Touring Gettysburg Battlefield

For three days, from July 2 – July 4, 1863, the most famous battle of the Civil War was fought near the quiet town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  This battle became the turning point of the War as prior to Gettysburg, the South had seen many victories.  The Confederate Army arrived with 75,000 troops and the Union Army had 95,000 troops.   There were more casualties here, 51,000, than at any other Civil War battle.   The photo below is from the Visitor Center and is just a small part of the “Faces of Battle” photographic wall display of casualties.

Visiting Gettysburg is no small feat as there is a lot to see here.  To experience the most of it you need two full days or more.  Just visiting the museum and Visitor Center took me at least four hours.  The bulk of time is needed to complete the battlefield auto tour which is 24 miles and has 16 stops.  There is also the National Cemetery and the town of Gettysburg with a number of historic points of interest.  Touring the battlefield auto route can be done several ways:  Guided bus tour, hiring a licensed guide to ride in your car with you, purchasing a CD auto tour guide or just winging it on your own.   I was surprised to find that there are licensed Gettysburg Battlefield guides that have to pass a written and oral test and attend a training seminar.   Since 1915, more than 572 people have completed the testing.   I went on a bus tour with one of the guides and she was quite knowledgeable, informative and entertaining.  Mark and I decided to buy the CD auto tour guide which greatly helped us understand the different stops and provided interesting background information.

Since so much happened at Gettysburg it is too difficult to write about all the events so I thought I would share a few of our favorite stops.   During one of our outings Matt and Emma were also able to join us and since we had already toured with the CDs, we got to play amateur tour guide and show them around a little.   I will also say that Mark has done a lot of reading about the Civil War, which was certainly helpful for me in trying to understand the complexities of what happened here.   In the picture above, Mark, Matt and Emma look out on the fields where the first day’s battle was fought.   The National Park Service has done a great job of managing the park and has kept it as it was during the time period.  This involved cutting down trees that weren’t there before and reestablishing fences that designated farm fields and aided in the movement of troops.

Gettysburg is full of an incredible number of memorials, monuments and markers – 1,328 in total.   Of course we couldn’t stop to read all or even a small part of them, but some are not to be missed.  In the picture above, Matt and Emma hang out at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial which was dedicated on July 3, 1938 as one part of the ceremonies for the 75th anniversary of the battle.  I thought the neatest thing about the dedication which was attended by over 250,000 people was the number of Civil War veterans.  Over 1,800 were able to attend and all of them would have had to be at least in their 90’s!

I am not a fan of war films but Mark and I are big fans of the Gettysburg movie which came out in 1993 and was filmed here.   For those that have not seen it, it is an excellent portrayal of the battle with marvelous actors that look so similar to the characters they portray.   So, it was a thrill to finally see the places so vividly portrayed in the movie.  Mark was most looking forward to seeing the field where General Pickett of the Confederate Army led his infamous charge on the third day, resulting in the defeat of the Confederates.  12,000 men moved in a battle line a mile long through this field pictured above.   When the men returned from their defeat, Commanding General Lee was there to share their sorrow stating that it was, “all his fault.”

In my opinion, Little Round Top, the location of the second day’s battle is the most beautiful part of the park.  It has a great setting on a rocky hill with wonderful views.   This is also the setting for my favorite part of the Gettysburg movie.   It was here in the woods that the volunteers of the 20th Maine with 358  men held their ground against a division of Alabama infantry.  When the Maine soldiers were out of ammunition, their Commander, Colonel Chamberlain ordered that they use bayonets and charge down through the woods to confront the advancing Alabama troops.  Their charge was successful and the 20th Maine was seen as one of the more heroic units of the battle with a monument erected to them on the ground that they held.  Colonel Chamberlain is my favorite figure in the movie and I have watched this particular scene a number of times.

Another interesting spot known as Devil’s Den, a rocky area with large boulders that saw heavy fighting. This was the setting of one of the most famous historic photographs, taken after three days of battle.  The historic photo showed a dead Confederate soldier with his rifle propped against a rock wall.   Although it looked realistic, it was discovered later that the photo was staged with the body moved here and placed into position as a sharpshooter.  Below is a photo of the area today along with a signboard describing the historic photo.

The road that runs along Cemetery Ridge is full of monuments and markers as here was the final and most intense battle.   In the picture below, Mark and Matt check out one of the many cannons that can be found throughout the battlefield.  It was here that the Union cannons were placed to defend against the advancing Confederate Army during Pickett’s Charge.  We had seen the view of this battlefield from the Confederate side earlier on our auto tour route and were now seeing the view from the Union side.

My favorite figure from the Confederate Army, General Lewis Armistead led his brigade to this spot called “The Angle,” pictured below.   I walked across the rock wall and looked out over the fields, trying to imagine what it must have been like that fateful day.  After a mile long march through a great deal of cannon fire, Armistead’s troops made it so close, but after crossing the wall met Union forces and were overwhelmed.   Armistead was killed along with hundreds of his men either wounded or killed.

I will close with a photo of the Pennsylvania Memorial, the largest monument at Gettysburg.  It was dedicated on September 27, 1910 and listed on the base are the names of each of the 34,530 Pennsylvania soldiers who participated in the battle.

As always, thanks for checking in!  In the next blog I will write about the town of Gettysburg and how they were affected by this battle.

Camping in Gettysburg Pennsylvania

Since traveling, we have stayed at many different RV parks.   Our arrival to Gettysburg made our 40th campground stay.   At each new place, there is always the anticipation of what it will be like.   Will the camping site be as I imagined?  Will it be large or small, easy to get into with our trailer or difficult?  Will the park be in a scenic area with tree cover and greenery?   Will the campsite be in a country setting, quiet and peaceful but still close enough driving distance to area attractions?   This is important to me, as I want to be able to see all that the area has to offer without too much unnecessary driving.   Upon arrival, my first impression of an RV park is often the one that sticks, but occasionally I have grown to enjoy a park more than I thought I would.   Gettysburg Campground was even better than I imagined, a beautiful green, tree covered park with a lovely creek running through it.

