Road Trip: The Delaware Water Gap - Lancaster County & Pennsylvania Amish - and Philadelphia's Murals
Part 1: They ripped out our bathroom, so we took to the road
OCTOBER 18, 2010 We moved into our new apartment in late spring and decided that now was the time to have our only bathroom remodeled. Once the toilet was carted off and bathroom was demolished (leaving nothing in its place), we began our fall, 2010 road trip.
With the best of intentions to control expenses, we bought a foot-and-a-half-long sub and chips from our local Pathmark, with the idea that a sandwich-a-day keeps the budget at bay. This we ate while driving to the Delaware Water Gap, a 200-mile-long national park located on the border of northern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. After we arrived, we proceeded to ignore our budget and eat our remaining meals at restaurants.
Arriving around 2:30PM, we found the Water Gap and its surrounding mountains aglow in fall colors, while the park itself was devoid of everyone except a few rangers (who highly recommended a nearby Budget Inn in East Stroudsburg, PA).
The motel is beautifully located, attractive, clean, and features an exceptionally reasonable nightly rate, especially off-season. We settled in around 5PM and immediately fell asleep. Can't really say why we were so tired, although I suspect that our state of mind had something with the anxiety of having our bathroom ripped out earlier in the day.
Bushkill Falls in The Delaware Watergap - exceeded all expectations
OCTOBER 19, 2010: Outside of generally knowing where we wanted to go (Pennsylvania), we were only dimly informed about where we wanted to be. That said, today we rolled out of bed at 10AM to the gentle knocking of maid service, extended our stay at the Budget Inn, and grumbled that there wasn't a nearby McDonald's for morning coffee. Vaguely, we headed north toward Bushkill Falls in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area.
Much to our pleasure, we found a McDonald's on route (Highway 209) and even better, discovered that Bushkill Falls exceeded our expectations about what an unknown destination should be. I now regard it as the best theme park in the United States, with its only theme being a gorge, surrounded by stunning landscaping. The park is actually a privately owned estate that was first opened to the public in 1904 by Charles E. Peters, whose family still owns it.
The park features what appears to be miles of boardwalk-like stairs weaving back and forth from the upper banks into the gorge. This boardwalk provides a wide variety of waterfall, rapids, and river views (ample area to take hundreds of photos). There are also miles of rough trails leading to additional falls and ponds. The picture below shows a set of stairs, with the falls in the background. Amazingly, the railings were all smooth and splinter-free!
We saw people of all ages tramping around, even those who thought they'd be challenged by stairs. Our hats were tipped to a somewhat portly grandmother chasing behind behind four grandkids, ages 4 to 8, who were not at all stair challenged!
The picturesque park entrance features an outdoor restaurant, picnic tables, a playground, gem mining, paddleboats, miniature golf, fishing gear rentals, shops, a museum, and two beautiful ponds. Prices were exceptionally reasonable, with admission to the gorge area at $10 for people 11 and up, $9 for seniors, and $6 for children between 4 and 10. The grounds, however, are free, although fees are charged for rentals and amusements.
Bushkill Fall's website (www.VisitBushkillFalls.com) recommends staying at the nearby Fernwood Hotel and Resort, which, unfortunately, doesn't have the best web-based reviews. The park, however, is immaculate and I'm sure quite busy during the summer. You could easily stay a day there; maybe more!
GPS, maps, and lots of luck
OCTOBER 20, 2010: Today we used our new GPS to find a McDonalds. It led us to the middle of NY-style road construction in Stroudsburg. Coffeed up, we visited a friendly Delaware Water Gap park ranger for today's travel tips. That said, by 11:30AM, we learned several things: 1) Sign up for GPS traffic message service. 2) Friendly rangers will help with anything, including pointing out reasonably-priced motels and identifying the best sites. 3) To efficiently navigate the Delaware Water Gap, you need the park map, a GPS, and a lot of luck.
The three navigational devices I mentioned don't correlate: The park map shows a few roads, but not enough. The GPS shows multiple roads, but they don't exist. And "luck" guarantees that maybe you will get there - 50% odds either way.
