Prince Charles and the Duchess visit Philadelphia


PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Prince Charles and his wife Camilla shook hands with well-wishers outside Independence Hall on a frigid Saturday to kick off their first trip to the city where Americans declared their independence from British rule.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall greeted long lines of gushing fans, mingling with them, accepting flowers and charming many in the crowd.

"She actually offered her hand to me," said Debbie Lefevre, 49, who gave the duchess flowers. "I was shocked."

The royal couple are on a two-day visit to the United States that focuses on youth development, urban renewal and environmental stewardship.

Prince Charles and Camilla met with the mayor, governor and other officials in the first of several scheduled public appearances.

As a park service ranger talked about the Liberty Bell, Camilla reached out and touched it, running her finger along the bell's storied crack.

Camilla wore a periwinkle dress and a brown tweed overcoat and a broach, along with pearls and pearl drop earrings. Prince Charles sported a navy suit with a red, blue and gold striped tie, and a dark overcoat.

After Independence Hall, the couple attended a reception with community leaders at the National Constitution Center.

"Over the next few days, my wife and I look forward to meeting people from all walks of life working tirelessly and selflessly" on youth and urban issues, Prince Charles told a crowd of several hundred at the center.

He said he appreciated the city's "famously warm hospitality and famously cold weather."

He noted that his parents, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, enjoying their visit to Philadelphia in 1976, and referred to King Edward VII's visit to the city in 1860.

Gov. Ed Rendell congratulated Prince Charles on his fundraising, praising him for overseeing 17 foundations that raised 200 million British pounds per year. The prince thanked him but said the praise was overly generous, saying the figure was actually for U.S. dollars, not pounds.

"I'm not sure what the exchange rate was this morning," Prince Charles said.

Among those who line up to glimpse the visiting royals outside Independence Hall was Sharon Thaler, 52, of Philadelphia, said she had waited hours. When she met the prince, she said, he was quite surprised at how long she had been waiting in the cold.

"In that case, I hope you have a stiff drink waiting at the end of the day," she said he told her.

Also on the itinerary were stops in west Philadelphia, an area of some of the city's poorer and more violent neighborhoods.

The couple also planned to stop at International House, a nonprofit organization housing nearly 400 students, scholars and interns from more than 65 nations. A visit to the Academy of Music's 150th anniversary concert was scheduled for Saturday night.

On Sunday, the prince and duchess plan to attend services at Arch Street Presbyterian Church, spiritual home of the Welsh community in Philadelphia.

They are then scheduled to take a private train about 90 miles to New York City, where they plan to visit a social services agency in Harlem and Prince Charles is to receive an award from Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment.

The prince and duchess last came to the United States in November 2005, when they visited the site of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and saw the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.