We were looking forward to Gettysburg, the crown jewel of all the Civil War historic places we had visited so far.  The battle at Gettysburg is probably the most famous of all the battles that have been fought on U.S. soil, so it would be a highlight to finally see it.   There were two things I was most looking forward to at Gettysburg Campground – camping with our son Matt and daughter-in-law Emma and a spot right next to the creek.  There have only been a few times while RVing that we have been able to camp right next to a body of water and I love it when we can.  Above is a picture of the view of Marsh Creek from our site.

Matt and Emma along with their adorable pooches and our grand pups Harry and Zida were able to join us at Gettysburg after spending a week camping in Richmond, Virginia for a Vespa Rally.  After so many months apart, it was wonderful to be together again!   We spent ten nights at Gettysburg but they were only able to stay two nights as they have many places to go and things to do while traveling the U.S. for a few months.  But we would be camping again with them at two other places in the weeks ahead!  Above is a picture of the group relaxing at our site.

One of my favorite things about this camp besides the creek was the wildlife.  I always hope for good bird sightings at every campsite we go to and this turned out to be great.   While camping in February at St. Augustine, Florida, we got a bird feeder and since then have put it up at many of our sites.   It is always fun to see what birds are in the area and come to the feeder.   At Gettysburg we had Cardinals (above), Brown-headed Cowbirds, White-breasted Nuthatches, Chipping Sparrows, Tufted Titmouse and Chickadees (below), enjoying our feeder.

We also put a clay dish on the ground with seeds for those birds like the chipping sparrow that like to feed on the ground.  One of our most frequent visitors to the dish were the mallard ducks who came up the bank from the creek and hung out at our campsite.  We saw groups of mallards with their offspring from time to time, but the funniest sight was when a mallard after hanging out at our site waddled back down the bank and got in the creek when the current was moving very swiftly.  It got caught in a rapid and shot down the creek so fast it looked like it was on a thrill ride!

One day when I was sitting outside I saw something slowly emerge from the bushes and a small turtle ventured out to hang for awhile.   He left and came back again later in the day.   As darkness fell, to my delight fireflies started flashing.  In our travels through the Western U.S., I never recall seeing fireflies until we came to Pennsylvania.  I assumed that fireflies out east had something to do with higher humidity levels since fireflies are prevalent when it is warm and humid.   But in doing some online research, I discovered that there are fireflies out west but not the flashing kind.  They stay closer to the ground and therefore are more difficult to see.   The flashing kind tend to be no further west than Kansas.

We had a bit of excitement after staying here for a week.  One night we had steady rain and at dawn were woken with a knock on the trailer door.  One of the park staff told us that the creek had risen significantly and there was concern the sites would flood.  Some of the other campers at lower levels had already moved or were in the process of moving to higher ground.  We were able to wait it out for a bit to see if the water stopped rising.   Above is a picture from our trailer door of our bird feeder pole surrounded by water as the creek had risen out of its bank.  Pictured below is the swollen creek next to our trailer.

As the rain lessened, the creek level stabilized and by mid morning, the threat of flooding seemed to be past.  This was the day that Matt and Emma were supposed to check in to their site along the creek, so we were glad they were not coming to a messy situation.  Being from California, it seems to rain a lot in the Eastern United States.  Back in Modesto and the California Central Valley, we often would not have rain for six months, from early spring to later in the fall.  But on our trip, we have had rain at just about every camp site and it seems there hasn’t been a week without a good storm or two.  Although the rain has not always been appreciated, I do appreciate all the beautiful green scenery we have seen in the Eastern U.S.!  Below is a view of Marsh Creek from another area of the campground.

I thought I would close with a picture of Sachs Covered Bridge that spans Marsh Creek a few miles down the road from us.  This bridge is very historic as it was crossed by both the Confederate and Union armies during the Gettysburg Battle in 1863.  Today it is only used as a pedestrian bridge.

Thanks for checking in.  Welcome to new subscriber Cyndi and everyone who has found us through Facebook!   In my next blog I plan to write about exploring the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Lititz: Twisting Pretzels in an Old Moravian Community

In 1861, Julius Sturgis founded in the town of Lititz the first commercial pretzel bakery in America.  You can still visit the original pretzel factory in a historic stone house and see the brick ovens once fueled by wood where Sturgis baked his pretzels using an old German recipe.  The same family is still baking pretzels but have moved to a modern factory near Reading, Pennsylvania leaving the old factory behind for visitors to explore.

A short tour is offered where you can learn about the company’s history, see the ovens and practice twisting a pretzel.  Have you ever wondered what the shape of a pretzel means?  The legend is bread dough was twisted into the shape of a child’s arms crossed in prayer by an Italian monk and given to children as a reward for memorizing their prayers.  The three openings of the pretzel are also said to represent the Holy Trinity.  But since documentation is limited, there are other theories on the shape as well.    On our tour we were taken to a long table and given a piece of dough to practice making our own pretzel.  We first had to roll our dough out into a rope shape with a thin rolling pin and then the twisting began.

Once twisted, it would have been great if we could have popped our pretzels to bake in one of those old ovens, but those ovens are now “stone cold.”   It was a fun little exercise and we were given a certificate and a little bag of pretzels as a reward for our efforts.  For those that are hungry after the tour, there are soft and hard pretzels for sale in the little store.  They even have pretzels shaped liked a horse and buggy!

