Girls’ Weekend in the City of Brotherly Love

This afternoon I returned to New York City from Philadelphia, where I had spent approximately 25 hours with 2 of my wonderful lady friends for our second annual girls’ weekend. The whole thing came together in something of a crazy blur — we went from, “Oh, are we getting together this weekend?” on Monday to boarding a bus to Philly Saturday morning with a hotel booked and tentative plans to do, well everything.

Our mantra was “Nerds by day, Woo Girls by night,” and, predictably, we better fulfilled the first half of it than the second.

Saturday we wandered through an Occupy Philadelphia march, checked out the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, and ended up at an Irish pub after Whiskey Bar told us there would be at least a 2.5 hour wait for burgers. No, really. It was kind of crazy. We ended the night with White Russians at the hotel bar instead of oontz-oontzing as we had originally planned, but it was for the best. We’ve reached the age where a few drinks makes us more tired than ready-to-party. So, even on girls’ weekend, we were hitting the hay at midnight.

Sunday morning we found a really adorable breakfast place, and then we ran up the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and headed over to see what was, for me, the highlight of the weekend: Eastern State Penitentiary.

The prison was built in the 19th century with the goal of rehabilitating prisoners — they were all kept in solitary confinement to reflect on their crimes, and their identities were protected even within the prison by having them wear hoods so that they wouldn’t face a stigma once they were released — and underwent many changes until its closure in 1971.

Today, it is a museum. When it was originally built, the city was a mile and a half away. Since then, Philadelphia has grown to surround it; there is an elementary school across the street from the wall of the prison, and a Christmas tree lot in front of the gates.

I grew up taking day trips with my family to see Old Newgate Prison in Connecticut, so I’m no stranger to prisons-turned-cultural-attractions. Full disclosure: I love them. I think it’s fascinating, although I am no fan of our current penal system. So visiting this massive structure was kind of my favorite thing in a while.

We got to see Al Capone’s lush cell (above), and learned about the indoor plumbing and central heat systems dating back to a time when the White House still had outhouses, and we learned how to open cell doors and how the guards observed many prisoners from a single location.

Right now, most of the prison is only accessible by guided tour, but it seems that during the summer you get more or less free reign of the place. So guess what we’re doing this summer? Mutter Museum/Eastern State Double Whammy of Weird, anyone? I’m pretty excited.

This was, embarrassingly, my first visit to Philly since moving to New York, which is sort of ridiculous. Round trip bus tickets were 22 bucks, and we got a cheap, nice hotel in walking distance of a lot of the things we wanted to see. It was awesome. Philadelphia had an interesting vibe — a mix of skyscrapers and colonial buildings, wide sidewalks and grand boulevards. I can’t wait to explore it more, though right now I’m waiting for the soreness in my legs to ease after walking all over the city.

I also can’t wait for the third annual Girls’ Weekend. We’ve set the bar a little higher this year by venturing to Pennsylvania. Next year, there’s a good chance that at least one of us will be in a new location, so perhaps we’ll go further afield then. In any case, a weekend with good friends is just what I needed at this time of year, when E is busy studying and I am looking for things to do as the weather turns cold. Philadelphia proved to be a great city to host us!

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