Strangely for this tourist area, only a few falls are well marked. Our Tom Tom GPS, which lists many, didn't have a clue as to where they were actually located. TIP: If you visit the area, buy a book on waterfalls, such as Pennsylvania Waterfalls: A Guide For Hikers And Photographers, for the best guidance. Unfortunately, we didn't, and instead, spent several hours driving without success.
The first falls we did locate was Dingman's Falls, a popular, government-run location that features a large gift store and a tidy boardwalk leading to two falls, the Silver Thread Falls, and Dingman's Falls. Interestingly, the route to these falls is walker-accessible and excellent for mobility-challenged people. Climb stairs only to see the top of Dingman's Falls.
A short drive north of Dingman's Falls is Raymondskill Falls. The entrance to this falls is not marked at all (did someone steal the sign?). What gave it away was a small, rough parking area. No boardwalk here! No visitor center! A warning sign, however, told us that the unmarked trail is slippery when wet, an obvious condition because it is a riverbed (dry during the fall). While rough, the walk isn't bad and the falls are spectacular; every bit as beautiful as Dingman's Falls! There are additional falls in the area, but we didn't attempt to find them. Signs in other areas of the park warn of bears and snakes.
We returned to the stunning Bushkill Falls for a last look-see, like that of the scene below (one of two lakes at its entrance).
Next, we sought the nearby, seemingly dreaded Fernwood Hotel and Resort (under management by Cruella de Vil?). Google for reviews, which are punctuated with words like "horror," "pass this one by," "robbed," "motel hell," "could have been cleaner," "bedbugs," and the understated "absolutely awful."
The Fernwood property on Highway 209 is extensive, taking up two sides of the road. A derelict, abandoned hotel still identified as the Fernwood sits just north of their active property. The active hotel looked nice (we didn't go inside), but the parking lot was rough. Across the street was the resort's pony farm, a kid's tube-racing pond, a multi-hole golf course, plus hundreds of condo-like dwellings called "villas."
We didn't stop in as we didn't know how to ask "we'd like to see out how bad your place is." Frankly, from the outside, everything appeared OK and the villa exteriors and grounds were very well-attended.
The bottom line? Before you choose any cottage, motel, or resort, ask a park ranger for recommendations, then see if you can find it using your GPS.
PS: We are staying at the Budget Inn and Suites: www.PoconoBudgetInn.com
Lancaster County and the Pennsylvania Amish
OCTOBER 24, 2010: We arrived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on Thursday afternoon with the sole goal of having Phil spend two full days at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, while I spent time getting caught up finalizing two chapters in a book I'm writing. The two of us were able to reconnect on Sunday for our first day of sightseeing together.
Lancaster county is known for its farms and the Amish who run many of them. And, of course, where there are farms, there is manure, the aroma of which wafts over many acres. It isn't as bad as what can be emitted from a sewerage plant, however, and does make you keenly aware that the location is rural.
Our motel is one of at least 40 on a busy, three-mile stretch of Highway US 30, just outside of Lancaster proper. That road features three-miles of shopping centers, motels, six lanes of crowded, high speed, commercial traffic, and Amish in horse-drawn carts, peacefully trotting along side of oil tankers.
The Amish are a huge tourist attraction in Lancaster, with Amish sightings highly valued. Every tourist brochure and paper features articles about how Amish are "sensitive" and "our friends," while they desire to live a secluded life, free of curious, in-your-face tourists. The articles then proceed to tell us how to find them and what their natural habitat is like. Excitement over Amish sightings, then, is a bit embarrassing, but considering that the Amish don't mind riding their horse-drawn buggies down a major highway, next to oil tankers and commuters, I suspect that they are not all that shy.
The Amish carriage below, (next to the motorcycle), was about to enter Highway US 30.
Near the busy corner of Highway US 30 and Eastbrook Road, a large number of Amish gathered. Imagine how these carriages affected nearby traffic! That said, carriages are delightful to watch and are fearless in front of 18-wheelers.
The absolute best place to stay in terms of a unique experience is at The Red Caboose Motel & Restaurant (312 Paradise Lane, Ronks, PA).
