny, the view reveals how spectacular it is that a monument could attract so much attention despite being so far from the mainland. Her green skin almost blends into the blue sky, a charming balance between invisibility and outright starkness.

After enjoying the view, I made my way over to the World Trade Center area where The Oculus stands proudly.

Designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, the impressive shopping center and transportation hub features an exterior of clean white ribs, mimicking an insect ready to take off.

The interior  is inspired by the Neoclassical oculus, traditionally a round opening on a wall, but here interpreted as a massive glass skylight spanned across its ceiling. The oculus opens every 9/11 to the New York sky as a tribute to the tragedy of 2001. The architect said he was inspired by Grand Central Terminal as New York’s existing quintessential monument, a place that is bustling with life.

Going off of my theme of favorites, The Oculus is definitely up there on my list of New York architecture. Opened in 2016, it is a tough contender of New York’s many monuments, which despite its newness is able to compete with existing historic architecture because of its innovative design. The interior space feels overwhelming and slightly disorienting, which I feel is appropriate to capture the essence of the tragic World Trade Center history.

Leaving Lower Manhattan, I hop back on the Metro and make my way to Museum Mile at Upper East Side. I visit a lesser-known but incredibly impressive contemporary museum: The Cooper Hewitt.

Related image

*Taken from Google*

The Cooper Hewitt Museum is a Design museum that features unique contemporary projects taking place across the world. During my visit, they had exhibits up on recycled seaweed products, eco-friendy cement, a water collection system for desert areas…

The list of impressive projects goes on, really. One that I thought was particularly interesting was a scent that scientists had reconstructed from a fossil of a flower.

Their featured exhibition was one surrounding artificial intelligence and facial recognition, which was simultaneously disturbing and yet engaging.

After the museum, naturally, I made my way across the street to Central Park. It was a gorgeous day, so I took my time and walked the path around the lake.

I treated myself to a crepe from a food truck (which was overpriced but good), and enjoyed a peaceful afternoon.

As a grand finale, dinner was a giant bowl of udon from TsuruTonTan Udon Noodle Brasserie in Soho. I chose their Truffle Creme with Crab and Mushroom Udon, which honestly changed my life. The noodles were soft and the creme was addictive; I think it’s safe to say I will be going back there soon.

We made a quick pit stop to New York’s *best* creperie, Lady M, to sneak a bite (or ten) of their Matcha and Tiramisu crepe cakes. I was way too full, but I convinced myself that the calories were well worth it anyway.

*Taken from Google*

Walking back to the Megabus stop, I was giddy with joy and trying very hard to digest my food before having to sit on the bus for another two hours. It was a day trip very well spent indeed.

Hidden Gems: QC finds

Whenever I travel, I go off to random places. Other than typical tourists’ sites, I set aside a day for exploration. It usually starts from the supermarket or farmers market – after going through aisles and aisles products with familiar or unfamiliar names, I pick out the few bags of snacks that seem to be the most interesting and open them up right away to get a bite of every single one. Then I would spend the rest of the morning wandering around a neighborhood, camp out at an art museum, or sip on a flat white at a local eatery (preferably not the one with most comments on YELP but definitely with a 4.5 star rating or higher). And of course, with my camera. I want to fit in, to live the life of a local person on a day-off.

Here are a few favorite “it-just-so-happened” finds of the city: hidden gems that surely shall not be missed.

Chateau St. Louis tour: Hear about how the castle came to be. It’s a project procrastinated for 100+ years since its initial plan of construction. Yes, the ruins seem to be nothing more than brick walls, but give it an hour and try to imagine the hundreds of years that site has witnessed. Take a look at the diamond pin from past parties, the sealed, gold-coated silverwares and plates that archeologists spent months digging out, the handsome painting of overly obese governor by his amazing PR team of the time.

Address: Terrasse Dufferin, Quebec City, Quebec G1R 4P5, Canada

Chez Boulay Cafe: Recommended by locals. Someone has described Quebec as France plus UK divided by America. By that analogy, Quebec cuisine would be more or less like upscale French restaurant located in upper state New York with the proper service you would expect only in the UK – just try it for yourself.

This is the perfect place if you are not interested in a full-on meal. No matter you are looking for something like pure sugar, a breakfast croissant, a savory quiche, or a warm soup to bring you back to life from the cold, this is the place to be.

Address: 42 Côte du Palais, Québec, QC G1R 4H8, Canada

Ex Machina: A theatre reopened in September, Ex Machina has a few shows lined up for the rest of the year. It reminded me of the Shed at Hudson Yard in NYC. It’s a new interactive space that allows for dialogs between artists and viewers. The remarkable design, from the exterior reinvention of a historical site to the interior industrial elements and modern technology, give this place so much potential.

Address: 966 Rue Saint-Jean, Québec, QC G1K 4B9, Canada


Best way to explore QC: give it a few days. Other than the must-sees, just walk around – it’s a small enough place that makes everything easy. Take note of the restaurants and special stores and random art on the street. Then spend the afternoon walking down Rue de S. Jean outside of the Old City. Or if you a nature person, head over to the park and walk along the river, or get on a bike tour to the waterfall.







