Greetings everyone! This past week took us to Philadelphia, PA. Though this was not really the original plan. From Connecticut, we’d planned to try and explore New York City as best we could. But, with Arkansas tags and the city still being on lockdown, for the most part, it just wasn’t in the cards for us.
We weren’t allowed to stay at most campgrounds since our license plates read Arkansas (even though we haven’t been to our home state in months, didn’t matter). By the time we found a campground that would allow us we were 2+ hours from reaching the city and they were fully booked. SO, that adventure will have to wait till another time, and though I was disappointed, it’s okay! I know we’ll get there another year.
National Constitution Center
Our first stop in Philly took us to the National Constitution Center. I’d definitely recommend parking here or the visitor center to spend the day exploring. These two places offer some of the cheapest parking and the city is super walk-able. The National Constitution center offers a ton of informative exhibits and free admission (donation requested).
We made sure to come to the city hungry because PHILLY CHEESESTEAKS COME ON! Now if you’ve adventured to Philadelphia or considered visiting here you’ve probably learned there’s a big rivalry between Pat and Geno’s cheesesteaks and most visitors try those out. However, after a little research, it seemed these weren’t the most popular cheesesteaks amongst the locals. There were several shops listed but we landed on Jim’s Steaks because of its convenient location to the area we were exploring. Be sure to get “whiz” for your cheese choice. We have to agree with locals on this one, this place was so yummy!
Exploring History and the Liberty Bell
As we headed into the Independence Hall area our first stop was the Liberty Bell. Truthfully, neither of us knew a whole lot about it before this exhibit, but we walked away knowing a bit more about our nation’s history than we started with! They also did an excellent job of social distancing, masks in all these areas and only so many people allowed in at once, monitored by staff. Fun fact for you, the liberty bell weighs 2,080 pounds!
Next, we explored where the president’s house once stood. Constructed in 1767 it was a beauty! Now it’s just exterior walls but plenty of pics and commentary to give you an understanding of the place.
The archeological fragments pictured below were unearthed in 2007.
We checked out the exterior of Independence Hall, though we would’ve liked to go inside we didn’t want to wait four hours (due to limited numbers of people being able to enter the building). Still cool to see in person!
Wills Eye Hospital
As we wandered away from Independence Hall to our next stop we passed across the first eye clinic in America (now a large eye hospital).
Don’t forget to snap a photo of the classic “Love” exhibit downtown, It was much smaller in person than we expected it to be. If you get a photo including yourself make sure to stand inside the box!
We also ended up meandering through Chinatown, a next part of the city with lots of unique shops and tasty restaurants. And we just so happened to stumble across the weiner-mobile as it drove through Philadelphia! Of course I was overly excited.
Don’t miss Reading Terminal Market! Opening its doors in 1893 this market has a lot of history and delicious treats. We went in thinking we’d snag some pastries but Mrs. Nina (owner of Sweet Nina’s) stole our hearts with her genuine kindness, interest in our travels, and tasty banana pudding samples. It reminded me of home and we just couldn’t pass it up. We settled on sharing a strawberry banana pudding cup. The Riehl Cheese Shoppe is a longstanding sight in the market that offers yummy cheeses, fresh meats, and veggie dips.
Ben Franklin’s Grave
Did you know Ben Franklin is buried in Philadelphia? You can check out his grave at Christ Church Burial Ground. You may also stumble upon a few other famous names!
One of my most favorite places we experienced in Philadelphia was Elfreth’s Alley! It is the oldest street in America and people still live in these homes. How cool would it be to live here?
Philadelphia has great murals and mosaic art called “Magic Gardens” that make for a great photo op.
We were pooped after our first day of exploring Philadelphia but we had to come back a few days later because we couldn’t miss touring Eastern State Penitentiary. One of the most haunted places in the nation (you know we’re all about the ghosts) and even if you’re not into that it’s a wonderful learning experience about the American prison system and the audio tour is narrated by Steve Buscemi!
A Little History
The hallways and cells have a dome roof to give a church/spiritual type feel to the building in order to encourage penitence (hence penitentiary). Eastern State Penitentiary was built way back in 1829 and was functional until 1971. Eastern State was built with the intentions of prisoners having plenty of silent reflection time, this was thought to be needed for people to truly understand their crimes and how to behave differently in the future. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with reflection time, 24 hours a day in total silence and alone can drive a person mad fairly quickly.
Notice the solid wooden doors covering each cell? Prisoners couldn’t see one another at all and they very rarely saw guards. They stayed in their cell 23 hours a day, alone, and had one hour to enter their private courtyard (attatched to each cell) and get some sunshine and exercise. I can’t imagine how long and lonely the days must have felt.
When entering Eastern State you’ll be given a cute little headset and audio player. While there’s very obvious big signs that give you a number to punch in and hear the history, there are a lot of smaller signs that also have numbers in the left-hand corner that allow you to hear stories from prisoners, previous staff, and learn even more!
Prisons are no longer allowed to offer “bread and water” diets as punishment but believe me, “nutraloaf” is just as bad if not worse. From listening the audio it seems to be whatever meal, leftovers are on hand ground up and placed into a baking pan, baked and sliced. Mm, nutraloaf.
Inmates entered the penitentiary with a sack over their head and it remained on until they entered their cell. This was to prevent them from learning the layout of the prison should they wish to try and escape.
Each cell was equipped with a cot, workbench, and toilet. The indoor toilet was pretty advanced for its time and prisoners were only allowed one flush a day (eek.).
Before the construction of Eastern State Penitentiary prisons were said to be a horrible place with everyone in one large holding cell or room. Disease ran rampant in these damp and underfunded places. While it seems Eastern State had many good intentions, it also created nightmares of its own.
Mass Incarceration in the USA
The layout of the prison is described as a wheel and spokes. Each row or block is a spoke of the wheel while the center is a main hub and guard lookout.
Get Some Sunshine.
Our visit to Eastern State Penitentiary certainly taught us a lot and gave us a lot to think about and reflect on, Luke and I both agreed it was one of our favorite and most memorable experiences during our travels. So, with that said, consider taking a trip to Philadelphia, PA when you’re planning your next vacation!
That’s all for this week friends, I’m so happy to have you reading along and travel with us. We are almost done with the 48 continental states! It is a surreal feeling to say the least. If you missed last week’s post, check it out here!