CHATTANOOGA: ALL ABOARD!

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Hearing the name, “Chattanooga,” always puts a smile on my face, because it sounds so funny to me as many Indian names do.  “Chattanooga,” comes from the Creek Indian word for “rock coming to a point.”  This refers to Lookout Mountain, one of the city’s major attractions.  Although we fully intended to take in the views from Lookout Mountain, the haze over the region during our visit kept us from even getting out of our car.  We took a quick drive around, and then headed back down to the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

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The first thing that comes to mind for many people when they think of Chattanooga is the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the former train station that became a hotel in the 1970’s.  Terminal Station, as the train station was originally called, was a large and modern station for its time.  It became especially famous when Mack Gordon (lyrics) and Harry Warren (music) wrote about it in 1941 in their tune that Glenn Miller recorded, “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”  The song describes the journey of a train traveling from New York City along the Eastern Seaboard until its end at Terminal Station.

Unfortunately, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, rail traffic decreased and the station was ultimately closed.  Then, in 1972, a group of businessmen bought the station and surrounding property.  They renamed it “Chattanooga Choo Choo” after the Glen Miller song, and they opened up a hotel. 

We didn’t stay at the ‘Choo Choo, because the reviews on Trip Advisor were a mediocre 3-1/2 out of 5.  Anything less than a “4” rating on Trip advisor is an indication to me to give a place a miss for overnight stays.

The ‘Choo Choo, however, did serve as an excellent base for our daily visits to the city during our three-days in town.  Adjacent to the hotel, there is a large covered public parking structure with reasonable parking rates that are less expensive than in the heart of downtown.  In addition, CARTA’s free downtown electric shuttle departed from there, so we ditched our car in the lot each day and hopped on the shuttle for our trips to downtown and the North Shore across the river.  It was a great way to get around, and we were impressed with Chattanooga for offering this green option that keeps a lot of cars off the downtown streets.

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Before heading out on the shuttle, we first had a look around the ‘Choo Choo, so we could get a feel for what Terminal Station must have been like in its glory days.

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Domed ceiling skylight

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Downtown Chattanooga was a nice place to walk around, especially in the Riverfront district where the Tennessee Aquarium is located.  The city did a wonderful job developing the riverfront with plenty of walking and biking paths, public art, and park space.

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This clever brick work was in the Tennessee Aquarium plaza.

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Tennessee Aquarium

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If you visit Chattanooga between early May and late August, try to plan your visit around “Nightfall,” the free downtown concert series that is held in Miller Plaza each Friday, between the first Friday in May and the last Friday in August.  The opening act starts at 7 PM followed by a nationally touring headliner at 8 PM.  It’s kid friendly and pet friendly, so grab your dog’s leash and bring your lawn chairs (unless you get there early enough to snag a provided chair), and spend the evening.  There are food trucks and beer available, or you can bring your own picnic.

We opted instead to have pizza right next door at Community Pie, where they offer New York style, Detroit Style, and Neapolitan style pizzas you can watch them make behind the big glass kitchen window.

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Actually, to be honest, we didn’t even know about the concert series.  We had planned on eating at Community Pie, and the concert was a happy surprise.  When we left the restaurant, we heard a live band warming up, so we wandered over to see what was going on.  Cool!  A free concert!  While we waited for the music to start, we grabbed ourselves front-row seats and people-watched.  I also headed over to the grass area to see the craft booths that were set up for the event.  There was also a motorcycle show in the blocked off street near where the food trucks were parked, so I grabbed my camera and went to explore.

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The entire scene of the well-planned event was just so perfect!  What started as a nice surprise turned out to be a very enjoyable way to spend a summer evening.  Watching the people happily listen or dance to the music, seeing the children and dogs having a good time, and observing a wide mix of people peacefully congregated to have fun was just a really pleasant, happy feeling.

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Good on Nightfall and its sponsors for making that happen.  Wrapping up its 32nd season, over the years, Nightfall has brought in a diverse line-up of artists representing many genres of music, and they have developed it into a great series for the entire community.

In my next post, we’ll visit the Bluff View Arts District and the North Shore.