Yes, the cabins are old train cabooses, all lined up in a park-like area. They have plenty of places for kids to play, are next to a toy train museum, offer buggy rides, and feature a restaurant. Currently, rates are around $119 per night. You can pick the caboose you want from pictures on their site.
From The Red Caboose to Intercourse, you'll start becoming aware of Amish farms, which I must admit is a thrill. Their homes tend to be huge and, of course, you'll see buggies in their yards. We were delighted to see one Amish young man riding a specialized scooter, which is a standard bike with a scooter platform where pedals are normally found.
Intercourse has a high concentration of folk-shops, all within easy strolling distance of each other. I highly recommend visiting the Intercourse Canning Company. Here you'll find a wide selection of processed, local food (jam, salsa, fruit, pickled veggies, and hot sauce, to name a few things). Samples abound. Everything was so good, we bought a case of products! As the area is a day-trip from New York and our home in Weehawken, NJ, we'll make frequent returns.
Besides canned goods, shop for beautiful, hand-quilted pillow covers throughout the area. Everything is top quality. Prices are down home.
Note that many shops are closed on Sundays (although the Intercourse Canning Company is open). We are returning on Monday to buy hand-baked pretzels and some pillow covers before heading to Philadelphia later in the day.
There are many places in the area to eat. Hyped quite a bit is Yoder's Country Market, Restaurant, and Buffet, located in New Holland. Owned by an area farm family, it features a very fresh buffet, friendly service, and rock-bottom, low prices. Tomorrow, we are going to check out their milk bottling plant in their nearby grocery store. We found the thick-with-Amish-farms ride between Intercourse and New Holland to be very enjoyable and we especially liked Intercourse, which is exceptionally rural.
Forty minutes from New Holland is the famous Hershey Park, which features a candy factory museum, chocolate making and other activities, a stadium (built for the Hershey Bears hockey club), and a huge amusement park, complete with giant roller coaster. For $15, you can make your own customized chocolate bar packaged in a wrapper of your design (see below). I did, and totally enjoyed the experience.
To find out more about the area, consult The Lancaster County Trip Planner and The Amish County News.
Intercourse to Philadelphia
OCTOBER 25, 2010: Wow, did I underestimate Intercourse, PA, as a shopping destination! We returned today when all the stores were open and found The Kitchen Kettle Village, a beautifully decorated, 30-store shopping center co-founded by Pat Burnley of the Jam & Relish Kitchen.
The Jam & Relish Kitchen is a bigger, slicker version of the Intercourse Canning Company discussed yesterday. Both are, without a doubt, exceptional places to visit and shop! And both offer liberal tasting opportunities, their products are outstanding, and you'll find significant product differentiation between the two. The Jam & Relish Kitchen, however, does all of its canning in the back of its shop, with the canning chefs being Amish women. Watching them work while sampling their Cranberry Relish inspired me to eat more Cranberry Relish as well as purchase two jars of it.
The actual shopping center is inviting, although its merchandise might seem holiday-fair-familiar to New Yorkers. In fact, quite a bit of the merchandise displayed comes from China and Bangladesh. There are, however, locally made products, such as quilts and dolls. If authenticity is important to you (as it is to me), check product origins.
You have a better chance of finding Amish and local crafts on Intercourse's main streets (State Highway 340/Old Philadelphia Pike and Newport Road), but still double-check. If a highly designed product looks like it could also be sold in Maine, it probably was made overseas. Same with rustic rugs.
Local crafts, when identified, are outstanding and fun, and there are a lot of them (furniture, quilting and other needlework, dolls, gourds, and clay-pieces).
I spent quite a bit of time shopping at the Intercourse Trading Post (no website). Before I made my purchases, I double-checked with its two clerks numerous times about authenticity. One clerk, an Oriental woman (I think Chinese), discussed issues related to imports and how there simply weren't enough things to fill shops at price-points tourists were willing to pay for American-made goods. That said, most of their items were made by the Amish with price-points ranging from $10 to $35.
