As the new Scion iM and Scion iA models head to car showrooms near you, Discovery TravelingMom is given a chance to drive through the historic city of Philadelphia in prototypes of these sporty, little vehicles. Each allows for a new experience in taking in the town and its art, culture and history. Starting out by the statue of William Penn standing perched atop City Hall, it is impossible not to feel inspired to drive around and see what historic and famous sites the city and its suburbs offer modern-day tourists.
Get the Scion into Gear and Drive
Putting the bright, spring green, Scion iM into gear, my driving partner and I take off down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for our first test drive. This scenic route takes us through Center City’s museum district. Starting at City Hall, it proceeds around Logan Circle (don’t miss the beautiful Swann Memorial Fountain-also known as the Fountain of the Three Rivers, designed by Alexander Calder) and ends at the city’s pre-eminent museum, The Philadelphia Museum of Art. We encounter traffic as some lanes are shut down due to the construction of a massive holiday concert band shell at the bottom of the art museum steps.
As much as I hate traffic, it allows us to take in the street views. A Segway tour passes us by. As we slowly progress, flags from the countries around the world fly overhead and we can see the architecturally impressive new Barnes Museum as well as the Rodin Museum and Rodin’s famous sculpture, The Thinker (this particular Auguste Rodin version which is larger than the original, was created in 1902), the Academy of Natural Sciences and the main branch of the Philadelphia Free Library. Despite the stop and go traffic, I don’t mind driving a manual version of the Scion iM, as it allows for plenty of maneuverability.
Gonna Fly Now
At the base of the Philadelphia Art Museum, traffic stalls enough that I’m able to jump out and snap a shot of the famous steps depicted in the iconic film, Rocky, along with a shot of the somewhat tacky, historically controversial, yet incredibly popular statue of Rocky Balboa that stands to the side of the museum at its base. You don’t have to be from Philadelphia to want to try your hand—or rather feet– at running up the museum steps as Stallone did in the film. Plenty of folks are out working up a sweat doing it as we drive onwards. I find myself humming the theme song.
We continue along Kelly Drive letting the Scion iM handle the curves, bumps and potholes as we venture along the riverfront and boathouse row, watch the rowers out on the river, take in the view of statues along the bike path and pass the many bikers, runners, skaters and others out enjoying the beautiful weather. The car is described to us as, “the Swiss Army Knife of vehicles,” adapting to many different road situations, and so far it lives up to that description. I am surprised to discover it has 8 airbags, and a set of easy access controls in the middle of the seat console in addition to controls on the front dashboard—both are standard features. Looping around, we move past Strawberry Mansion and areas of Fairmount Park.
According to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, “When William Penn first drew up the plans for Philadelphia, he envisioned a ‘Green Country Towne,’ with five city squares anchoring the City’s neighborhoods.” Today, Philadelphia has the “largest city-owned urban park system in the world,” and is considered the greenest city in the United States with Fairmount Park containing 10-thousand acres of parkland made of up 63 individual parks.
Moving along, we make our way to the other side of the eight-mile pathway spanning the Schuykill River, and zip along the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. For those visiting from outside of the city, take note: this drive is closed to vehicles on weekends from the first weekend in April to the last weekend in October, allowing those who want to get out on the roads (literally) to do so without having to worry about cars around them.
It’s A Zoo Out There
In the distance, we see the giant hot air Zoo Balloon flying high. It’s open to visitors at the Philadelphia Zoo. We continue in that direction, as if you’ve got kids, or are a kid at heart, it’s hard not to want to at least do a drive-by of the first zoo in the United States. Upon arrival at the zoo entrance, our Scion iM easily slips into the drop-off zone out front, and we take a moment to watch the balloon go up once again, and to spy any animals.
To avoid rush hour traffic back into the center of town, we take local streets. Our route goes past Philly’s 30th Street Station. This national transportation landmark was built starting in 1929 and features, “…massive porticoes, a soaring concourse and beautiful works of art,” according to Amtrak’s Great American Stations Project.
When we arrive back to where we started it’s time for a trip to the market.
To Market to Market
A former train terminal area truly worth seeing is the Reading Terminal Market. Market historians explain it was originally established in 1890, after the Philadelphia Reading Railroad Company purchased the entire block for its new terminal. Shopkeepers already there refused to move. The result? An agreement to build a new market beneath the tracks.
It opened officially in 1893, and has been through some tough times through the years. Today however, the market thrives with masses of sellers and buyers who go for the artisanal food vendors, Pennsylvania Dutch specialties, bakers, butchers, cheese and crafts and ample restaurants serving both international dishes and famous Philly fare including cheese steaks, homemade pretzels and Bassets ice cream.
To the Burbs
Test Drive number two has us in a Scion iA. This is Scion’s entry into the sedan market. Despite its smaller sedan size, it’s got plenty of get up and go. Although I’m not fond of the car’s front grille from an aesthetic standpoint, there is no doubt it gets people’s attention on the street. We head out to the suburbs—and the countryside. I’m driving another manual prototype with EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 31 city/41 highway/35 combined MPG. And most importantly, it comes with strong safety features including a rear-view backup camera and a low-speed “Pre-collision system” with audio and visual alerts that go off prior to the car stopping on its own. These are standard—making it a serious contender for families on a budget.
It’s the perfect day for a picnic, although there’s no time for that. But, had we wanted to bring one, the 13.49 cubic feet of trunk space , surprisingly large for the size of the car, provides ample room for plenty more than a picnic basket and supplies.
Fairly quickly, the city gives way to the suburbs, and then to countryside. We enter the Valley Forge National Historical Park. The park is more than 3,600 acres of rolling hills and full of hiking trails. It’s one of the places most associated with the American War for Independence. Many people don’t realize that no battles actually took place here, yet more than 2,000 soldiers died as they struggled against a brutal winter, disease and hunger under then-Continental commander George Washington. It’s now known as a place of historic struggle, sacrifice and perseverance in the Revolutionary War. Statues, monuments, outbuildings, cannons, log huts and forts, as well as George Washington’s headquarters remain throughout the park for visitors to see.
The parks department now offers a “Cell Phone Tour” making it possible for anyone to listen to stories about the places you’re visiting and the famous people who’ve been there before you–for example, the Knox House, Mount Joy and Martha Washington–right from your own cell phone. Look for signs posted with a blue “info spot” that will prompt you with directions.
We All Scream for Ice Cream
Our last stop of the day before turning around to go back to town is the Chester Springs Creamery at Milky Way Farms. Because there’s nothing like fresh ice cream homemade from the namesake milk cows that stand just outside the farm’s ice cream parlor! There’s a chance to wonder around the farm, and kids can enjoy wild stock and farm life as well as festivities during various holidays.
As we make our way back to Center City, traffic is no problem. Returning to our final destination, we park the car and walk over to Love Park where we take in the view of downtown Philadelphia. Looking at the Love Statue, the wind blows drops of water from the nearby fountain our way and we gaze across the parkway thinking aloud about some of the many things we still want to see.
Another trip for another time. I love this city. Did I mention I grew up here?