AMERICAN DUCHESS CRUISE: PITTSBURGH (POST CRUISE) #3

Before we cross the river to take in a ballgame at PNC Park, here are some scenes of downtown Pittsburgh:

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Although we are not Pittsburgh Pirates fans (or St. Louis Cardinals fans, for that matter), we do like the game of baseball and visiting ballparks in other cities.  The Pirates were playing the Cardinals while we were in town, and we thought it would be a perfect way to kill three birds with one stone:  Take in a ballgame, do some photography of the Pittsburgh skyline, and enjoy the sunset.

Professional baseball games have gotten expensive to attend, especially if you have dinner at the ballpark.  We aren’t cheap, but we are frugal when we feel it’s appropriate.  All we wanted to do was get into the ballpark, so good seats weren’t our priority.  Besides, the best seats to enjoy the skyline are in the outfield, in the nosebleed section.  Checking out PNC Park’s orientation, we opted for seats high up in left field for the ideal view of the city.

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To save even more money, we purchased our tickets online at StubHub rather than at the ticket window.  Even with the service charge, we saved a tidy sum of cash.

Rather than eat at the ballpark, we checked out Trip Advisor and found a casual Greek restaurant just across bridge.  The food at Salonika Bar and Grill was good, reasonably priced, and far less expensive than ballpark food.  A gyro sandwich only set us back $7.75 each.  An “artisanal” pretzel at the ballpark is $6.50!  Want a liter of water?  That will cost you $7.25!  Sheesh, we brought our own water in for free.

Before the game started, we enjoyed strolling the concourse and checking out the stadium.  It was a great way to take in the city views!  After the first pitch was tossed, we watched the game—and the sunset—unfold.  What a beautiful evening and a great way to enjoy the city!

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Good night, Pittsburgh, and so long!

Next up:  A short getaway to Chattanooga.

LOVELY LA CROSSE

On August 16, 2017, the American Queen arrived in La Crosse, Wisconsin’s largest city on its western border.  Historically known for its lumber and brewery industries, La Crosse has become a regional technology and medical hub, thanks to the numerous educational institutions and health systems in the city.  Not only is La Crosse home to a University of Wisconsin campus, Viterbo University and Western Technical College are also located in this city of under 53,000 people!  No wonder why La Crosse has received high rankings for education.  Gundersen and Mayo Clinic health systems are also located in La Crosse, so the city also ranks high for health, well-being, and quality of life.  That’s a lot of greatness for such a relatively small city!

We chose to make the Dahl Auto Museum the first hop-off visit of the day on the bus route.  Ranked 4-1/2 of 5 on Trip Advisor, we were not alone in our assessment that this was a worthwhile attraction in La Crosse!

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My, how times have changed since I was born!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a couple of other stops in the city, we enjoyed a walk along the Mississippi River from the riverboat to the lovely Riverside International Friendship Gardens.  La Crosse has sister cities in China, Germany, France, Russia, Norway and Ireland; and, this collection of themed gardens celebrates those relationships.  I like their motto: “Riverside International Friendship Gardens will be a place of beauty reflecting our appreciation for the diverse cultures that share the earth.”

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Onward ho to Dubuque, Iowa!  Bon Voyage!

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One of my favorite times of the was during the short calliope concert during each sail away.

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This was one of the many locks we encountered along the Mississippi.

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Another tasty seafood dinner…

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… and delicious dessert!

Coming up next:  GALAVANTING OFF TO GALENA

 

EGG HARBOR, PENINSULA STATE PARK, AND SISTER BAY (“BRING IN DA GOATS!”)

When Bruce and I take a road trip, we typically have a plan for each day; however, we like to keep it loose.  I’m usually armed with the names and addresses of a couple of different restaurants I’ve researched on Trip Advisor, as well as a list of top-rated things to see and do in each place we plan to visit.  As the day unfolds, we see how the mood strikes.  Typically, Bruce and I are interested in the same things, so we rarely need to compromise.  We almost always agree!

