Truth be told I’ve never taken a sauna, but as we stepped off the bus in Philadelphia I figured it was about as close to a deep sweat sauna experience as I ever hope to get, which is never.
A Fever-Like Intensity
We thought it would be interesting to stop in Philadelphia for two days before continuing on to New York City, as neither of us had ever been before. And, since it was the 3rd and 4th of July, it seemed like a good red, white and blue spirited idea. Fourth of July in Philadelphia, why not? Little did we know the east coast would be burning with a fever-like intensity. Hot and humid doesn’t even begin to describe it, a.k.a. sauna.
The 4th of July in Philadelphia
Of course the thunder roared, the lightening struck and the torrential rain poured on our first evening, leaving us dashing to find a quick bite to eat for dinner and pretty much being confined to our hotel room for the night. But, we made up for it the next day, the 4th of July. There was just one little glitch.
It was the 4th of July, a holiday, duh. Streets were closed and traffic rerouted for the holiday festivals and places such as the Reading Terminal Market were closed. That was a bummer because I was very much looking forward to exploring and eating our way through the market. Oh well. We still managed just fine to get a good feel for what Philadelphia had to offer.
The Wheels on the Bus
One of our favorite things to do when visiting a new city, aside from walking everywhere, is to take a tour on a Big Bus or a Hop On/Off Bus and stay on it for the entire route. It’s a great way to get a feel for the city and to pinpoint places that we want to see and experience. This is where the 4th of July wreaked a little havoc with our game plan though because as I said, some of the streets the Big Bus would normally include in the tour, were closed due to the holiday festivals.
Nonetheless, it was a good tour and we were smart enough to catch an early bus so we wouldn’t bake in the intense afternoon sun while riding up top in the open air. Because it’s always fun to sit up top, right?
Eastern State Penitentiary
Philadelphia, as it turns out, is also where we spent several hours behind bars at the Eastern State Penitentiary. Travel tip: Big Bus has a shuttle service to/from the Penitentiary. That’s right, we walked in the past footprints of the likes of Al Capone, who reportedly, received special treatment while incarcerated.
Opened in 1829 Eastern State was conceived to be a prison of reform, where inmates were completely isolated in individual cells which, in theory, would inspire penitence. Hence the name penitentiary. It was a prison before its time so-to-speak with running water and central heat.
Years of Isolation
Inmates were kept isolated so that they could reflect and truly be penitent for their crimes. Upon arrival the inmate would be hooded, as he was transitioned, so that his identity was not known to anyone. The idea behind the practice was that once released, said inmate could integrate back in to society without being recognized as a former prisoner. A bible was the only possession allowed, while skills such as shoe making were taught. Inmates literally never saw anyone else and spent just 1 hour a day in a private outdoor space.
Over the decades the penitentiary was forced to change in order to accommodate the increasing number of inmates and the increasing recognition of isolation being a punishment rather than an opportunity for true penitence. Second stories were added to the wings of cell blocks, inmates shared spaces, and a hospital was opened all in an attempt to update and accommodate the growing needs of the prison population.
A National Historic Landmark
The penitentiary closed in 1971 after 142 years of operation, and after housing 75,000 +/- inmates. In the mid 1960’s it was declared a National Historic Landmark. It really was quite a fascinating experience and as I have written many times, one of my favorite things about travel is walking in the path of those who came before us. Even if those paths lie within the walls of a penitentiary.
The Liberty Bell & Independence Hall
Being that it was the 4th of July and we were in Philadelphia, a trip to the Liberty Bell was of course on the agenda. I can’t say that we were giddy with glee at the prospect, but it was in fact pretty cool to see the bell in all of it’s cracked glory. And, while we were in the vicinity we made our way to Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed.
Now, here’s where Abi excels in patience and where I always fail. The line to take the 15-minute “step inside Independence Hall” tour was l-o-n-g. I asked a park ranger, just how long it would take and he claimed ignorance on the matter but did state that 75 people were admitted every 15 minutes. Quickly doing the guesstimate we calculated at least an hour standing in line. Have I mentioned the fever-like intensity heat wave?
Abi, ever diligent, waited in line while I bench hopped. It was another fine moment of walking in the path of those who came before us. I should note here that there were some serious security checks to enter the Independence Hall complex. The guard literally opened my wallet while I stood with my silent aghast face. Abi was asked to turn on his phone so the guard could see that it was a “real” phone. What?! I don’t know if this was the status quo, or if there were a few overly eager newbie guards on duty, or if it had something to do with the large holiday crowds, but it was seriously
Fireworks, Philadelphia Style
And, speaking of the 4th of July, what would it be without a grand fireworks display? Philadelphia did not disappoint. We stayed fairly far back from the action. We couldn’t hear if there was music playing, but the fireworks were indeed grand.
All in all, given that we really only had the one full day in the city, Philadelphia was a success. We gleaned a glimpse of what the city had to offer and what we might like to visit should we find our way back to Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. By the way, do you know why Philadelphia is called the City of Brotherly Love?
- Our Big Bus Tour and our Eastern State Penitentiary Tour were hosted by CityPASS. You can read our full disclosure here.
I am so glad you visit cities for me.
You’re welcome. Thank you for sharing the desert beauty with me.
Oh my gosh I know what you mean on that sauna feeling as I’ve had that experience in the Midwest! Philly is right at the top of my US cities to visit and the Penitentiary is right at the top of that list! Excellent choice, loved that part of your post. I’ve never been on one of those buses but everyone recommends them and next chance I get when I’m in a big city I will do just that!
Hey Mike! It’s nice to see you again. Philadelphia has much to offer and at some point I’m sure we’ll land there again. The penitentiary was really an interesting experience. One wouldn’t usually think of traveling to a city to visit a city, but I had read about it and really wanted to see it. And, as you know I’m a big history buff, so anytime I can learn a few things, I’m all for it.
I would love to visit Philly, but maybe not in the summer. In spite of the heat sounds like you had a great time
We did indeed, Gilda, even in the saunaesque summer weather. I think there is a lot more to explore, we’ll have to return one day soon.
Patti, my husband, Malcolm is from Philadelphia and he took me to visit there a few years ago. It is a pretty cool town. Bummer that you missed the Reading Terminal Market. That was the highlight of my trip, other than seeing the house where he grew up and getting lost in South Philly – not a place where you want to get lost. We literally had a police car escort us back to the highway. I have always wanted to be in Boston for the 4th. Didn’t think about everything being closed though.
Oh wow, Suzanne, that is quite the story! Yikes! It never entered my mind that places would be closed on the 4th, I don’t know why it’s kind of a “duh” thing. 🙂 Aside from the Reading Terminal Market being closed, which I really wanted to see and even our hotel was on the same block, we still got a great sampling of the city.
We’ve visited Philadelphia a few times since it’s about an hour away from where my mom lives and it was kind of moving to see the Liberty Bell (“in all its cracked glory”), Independence Hall and the old cemetery where Benjamin Franklin is buried. The Reading Terminal Market is a fun experience and comparable to some of Europe’s big markets (Barcelona’s market comes to mind) where you can sample all sorts of awesome food. Loved the history about Philadelphia’s penitentiary and who knew that Al Capone was incarcerated there at one time? This 4th of July was the first time in 5 years that I’ve been in the US to celebrate but jet lag wiped me out and I went to sleep at 7 PM. The fireworks and outside celebrations didn’t bother me at all!
Jet leg can be a bitch, for sure. But, did you get your 4th of July hot dog?! 🙂