By Renee Gordon
“When the working day is done, Girls – they want to have fun, Oh girls just want to have fun”
Girlfriends gathered together to shop, swap stories, trade beauty tips and explore areas of personal interest even prior to European contact and the Age of Exploration. Native Americans met annually to trade goods and their wives and daughters came along and used the “rendezvous” as an opportunity to spend time with their female friends and, if unmarried, look over the available males. The lure of an extended period of time with your BFF has not dimmed and the activity, dining, touring and accommodation options have expanded.
Reading, Pennsylvania, 63 miles from Philadelphia, has crafted an outstanding Girlfriend’s Getaway & More package that is designed to provide a wide variety experiences that range from the luxurious to the interactive. Participants select from a menu of possibilities featuring spa treatments, historic sites, shopping, wine tasting and scenic trails. Reading’s Classic Girlfriend’s Getaway & More™ can be booked online and includes accommodations, Spa services, an official gift bag, a coupon redeemable for a Girlfriend’s Getaway™ nightshirt at VF Outlet Center and numerous discount coupons for stores in the outlet center and in the city. www.visitreadingpa.com/Things-To-Do-In-Reading/Getaways
The land on which Reading is situated was purchased from the Lenni-Lenape Indians from William Penn for his sons Thomas and Richard to settle. The area was known as Finney’s Ford until 1733 when the exact site for the new settlement was selected because of its location at the junction of two valleys. The city was named Reading (Red-ing) after Reading in England, the Penn’s home county seat. The brothers platted the city in 1748 and it became the seat of Berks County four years later. That same year Conrad Weiser established a trading post, a colonial mall, on the current Penn Street.
Because the city was founded so early its history is tied immutably to that of the colony of Pennsylvania and later the state. Berks County’s iron industry was booming by the start of the American Revolution and the local forges were called upon to supply Washington’s troops with guns and ammunition.
The area’s ironworks were huge operations that included the ironmaster’s home, forges, furnaces, shops and housing for the workers, enslaved, indentured and free. The 1780 census reveals that ironmasters’ were the largest slave owners in the county, owning nearly 50 percent of the 119 slaves held there. Prior to the Civil War Reading was an important station on the Underground Railroad and it is documented that fugitives found sanctuary within the black community living in the ironworks.
Historic Old Bethel AME Zion Church
was constructed in 1837 funded by the congregation under the leadership of George Dillen, Samuel Murray, Isaac Parker and Jacob Ross, a fugitive slave from Virginia. The 2.5-story edifice was rebuilt in 1869 and remodeled 20 years later. The parishioners were participants in the UGRR and freedom seekers were secreted there. Today the church houses the Central Pennsylvania African American Museum (CPAAM). It opened in 1998 and was renovated in 2011,
The museum’s founder, Frank Gilyard, was dedicated to the task of collecting, preserving and promulgating the history of African Americans in Berks County and the six neighboring counties from 1790-1981 with an emphasis on those in Reading. The tour showcases thematic, chronological galleries that feature documents, photographs, artifacts and interactive displays. The highlight of a tour of the CPAAM is a view of the actual chamber in which fugitives were hidden. www.cpaam.net
Reading is fortunate to have two sites that provide excellent vantage points from which to view the city and the region beyond. They are located in close proximity to one another and can be reached via Skyline Drive.
The 120-ft. tall William Penn Memorial Fire Tower was erected in 1939 on Mt. Penn, 1,015-ft. above the Schuylkill. On a clear day the stone tower offers a 60-mile panoramic view. The 1889 wooden tower that preceded it burned down in 1923 and it was not until Roosevelt’s New Deal, in 1938, that a second tower began construction using fireproof materials. The tower is open on a very limited schedule. www.pagodaskyline.org/tower
The city’s oldest landmark, a seven story, Pagoda, is also situated atop Mount Penn. Commissioned by William A. Witman, Sr., it was completed in 1908 for $50,000. The red brick and 60-tons of terra cotta tile Shogun Dynasty castle is 28-ft. wide, 50-ft. long and 72-ft. high. Witman’s original plan to create a luxury resort that incorporated the structure fell through and in 1910 the 10–acre property passed to Jonathon and Julia Mould who sold the Pagoda to the city for $1 a year later.
Tours of the building are by donation and visitors climb the 87-step oak staircase to the observation area at the top. On one level there is a small museum with artifacts and memorabilia. On the top-level, 360-degree windows provide a view of Philadelphia’s skyscrapers weather permitting. A Japanese bell, cast in Obata in 1739, is in the center of the room.
On the lower level there is a fireplace, this is the only pagoda with a fireplace and chimney, and comfortable seating. The Pagoda Café features local products and the Gift Shop’s souvenirs, kites and gifts support the all-volunteer organization. Of special note is a Japanese temple gateway located at the entrance to the Pagoda. Annually on December 24th the Pagoda’s lights flash to indicate to the children of Reading that Santa is on his way. www.readingpagoda.com
There are no circumstances under which a day at the spa is not a good idea and Reading’s getaway package includes a selection of spa treatments. United Artists, one of the city’s premier spa destinations, has been voted one of the 200 best spas nationwide and the palette of services available makes it an obvious choice to elevate your getaway to the extraordinary. United Artists is a full service spa and salon with signature therapeutic massages and natural therapies that can include lunch if requested and Bridal and Men’s Day Out packages are available. The staff is warm and welcoming as well as highly trained and professional and they contribute to charitable organizations including Hope Cuts. Reservations are highly recommended. www.unitedartistssalon.com
GoggleWorks is a unique cultural institution located in the 1871 Willson Safety Goggle factory, the first factory to produce optical glass in the world. They are credited with starting the workplace safety industry. The company continually expanded and refined their line until the plant closed in 2002. The building was adapted for reuse and opened 3-years later as the GoogleWorks Center for the Arts. In 2006 it was awarded the PA Historic Preservation Award.