We decided to spend our day exploring the towns we hadn’t yet visited on the west coast of the Door County Peninsula.  Our first stop was Egg Harbor, and I was curious how the heck it got its name.  A sign posted at the town park explained it like this: “According to legend, a fleet of boats departed Green Bay in 1825 to deliver furs to the Mackinac Island trading post.  The men stopped at this unnamed harbor for the night.  While landing, the boat crews raced each other to reach the shore first.  Eggs were thrown at the leading boat and quickly returned.  When the boats reached the shore, the battle continued until the eggs were gone.  In honor of the battle, the men named this bay “Egg Harbor.”

What a charming town with a funny name!  The park was landscaped beautifully, and interesting sculptures adorned the path through the terraced park, and down to the beautiful harbor.

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Egg Harbor had some nice shops, galleries, and gardens we enjoyed poking around before continuing on to Peninsula State Park.

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Other than the light house, I didn’t do much photography; however, it was a wonderful park for picnicking, riding on the bike trails, camping, enjoying the beach, or just wandering through like we did.

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Bruce and I were working up an appetite, so we continued on to Sister Bay with my list of a few restaurants to check out for lunch.  I had read in National Geographic Traveler Magazine that Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant had great lingonberry shakes, so we already knew where we were going to splurge on dessert.  (After all, we hadn’t a clue what a lingonberry was, so our curiosity had us sold!  It’s turns out to be a cross between a cranberry and a currant.)

Although Al Johnson’s is quite touristy (and we usually prefer local hangouts), we couldn’t ignore the fact that more than 1,500 reviewers had given the restaurant an average 4-1/2 out of 5 rating.  Besides, Swedish restaurants always serve herring, and we both had a hankering for herring!

What I wish I hadn’t done was actually read the reviews, because it (almost) spoiled the fun.  Imagine driving down the street and casually looking left and right as you look for a parking place, and then spot goats out of the corner of your eye!  Oh, and did I mention those goats were on the grassy ROOFTOP of the restaurant??  Yeah, I knew that from the reviews, but can you just imagine how shocked we would have been if I hadn’t read those reviews???  It makes me wonder if the sight of those goats had ever caused any car crashes!

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I just had to know the story of the goats.  Curious?  Read about it here.

All I knew is that I had to have my picture taken with those goats, so I could send it to my best friend, Laura.  “Bring in da goats!” has been a running joke of ours since she visited us in Georgia.  As what typically happens when the three of us get together, we drink a little too much wine, the jokes start flying (mostly started by Bruce), and we can’t stop laughing.  Darn if I can remember what the joke was, or how the whole goat thing got started; but, whenever we see a goat, it inevitably leads to an exclamation of, “Bring in da goats!” delivered with an Indian accent.  Then, if I am so inclined, I snap a picture, and send it off to Laura with the same caption.  So, dear Laura, this photo (and blog post) is dedicated to you!

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Now, about that herring.  Check out this $15.00 plate of pickled herring, assorted cheeses, and pickled beets.  What you don’t see is the beautiful accompanying basket of fresh breads and assorted crackers that came with it.  Thankfully, we split this beast, because we barely had room for the huge shake ($5.50) we split afterwards.  (Not only did our waiter give us the entire metal shake cannister full of delicious shake, we were each provided a pewter mug to enjoy it in.  It sure kept that shake cold!)

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That lunch rocked.  We’re still talking about how delicious it all tasted!

A stroll along the harbor and beach after lunch was delightful—that is, until we saw the oncoming storm.  Lightning appeared to be headed our way, so we decided to continue our exploration within the (hopefully!) safe confines of our rental car.  After exploring the northern tip of the peninsula, we headed back south and outran the storm.

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The following day, we wandered around the eastern side of Door County Peninsula before returning to enjoy the town of Sturgeon Bay.

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Seen on a car in Holiday Music Motel’s parking lot.

Next up:  OH DEER!  THOSE “TOWNIES” DO OWN THE WHOLE DAMN ROAD!

