Friday, September 20, 2013

Pennsylvania the Beautiful: Part 4 Pennsylvania Dutch Country July 30-August 1, 2013

After spending every last minute we could on the auto tour in Gettysburg, we reluctantly got in the car and pushed our way east toward the city of Lancaster and the PA Dutch Country, which also includes the nearby cities of Bird in Hand, Strasburg, Paradise, Ronks, and who can forget, Intercourse.

I really did hope to go to the PA Dutch Country and see some really great farms and barn raisings and experience "Witness" all over again.  It was not to be.  There are some cool things to see in the general vicinity, and we had a great time while we were there, but I would not give it more than two nights and I would be pressed to say that the PA Dutch Country is a must stay and see, rather than a must drive through and eat, at least once.

The Pennsylvania Dutch Country is the area of Southeastern PA heavily populated by Amish, Mennonites, Moravians, German Reformed and other German Christian groups.  The PA Dutch are not Dutch at all, they are German, but they do not speak German, they speak Pennsylvania Dutch, which is also not Dutch, but most residents speak both PA Dutch and English.

It would be pointless to try to summarize the lifestyle or religion of the Amish, because regulations vary from community to community.  In general, the Amish are Christians.  They place a high value on humility and calm. They value hard work and tend to avoid innovations and technology that would make their lives easier.  Make no mistake, however.  The Amish are no prairie peasants.  They are successful business people with lovely farm properties, living life fully within the boundaries of their beliefs.

Where to stay-

We wanted to stay somewhere that was fairly centrally located so we chose the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotels in Lancaster.  The property was fine.  The rooms had the same
two beds and the pull out sofa, refrigerator, microwave, etc.  There was an indoor pool with a slide, a restaurant and bar, a very large lobby area, and a fitness facility.  There was no complimentary breakfast served.  Double Tree seems to pride itself on the fact that it serves cookies when you check in.  Big deal.  Also if you're going to give me a nice warm cookie, please don't include a wrapper that tells me it has 320 calories!
Like I said, it was fine.  Might have chosen to stay a little closer to the action in Bird-in-Hand, but then might not have stayed in as nice a place.

Where to eat!

Now we're talkin'!  One of the toughest decisions you will need to make when coming to PA Dutch Country is where you are going to eat and taste some of that fine PA Dutch cooking!
There seem to be two types of eating experiences in the area:  Family Style and Smorgasbord.  Eating family style can involve sitting other families you don't know and passing a plate of food around, which I really hate, SO our GoFamily went for the Smorgasbord-all you can eat buffet style PA Dutch goodness.  Bring it on, baby!

Miller's Smorgasbord and Bakery is located at 2811 Lincoln Hwy (Route 30) E, in Ronks, PA and has been there since 1929.  One of the beauties of this place is that they serve alcohol, not always the norm in these parts.  Soups, salads, carved meats, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, steamed shrimp, brown buttered noodles, seafood bisque--it's all here.  Making room for dessert is a must as the station monitor will personally warm your apple, chocolate pecan or PA Dutch Shoofly pie and then top it with ice cream.  Crazy good.
Another worthy stop was the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant, located at 2740 Old Philadelphia Pike, in (where else?) Bird-in Hand.  We ate breakfast here.  There is also quite a nice looking inn/motel here, might be worth checking out if we were ever to come here again.  The adults cost about 12$ and the kids are charged one dollar per year old.  Nice.

Just down the road, at 2710 Old Philadelphia Pike is the Bird-in-Hand Farmers' Market  It may seem kind of strange for me to put this in the "where to eat" section, but once you set foot in there you will know why.
My kids got really excited about visiting this spot after watching a YouTube video about it.
The Farmers' Market is open 2-4 days a week, Wednesday through Saturday, depending on the season, from 8:30 to 5:30.   There are shops here with local products and souvenirs.  I was most impressed by the doll furniture, which was sturdily made and cost a fraction of what you would pay American Girl.  Once again, the reason to come here is for the variety of food, much of which is available to sample--fudge, baked goods, popcorn, soft pretzels, candy, bread, jams and jellies, dips, smoked meats and cheese, apple cider, herbs and spices, fruits and vegetables, and more.  There is also counter diner type service serving German sausages, pot pies, hamburgers, all at a very reasonable prices.  Many of the vendors here are Amish, and have sent their teens to work at the Farmers' Market.
 We spent a LONG time here, thoroughly trying everything in order to determine what kind of "treat" to buy.  I opted for a soft pretzel and a whoopie pie.  Natalya got fudge and some lemonade and the two youngest bought some nasty lego brick candy that I think is still sitting in Ally's room.  Everything was great, and I probably could have been tempted to buy a whole lot more.

My kids took the sampling very seriously!

What to do:

There is a lot of little stuff to do in the Lancaster County area, nothing that will occupy a whole day.  We ruled a few things out simply because they were too expensive, or too far away, or not age appropriate for my kids, or we just couldn't get the timing right for reservations.  Such attractions included the amusement park, "Dutch Wonderland," and the very popular "Sight and Sound Theater," which portrays Old Testament Bible stories with over the top sets, music, and even live animals.
So we did about five different things in addition to the Farmers' Market while we were in Lancaster County.  I will go in order of not so worth it to worth it to exceptionally fun.  I'll also try not to bore you with too many details...

