Don't Molest the Amish!
and other tips for exploring Lancaster County and Philadelphia, PA
I don't say Yumpin Yimminy like the guide books claim
The Lancaster/Hershey Area and its environs offer a heapin' helpin' of tourist attractions. Here are out behind-the-scenes tips for experiencing AmishFunLand.
Probably the biggest icon is Hershey Park with its theme park and factory tours, located at 100 W. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, PA.
There you'll find a decent amusement park with seven roller coasters and 60 rides and a nearby wildlife park. Don't be overly frightened of the giant candy bars in the park even as they try to grab you. They're harmless and inedible.
Avoid the lame Chocolate World tour, especially if you've ever seen Willie Wonka and expect to see actual chocolate being made and/or packaged. Instead you will be corralled into small, fun-park sized cars which shuttle you through panoramas of chocolate making displays that look as real as Ikea furniture recreations. And all through this joyride of fake authenticity, your aural senses will be molested by breezes of chocolate wafted in your face for the purpose of making you absolutely desperate to buy piles and piles of chocolate when the car dumps you out into the middle of an obscenely large candy store/gift shop.
Hershey, PA, is actually pretty quaint with street lamps shaped like Hershey kisses. Go around Christmastime for a warm fuzzy feeling of holiday Americana.
And don't miss a free walk-around inside the luxurious Hershey hotel.
In Lititz, PA, you can also visit the quaint little Wilbur Chocolate's Candy Americana Museum at 48 N. Broad St.,717-626-3249. Again, no tour of swirling chocolate vats but an antique chocolate bakery with oodles of chocolate products to purchase. The chocolate Wilbur buds are far and above better than the preservative-pumped Hershey kisses. If you don't believe us, take a taste test yourself.
Chocoholics who visit Lancaster County also tend to be shopaholics. Lancaster caters to them with twin outlet centers. Rockvale Square Outlets, Rts 30 and 896, Lancaster, PA, 717-298-2595 offers 120 stores including Gap, Nike, Levi's, Spiegel, and Tommy Hilfiger. There is also the adjacent Tanger Outlet Center, Outlet Drive, with heaps of stores like J. Crew, Coach, and Polo. Play the "There's a New Yorker" game! It's easy. Be the first to identify the bargain-hunting New Yorkers bussed in for the day.
There are a variety of Amish culture related attractions, like the very simply named Amish Farm and House, 2395 Route 30 East in Lancaster, 717-394-6185. The Amish Farm offers a tour of an authentic Amish farm and house and education on the Amish way of life. Of course there is also a gift shop and eatery. A one-stop location for most Amish activities is Plain and Fancy, Route 340, Bird-in-Hand, PA, 717-768-8281, offering the "Amish experience" through a farm tour, restaurant, buggy rides and an F/X theater where we viewed/experienced the deeply moving (we actually cried, but then we cry at episodes of Seventh Heaven) film Jacob's Choice about a teen who is conflicted by his desire to play softball and drive a sports car versus his commitment to his Amish way of life.
If you want to learn even more about the Amish, most gift shops offer books about their faith and customs and answer such common questions as "Why Don't the Amish Believe in Must-See TV?", "Why are the Amish So Fucking Quaint?", and "If I Take a Picture of an Amish Person, Will I Steal His Soul?"
Tourists attractions definitely give you a happy-Amish spin but don't be fooled. As Mary has come to realize since moving into the area 2 years ago, there's a bubbling antagonism festering between the Amish settlers in Lancaster County and the overrun of "English" people (as Amish folk are prone to calling us non-Amish). The quaint farmlands of the Mennonite and Amish farms are now chafing against the suburban sprawl of York, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Mary has found that a disturbing number of locals detest the Amish for the proliferation of buggy-caused traffic jams, left-over "road apples" and the misconception that the Amish inbreed and don't pay taxes. It's your typical prejudiced fare, but something most tourists completely gloss over in their attempt to catch Amish in their natural habitat as if they're on some cultural Safari. Meanwhile, everyone in Lancaster County is annoyed about it. The locals are annoyed by the tourists who clog up their streets and restaurants, and the Amish, who attract all the attention from the tourists. The Amish, on the other hand, are annoyed by the tourists who treat them like zoo exhibits when they're just trying to live in peace away from the hubub of English life and distraction but instead have to deal with cameras stuck in their faces and idiotic comments.
That said, be sure to drive around and experience the beautiful pastoral landscape. You will see Amish folk working on their farms and a-courtin' in their buggies. You can buy apple butter and preserves from Amish entrepreneurs. Here's a photo Julie snapped of Amish kids playing volleyball while Mary cringed.
If you're visiting the area anytime from July through October, you should definitely check out Cherry Crest Farm, 150 Cherry Hill Road, Ronks, PA, 717-687-6843, the home of the original amazing maize maze. Each year the corn maze architect etches a different pattern into the corn. When we visited, the corn maze was designed to look like Old MacDonald's Farm. Besides the maze, the farm also features a petting zoo, where we handled baby chicks and fed goats and cows, a giant hay chute slide, and hay rides.