 

 

DOOR COUNTY: HOLIDAY MUSIC MOTEL, CAVE POINT, AND A TASTY FISH BOIL

My go-to source for researching travel accommodations is always Trip Advisor, and I have never been disappointed.  The key to success is choosing the accommodation in your price range and desired location with the highest ratings and the most positive reviews written by REAL people.  Has the reviewer written only one review EVER (or very few reviews that are all glowing and gushing with raves)?  Chances are they were offered some sort of incentive—or, they are friends or relatives of the owner of the establishment.  That’s a Trip Advisor no-no.  I look to see how many reviews a Trip Advisor member has written and how many helpful votes those reviews have received, and then concentrate on what the most experienced reviewers have to say.  (For comparison, I’ve written 102 reviews and have received 100 helpful votes; however, there are many reviewers who have written a lot more.)

Once again, my research paid off when I booked a room at the Holiday Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay for our three-night stay.  As soon as we entered the parking lot, we knew it was going to be a cool place—at least if their garden was any indication.

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Entering the lobby, it felt like a blast from the past.  I’ll let the pictures tell the story, but if you want to get the full details, check out my Trip Advisor review.

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The tree was loaded with music-themed ornaments, and there were a bunch of instruments in the corner.

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Cool postcard!

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Continental breakfast was included, so we went behind the counter to grab some cereal and juice to enjoy at the cute little dinette table.

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Love the phone booth!

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Our very comfortable upstairs room was much larger than what appears in the photo.

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Note the drawer contents containing a “bible” (see below) and complete lyrics to “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

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This is my kind of bible!

After checking in, we drove up the east coast of Door County’s peninsula to Cave Point County Park on Lake Michigan.  What a gorgeous place!  The hiking trails through the woods along the lime-stone cliffs were stunning.  Although it started to rain, we kept on hiking, because we wanted to see more and more.

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A nice surprise was this rocky beach and seeing the creations made by industrious (and patient!) visitors who passed through.  It reminded us of the beach in Stanley Park, Vancouver, where we had first seen rock sculptures of this kind.

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Our next stop was at Baileys Harbor for a walk around the marina before heading across the peninsula to Fish Creek where I had made dinner reservations for a Traditional Door County Fish Boil at the White Gull Inn.

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Baileys Harbor

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By now, we had really worked up an appetite after our very full day.  Between our tour of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the drive to Sturgeon Bay to check into our motel, our hike around Cave Point, and walks around Baileys Harbor and Fish Creek; the all-you-can-eat fish boil (not fried!) sounded GREAT!

We were NOT disappointed.

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Fish oils rise to the surface of the boiling cauldron, and when the fish is perfectly done, the Master Boiler tosses a small amount of kerosene on the flames under the pot.

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The great burst of flames causes the boilover, spilling the fish oils over the side of the pot and leaving the fish perfectly done, steaming hot and ready to serve.

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Count me in as one of the 758 Trip Advisor reviewers who gave the White Gull Inn the top rating.

Just when I thought the day and evening couldn’t get any better, we were greeted by this gorgeous sunset as we left the White Gull Inn and took a stroll to nearby Sunset Beach Park:

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Coming up next:  EGG HARBOR, PENINSULA STATE PARK, AND SISTER BAY (“BRING IN DA GOATS!”)

 

ROAD TRIP DAY 42: LOUNGING IN LURAY

Due to a day lacking in content, this post will also be lacking in content. It was just one of those days.

We initially had no intention of spending two nights in Luray; however, rooms in Charlottesville for tonight were either sold out or MUCH too expensive. I don’t know if it’s a big event happening there this weekend or just Father’s Day, but somethin’ is definitely up.

Here at the motel in Luray, a family reunion has consumed most of the rooms. Rather than dining out, they brought their own food with them, and have picnics on the motel grounds, instead. The coolers our neighbors brought seem to be attracting flies, so one of the men has been passing time by systematically eliminatng them with a fly swatter. With beer in one hand and the swatter in the other, I’m watching out the window while he keeps count outloud with every kill. “31…32… Oooh, a double! 47 and 48!”

At the moment of this writing (6:30 PM, June 20), I’m unplugged from the wall outlet, because we are in the midst of a thunderstorm– the other reason I am writing this in our room at 6:30 PM. Knowing the storm was coming, we had an early dinner and returned to hunker down. It seems as if our reunion group is waiting until the storm passes to have their picnic. “57… SWAT- 58…”

The day started out ok, though, and we took another drive through Shenandoah National Park along Skyline Drive. It was quite hazy, so I only shot a couple of photos:

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Meanwhile, the following are a few I shot yesterday and saved for today’s post:

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“61… 62…” It seems as if the remaining flies have a reprieve as Mr. Fly Swatter is now contently sitting in his lawn chair awaiting for dinner to begin. I’m rather disappointed, because I had planned on going out to congratulate him on his 100th kill. Oh well, I just hope those are raisins in that carrot salad on the picnic table.