Lititz is really a cute town that was named the number one “coolest small town in America” in 2013 by Budget Travel.   If you haven’t checked this site out on the internet, you might find it interesting to see if your town or another small town you have been to (with a population under 20,000) has been on the list over the years.  Lititz was founded by a German Count in 1742 who named the town after a Bohemian Castle where citizens had taken refuge.  Moravians are the oldest Protestant denomination in the world and they settled in this area of Pennsylvania to escape religious persecution.  Below is a picture of the Lititz Moravian Church which began here in 1749 with the sanctuary built in 1787.

We visited a museum (pictured below) and toured a historic Moravian farm house that explained the history and culture of this group.  It was nice because Sturgis Pretzel, Lititz Museum, Mueller farm house and the Moravian church as well as other historic buildings are all close to each other on a village green.   Next to the church is Linden Hall, the oldest all girls boarding school in the U.S., founded by the Moravians in 1746.

There were once very strict rules in this Moravian only community where the church owned all the property.  In 1759 church overseers established 45 regulations that everyone had to follow.   You could only keep the trade or business you had when admitted to the community unless you received permission.   You could not buy goods from outside of town.  You could not borrow or lend money without consent of the committee.  Below is a picture outlining a few of them including children not being able to play in the streets.  I found that to be an interesting regulation.

Lititz is known not only for pretzels but also for chocolate.  Wilbur Chocolate Company operated in a large brick building from 1899 – 2016.  The old building next to the tracks still stands.   The brick building is sure neat and it is sad to see old things go away, but as you know “the times they are a changing.”

Wilbur moved across the street to a much smaller brick building where they have a nice sized gift shop and you can watch through windows the workers forming chocolate creations by hand.   The company is best known for their “Wilbur Buds” which were introduced in 1894 and are foil wrapped solid chocolate pieces.  Below is a picture of the new store.  Mark and I really enjoyed seeing their collection of chocolate pots which is the largest collection we have seen of antique pots made for drinking chocolate.   They are located under the Wilbur sign.

Besides a number of historic homes that are always interesting to check out, Lititz has some nice restaurants and shops.   We ate at Tomatoe Pie Cafe where of course I had to order their specialty, the tomatoe pie.  I adore tomatoes in almost anything and found this pie full of tomatoes to be quite delicious.   While walking the town’s Main Street we found two tea shops with the best selection of teas we have seen on our travels.  It was hard to pass up restocking our tea selection in the trailer.

Although Moravians are known for their decorative stars often seen at Christmas time, Scherenschnitte or paper cutting is also popular here and is a German word for “scissors snips.”   It was brought to Pennsylvania by German immigrants.  I thought I would close with a picture of some decorating the window of a house I passed by.   I find these cuttings so beautiful and intricate, how difficult it must be to make them.  Thanks for stopping by and reading this post!

Pennsylvania State Capitol – A Handsome Building

During our travels, I have continued to try and see as many of the state capitol buildings as I can.   I was especially interested to see Pennsylvania’s Capitol in Harrisburg after reading how ornate and decorative it was.  It was described as being a work of art.   When President Teddy Roosevelt attended the building’s dedication on October 4, 1906, he said, “This is the handsomest building I ever saw.”  I had some pretty high hopes for my visit to Harrisburg.

When I walked into the capitol rotunda I was impressed by the fanciness of the interior.  Most capitols I have visited have had a certain grandeur and elegance to them, some more than others.  But inside, this building really did stand out.  The Philadelphia architect who designed it envisioned a “palace of art.”   It cost 13 million and features paintings, stained glass and furnishings by some of the best artisans of that time.   The centerpiece of the building is the 272 foot dome which was modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome.   You can see it in the picture above.   I was also very taken with the marble staircase which was inspired by the staircase at the Paris Opera.

The last state capitol building I toured was in Dover, Delaware and on that day I just looked around on my own.  The Delaware capitol is pretty and small in size, smaller even than the county courthouse that I used to frequent for work in Modesto.   The last capitol I actually toured with a guide was in Richmond, Virginia.  I wrote about that experience in a previous blog when I joined a group of French high school students on part of their tour.   When I arrived to the Pennsylvania capitol and asked about getting on the next tour, I was told that it would be with a group of 3rd graders.  Since I knew nothing about this building, I thought I might as well join them as I had as much knowledge of it as the 3rd graders.   Before the students arrived, I was advised to check out the Governor’s Reception Room.  This room is used for news conferences, meetings and receptions (below).

The 3rd graders arrived and our tour began.   The guide explained that the building was priceless with irreplaceable furnishings and artwork.  The students ended up being a well behaved and interested group.  A few of them even held the doors open for everyone as we passed through the different rooms together.   The students were more engaged and interested than the French students as they asked and answered questions.  Ah, there is nothing like a 3rd grader – their minds are still fresh and untainted by their peers and the world!

After we settled in the upstairs gallery of the Senate Chamber, we were told about Violet Oakley, a 28 year old female artist who was the first American woman in 1911 to receive a public mural commission.   At the Pennsylvania Capitol, she worked on historical murals for not only the Senate Chamber but also the Governor’s Reception Room and the Supreme Court.   She worked more than 25 years and completed 43 murals.  The elaborate Senate Chamber has stained glass windows and original mahogany desks from Belize dating back to 1906.   The walls are lined with rare green marble from Ireland.

The House Chamber is also quite decorative with stained glass windows framed in gold leaf and a large mural in back of the Speaker’s chair.  I was most impressed with the six huge bronze and crystal chandeliers that weigh over two tons each and require over 1,000 light bulbs.  Changing those lights is not a job I would want to have!

The Supreme Court room is dominated by a very large and beautiful stained glass dome.  I loved the green color.

After my inside tour I checked out the back of the building and found a beautiful fountain and flower plantings.  It was a place where people liked to gather and relax.

It was a great visit to the Pennsylvania State Capitol and I hope you enjoyed seeing it through my eyes as well!  Thanks for checking in!