Quebec City: Part 1

What makes Quebec City Quebec City? It is the combination of the castle, the maple leaves, hundreds of years of European history over 450 square kilometers of land. But for someone who was born and raised here, it’s the food, the outskirt of town, the épiceries around street corner, the experience of interacting with tourists from all over the world (well, aka, us).

I am never a fan of sugary things: the guilt and the thought of having to do a 10-minute workout to burn all the calories off keep me away from cakes, pies, and candies. However, when I came to Quebec City, everything changed. I can’t move my feet when it comes to pastry shops. One bite down the croissant, I immediately have the biggest smile on my face. The warmth of indoors and the long-forgotten joy from sugar make me want to just stay in this moment forever.

For some Quebecois, this moment of sweetness is part of their daily routine — midday break, head off to coffee shop right next door, get a block of sugar (yes, something like 200 calories of nothing but pure sugar), the spend the rest of the afternoon at a park with a copy of daily news.

I love taking picture of couples here. (No wonder “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God” was shot here). The romantic atmosphere overtakes me as I stroll along the street – just look at people going in and out of the Christmas shops. This is the city where Christmas starts in October and do not end until late January. It is a sugary winter wonderland.

Is sugar something that is deep rooted in QC? Well, we have the next few days to find out.



(to be continued… )


Hidden Gem: Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting and Their Turrell Skyspace

For someone who has lived in Pennsylvania, United States for two years, the only Philly-authentic thing I’ve familiarized myself with is their Philly Cheesesteaks and Wawa, our beloved local minimart chain. The one thing I have been curious about ever since I saw Penn’s mascot, the Quaker, is exactly that: Philly’s Quaker community.

Quakerism emerged from the English Civil War in the mid 1600s as a sect of Christianity and, ever since the 1800s, Philadelphia has become a home for many Quakers and their Religious Society of Friends. For Quakers, their core belief is that a piece of God is present in every person and that that “Inner Light” can speak to them directly.

One historic meeting place, the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, is located twenty minutes outside of Philadelphia. Once a week on Sunday mornings, the members of this community come together for one hour of silent worship in a meditative and beautifully designed space.

Although it might not look like your typical cathedral, the design of the space is impeccably well thought out. The interior is a serene palette of white walls, wooden floors and furniture, and aquamarine accents.

The generous sprinkle of windows that line the room allow natural light to flood the space and not only that, it welcomes the chirp of the cicadas and the children’s laughter to echo the room.

A gentle breeze occasionally enters, and the space is decidedly the perfect meditation haven. The coolest part yet is the “skyspace” located on the ceiling:

After asking what inspired the beautiful light piece, I was told that it was in fact done by the renowned contemporary artist, James Turrell (whose work you might recognize from Drake’s Hotline Bling music video, but trust me, he’s much more important than just that). The small square of light is projected unto a false ceiling, which opens up to the sky.

The Skyspace actually welcomes visitors, and you can sign up for a tour of it online. It’s on my bucket list to go back there at least once to really enjoy it in its full glory.

I could go on for a long time about its architecture. Did I mention its beautiful local Philadelphia field stone-covered facade?

On that note, I should probably also mention that I’m an Architecture student, hence the geeky perception towards the building’s smallest details. Having been a student in Philadelphia for over two years now, though, I’ve always been curious about the state’s Quaker roots. I’m really glad that I’ve finally cracked that mystery and can now appreciate a new way to pursue religion.

Can I offer you a friendly tip? If you’re curious about something, bring a friend along and explore – you’ll never know unless you try it.

Special thanks to Sarah for being the absolute best guide, and Vian and Nelson!

– Gaby


The address to Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting is: 20 E Mermaid Ln, Philadelphia, PA 19118. They hold worships every Sunday at 10:30 – 11:30AM.

About Us

Hi there!

Our names are Ellie and Gaby. We’re two Penn students who study Art History and Architecture. As fate would have it, we met in an Architectural Art History class.  Two years later, we’ve become best travel buddies through our shared appreciation of food, photography, and getting lost in alien places.

Our philosophy of travel is simple: traveling doesn’t need to take you far across the oceans or into another continent. Traveling is simply the curious and adventurous mindset of experiencing a place in a new way, be it through its cuisine, culture, traditions, history, fashion, or otherwise.

For our Young Traveling Scholarship, we’ve chosen to travel across North America, namely: Philadelphia and New York in the United States and Quebec and Montreal in Canada. We’ve decided to title our blog “Gems and Hidden Gems,” because some of the best experiences hide out in plain sight!

Philadelphia has been our hometown for over two years, but we decided to challenge ourselves to become tourists in our own city and dig for unique experiences that regular city-hopping tourists might miss. New York, the concrete jungle where dreams are made of (thank you, Jay-Z), is absolutely bustling with life and therefore hidden gems. Finally, Quebec is the crown jewel that neither of us have been to before – a fairytale town awaiting our arrival. Stay tuned to experience these three cities through our eyes!

Ellie & Gaby