The 145,000-sq. ft. complex consists of six buildings with the five story main building featuring 34 working artists’ studios, classrooms, a 131-seat film theater and café. A museum on the third floor relates the history of the former factory through photographs and artifacts. The first floor gift shop showcases more than 240 regional consigners. Girlfriends at GoogleWorks can enroll in a one day class and come away with new skills and a personal creation. There is a fee for classes but general admission is free. www.goggleworks.org
Reading was once known as the “Outlet Capital of the World” and the 52-acre VF Outlet Center was its hub. This was one of the first outlet centers in the nation and it all began in 1899 when the Reading Glove and Mitten Manufacturing Company was founded. In 1919, the company became the Vanity Fair Mills and started making intimate apparel. In 1971 the decision was made to sell the excess products within a designated factory space. No real promotion was done but word of the great prices spread, the products continually sold out and the factory outlet concept was born. The sales here are stunning and there always seems to be a coupon that makes the price even better. Parking is free and there are eight buildings of bargains for you and your friends to explore. www.vfoutletcenter.com
In 1948, William Koziar decorated his home and grounds for Christmas to the delight of his family and neighbors. Each year he expanded his display by adding new elements and his residence went from being known as the “Christmas House” to being the “Christmas Village”. This oft-awarded attraction is recognized as one of the “Top 10 Pennsylvania Attractions” and Display World Magazine’s “Best Outdoor Christmas Display in the World”.
The approach to Koziar’s Christmas Village is north on Christmas Village Road. As you crest the hill the entire village, illuminated with more than 500,000 lights, is spread out before you. A walking trail winds through the village pass thematic displays, animated figures, gift shops and eateries all accompanied by Christmas music in all genres. Displays are multicultural and feature fairy tale and storybook characters, favorite holiday stories and Christmas icons. This is a must-see attraction whether you celebrate the holiday or not. The village is open in the evenings until January 3rd. www.koziarschristmasvillage.com
Dining in Reading is part of the adventure. The city has numerous eclectic eateries that provide experiences from fine dining to casual. Viva Bistro & Tapas Lounge serves “Euro-Mediterranean Cuisine” for lunch and dinner. The restaurant is all warm woods and comforting colors with a fireplace and cozy booths. The menu is a mixture of French and Italian dishes augmented with homemade soups and desserts. It is located one-block from the outlet center making it perfect as a place to dine and refresh during or after shopping. www.vivagoodlife.com
Centre Park Historic District is home to Sofrito Gastro Pub. Chef and owner Hector J. Ruiz has created Latino- Caribbean dishes with a traditional American twist. The pub has an international ambiance and the food is inspired. Ruiz’s Bleu Cheese Steak Club is a must for cheesesteak aficionados. www.sofritogastropub.com
The Ugly Oyster Drafthaus is located inside a 1700s structure that is the oldest pub in the county. It is an authentic Irish pub that was crafted in Yorkshire, England, taken apart, shipped to the United States and reassembled by the craftsmen who constructed it. A step inside the pub is a step into history. The owner traveled to Ireland to take formal classes at the Guinness Brewery so that the Ugly Oyster Drafthaus could be designated an authentic Irish pub. The menu features hearty steak and seafood fare prepared with only the freshest ingredients. www.theuglyoyster.com
A great way to round out your Girlfriend’s Getaway is to have breakfast at the Tomcat Café, voted the “Best Breakfast in Berks County”. The menu is astonishing, with more than 50 pancake choices and creative omelets named after performers and songs. I strongly suggest you arrive early because there will be a line. You can find the full menu and photographs online. www.tomcatcafe.com
Country Inn & Suites is centrally located and offers 102 affordable guest rooms and suites. This hotel is a best value because of all the included amenities, bountiful breakfast, library, pool and whirlpool, free parking, fitness center and free high-speed Internet. Accommodations are roomy and feature flat screen television, refrigerator and microwave. www.countryinns.com/wyomissingpa
Complete information on planning and booking Reading’s Classic Girlfriend’s Getaway & More™ can be found online. Pick and choose which activities appeal to you, grab a friend and go for it.
I wish you smooth travels!
Who among us does not want to find the perfect gift for that special someone? Technology is all the rage and the Cogito Classic connected watch is on the cutting edge. The watch, one of only a few that never needs to be charged because it is powered by a standard watch battery, is the winner of the 2014 bronze A’Design Award and 2014 Innovation Award. This timepiece has LED icons that display incoming missed calls, texts, emails and calendar and remote functions that mute incoming calls, locate your phone, control your music and take remote photographs. It is water resistant 10 ATM and easily links with your Apple or android smartphone and tablet. French designer Xavier Huoy has created a series of watchbands and colors to fit your mood and lifestyle. The Cogito Classic is available at Brookstone and online. www.cogitowatch.com
Bernie Mev’s European-inspired “Curlies” footwear is the first travel flat with a full composite sole. The memory foam sole makes the shoe comfortable and the designer pouch makes it perfect for travel. It is offered in tree styles and more than 10 colors. The shoes are sold internationally and locally in Nordstrom and online.
The first ski and snowboard apparel rental company has arrived. GetOutfitted rents fashionable ski outfits for three, five or 10 days for as little as $29 per day. The best part is that the outfit arrives on the day you requested, to your designated location. After selecting exactly what you need you can have it shipped to your hotel alleviating the need for you to pack and carry it. When your ski trip is completed simply repack it in the prepaid envelope and return it. www.getoutfitted.com