Longwood Gardens and the Wonder of Water


Mr. Pierre Dupont, a wealthy industrialist did a marvelous thing when he gifted his estate and gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania for the public to enjoy.   In 1906 he bought a run down farm in order to preserve the many trees that were slated to be cut down.   Dupont characterized his purchase of the farm as an “act of insanity” at the time, but added he was looking forward to improving the property and entertaining guests.  He loved fountains beginning at age six when he saw the huge display of water pumps at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.  Throughout his travels around the world he was influenced by great gardens and water features, using ideas to create Longwood Gardens.  While visiting Longwood I was most impressed by the focus on water.   Just like Dupont, I also have a fascination with water, especially waterfalls and fountains so thought I would share some of the “wonder of water” I found at Longwood.

The centerpiece of the gardens is the Main Fountain Garden.  Several times a day there are shows which feature 1,719 jets of water leaping, spinning and dancing as music is played.  You can watch the show up close in front of the largest fountains where you will most likely get a little wet, or farther back where you can view the whole show of both large and small fountains in a landscaped park like setting.  I watched two different shows, the first time sitting in a seat farther away to experience the whole effect.  The second time I stood right in front of the large fountains, feeling the mist and seeing rainbows appear through the water.  The whole scene is reminiscent of a European castle and definitely a highlight of a visit to Longwood.

Mr. Dupont built an immense conservatory with a number of courtyards and rooms filled with trees, tropical plants, blooming flowers and huge hanging baskets.   In addition, there is an outdoor pool filled with colorful water lilies that kept me wowed for some time due to their size and color.  Not only are the many lilies impressive, but the  water platters as the huge lily pads are called are really something as well.   Some of them look like the size of very large serving platters with rounded upturned edges that look strong enough to hold a small army of frogs!

The Conservatory is filled with water features including streams, small waterfalls, fountains and pools.   This is definitely a refreshing place to walk or sit and relax with plenty of room to find a quiet place to admire all the plants and water.   One could easily spend an hour or more just appreciating everything under this roof.

My favorite part of Longwood is the Italian Water Garden.  Mr. Dupont designed this garden based on a garden he saw while visiting near Florence, Italy.   Both the flow and direction of water continually changes as you watch and shows his love for water.   The blue tiled pools, manicured lawn, bushes and trees add to the loveliness of this serene place.  I found it difficult to leave and kept walking around viewing the garden from different angles.

Another enchanting spot near the Italian Water Garden is a gazebo set in a woodland next to a small lake.   It looks like a place from a fairy tale.

There is so much to see at Longwood you really need a full day with a lot of time spent on your feet!   Even though it is so big, you have to get a timed ticket when you enter as they only let in so many people at a time to reduce crowding.   We bought our tickets online choosing the time we wanted to come.   I had to chuckle at this as there is so much space you could get lost here!

I enjoyed seeing the courtyards laid out with seasonal plantings and of course a water feature like in the photo above.   Although much of Longwood is landscaped gardens, there are also paths through woodlands to explore, since maintaining the trees on the property was a goal of Mr. Dupont.   Below is a picture of a favorite spot, a stream with lush ferns and purple irises in bloom.

The 61 foot ivy covered Chime Tower is a dreamy sight sitting next to a pond.  Mr. Dupont constructed this in 1929, modeling it after a tower he saw in France.  It reminds me of a tower from a medieval castle and was built with stones unearthed when the main fountain garden was built.  Next to the tower is a 50 foot man made waterfall.   Another great water discovery at Longwood.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this tour through the “wonder of water” at Longwood.  If you have ever thought of visiting this gorgeous garden I would heartily recommend it.  In all my travels throughout the U.S. this is the best garden I have been to!

Valley Forge – A Triumph Over Hardship

While staying in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area we were fortunate to be fairly close driving distance to Valley Forge, the wintering camp in 1777-1778 of General George Washington and his troops.   Managed by the National Park Service, this is a beautiful historic park with a modern, well equipped visitor center where we began our visit.  Not only was this a place to wait out the winter, but also a camp where Washington trained and unified his army to prepare them for upcoming war.   At this time in history, Washington’s efforts as General of the Continental Army was not seen in a favorable light.  The Army had lost several battles including the loss of their capital Philadelphia to the British.  Members of Congress as well as some of Washington’s own generals were doubting his ability to lead.  I learned some things I didn’t know about Washington during our visit here.  He had risked everything to lead this Army against the most powerful army in the world.  If the British won, Washington would probably have been hanged and his family’s property confiscated.  He was in a tough spot during this eventful winter.

In December 1777, Valley Forge became the fourth largest city in the U.S. when 12,000 soldiers and 400 women and children marched into the area and began to build new quarters including 1,500 log huts and two miles of fortifications.   The soldiers were concentrated  in one large camp so they would be better able to resist a British attack.  This proved difficult when there were not enough supplies and diseases like influenza and typhoid spread through the camp.  Although there was never a battle fought here, disease actually became a killing force with nearly 2,000 dying.   Knowing little about Valley Forge before my visit, I assumed that severe winter temperatures was the worst part of the encampment.  I remember in school learning about the men freezing in the cold, snowy weather.   But I learned that the winter was not worse than usual, it was made harder by the lack of proper clothing and a balanced diet.   The Army was just not able to provide adequately for the troops.  Above is a picture of replica log huts of the type the troops would have lived in.

In spite of the hardships, it was also a time of improvements for the military as Washington worked with Congress to reform the supply system so the troops would not face shortages.  He also attracted experienced officers to train the troops including a Prussian officer named Baron von Steuben.   There were additional reforms in military hygiene and army organization that became the foundation of the modern U.S. Army.  Some historians believe that the army’s efforts while waiting out the winter at Valley Forge are what enabled them to defeat the British in the Revolutionary War.  As you can see from the photo above, the park is very green with forested rolling hills and wide meadows.   In this area to the right of the path is where the troops would have received their training.    This is one of the best historic parks I have seen for walking or biking as a paved path goes throughout this large park.