I highly recommend the area as an ideal place to visit and shop for authentic and unusual locally produced goods (although I could do without the occasional whiffs old country manure). I've never seen this type of atmosphere and scenery anywhere else in America. It's an easy day-trip from the New York City area and from New Jersey, plus it is located only 40 minutes outside of Philadelphia (a world apart, however). If you are a serious shopper, consider staying in the Best Western Intercourse Village Inn and Spa, which is next to the Intercourse Canning Company.
OK, and now for tonight's news: We shopped online for the best location in Philadelphia at the best price for our stay starting tonight through Thursday evening and found it at the Comfort Inn Downtown / Historic Area, 100 N. Columbus Boulevard. (Check competing booking sites, of course.) It's located on the eastern edge of everything held dear to a tourist. Our window overlooks the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
It can't get any better than this, plus we can see our beloved New Jersey on the other side of the river!
The streets of Philadelphia
OCTOBER 26, 2010: I took to the streets of Philadelphia today to find its famed murals, although to be frank (see second to last picture), I didn't know what I was looking for.
Thanks to the shopkeeper of Sota - Spirit of the Artist (1022 Pine Street), who told me that all I'd have to do to get started is walk around the block. If you visit Philadelphia to conduct your own mural hunt, consider starting at Sota Gifts. Its sparkly, pretty things will prepare you for the wonders you're about to see.
And wonders they are! Nothing prepared me for the surprise that awaited me at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens and the work of Isaiah Zager, whose tile mosaics can be seen on over 100 area walls. That said, I took many photos and will let them do the "describing" in a separate article. Below is just a sample that does not do justice to the work, which is a combination of mirrors, tiles, and sometimes, found objects. The white areas you see below, for example, are all sunlight-sparkling mirrors.
Luckily, I was able to photograph the mojiganga (giant) puppets by Cindi Olsman (on exibit October 2 through November 8, 2010) and will also let those images describe her work in a separate article, too! For more specific information on Ms. Olsman right now, visit her website at Puppets on Parade.
With respect to Philadelphia murals, I learned that the city features several mural projects. As mentioned above, Isaiah Zager's sparkling work can be seen on at least 100 walls, plus there are murals sponsored by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Within that program is the City of Murals: The Mural Mile.
Each Mural Mile mural is labeled by a plaque that provides the mural's name and a phone number you can call for more information. Dirty Frank's, below, is an example of a Mural Mile mural, which is painted on Dirty Frank's tavern wall:
Each image in the above photo is of a "Frank." The backstory is that in the distant past, the neighborhood tried to get rid of this corner bar. After haggling, a deal was struck that if Dirty Frank's got rid of its garish bar sign, it could stay. Dirty Frank's remained anonymous for a long time until the creation of the mural!
Before returning to our hotel, I explored the Philadelphia 9th Street Italian Market. This extremely non-touristy place is where Italian-descended merchants sell meat and other produce. It is the last old-time street vending area in Philadelphia (if not anywhere in the US), where stalls spill into the street.
I'll post the links to the two related photo displays on Philadelphia's Magic Gardens and Cindi Olsman's work soon.
OCTOBER 27, 2010: I walked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art today, along Race Street from Front Street, to the Fairmount Parkway beginning at the Logan Square fountain.
Along Race Street, I stopped in the Shanghai Bazaar, a well-stocked, attractive Chinese gift shop that featured two floors of authentic Chinese crafts, jewelry, clothing, and popular gift items. A few stores later, I had lunch in the sunny Sakuza Mandarin; sparkling clean, great food, and surprisingly low prices. I recommend both places.
The museum itself was overwhelming! I spent three hours there in a daze. That said, I fell in love with its French-inspired clothing/jewelry gift shop and its big, museum gift shop. I just finished reading Tim Gunn's opus on how to identify a personal style. If I could fill my closet from scratch, the majority of clothing you'd find in it would have been purchased from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Images I Like: While I've been taking pictures of formal murals, statues, and art, the following three pictures I find particularly delightful. The one below represents what should be done to a particularly shabby building:
And speaking of old buildings, if you look at the base of this old door, you'll see a cat sneaking up on a mouse.
Last, this is what I think of when I hear people mentioning "twitter."
Questions? Ask Karen at Karen@littleviews.com
Article and photos by Karen Little. First published as a blog beginning on 11/18/2010. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.