Doin’ a Little East Coast Fling
The second stop on our east coast road trip was Philadelphia. I’ve heard often that Boston and Philadelphia are similar, and from what we saw, I agree. It’s small, old, quirky… a blend of Boston and DC with a bit of NYC thrown in.
Our Philly adventure was short and sweet… really an extended rest stop on our way home from Florida & Savannah. We arrived in the early evening and set off for a bit of exploring and dinner. We used Hotwire’s Hot Rates to book last minute and landed at the Hilton at Penn’s Landing near Old City. The hotel was great for what we needed: a clean place to crash that was close to a few sights. We typically prefer smaller boutique hotels, but the benefit of being at a large corporate property was the view from the high floors, parking and free snacks. The Hilton is situated on the Delaware river just next to the Independence Seaport Museum and we could see all the old ships decked out in lights at night.
It is also about a 15 minute walk from Old City, which is where we headed for dinner. After walking around a bit, we saw Lucha Cartel and decided to give it a try. We are so glad we did. It is awesome! The inside is dark and decorated with an eclectic mash-up of Lucha wrestling masks, religious icons and skateboard deck art. The food is elevated Tex-Mex and delicious! I had a huge salad and the Mann had (what else) fish tacos. Lucha Cartel also hosts various events and the night we were there was Salsa Night. While the staff was clearing tables and setting up the dance floor, no one rushed us to get out. If we find ourselves back in Philly, Lucha Cartel will be our first stop.
Photo courtesy of luchacartel.com
Everything was still closed and the streets were empty which made for a quick tour and good photos. I felt like I was in a dream version of Boston, meaning everything looked familiar but was in the wrong place or size. Our favorite stop was Elfreth’s Alley with its narrow, cobblestone street and historic houses. It’s like a sister street to Acorn Street in Boston’s Beacon Hill:
Elfreth's Alley, Philadelphia Acorn Street, Boston
The houses are meticulously preserved and decorated and the neighborhood feels like a respite from the sky scrapers and noise of the rest of the city. What we also found interesting is that Philly’s old city was pretty hipster-y, historical yet gritty, whereas Boston’s is certainly more touristy and traditional.
Eastern State Penitentiary was at the top of our list of the limited must-see Philly stops so we headed over there, driving by the beautiful Rittenhouse Square, quirky Magic Gardens (so bummed it was closed, but we were able to peak in from the street) and iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art (aka home of the Rocky steps).
Fun fact: I’m fascinated by prisons, jails, dungeons, etc. especially old ones. So when we arrived at Eastern State Penitentiary, I was positively giddy. ESP is the first true “penitentiary” in the world, meant for solitary penitence and rehabilitation as opposed to hard labor and physical punishment commonly used up to the time the penitentiary was opened. Prisoners had solitary cells accessed by a private outdoor exercise yards. Prisoners did not have contact with each other but had relative comfort in their cells which featured a faucet, flush toilet and heating. In 1965 the prison was designated as a National Historic landmark and was closed and abandoned in 1971 during which time it was taken back by nature. Trees now grow in and through parts of the prison. In 1994 the prison was re-opened for historical tours (yay for me!).
We spent a few hours roaming around the prison on a self guided tour narrated by Steve Buscemi (LOVE him!). We were able to see almost all of the structure including parts that have been restored and others that are still in ruins. Throughout the prison, we found various art exhibits… how cool is that?! Most memorable are a video loop of prison movie scenes, a photo exhibit of murder victims of ESP inmates, a video projection of trans and female prisoners telling their stories, Al Capone’s cell as it was during his time at ESP (swanky), a sculptural graph of the world’s prison populations through time and several others.
The prison has been featured in many TV shows and movies, most notably (to me anyway), 12 Monkeys and while doing research for this blog, I found out the Dead Milkmen filmed Punk Rock Girl here (one of my fave songs of all time). But there’s nothing like seeing it in person. We got through most of it in a couple of hours, but could have stayed longer to spend more time on the art exhibits. It was early April, however and our toes were getting cold so we hit the road for the final stretch towards home.
Keywords: Adventure, City Hall, City Life, Drive-By Tourism, Eastern State Penitentiary, Elfreth's Alley, Fish Tacos, Fish Tacos & Lobster Rolls, Hilton, Hotwire, Liberty Bell, Lucha, Lucha Cartel, Magic Gardens, Old City, Penn's Landing, Philadelphia, Prison, Punk Rock Girl, Rittenhouse Square, Road Trip, Rocky, Skateboards, art
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