The National Memorial Arch is a splendid large monument in the park.  It was erected to commemorate the arrival of General Washington and his army into Valley Forge.  Traditionally, a triumphal arch was erected to honor Generals or Emperors, a tradition started by the ancient Romans.  This arch was completed in June 1917 and has these words of Washington inscribed on it:  NAKED AND STARVING AS THEY ARE WE CANNOT ENOUGH ADMIRE THE INCOMPARABLE PATIENCE AND FIDELITY OF THE SOLDIERY – February 16, 1778.

The 1768 house where Washington had his headquarters is still standing.  The only major change has been replacement of the mortar between the bricks.  This is the centerpiece of Valley Forge Park and I was amazed by how well the house has held up over so many years.  Washington rented the house from the Potts family.  Valley Forge was actually a village with an iron forge.  Mr. Potts was an iron master and one of the owners.  We were able to tour the inside of the house which is furnished as to the time period.  In this home would have lived 15-25 officers, aides and servants so it would have been very crowded as there are not that many rooms.  Martha Washington also came here to live in February of 1778 bringing with her some domestic staff.  In the photo above, the structure to the left of the house is the kitchen.

In the picture above is the room used by officers both for meetings and sleeping.  The woodwork and cabinetry is all original.  Washington’s office can be seen in the picture below.  It was here that he entertained visitors and met with advisors to make battle plans.  Washington’s bedroom was located upstairs.

Washington had his own security force who stayed in huts in a field across from his house.  They protected the General, his family, equipment, supplies and papers.  Washington required that each “life guard” as they called themselves be native born Americans as it would be assumed they would be loyal and have a vested interest in the army being successful.  These soldiers also served as a model company for training the entire army.

Located in the Park but not managed by the National Park Service is the Washington Memorial Chapel.  It is a magnificent building dedicated to George Washington and also an active Episcopal church.  It was built in 1903 in a gothic style with a tall bell tower.   The church has a replica of the LIberty Bell (not in the tower) called the “justice bell” which traveled around all the counties of Pennsylvania in 1915 to support a proposed amendment to the State Constitution giving women the right to vote.  The bell was not rung until after it was passed in 1920.

The inside of the church was so beautiful and medieval looking that it took my breath away.  There were lots of stained glass windows on all sides and interesting looking pews in this high ceilinged building.

I hope you enjoyed learning about our trip to Valley Forge, an important place in the history of our country that we enjoyed seeing.

Thanks for checking in – more exploring in Pennsylvania to come!

The Snack Capital of the World

Years ago when I was considering a trip to Pennsylvania, one of the things I was looking forward to were the factory tours.   Pennsylvania has a number of these with factories making snacks in the forefront.   York County and the town of Hanover have been called  the “snack food capital of the world.”   I am a sucker for factory tours as I love seeing things being made, so we had to plan a trip to Hanover.   Our first stop was at Snyder’s which makes my favorite snack, Snyder’s Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Pieces.   At times I really crave them and although I certainly don’t eat them during every road trip, they are my favorite road trip snack.  During car trips in past years, I have been known to stop at several gas stations or convenience stores trying to hunt down these “delicacies” as not every place carries them.   When you have a craving for your favorite snack, sometimes it is hard to forget about it!  Even as I write this blog, I am snacking as I guess it is hard to write about them when I still have one small bag left from our factory visit!

Our Snyder’s tour started in the factory store where we would be meeting our tour guide.  While we waited for the tour to begin, we browsed the array of snacks for sale and were surprised to see more than the pretzels we were expecting.  Snyder’s became well known for their variety of sourdough hard style pretzels, but now many other snacks are made by the company such as peanut butter and cracker packs, veggie crisps, cheese crackers and chocolate covered pretzels.   We found out that awhile back Snyder’s was purchased by Lance Foods and then the end of last year, Campbell’s Soup bought the company.   So it appears that with these changes, the line up of snack foods could be updated.

During our tour we were able to walk through their huge building and see the manufacturing facility from big windows above.  We saw the raw material warehouse, the machines that mix ingredients and bake the pretzels and loads of pretzels being moved along conveyor belts to their destination for packaging.   I had never seen so many little pretzels before!   We saw how the pretzels are packaged, boxed and stored in the warehouse.  Robots are used to pick up packages and place them in the shipping boxes, but people were also working on the floor.  I wasn’t able to see my beloved honey mustard pretzels being processed, but our guide pointed out the area where they are made.  We saw piles of different colored veggie crisps in the packaging stage and although we didn’t see any, tortilla chips are also made here.  Many of the machines that are used to mix, form and bake the pretzels are enclosed making it difficult to closely observe the whole process.   We did find the tour very interesting with a lot of views of the factory floor as well as the opportunity to hear about the company history.   Snyder’s has been in business for more than 100 years and has been a major pretzel making operation.  Snyder’s does not allow pictures so I could not share any for the blog.

Our next stop was at Utz Quality Foods which is known for making potato chips.  This factory differs from Snyder’s in several ways.  The tour is self guided and called the “Chip Trip.”  You walk above the facility floor and watch from glass windows at the process below.  There is audio narration and some signage to explain the different steps of making potato chips from the beginning to packaging.  I liked that we were able to see the whole process and take photos.  Workers on the floor would sometimes wave at us from below.

We first saw whole potatoes before peeling and sorting, with bigger potatoes headed for bigger bags.   Potatoes that had greenish or dark spots were placed in a separate bin.  In the picture above, the worker inspects the problem potatoes which travel to the reject bin behind him.   Sometimes I would see a worker grab potatoes and cut off the bad spots, sending them on.  The potatoes to the left of the worker were good to go.

After being sliced, the potatoes are washed which was interesting because the water looked so foamy that I thought at first the potatoes were being fried.  But I found out it was the starchy residue from the potato being washed off.   The potatoe chip fryer was a covered machine so we didn’t get to see the chips actually being fried.  We did see them coming out of the fryer and traveling down long conveyor belts to be packaged.   I couldn’t believe how many potato chips I was seeing as they were coming from many directions.