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The rustic cabin we had hoped to stay in, however, the nightly rate was too steep.  We opted instead for the Trip Advisor-recommended motel across the street.  Except for the flies, it was just fine.

ROAD TRIP DAY 37: TWO TERRIFIC TOURS

Although we are not motorcycle enthusiasts because they are less safe than cars and cause a great deal of noise pollution, Trip Advisor reviewers rated the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Factory as an excellent tour. Our friend, David also insisted it was interesting even for non-motorcycle people like us, so we decided to check it out on our way to Frederick, Maryland.

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Upon arrival, we knew we were in the right place when we were surrounded by visitors wearing various Harley Davidson t-shirts, vests, and hats. We sure looked out of place!

Harley Davidson does an excellent job of marketing. Name one other motorcycle manufacturer who markets their name anywhere near as well as they do. I sure don’t see much in the way of Yamaha or Honda t-shirts or belt buckles out there, that’s for sure. They have created an image and culture that American motorcycle enthusiasts have bought into. For that matter, so have the Aussies, Kiwis, and Japanese.

The factory we toured is 650,000 square feet and has 1,100 employees. On average, it takes 2-3 hours to assemble a Harley motorcycle; the tricycles take about five hours. It was fascinating watching the various steps required to roll one of those babies off the assembly line. (Photos were not permitted.)

The tour was indeed interesting. We are always fascinated by how things are created and produced. This tour did not disappoint.

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We were surprised, though, when we looked at the specs. of the motorcycles on display in the lobby. How many miles per gallon would you estimate a motorcyle gets? I would have guessed at least 50; however, our Toyota Prius V actually gets more miles per gallon (46) than many of the bikes they produce. At 37-48 miles per gallon, I was proud to know that Scarlett (an SUV model Prius) is more of a gas sipper and MUCH quieter than those motorcyles. Good on ya, Scarlett!

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Terrific tour number two was in Hanover at Utz, the makers of potato chips, pretzels, and other snack foods since 1921. I had never heard of Utz until coming to the east coast, because they are mostly distributed out here in thirteen northeastern states.

Although the tour at Utz was self-guided, it was terrific. After watching a film about their history and seeing all their products on dispaly, we continued on into a very long hallway on the top level of the factory. There were large glass windows lining the length of the entire hallway, and the action was happening right next to the windows. We were able to get a close-up look at the potato chip-making process, and see out over the entire factory from above. (Photos were not permitted.)

Along the hallway, there were signs posted about the process happening in front of that window, and there was a button we could push to start an audio explanation. When it ended, there was instruction to proceed to the next window.

We were able to watch the entire process beginning with the potatoes being off-loaded from trucks to conveyor belts, and ending with boxed bags of chips being forklifted out of the warehouse to the trucks.

Utz produces enough potato chips each day to fill 20 tractor trailers for daily delivery. Since it takes four pounds of potatoes to produce one pound of chips, try doing the math on the daily potato requirement to keep that factory humming!

The most interesting part of the process was watching the optical sorter. A light shines on the potato chips moving through the conveyor belt, and searches for potato chips that are too dark or spotted. When it “sees” one, it blows a puff of air on it that shoots the chip out to the side on another belt and sends it to potato chip hell never to be seen again. REJECT!

The good potato chips continue on to potato chip heaven getting bagged for eventual distribution. Before the bag is sealed, it is filled with nitrogen to ensure a longer shelf life. Nitrogen? Who knew? I’ll never think of a bag of potato chips quite the same way again.

Onward to Frederick. Today, we chose the road less traveled to get to our ultimate destination, so it was a pretty drive through farmland and small towns.

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By the time we checked into our hotel and headed downtown, it was late and we were hungry (A few potato chip samples didn’t make much of a lunch), so we just took a quick look around for a preview of tomorrow.