We spent about an hour wandering through the 5-acre maze, picking up clues in mailboxes along the route that we could tape onto our maps to try to get our bearings. If you need help, there are several "maze masters" in the maze who offer clues and there are "telestalks" that you can use to ask questions of these maze masters.
The maze was not nearly as lightweight as we anticipated it would be. In fact, we were worried we wouldn't get out of it by the impending thunderstorm and possibly by sundown. It was only a matter of dumb luck and an instinct for the smell of french fries that got us through.
See how our body language (right) says, "We'll never get out of this alive!!!"
Although our troupe only found a handful of the clue pieces, Julie insisted on making Chrissy and Mary wait while she pasted the remaining clues to her map at the end of the maze. Julie shows off her maze map of completeness.
Farm ducks in unnatural habitats
Farm fun with burlap sacks!
Four chicks and a public service announcement
Trains, Trains, and more Trains
If you love trains, you'll love Strasburg, PA. It's full of em. You can ride a dinner train or visit historical trains. Here's one rolling through Cherry Crest farm. Look! It's smiling!
Lancaster County is known for Pennsylvanian Dutch culture and food. German but infinitely more plain. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, roast beef. That's the extent of it. Oh...and pretzels. South/Central PA is all about Pretzels. Auntie Anne's famous pretzels find their home office here. Pretzel factories dot the landscape. Heck, check the back of your own pretzel bag and you are likely to find a PA moniker. We are proud to say we earned Official Pretzel Twisters Certificates after completing a pretzel twisting lesson at The Julius Sturgis Pretzel House, "America's Oldest Pretzel Bakery," located at 219 East Main Street in Lititz, PA, 717-626-4354. They teach you more than you ever wanted to know about pretzels, but it's worth it to sample the pretzels. Be sure to take home a sack. It's fun to pronounce Lititz "LA-TITS" and it's in keeping with other area names such as Intercourse and BlueBall.
This very famous ceramic pretzel was dropped from the sky during the Lititz Millennium Extravaganza, New Years Eve, 1999.
Thanks to William Penn and his brave code of religious tolerance, many unusual religious sects found their way to Pennsylvania, a save haven and still exist here today: Including the Amish and Mennonites, there are the Moravians and the Brethren sects, among others. The Moravians founded Lititz and were pretty damn strict. So strict, citizens of the town were not allowed visitors.
For some serious religious fun, visit the Ephrata Cloister, 632 West Main Street, Ephrata, PA, 717.733.6600. A national historical landmark founded in 1732, the cloister is the former home of a strict religious sect. A guided tour of the buildings includes the kitchen, chapel, and living quarters of these pious folk. They were so strict they slept on wooden planks with wood squares for pillows. They made their doorways low on purpose, so they could bow their heads and stay humble. Try not to say "LA-TITS" while on the cloister grounds.
Men and Women of the Ephrata cloister lived in separate quarters as they tried to be celibate but it didn't quite work out. First, couples broke down and moved out. Then the religious order petered out, as can happen when you don't procreate.
Saving the weirdest for last, on the way out of town take a detour to visit Roadside America, at Exit 8 off Route 78 in Shartlesville, PA, the world's largest indoor minature village. Laurence Gieringer began creating the village when he was a boy of 10 and worked on it until his death. It fills a 6,000 square foot room and is obsessively detailed.
You can walk around the perimeter and push buttons to make the trains runs, transport coal from the coal mine, and various other activities. Every half hour or so, night falls on the village and a somewhat disturbing slide show of religious and patriotic propaganda plays. Outside, you can pose for a photo with a looming giant concrete Amish couple.
Harrison Ford fattened up on Amish cooking before heading back to life among the English, and you'll want to do the same. There are many authentic Amish dining options to choose from, but one of the best is the aforementioned Plain and Fancy. You'll be seated at a long table and forced to mingle with strangers, but don't worry chances are they'll be from Long Island just like you! Viddles are served family style. If you like dining at all-you-can-eat buffets amid the morbidly obese, allow us to recommend Miller's Smorgasbord, located at 2811 Lincoln Highway East, Ronks, PA, 717-687-6621. At over $20 per person for dinner, it's not cheap, but you can load up on peel and eat shrimp and prime rib until you feel you've gotten your money's worth. Don't miss Zinn's Diner located one block north of PA Turnpike Exit 21, on Route 272, 717-336-2210. The food is decent but the real reason to go is the giant Amish man statue called Amos who stands guard in front of the restaurant. Amos greets customers and encourages them to "come inside for some tasty Amish cookin'." Wherever you eat, be sure to try the Shoo Fly Pie, a delicate blend of molasses and brown sugar.
We can't vouch for any of the area hotels and motels, since we always stay at the Ladd Family Residence, an exclusive B&B providing the best non-Amish hospitality in the area.
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