We next saw the chips being packaged and boxed before heading on to the huge storeroom.

The Utz company has been family owned since the beginning when William and Salie Utz in 1921 began to make potato chips in their Hanover home kitchen, cooking about 50 pounds of chips an hour and selling to small local markets.  In the 1930’s the first plant was built near their home and in the 40’s, the first modern plant was built in town on five acres.  Over the years the facility continued to expand with new buildings added.  Today, Utz is the largest independent privately held snack brand in the United States, producing over 3.3 million pounds of snacks per week, half of which are potato chips.

Although we only saw chips being made, Utz makes much more.   Below is a picture showing their range of products including a variety of potato chips, tortilla chips, cheese puffs and pretzels.  We were also able to see a couple of films about the company and a really nice employee was available to answer questions and make sure visitors took a few sample bags with them after the tour.   This was our first taste of an Utz potato chip as they are not commonly available in the West.

At the factory store we were able to sample a variety of their different products.    My favorite was the Chesapeake Bay Crab Seasoned Chip, known as the “Crab Chip.”  It had an interesting flavor.

It was a fun and interesting day in the “snack food capital.”   Thanks for checking in with us!

Slices of Cheese and Life in Lancaster County

“Bird in the Hand” and “Intercourse” are unusual names for two towns in Lancaster County where we spent time exploring.  I was curious as probably many visitors are as to the origin of these names.  The first town I mentioned supposedly got its name when two men surveying the Old Philadelphia Pike road between Philadelphia and Lancaster in the 1700’s found themselves at a tavern or Inn.  They had a discussion about whether they should stop there for the night or travel on to Lancaster.   One of them said, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” meaning it is better to to keep what you have than to risk getting something better and ending up with nothing.   I really like the name of this town as it reminds me of something whimsical.  There are different ideas for how Intercourse was named.  One idea is this word comes from the informal fellowship and coming together during the day.  Another possibility came from horse racing that was once held on one side of the town on a long straightaway.  This was the “Enter Course” for the race with the name eventually getting changed to “Intercourse.”  Finally the name could have come from the fact that two roads in the town intersected.   However these names came about, they provide an interesting introduction to this part of Lancaster County.  The photo above is the Leaman Place covered bridge built in 1893 and located in the Intercourse area.  I have always been a fan of covered bridges!

In my earlier Lancaster County post, I talked about how enjoyable it was to drive around the countryside admiring all the homes, farms and scenic beauty.  It was also fun to stop in at  farms and roadside stands open for business.  We made stops at an Amish farm to get eggs, another one for strawberries, a specialty shop next to a home that made the best flavored popcorn and a roadside stand for pound cake to go with the strawberries we bought earlier.  (We couldn’t resist the molasses cookies there either, an Amish specialty).   One of our favorite stops was at a goat dairy that produces a variety of cheeses.  We loved their blue cheese so much that we had to make a second trip to get more when we ran out.  To get to the farm we drove down a long dirt drive way and when we arrived found noone in the tiny shop.   This is a self serve business where you fill out the log book as to what you are purchasing and then put money in the cash drawer, making change as needed.  I always get a kick out of these self pay opportunities because they are so rare.   I think the last time was when we were traveling in North Dakota some years ago and stopped at a pottery shop.   No one was in the shop and we made a self payment for a small vase.   I actually received a nice email from the owner apologizing for not being at the shop to wait on us!

Later on the owner of the goat farm did come out and talked to us.  Almost everyone we have met in Amish country is friendly and talkative, genuinely interested in conversation.   After getting our cheese and some soap (I love goat milk soap), we headed over to visit with the goats.  They were very friendly also, a little too friendly as one proceeded to rip a hole along the bottom hem of Mark’s shirt.   In the picture above, you can see a tiny tan colored building behind Mark.  That is where the owner went to make a phone call while we saw the goats.  I will write more about Amish phone usage in a paragraph below.  At this farm I also took a picture of the clothesline, a common sight at Amish farms and homes.   The clothes are dried on long lines that are operated by a pulley from the house.

Another great farm stop was at the Lapp Valley Dairy, well known for their homemade ice cream which was so fresh and delicious!   Visitors are free to roam around this beautiful farm and check out the animals.   It was an idyllic scene seeing the Jersey cows grazing on green pastures.  Visitors can also come and observe the evening milking if they wish.

My favorite animal encounter here was visiting with the calves which were so cute.  Here is a little guy I had a chat with.

I really enjoy checking out gardens to see what people are growing.  In this part of the country it seems every home has a garden and they all looked well cared for.  Below is a photo of the Lapp Dairy home and garden.  I believe those are potato plants located closest to the house.

Amish homes do not have phones as they are seen as unnecessary and a link to the outside world which they strive to be separate from.  But phones are still needed in order to conduct business and for emergencies.  As a solution they use a “community phone” located in a tiny building resembling an outhouse and placed at the end of a road or in a field.  One phone might be used by several neighbors.  Below is a photo of a phone shack in a field next to a home.

I found the Amish school system to be very interesting.   Children attend one room schools with about 30 students from the 1st through the 8th grade.  There are many of these schools that can be seen as you drive around, although school was out for the summer when we were visiting.   The Amish teacher is usually an unmarried woman who does not have more than an 8th grade education herself as the Amish do not believe in higher education.  Religion is not formally taught in the schools.   Subjects include reading, arithmetic, spelling, grammar, penmanship, history and geography.  The classes are conducted in English but the German language is also used in their studies.  Below is a picture of an Amish school. You can see a bell on top of the roof used to announce the start of school.

