Oh yes. It blows Central Park out of the water. It runs the whole length of the city.
What is Philadelphia like, architecturally speaking?
Architecturally, it's back to the days when people had big Victorian homes. Chestnut Hill is gorgeous. To me, it's one of the most beautiful places in the city. Go to Upper Merion or Lower Merion, and some of the historic homes are there, but in Chestnut Hill, all the buildings are made of stone. They're like miniature castles, and everything has two-foot-thick stone walls surrounding the property, flower planters on the tops of them. These are the things that brighten my eyes when I go through there. You rub your hands on the stones and imagine the people who may have touched them.
WE SAID…Where we feel brotherly love in Philly
Glasbern Country Inn (moderate to expensive)
On 100 bucolic acres about an hour outside Philadelphia is this luxurious country inn comprising seven buildings, complete with a spa and an acclaimed organic restaurant. It's worth the extra mileage.
Penn's View Hotel (expensive to very expensive)
In keeping with its historic neighbors like Independence Hall, Penn's View dates back a century or two. But this charming, antique-filled inn has all the modern amenities to go along with it, as well as an authentic Italian trattoria serving more than 120 wines by the glass.
Bar Ferdinand (moderate)
Despite the fact that its owner is a fashion designer turned interior decorator, this tapas restaurant gets it right, from the Moorish decor to the mouthwatering plates of Serrano ham, smoked trout, and more. Weekly beer and wine specials help pamper your pocketbook too.
Tiffin Store (inexpensive to moderate)
The new brick-and-mortar outpost of this online Indian-food delivery site serves up the same healthful delicacies two new ways: as prepackaged, ready-to-take-home meals or straight to your plate in the 30-seat dining room. The tiffin (a British term for a light, hot snack or meal) consists of your choice of two entrées plus rice, raita, dal, and pickles.
Put on your walking or running shoes and enjoy the miles of paved path along the Schuylkill River.
Or head to Trophy Bikes and rent some wheels (as little as $25 a day and rent some wheels - includes lock, helmet, and map).
Tria Fermentation School
Culinary vacations are all the rage, so if you love learning about good food and drink, try a class at this educational offshoot of the popular Tria wine-and-cheese café, where culinary experts feed you facts on everything from exotic brews to fromage fundamentals. What's even better: You get to eat your schoolwork.
Beyond the historical nature of the city, what other aspects of life in Philadelphia appeal to you?
It's a big city with a small-town appeal to it. I know my neighbors. I mean, I'm feuding with my neighbor right now because I built a wall. It's a pretty stone wall, but she didn't want the wall because I think she used to pretend that it was her property. She actually asked me to paint my garage the color that she was about to paint her house. There was something not right about that, but I still love her. I know all my neighbors, and all my neighbors know me. When I was in L.A., if someone had robbed my next-door neighbors, I wouldn't have known. Guess what? I didn't even know what they looked like. They never once came over and worked in my garden with me. They never helped me to fell a tree or to plant one.
I came home to Philadelphia after being gone for three months and forgetting to pay my landscaper, and I found that my lawn was perfectly manicured and I had a new group of hydrangeas, because my 84-year-old neighbor had been taking care of my property while I was away. I asked if I could help him for what he did and to thank him, and the only thing he said was, "Next year, will you grow some tulips, because my [late] wife used to love to see all the tulips that grew over on the east side of the property?" So I planted a whole field of tulips for him.
That's why I love Philadelphia. I know everybody in my neighborhood, and they know me. They call me Hollywood, which is funny. I walk inside Dunkin' Donuts, and it's like Norm walking into Cheers. "Hollywood!" I like that. I like feeling that I belong to something.
How did working on your new movie, Pride, help you to discover something new about the city itself, and how do you think it reflects the spirit of Philadelphia?
That's a twofold question. I learned that a large part of the city did not appreciate what had taken place there. In learning about [swim coach] Jim Ellis, I learned about the first black school that was opened there and which still stands there. It desperately needs repair. I took a couple of kids who were in the movie to Philly and walked around those places, just to discuss how important it is, this freedom that we have and our lack of use of it. We don't truly appreciate as much as we should. Secondly, what I truly learned about the city is that nobody really knows exactly what to do, but everyone has always tried to do something. It's a land where big dreams have been made and founded. Some of them took 100 or 200 years to actually come true, and some of them we're still trying to find the rainbow to. It's just a place of hope to me.
Let's move on to less weighty questions. Where do you like to chow down when you're in town?
There's a place called Spring Mill Cafe that's right in Lafayette Hill. You come up Ridge Pike, go south on Joshua Road, and then you hit a little road I can't remember the name of. But it's right there. It's a 200-year-old place. Then there's Valley Green Inn, which is right in Fairmount Park and has incredible food. Spring Mill Cafe and Valley Green Inn both have a French taste to them. I've often wondered why so many places in Philly have a French taste to them, but they do.
And do you like that?
I love it.
Where else would you recommend?
Illiano's Pizza. They make great pizza. I like it a lot. That's in Conshohocken. It's a great little stop-in place in the center of a shopping mall, so to speak. It really reflects Philadelphia. I don't go to South Street or downtown too much, because I'm a suburbanite.
It seems like you enjoy being surrounded by everyday people. Am I right?
I like light-hearted individuals. I like trivial things. I like scatterbrained people. I like people who will be in the middle of talking to you and realize that they left a pot on the stove and will ask you to come in and have some barbecue with them and you barely even know them. It really is like that in Philadelphia. People will see you a couple of times, and after a minute, they really begin to care, and they ask about you. Before the fame happened, I would come home and find notes on my door: "Haven't seen you in a while; just checking up on you." They didn't know I was an actor.
Are there any cool bars and nightclubs where you hang out in Philadelphia?
No, I've never been good there. I get uncomfortable around a whole lot of people now.
Are there some quiet nightspots where you like to chill out and just be yourself?
No. I mean, I've got three babies, man. The only quiet time is when they're asleep. I don't date, and I don't go out.
So where would you take the family to in Philadelphia?
The museum, the Franklin Mint, the Liberty Bell - all the places that have significance. The best is Valley Forge. Let them see what actually took place there. Take them to Fairmount Park. All these places are where the battle for independence took place. That's where I take my kids. I just like the natural areas. I don't take them to restaurants. I'm not big on that. I take them to the places that will always be there.
Philadelphia, for me, is family life. I can pretend to know all the groovy, cool places to go and have a bunch of people thank me for mentioning their restaurants, but that's not me. When I speak about Philadelphia, I speak about the trees and the earth and the clouds and rain and autumn, when the leaves change. That's the part I know. Getting crab apples in my neighbor's yard. I designed my property so that I could have hummingbirds and dragonflies around. They weren't there when I first got there, but as soon as I planted plants that they liked, oh my goodness. It's just a place for true beauty.
You can go into the city and miss the natural parts of it, but if you like sunshine and dirt and don't mind a couple of drops of rain, Philadelphia is the best place in the world.
You can go down to Rittenhouse Square, which is one of the oldest areas down there. The Liberty Bell is around there, and there are some really great historic homes. There are a couple of really nice bed-and-breakfasts down there, although I couldn't name one off the top of my head. It's one of the few places where you can be downtown and catch the history of it. You don't really have to go out to the suburbs, but you should take the time to come out to places like Fairmount Park. Just get a car and wander about. The best way to find oneself is to get lost in a place. That's what I certainly believe.