My second day in Philadelphia saw me visit two attractions that couldn’t be more different than one another. The first one was a well-preserved symbol of freedom while the other was a decrepit structure that represented isolation and is nowhere near as imposing as it once was.
A City of Contrasts
I started the day back at Independence Hall since I missed the afternoon tour the day before. The ranger-accompanied tour is free, but requires a ticket, which you’ll need to pick up at the visitor’s center a couple of blocks away from the site itself. I went and got the earliest one available and rushed back to the gates. Thankfully, there weren’t very many folks in the queue for security so I was able to get in rather swiftly. It wasn’t long before we were ushered through the East Wing where the tour began. The guided tour itself was only 30 minutes in length and included two other rooms, the Assembly Room, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chamber. It was very interesting and somewhat surreal to be standing in the same rooms where our Founding Fathers debated the future of our country some two centuries earlier. Listening to the ranger stories made me appreciate even more how exceptional those men were and made me proud to be an American.
After the tour concluded, I walked around the adjacent park a bit but since my stomach was grumbling, I decided to hop in the car to get some food. I wanted something savory, cheap, and away from the crowded streets of downtown. Parking can be a nightmare and expensive when nearby popular attractions so I opted for a small Vietnamese place in South Philly called Pho 75. I read somewhere that Anthony Bourdain himself stopped by here when he dropped by Philly a year ago so I figured it was a safe bet. And it was! It was quite possibly the best pho I’ve had in years. The broth was the right balance of salty and fatty, which gave an almost silky texture when slurped. I got a small, which was the perfect size, and eagerly ate the noodles and the accompanying slices of thin beef. It was the perfect brunch meal especially after that monster sandwich that gave me heart burn the night before. Best of all, my bill was not even $10 including a cup of tea and tip!
I proceeded towards my next destination in Philly, Eastern State Penitentiary. I was intrigued by the location because at first glance, it looked like a castle rather than a prison. As it turned out, it was the country’s very first penitentiary and became the model for many prisons in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. When I got there, my first thoughts were that one, the outside isn’t anything like a prison. A medieval castle perhaps, but definitely not something that would trigger thoughts of isolation. Second, the cells were rather large and looked rather comfortable in comparison to other prisons I’ve visited in the past. Third, based on the descriptions of exhibits on the wall and the accompanying audio guide, I was surprised to know how well the guards and prisoners got along. Again, that was not a common practice in other prisons I’ve seen before. I enjoyed the tour and especially liked the artistic installations contributed by some of the prisoners themselves. A couple of exhibits were a bit creepy, but some, like the murals by Jesse Krimes, were rather impressive. I left with thoughts that Philly is a city of contrasts. Within minutes of each other are historic structures that symbolize freedom and isolation.
It was late afternoon when I finished my tour at Eastern State so I decided to head towards Reading Market, intending to explore this famous food market. Unbeknownst to me, the market closes rather early on Sundays so I didn’t have time at all to explore. Most of the stands were already packing up and DiNic’s, home of Philly’s best sandwich that I was hoping to try, was already closed so I ended up checking out Chinatown instead. I opted to go to a small noodle place called Nan Zhou and ordered their house special. Unlike Pho 75, it didn’t have a small size so I ended up taking more than half of the contents back to my uncle’s.
I left Philly that day somewhat satisfied to have done a majority of the things I wanted to do. When I return, I’ll likely stay in the city with a friend instead so I can take in a show or live music performance at one of the pubs in the city. Until next time…