Sunday, August 22, 2004

Schtadtleit mit die Amischen*

Evelin has a day-long meeting at Millersville University on a Friday; I really could use a break from work. Having Evelin make a two-hour by herself doesn't make sense, so we called around found a B&B, and took off for the weekend. We took the T.R.U.C.K. because we thought we might find some Amish furniture or something that we'd want to take home (and because it's more comfortable for Evelin than the Hyundai).

The drive up was uneventful. I thought we'd hit some bad rush-hour traffic on I-695 (the Baltimore Beltway), but it wasn't too bad; we made good time and were at Millersville with a little bit of time to spare.

After dropping Evelin off at the university, I was left to myself to fill the day.

Not having any real agenda, I headed out of town and just started following signs to the Conestoga Area Historical Society Museum. After some nice windy roads, I found the museum ... and it was only open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

After some time with the map and guide book, I decided to head into Lancaster proper. I figured the Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County would be a good place to start. The museum is in downtown Lancaster at Penn Square, and as I got into town, the traffic grew worse and worse. As I got closer to Penn Square, I could see yellow police tape everywhere and traffic was being diverted around the square.

After getting out of the mess and into a parking garage, I walked to the museum (which was on the non-cordoned-off part of the square). Inside, the two older ladies staffing the front desk were happy to explain that a bank in the square had been robbed that morning ("And on a busy market day!") [Lancaster Online]. It turns out there was also a suspicious package left behind by the robbers, so everything was blocked off until the bomb squad could arrive.

The museum itself was nice. Lots of Amish quilts and other textile arts, samples of fraktur script from the area, furniture, and other fine arts and craftwork.

After a quick spin though the exhibits, I walked through the central market, grabbing a curried lentil pita and some nice date cookies for lunch. Then it was back into the traffic.

Once out of town, I headed east into the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch County. I stopped to look at furniture in Bird in Hand and books in Intercourse, but otherwise I just drove through seeing what I'd see. I did stop at the Mount Hope Wine Gallery for a quick tasting, but nothing really piqued my interest. Plus, there was a fair amount of roadwork going on, leading to a lot of waiting around in traffic.

I then turned off Route 30, and headed south toward Strasburg. Since I was only half following a map at this point, I spent a bit of time on small back roads running past dairies and cornfields. It was interesting to see how many farms had little home-based industries set up to sell furniture, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, eggs, etc.

The next stop was the National Toy Train Museum. Talk about overwhelming. For such small trains, it was a pretty large place with five complex layouts of different sizes running and tons of model trains from many eras on every wall. They even had small set ups of Lego and Brio trains.

The really funny thing was that next door to the National Toy Train Museum is the Red Caboose Motel which has restored cabooses set up as individual "cabins." I don't know how comfortable they would be to sleep in, but it looked really funny.

After the toy trains, I headed to the nearby Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. It had some interesting trains on exhibit, including one that provided a good up-close look at the water scoops and troughs used to fill the water tanks of steam trains without the train having to stop.

By this time, it was getting late, but not late enough for me to head back to Millersville, so I started looking at the map and noticed the Robert Fulton Birthplace. I had no idea who Fulton was, but it looked like a nice bit of driving and (in a roundabout way) was heading me back toward Millersville, so I headed south almost back into Maryland.

It turns out the Fulton Birthplace was like the Conestoga Historical Society Museum: Only open on the weekend. From the sign outside the cabin, I found out that Fulton devised a early steamboat and experimented with early submarines.

Then it was back to pick up Evelin and we headed off to our B&B to clean up before heading back out to meet friends for dinner.

We stayed at the B.F. Hiestand House in Marietta, a nice old Victorian in an old four mill town on the Susquehanna River. It was a very nice place, good breakfasts, and a sweet old lab.

Dinner that night was at the Nav Jiwan Tea Room at Ten Thousand Villages in Ephrata. Every week, the tea room features a different country and its cuisine; this week it was Tanzania and we had some nice corn fritters, black-eyed peas, ugali, and a tropical fruit tart.

The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we went down to the Susquehanna just to see the river. Evelin was a bit uncomfortable and it was pretty muddy from overnight rains, so we didn't take a hike, but the river valley was very scenic.

We then drove downriver to Columbia and across the old bridge to Wrightsville. It was too early to visit anywhere, so we just took a look at the architecture and the scenery and then found a back road to our first destination of the day: Wheatland.

I don't think we're trying to visit all the presidential homes in the country, but Wheatland does knock another one (James Buchanan's house) off the list. It was very well preserved and had a surprising amount of the original furniture still in place, which was interesting. The presentation of Buchanan, however, was very hagiographic; not at all the typical "failed presidency" picture that one gets from reading about the build up to the Civil War.

Next door to Wheatland was the Lancaster County Historical Society museum. The current exhibit, "Playing America's Game: 140 Years of Lancaster County Baseball," was pretty cool with lots of old uniforms and equipment. It also looked forward to next year when the Lancaster Barnstormers (independent Atlantic League) will start playing at a new downtown stadium.

Next we drove through Lancaster (thankfully without the previous day's traffic) and headed toward Bird in Hand and Intercourse. Along the way, we passed the Lancaster County Prison, which has an almost ridiculous castle fa├žade.

On the way, we thought we heard some thunder and saw some pretty dark clouds behind us, but it stayed dry long enough for us to make it into the People's Place Quilt Museum. We stayed in the museum and quilting shop for quite a while, but the rain kept coming down, so I eventually made the dash for the car and backed up next to the museum porch to minimize Evelin's getting wet.

We then took a quick tour of the Intercourse Pretzel Factory (more of a "and we sell this, and this, and this" talk than a tour) before heading back to toward the B&B. Along the way, in between Bird in Hand and Intercourse, we pulled off at a farm offering homemade root beer. It wasn't very fizzy, but it was quite good tasting.

After a stop at the National Watch & Clock Museum in Columbia — at first all the grandfather clocks were a bit overwhelming (and some of the child-oriented hands-on exhibits demonstrating how weights and pendulums worked were really, really loud), but when you started looking at the mechanics of the clocks and how the gears and everything worked, it was really cool — we headed back to the B&B for Evelin to take a nap.

But before she could sleep, I added one more quick stop at Nissley Vineyards. The person who was pouring tastings offered Evelin a glass, but was very relieved when she declined. The black raspberry was very nice; the others didn't do too much for me.

Back at the B&B, Evelin had a nice nap and I read a bit of A History of the Amish. Once Evelin awoke, we chatted with the innkeepers for a while and then headed out for dinner in The Catacombs at Bube's Brewery.

For the most part, the beers (I had a tasting flight of the six or seven things they were pouring that night) were only okay: The heffeweizen and IPA were nice, but the hard cider was on the watery side. The food, however, was excellent. And the ambiance, in an hand-hewn cave 40-feet below street level where beer used to be stored with only candles for light, was very cool.

Sunday, we headed home in the morning. Originally, I was thinking we would take a bunch of circuitous country roads home, but Evelin was feeling uncomfortable, so we shot back down the interstate in plenty of time for me to go to panda watch in the afternoon.

*"City Folk With the Amish," not that our trip was anything like "Amish in the City" ...

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