In 1972, a Supreme Court ruling exempted Amish school children from having to attend beyond the 8th grade.  The schools receive no government funding and therefore the parents have to pay any expenses associated with their children’s education including the teacher’s salary.   There is a local board made up of fathers that supervise and manage each school.   When students finish the 8th grade, they receive some home schooling as well as vocational education.  The schools use outhouses and below you can see the outhouse painted white.  This school sits alongside  the road or driveway leading to the goat dairy farm we visited.

Thanks for following along during our exploration of Lancaster County!  In the next blog I continue with more of our Pennsylvania adventures!

The Delights of Amish Country in Lancaster County

After a week exploring Philadelphia and camping in New Jersey, we headed to Lancaster County in the Amish country of Pennsylvania for two weeks.   I wasn’t sure what I would think about this area.  I knew it was popular with tourists, but I didn’t know if it would just be a big tourist trap or have authenticity to it.  Would we really see many Amish living and working here?  Would we find this part of Pennsylvania as beautiful as we hoped it would be?   And the answer was yes to these questions, except for the tourist trap part.  It is true that there are many offerings here for tourists, but I did not find it overdone or tacky.  During our stay I was captivated and delighted with our visit to the Amish country.   This area was indeed one of the more special places we found during our travels.

There was much to enjoy exploring here.  I loved the countryside with beautiful farmland, homes, barns and silos.   There were plenty of country roads and lanes to get lost on.  It was indeed quite picturesque.

It was fascinating driving around seeing Amish families working in their fields and gardens.   It was neat to see all the buggies on the roads and wagons pulled by horses getting the land ready for planting.  This is a place where you feel you have stepped back in time – a time when life was simpler and more tied to the land and family.  A place where religion and traditional values frame every day life.   The Amish seemed to have successfully blended their lives to fit into the modern world and not compromise those values.  I took the first picture above while we were driving down one of the main roads in the area.  I was somewhat amazed at how the Amish could drive their buggies through a great deal of traffic if needed.  I think I would be nervous with cars backing up behind and driving around me all the time, but they are skilled at handling it.

Tourists like to visit the Amish country for the beauty of the countryside, shopping for crafts, woodworking, quilts and specialty foods and to dine on great food.  The area is known for Pennsylvania Dutch food specialties and buffets serving these foods.  Buffets and restaurants serve favorites like fried chicken, brown buttered noodles, chicken pot pie (a stew made with square noodles), creamed cabbage, chicken corn soup and scrapple.  Desserts are also popular and include custards, puddings as well as shoo-fly, oatmeal, pecan and whoopie pies.  It appeared to me that shoo-fly pie is the favorite dessert as it was served everywhere.  For those that don’t know, it has a regular pie crust with a dark sweet filling featuring molasses or corn syrup and a crumb topping.   One day I headed from our RV park to Dutch Haven Bakery, walking along side a busy road and dodging two Amish buggies along the way.  This bakery claimed to have the best shoofly so I wanted to give it a try plus take a picture of the cute building and sign.   After sampling the pie a few times during our Lancaster visit, I decided I didn’t like it enough to have it on a regular basis as I find it rather bland.

Mark and I ate at a few of the buffets and my favorite item was the pickled red beet eggs.  I hope the picture above of the egg did not scare you – I know it is a little too big and perhaps the color too bright!   I loved both the color and the taste, a combination of sweet and sour. Mark liked them quite a bit as well.   I decided to try and make them as a fun little project.  The recipe I used called for both white and cider vinegars, a little sugar and a can of red beets.  After the eggs are hard boiled, you separately mix and boil the other ingredients, including the beet juice from the can.  After peeling, you put them into a mason jar and pour in the red liquid.   You then put the beets on top and stick in the refrigerator for a few days so the eggs can marinate and turn that nice dark pink color.  They are great in salads or by themselves!

Our stay in the RV park included a free two hour small bus tour of the Amish country.  The park is affiliated with a company that operates several motels and Inns in the area and offers this complimentary activity for guests.  Our tour took us on a drive through the countryside past farms and homes with a couple stops.  Everyone loves the warm, fresh, soft pretzels at the farm stand pictured above.   There is also a gift shop with crafts and specialty foods for sale.  I didn’t look very long at the gift shop though, as I was too busy scarfing down a pretzel and trying out the homemade root beer (below), another Amish specialty.  You could have a small sample cup for $.25 out of the igloo or take home a jug.  I love root beer, but shouldn’t be drinking it so no jug for me!

Our next stop was a dairy farm with a barn for horses, cows, calves and German Shepherd pups.  There was another craft store to check out as well.   During our stay I spent little time in craft shops.   I was more interested in the countryside, homes, barns, people and farm animals.  So at this stop I was off to find the cows and puppies.  I did find the scooters (below) interesting.

Although you mostly see the Amish using buggies for transportation, scooters are also popular and frequently seen along the roads.  What you don’t see is bicycles.  Our guide explained that the Amish believe bicycles take people too far away from the community and they want to stay close knit.  Since scooters are slower, they are more acceptable.   Below is a picture of a young boy on a scooter.

As our tour continued, our guide told us a lot about Amish wedding customs.  Weddings are held in the months of November and December after fall harvest.  The rest of the year people are too busy on their farms or shops for weddings.  The weddings have a lot of attendees but are simple in ceremony and held at the family home.   There are no flowers, decorations or music and the bride makes her own dress.  There is a big meal afterwards and people don’t bring gifts.  The newlyweds visit the homes of relatives and friends for some weeks after the wedding and that is when they are given gifts.  I had a question about whether the Lancaster Amish community was increasing or decreasing.  Our guide reported that they are increasing, with approximately 37,000 Amish in this community.  I later read that the largest Amish community is in Ohio with Lancaster the second.  I also read that the reason the Amish population is growing is their large families and the ability to retain their young people as 95% join the church.

Thanks for reading!  In the next blog I will write more about our visit in Lancaster County.

