Day 12 – Rainy day at the Haunted (?) Penitentiary

Today was a lazy day. I feel like I say that a lot. Do I say that a lot? Anyway, today was a lazy day because I didn’t have too much planned. I wanted to take a break from all the eating because as much as I love food, there’s only so much I can eat! I know, life is unfair.

I started off my morning pretty late, around 10:30AM (‘but wait, Jackie, that’s normal for youl!’ you protest). To be fair, it was a gloomy morning with intermittent rain. One of my Airbnb hosts, Laura, had the day off from work today so I hung out with her for a bit and Chicken the dog. Laura made some tasty waffles, and we ate them over some coffee and fun chats.

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Snapped a quick pic before digging in!

IMG_5454 (1)Chicken sat and watched for any stray waffle pieces. After the late breakfast, I hung out with Chicken a bit while Laura ran some errands. Unsure when the rain was going to completely stop, I decided to just head out and take Lyft around. I prefer biking, but with all the rain, I don’t think my old, borrowed bike could withstand it. Philly is pretty flat all around, but the brakes already shriek like I’m bending metal, so probably a good idea to skip biking for the day.

First stop for the day was the Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in 1829, it is the prison that became the architectural model for prisons worldwide with its cellblocks “spread like the spokes of a wheel”. It is also famously known as the prison that held Al Capone.

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I think that regardless of how you feel about museums, the Eastern State Penitentiary (or EPS for short) is one of the best pieces of Pennsylvania history you can visit, outside of the typical American Revolution sites. The site is full of interesting history about the American prison system, and how it was initially designed to truly help its prisoners feel penitent for their crimes and reform. The EPS is chock full of information about the past, but it also has insights on the modern day prison system in the US, with comparisons with other countries around the world. In addition to the self-guided audio tour (narrated in part by Steve Buscemi!), there are also the “Hands on History” portions run by EPS tour guides who give you a short 5- to 10-minute presentations that give you deeper insights about various portions of the prison. I regret leaving the house as late as I did because I feel like I missed out on some of those short guided tours. Make sure that if you go, leave yourself at least 40-45 minutes to get through the initial parts 1-10 on the self-guided audio tour, then at least another 40 minutes to an hour to explore on your own. I know that sounds like a long time, but trust me, it’s super interesting. The tour is designed very well and tells more of a story rather than just a barfing of history facts.

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Starting off the tour down this hallway
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Photo down the medical ward that was closed off.
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One of the cell blocks

Now this is the part where you get to call me kooky. I’ve heard from my Airbnb host, as well as my Lyft driver, that EPS is haunted. Naturally, that little tidbit perked my curiosity so I looked it up, and there are reports from various people that believe that the place is haunted. What do I think? Probably haunted.

I didn’t see or feel anything when I was there (thank goodness), but the place is SO creepy. Apparently, ESP is used during Halloween for haunted house-type activities, and I believe it. It’s for sure creepy enough. I love horror movies (but I also hate them because I scare easily), and walking around this place reminded me of the horror films I always watch. The gloomy weather today only added to the eerie factor. The air was thick with humidity, making it a little harder to breathe, and since there’s not too much ventilation in the prison, the air felt even thicker when you walk down those cellblocks. SHUDDER.

I stayed until closing time at 5PM, then headed over to Fuji Mountain Japanese Restaurant for City Center District Sips for happy hour/light dinner. City Center District Sips is similar to Restaurant Week; participating restaurants provide a set menu of drinks and food at a discounted price for the duration of the event. For CCD Sips, restaurants have discounted drinks (sips!) and appetizers every Wednesday between June 1 to September 28 from 5PM to 7PM. I’ve been craving sushi, and Fuji Mountain was on the list, so I thought I’d give it a try.

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Temaki, fried calamari, and a cocktail

Verdict? Just okay. The food wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t say it was particularly stellar. I got the ika ika age, which I think is usually just “ika geso karaage” or fried squid, and 3 temaki (hand rolls). The fried calamari was tasty—nice crisp batter and the squid wasn’t overcooked. The hand rolls were so-so, and that may be a matter of the wrong choice of items. I got the Mexico temaki (shrimp, avocado, masago with spicy sauce), Philly (smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber), and spicy tuna (spicy tuna, cucumber, massage).

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Close-up of sushi

Honestly, I only got the Philly because… well, I’m in Philly so I thought it’d be amusing. The ratio of cream cheese was definitely way too much; I ended up scraping out a lot of the cream cheese because it was overwhelming. The Mexico tasted fine, but lacked any depth. It was just cooked shrimp and avocado wrapped in rice and seaweed. The masago didn’t have any spice to it, so it was barely noticeable. The spicy tuna was the only roll I truly liked; it was just your classic spicy tuna with cucumber. I think Fuji Mountain gets a lot of rave reviews for their fish, and I realize now that hardly any of their happy hour temaki rolls have any proper fish in them. Fuji Mountain is probably great for proper meals (either lunch or dinner), but I wouldn’t recommend it for Sips if you’re looking for any kind of sushi. I wish they would’ve just bummed up the price for the rolls a bit to offer better options rather than providing cheaper but mediocre rolls.

