Big Ben' is 300-years-old. Not the clock, silly. Our Big Ben. The Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, the inventor of the lightning rod, bifocals, the odometer, and daylight savings time, and founder of the nation's first public library, the University of Pennsylvania and Poor Richard's Almanac, where young Ben became famous for coining such aphorisms as "A penny saved is a penny earned."
Thanks to Ben, now it's your turn to save with inexpensive travel to his longtime home and adopted city, Philadelphia. In celebration of Ben's tercentenary, the City of Brotherly Love is having a birthday bash lasting all the way through April 30, 2006. While his actual birthday and the big party was on January 17, there's no reason not to join in the continuing celebration highlighted with hotel deals, a museum exhibit with artifacts from Ben's life, events, lectures, tours, concerts and other parties all around the city.
Start your own personal Ben Birthday Bash experience at the Ben Franklin 300 official website (www.benfranklin300.com). Loaded with information about Ben's life with timetables, trivia, accomplishments and links to other Franklin-related sites. The main point of the website, other than spreading the good Franklin gospel, is selling tickets to the traveling museum exhibit starting in Philadelphia before making stops in St. Louis, Houston, Denver, Atlanta, and Paris, where Franklin was worshipped and developed a cult following.
Held at the National Constitution Center (tel. 215/409-6700; www.constitutioncenter.org), tickets to the exhibit titled "Ben Franklin: In Search of a Better World," are available online or at the center for $14 for adults and $12 for children four and over. Large groups of twenty or more should expect to shell out $8.50 per person. In Philadelphia through April 30, 2006, the exhibit takes over 8,000 square foot of space and visitors are guided through by Franklin's words. Exhibit highlights include Franklin's personal copy of the American Constitution, original copies of the Declaration of Independence, over 250 original artifacts owned by Franklin and his family, and educational programs featuring famous Franklin biographers Gordon Wood and Walter Isaacson. Families should take note to one Saturday per month when the Center has scheduled Franklin Family Fun Days. See either of the above websites for schedules and calendars.
Now for the fun stuff. Travel deals to Philadelphia in conjunction with the Birthday Bash can be found at the official site for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (tel. 215/599-0776; www.gophila.com). Offering savings across several categories including accommodations, sites, food and drink, shopping and other goodies, the discounts available at GoPhila.com are plentiful. Over thirty-five hotels are participating in the festivities. The basic package includes two-nights lodging any night of the week, two tickets to the "In Search of a Better World Exhibit," free parking at your hotel, and a "Little Book of BENefits" coupon book filled with savings at local restaurants and shops. Starting at $139 per night with accommodations at a Best Western in Center City and $115 at a Comfort Inn, nightly room rates can go up to $219 at the Sheraton University City just off the grounds of the University of Pennsylvania and the $199 for the Sheraton Society Hill in the renowned and affluent Society Hill area.
Known for having some of the finest food in the country, Philadelphia restaurants are offering some excellent savings on in-house meals. From cheese steaks to chocolate fondue, selections vary. Le Bec-Fin (tel. 215/567-1000; www.lebecfin.com), Philly's long-standing internationally acclaimed French restaurant known almost as much for its impeccable service as its haute cuisine, is serving a "Penny Saved" special in honor of Franklin. The $30 (or 300 dimes) prix-fixed lunch is available at Le Bar Lyonnaise where lunch is served on a daily basis. A Francophile and known gourmand, Franklin would have likely broken bread at this Philadelphia institution. Franklin, who allegedly adored cherries, would have loved a "Benja-Martini." Available at Monticelli (tel: 215/985-4844; www.monticellirestaurant.com), the "Benja-Martini" is a mix of cherry-flavored vodka, fresh squeezed lime juice, cranberry juice and a dash of Sprite. Located in the pretty and fairly funky South Street district of Philadelphia, Monticelli attracts local regulars who live in the area and come for the hearty Italian fare and happy hour prices, like half-priced drafts for $2 bucks a pop.
For a special look at Philadelphia during the time of Franklin, Gophila.com has a special online section called "Franklin's Philadelphia," which provides links and information to the sites and areas frequented by Franklin throughout his rich life or associated with Franklin's relationship with Philadelphia. Places like Franklin's Print Shop, the reading room at the Philadelphia Rare Book Department, the Pennsylvania Ballet, and Independence Hall are just a few of the many sites listed.
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