Landis Valley Museum

The Landis Valley Museum is a living history museum that honors the heritage of the Pennsylvania Germans specifically between 1740 and 1940.  There are 40 different structures within the 100 acres including a schoolhouse, a tavern, a gunshop, a blacksmith shop, and others.  Some costumed guides were there--a tavern owner, a tanner, and a blacksmith, for example, and what they did and said was somewhat interesting.  However, there were also whole buildings dedicated to farm implements--yawn.  Another big drag is that all the guides take lunch from 12-1 and close up their "stations" not to mention that many of the building are closed on any given day.
Landis Valley Museum was my attempt to see the daily life of the era-gone-by Amish.  It wasn't that at all.  It cost our GoFamily of 5 over $50 to get in.  Too much.

Buggy Rides

Now you'd think that this would be a lot of fun.  Once again, a buggy rides was an attempt to see some Amish farmland and become more familiar with Amish life.  Again, not to be.  I
would imagine that given the right company and guide, this experience could be quite informative.  Our experience with Abe's Buggy Rides, was not.
Sit in the cab, really...
The first order of business, after paying over $100 for a 45 minute ride, was to decide who was going to sit in the front with the driver.  It was determined that it was going to be me.  Well, the people sitting in the cab cannot hear the driver, when the driver decides to speak. Our driver offered little more narration than, "There's an Amish farm," or "there's a couple of ponies."  Anything he offered about Amish lifestyle I had to pry out of him.
The fact of the matter is that that horse raised his tail and relieved himself like four times not five feet from my face during that 45 minute ride.  Boy did I wish I had opted for the cab.


It is always fun to see how things are made, especially food, especially when you get to sample at the end.  In the town of Lititz, PA, about 20 minutes from Lancaster, are the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery and the Wilbur Chocolate Co.  The two are right around the corner from one another and are both worth a stop.
Julius Sturgis opened the first commercial pretzel bakery in Lititz in 1861.  Though no
commercial pretzels are baked in the original Lititz ovens today, the Sturgis family remains in the pretzel business.  Products are available online (I know, because I just ordered some!) and of course, at the gift shop.  Tours describing the old pretzel making process, including starting with giving everyone some dough and the chance to earn your "official pretzel twister" certificate,  run every half hour.  The tour guide is lively and informative.  There are plenty of samples in the gift store, but for a treat have the baked soft pretzel, the only pretzel actually baked on the premises.
 Incidentally, right behind the Sturgis Pretzel Factory is a small warehouse featuring , Whiff Roasters, a small local coffee producer.  They have a wide variety of coffee and also make a delicious dark chocolate bar with the coffee beans embedded in the chocolate. You can sample both the chocolate bar and the coffee in the warehouse!   Whiff Roasters products are also available online (I know, because I just ordered some!)
There is also no chocolate being made currently at the Wilbur Chocolate Co.  There are a few workers in there you can watch pouring chocolate into molds for effect, but it's not that
exciting to watch.  However, the gift store almost becomes like a museum due to the wide variety of chocolate everything that is available for purchase:  milk chocolate, dark chocolate, Wilbur buds, chocolate chips, mini chocolate chips, chocolate covered everything--cashews, raisins, almonds, coffee beans,  peanuts, maltballs, pretzels, English toffee, sugar free, once again, you name it.  Also there are molded chocolate gifts for just about any interest--chocolate tools, chocolate baseballs, footballs, and hockey pucks, chocolate cars, trucks, and trains, chocolate band aids, chocolate ballet slippers, chocolate aspirins, chocolate baby bottles.  There is also a wide variety of candy that is not chocolate. The Mocha Java chocolate bar produced by Whiff Roasters is also sold here!   Again, we spent plenty of time here, trying to decide how to best spend our precious chocolate dollar and making sure we had our share of the all important Wilbur bud (kind of their version of the Hershey's kiss) samples.  We left with a package of mixed Wilbur buds and a catalog, as Wilbur Chocolate Co. products can be purchased online, though I have no personal experience-YET!

My little family of Official Pretzel Twisters
The Reading Fightin' Phils

So how did you guess that I would save the best for last and the last would have something
to do with baseball.  I don't know if it was the best thing, but it was pretty fun.
The Reading Fightin' Phils is the AA affiliate for the Philadelphia Phillies and play ball in First Energy Stadium in Reading, PA, about a 50 minutes drive from the immediate Lancaster area.
For only 10 dollars a piece we had box seats to watch the Fightin' Phils beat the Erie Seawolves.  It was nice to not really have a team to root for.  We got to just sit and drink beer and eat and hang out.  The weather could not have been more pleasant.  Parking (if you don't mind a little walk) was free and, wow, we came on Ryan Howard action figure night.  We're not sure if we still have those.  All we know about Ryan Howard is that he was the guy that Brian Wilson struck out to win the NLCS on a Saturday night in October in 2010.
Anyway, there is a pool at this stadium out in right field and you could definitely see some Little League boys splashing around out there.  We stayed till the bitter end and then they almost had to kick us out of the gift store.  No work tomorrow for us...

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball..."

Still cranking out these posts about Pennsylvania the Beautiful!  Stay by your computers as upcoming posts will feature our time in the City of Brotherly Love and the Pocono Mountains!


  1. Nadia, I have always wanted to visit Pennsylvania Dutch Country.Witness is one of my favorite films. Sounds interesting. I was busting up about the Doubletree cookies!!
    Lol. Right, just what you want to so know as you check in.

    My kids would love the pretzel and chocolate places. I love Bird-in-Hand! How cute is that?
    Sorry I'm late reading all my favorite blogs. Your big photos are fab!


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