After dinner, I headed over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Tonight is their Pay What You Wish program. One every first Sunday of the month (from 10AM to 5PM) and every Wednesday, the PMoA allows you to name your price for admission. I figured this would be a fun, inexpensive way to check out the museum, which is why I picked tonight to go. I decided to walk over since it was only a 25-minute walk over from the restaurant, and it had stopped raining. Had to get in my exercise since I hadn’t biked today! It’s a nice stroll over from the Rittenhouse Square area over to the museum since it looks like a path where there are a lot of runners and pedestrians going to and fro. The path along Benjamin Franklin Parkway is well-marked so it’s pretty easy to get to the museum.

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Like many tourists in Philly, I made sure to take a photo with the Rocky statue by the Rocky steps. To be completely honest, I have not seen that movie so I really do not get the significance of all of this. I promise I’ll watch the movie tomorrow though. Fun fact about myself—I’m absolutely terrible with movies so I often do not get various pop culture references. My coworkers like teasing me all the time about all the classic movies I haven’t seen. It’s not that I don’t like movies; I just…don’t get around to seeing a lot of them, I suppose. But Rocky! I’ll watch it tomorrow, promise.

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The Philadelphia Museum of Art has definitely taken a spot up at the top of my favorite art museums list. Granted, that list is short because I generally have issues with art museums (ask me about it later if you’re really curious), but truly, I rather enjoyed the PMoA.

First off, this area is gorgeous. From the Washington Monument across the street in Eakins Oval to the museum building, the area left me in awe of the massive works outside the building.

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To reach the museum, you have to ascend a flights of steps (also famously known as the Rocky Steps!). Once you reach the top, a massive Greek-style building looms into view with a pretty fountain placed right in front. Also, currently on display outside of the PMoA is one of the LOVE sculptures by Robert Indiana. AMOR is slated to be on display until the end of the month, so go see it soon before it’s gone! There’s already so much beauty outside the museum that it makes one curious to what’s actually INSIDE the museum.

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I’m less awkward in this photo, right?!

While most museums have you simply observe their collections behind a rope, the PMoA immerses its visitors in art. This is not to say that you can touch the artwork; don’t do that or someone will probably escort you out of the building and make you pay $$$$ for damages. The collections at PMoA are presented in a way where you feel surrounded by the art, so I personally felt like I had a better connection and feel for the art.

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Am I in a Japan or am I in an art museum?!

Not all exhibits in the museum are like this, but I still think the collections are very well presented in a way where things flowed well together and the exhibits felt very cohesive. I know nothing about art, but things made sense the way curators of PMoA placed them, so I think it’s a win! Random proud moment I wanted to share with you: I had a couple light bulb moments when I recognized a couple of styles, such as Anselm Kiefer whose work I just saw at the newly renovated San Francisco MoMA before I left on this trip. Does this mean I’m cultured now?! 😉 Below are some of my favorites I saw:

The museum closed at 8:45PM, but instead of going after leaving the museum, I decided it was time for dessert. Who would I be if I didn’t seek out delicious food, right? Tonight’s stop was Franklin Fountain in Old City.

Full disclosure, I think California has forever ruined me. Ice cream is one of those foods where the ingredients are so simple, and yet it’s difficult to make it spectacular. SF has some great places, so I feel like I have a decently high bar for ice cream. Franklin Fountain is a beloved Philadelphian old-fashioned ice cream parlor…but I didn’t love it. I loved the decor and the place itself, but the ice cream just didn’t do it for me. It’s not bad. I just don’t get the hype.

I got a sundae: the Lightning Rod. Perhaps this was my first mistake, not trying out the simplest menu items to test out. Boy, I’m full of much food regret today…

Anyway, the Lightning Road is a sundae made with coffee ice cream, dark chocolate brownie bites, white chocolate shavings, a shot of espresso, topped off with chocolate covered espresso beans, whipped cream, and a pretzel stick (your lightning rod!). After reading through the list of ingredients, it sure sounds like a coffee-filled experience. Alas, there just wasn’t enough coffee flavor, particularly in the ice cream. I like this ice cream a lot better than Little Baby’s in Fishtown, but the ice cream just wasn’t what I had been expecting. I’d still recommend it though because it’s such a fun place to check out, but I would suggest sticking to just getting ice cream in a cup or cone.

Then I took a long walk home! I decided against taking a Lyft home because I wanted to make sure I burned off some of the calories from my ice cream sundae haha. I will say this: Google Maps is pretty good with walking directions, so I would suggest following their suggested routes when you map out where you want to go. Why am I stating that seems obvious? Because I walked onto a road area where it split off into two roads. One road was blocked off/closed for construction/repair and the other was basically toward a freeway ramp. SCARY STUFF, GUYS. So yes, follow the Google routes. Don’t be like me! I eventually got home okay, since I’m alive and writing to you now. Careful though!

Questions? Comments? What do you think about ghosts and haunted places? Got a favorite ice cream place? Thoughts on art museums? Leave them below for me!

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