Further Exploration in Philadelphia

One of the highlights exploring the city was touring the Philadelphia Mint.   There are primarily two mints in the United States that make coins, the other is in Denver.  This was our first look at a mint and it was a very interesting visit.  Mark was especially interested because he is a coin collector and continues to collect on our trip, visiting coin shops when available in the various towns and cities we come across.   The self-guided Mint tour took us past windows that looked down on the many machines.  We were provided information on the history of the Mint which began in 1792 and produces circulating coins, commemorative coins and medals.  Designs are created and engraved here and we learned about the process from the beginning to the striking of the design, washing, packaging and storing of the coins before they are taken to a Federal Reserve.   After reaching a Reserve, coins become actual money but until then they are essentially worthless.  It was fun to look down and see stacks and mounds of penny blanks and nickels.  It was thought provoking how much money in coin passes through here.   No pictures are allowed inside, so can’t share anything of the process we viewed.

One day we visited the National Constitution Center, which is a very large museum focusing on all aspects of the U.S. Constitution and how our country has put into place various laws and policies throughout the years.  There are fun photo spots for the kids and in the picture above, Luke participates in a swearing in ceremony as the next president of the U.S.  As Mark and I have been traveling we have encountered numerous school groups on field trips.  We have sat with them during films at visitor centers; joined tours with them at state capitol buildings and followed throngs of energetic kids navigating the halls and rooms of museums and historic sites.  But the Constitution Center was the most intense yet.  Have you ever visited a place that was so chaotic and loud that you wanted to escape and find some quiet before you lose your mind?   Even though the building here is huge, the noise was deafening and the number of young people milling around unreal.  It seemed like many schools were coming at the same time to get in their obligatory visit before the school year ended.  It became impossible to concentrate on the exhibits so we cut our visit short.

A high point of the museum is Signer’s Hall which features 42 life size bronze statues of the Founding Fathers.  They are displayed as if they are at the final day of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 in Independence Hall.  In the room you can find famous faces such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.  Some of the signers stand in groups or pairs conversing, creating an interesting and creative exhibit.  Above, Jonathan and Levi stand with good old George.  And below, Luke enjoys a moment with Benjamin Franklin.

My favorite building in Philadelphia was the City Hall.  The first time I saw it I was like, wow, this is magnificent!    Reported to be the largest municipal building in the United States, it was begun in 1871 and took 30 years to complete.  The 548 foot tower is the tallest masonry structure in the world without a steel frame – it is just brick and stone on top of each other.  A 37 foot high statue of the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn stands on top of the tower.  The building is very ornamental with at least 250 statues on it.  Although we did not take a tour inside, the rooms are supposed to be very lavish as well.  In front of the Hall, we met a friendly officer who told us the building was almost torn down.  I did some research and found out that 20 years after the building was finished, there was talk of dismantling it because it was in the way of traffic and considered a monstrosity.  The building was saved because it would have been such an enormous expense to tear it down.  Because of the size of the building, it is hard to capture it all in a photo, so this is just a part of it.

In front of the building is the neatest fountain system.  Jets of water spurt up from the concrete and since there are many crisscrossing paths, it is a great place for the young (or young at heart) to run around!

The huge decorative gates at the entrance are more than 25 feet tall and very cool.  They were installed in 2015 at immense cost and lead into an interior courtyard that gives an opportunity to admire more of the building’s magnificence.   Below, our family heads outside past the gates.

We were fortunate to find two fun museums for the kids in Philadelphia.  The first was the Franklin Institute which I wrote about in an earlier blog.  The second is the “Please Touch” museum which has been serving children here since 2008.  When we got to the outside of the museum I was surprised to find this grand building that was not what I expected for a children’s museum.  We found the inside to be a remarkable work of architecture as well.  It was built for the 1876 Centennial Exposition which was the first World’s Fair in the U.S.  Below is a look at the main entrance area with a Statue of Liberty torch made completely of toys sitting under a glass dome.

The museum has two floors of interactive exhibits that encourage children to play, learn and build.  Some of the activities are a supermarket, restaurant, pizza shop, ice cream store, doctor’s office and shoe store.  Children can be construction workers, drive a city bus, take a ride on the metro or launch rockets.

The favorite with many kids including Luke and Levi was the fancy carousel.  With an all day pass they enjoyed many rides before wearing out.

One of the most interesting places to eat in Philadelphia is Reading Terminal Market.  This place is a feast for the senses.  One of America’s largest and oldest public markets since 1893, it offers an incredible selection of almost any kind of food you might want.  Although you can buy produce, meats, breads, cheeses, etc., we came here twice to eat dinner.  The market has more than 75 small businesses and there is something to tempt anyone with an array of ethnic and specialty foods.  From the central seating area, we fanned out to choose our meal and gathered back to see what everyone came up with.  In the picture below, Luke eats lobster macaroni and cheese.

Both times Mark could not resist his perennial favorite, a fresh carved turkey dinner with all the fixings.  Levi selected the orange chicken which reminded him of the Panda Express version he enjoys so much.  I can’t resist a grilled cheese sandwich and tried an unusual offering featuring sharp cheddar, macaroni and cheese with brisket.   On our second visit Jonathan and I were curious to try DiNic’s, voted best sandwich in the U.S. by Travel Channel some years ago.  It consists of roast pork, sharp provolone and broccoli rabe in a French roll.  I thought it was really quite good.   Shannon brought back donuts for dessert that are very popular, hence a long line.  When Mark and I spotted someone eating great looking cannolis, we tracked down the bakery making them.  The shells are filled with the ricotta cheese mixture in front of you when you order.  They were good, but I have decided after eating cannolis a few times lately that they are not a favorite of mine.  In the picture below, the pastry bag hangs above the shells.

It was a great week in Philadelphia creating fun memories.  There is more I could share, but it is time to move on to our next spot, the Amish country in Lancaster County.

Thanks for reading!