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Love Is in the Air: Three Days in Philadelphia

Day Two
Start your day with a visit to Philadelphia's museum district, located along the broad, tree-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Crowning the northwest end of the Parkway is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with its neo-Classical columns and the steps made famous in the movie "Rocky." It's one of the biggest art museums in the nation, so don't try to see it all. Exhibits particularly worth tracking down include a recreated 18th-century Japanese tea house, a peaceful 13th-century medieval cloister and a pillared Indian Temple Hall, the only one of its kind in America. Otherwise, let your interests guide your visit; though European art is well represented, there are collections from all around the world. Tip: If you can, visit on the first Sunday of the month, when admission is "pay what you wish" all day.

An outpost of the Museum of Art is the Rodin Museum, a few blocks down the Parkway. Devoted to the famous sculptor of "The Thinker" (a cast of this well-known piece is the first thing you see when you enter), the museum holds the largest collection of Rodin's works outside Paris. This is a smaller, more intimate venue than the Museum of Art and can easily be explored in one visit.

When you're hungry, stop at Whole Foods to stock up on bread, cheese, fruit and other picnic fare before heading into Fairmount Park (behind the Museum of Art). With over 8,500 acres of largely undeveloped green space, this is the world's largest landscaped urban park. Down the hill to the right is the Azalea Garden, a green, peaceful place to share a picnic lunch; it's at its colorful best in late spring, when the azaleas are in bloom. Before you leave Fairmount Park, head to the pavilion near the Fairmount Waterworks to look out over the Schuylkill River to Boathouse Row. The largest collegiate rowing competition in the nation, the Dad Vail Regatta, is held in front of this famous cluster of Victorian buildings each spring.

In bad weather, try a sandwich or some comfort food at the London Grill -- or avoid going outside altogether by dining at the Museum of Art's restaurant or cafe.

After lunch, you have several choices for how to spend your afternoon. You're just a few blocks north of one of Philadelphia's most desirable residential areas: Rittenhouse Square. The neighborhood is centered around the square of the same name, a large, leafy park where locals gather to walk their dogs, play with their children or curl up on a bench with a good book.

The square is lined with some of the ritziest hotels and restaurants in the city, and the surrounding blocks feature upscale shopping and some lovely residential streets. This is a great neighborhood to just wander around in, browsing in and out of fashion boutiques (there's no sales tax on clothing in Pennsylvania!), art galleries and other high-end shops. You might consider treating yourselves to massages or other indulgences at the Body Klinic, a day spa just a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square. (Ask about discounts for treatments booked together.)

This neighborhood is also where you'll find one of Philadelphia's most eclectic museums, the Rosenbach Museum and Library. Bookworms will be fascinated by James Joyce's manuscript for "Ulysses," the papers of poet Marianne Moore and original drawings by Maurice Sendak (author of "Where the Wild Things Are"). History buffs can check out samples of George Washington's personal correspondence and a draft of the Declaration of Independence. These and other important documents are displayed amid a collection of fine and decorative arts in a 19th-century townhouse.

Another alternative for your afternoon is to visit an attraction that's fascinating but somewhat off the beaten path. The Eastern State Penitentiary, located a few blocks north of the main museum district, is a castle-like edifice built in the early 1800's as a revolutionary new kind of prison. Rather than housing all its prisoners together, the penitentiary's Quaker founders gave each inmate a private cell and a small yard for exercise, and did not allow any contact with other human beings. This solitude was supposed to make the prisoners consider their crimes and perhaps arrive at true penitence (hence the name of the building). The prison is no longer in use, and its crumbling, empty cell blocks and high vaulted ceilings now hold a haunting beauty.

Other attractions in the museum district include two comprehensive science museums, the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Free Library of Philadelphia (call ahead or check the Web site to see whether any author readings or other special events will be offered during your visit; many of these are free).

When you're ready for dinner, head for Le Bar Lyonnais, an elegant and cozy bar located beneath Le Bec Fin, Philadelphia's most famous (and expensive) restaurant. Le Bar Lyonnais features similarly delectable French cuisine but at more reasonable prices and in a more intimate environment. Menus change seasonally.

Day Three
Today, rent a car and head about an hour west to Kennett Square, part of the lush Brandywine Valley region. (Tip: Traveling on a weekday? Enjoy a leisurely morning in bed and leave around 9:30 or 10 a.m. to miss rush hour.) You're bound for the Longwood Gardens, a former country estate that's been transformed into 1,050 acres of flowers, fountains, meadows and woodlands. The gardens (both in- and outdoor) are bursting with color no matter what time of year you come, from the first blooms of crocuses and daffodils in April to the rich reds and golds of autumn foliage. Highlights at any time of year include the Italian Water Garden, with its graceful fountains and orderly lawns; the Chimes Tower, a stone tower beside a 50-foot waterfall; and the surreal Topiary Garden, with evergreen yew trees pruned into whimsical shapes like rabbits and birds.

For lunch, pop into the Terrace Restaurant in the center of the grounds; both full-service and cafeteria-style dining are available.

You could easily spend all day exploring the grounds at Longwood Gardens, but there are plenty of other attractions to visit in the Brandywine Valley in case it's pouring rain or you have some extra time. The Brandywine River Museum, housed in a restored mill not too far from Longwood Gardens, boasts an especially fine collection of landscapes and other American art. Also on site is illustrator N.C. Wyeth's house and studio.

A bit further afield is Winterthur, a country estate located outside Wilmington, Delaware. Filled to the brim with antiques and decorative art, the 175 rooms of the mansion hold galleries on everything from fancy gowns to Chippendale furniture. The estate also boasts 60 acres of parkland.

For dinner, head back into Philly and enjoy modern Asian cuisine at Buddakan, one of the most popular restaurants in Old City and a prime spot for celebrity sightings. A glittering waterfall greets you when you walk in, and a 10-foot gold Buddha oversees the proceedings in the dining room. Reservations are a must.

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    --written by Sarah Schlichter

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