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Carrol Creek Linear Park is a beautiful area of downtown. They did a fabulous job with this mixed-use urban park that features an amazing mural on the Community Bridge.

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The following is information I found online about the bridge at http://bridge.skyline.net/history/ :

The Community Bridge mural project transformed a plain concrete bridge in Frederick, Maryland, near Washington D.C., into the stunning illusion of an old stone bridge. Artist William Cochran and his assistants painted the entire structure by hand, using advanced trompe (“deceive the eye”) techniques. Many people walk by it and never realize they have been fooled. Once they grasp that the bridge is actually an artwork, visitors discover that there are mysterious carvings in the stones, images too numerous to count. They represent symbols and stories contributed by thousands of people from all over the community, across the country, and around the world. These co-creators have made Community Bridge an inspiring symbol of common ground.

In early 1993, artist William Cochran proposed the bridge project because of the structure’s strategic location at the urban center of the long-planned Carroll Creek Park, Frederick’s key economic development project. This linear park site is positioned along the symbolic racial and economic dividing line in the city. The park plan was stalled by controversy and disagreement until the bridge project engaged the participation of the community to build a symbol of common ground. It became a catalyst for revitalization and a symbol of connection and the spirit of community.

These are photos I shot of the bridge mural as well as the other bridges along the linear park:

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There’s a Costco very close to our hotel and downtown, so we opted for another (very) casual dinner. I just love their large $3.99 Caesar salads!

I’m sad I have nothing unusual to report about this Costco, because unlike the one in Lancaster, this Costco did not have a horse and buggy parking shed. Bummer. That was really cool.

ROAD TRIP DAY 33: LOVING LITITZ AND LANCASTER

(Written last night)

It has been such a full day, it’s hard to believe it was actually this morning when I started the day with a swim (my third day in a row!) at the motel pool in Hershey. We experienced so much today, I had to stop and think for a moment where the day began.

Our day continued in Lititz, a town designated by Budget Travel Magazine as one of 2013’s Top Ten Coolest Small Towns in America. Honestly, our initial reason for stopping in Lititz on the way to Lancaster was to tour the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, and visit the Wilbur Chocolates Factory and Museum. When we arrived, though, it was love at first sight. What a charming historic town it turned out to be! The stone buildings I photographed dated back to the 1700’s, and we soon realized why Budget Travel Magazine selected Lititz for their list.

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Original pretzel oven

Bruce and I had never toured a pretzel bakery before, so we enjoyed seeing the old brick ovens where Julius Sturgis first made his pretzels back in 1861. Those were soft pretzels at first, but an “Oops!” turned into a great discovery, and the hard pretzel was born. We enjoyed both versions; the soft pretzel at the factory and these “Horse and Buggy” pretzels later this afternoon. (Note the cover model of this magazine. The Amish don’t like to have their faces photographed; however, this one is smiling directly at the camera. Is this gal really Amish?)

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At Wilbur Chocolates, a chocolate company dating back to the late 1800’s before Hershey Chocolates were around, we discovered they were the first to make what Hershey Chocolates calls “Kisses”. Wilbur’s “Buds” were produced in 1894, thirteen years before “Kisses” were created. Hmmm…

Although the museum at the Wilbur Chocolate Factory is small, they had quite a collection of antique chocolate molds, chocolate-making equipment, cocoa tins and other items that I found quite interesting.

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Our day continued by making our way south to Lancaster and getting checked into our motel before heading out for our three-hour evening “Amish Experience VIP Tour” that began at 5 PM.

As with almost everything else we have done on this road trip, this was a highly rated Trip Advisor find that turned out to be a fantastic experience.

For starters, we liked the fact that groups were limited to 14 people, and the shuttle bus was very comfortable. It was a very hot day, so the airconditioning was a welcome reprieve in between stops.

Joe was also an excellent tour guide who was quite knowledgeable about the Amish and did a great job answering our questions. Although, what we discovered while listening to his answers was that the Amish traditions and way of life are as clear as… MUD. Black and white they are not, rather, shades of gray would be the best way to describe their beliefs.

Take the use of electricity, for example. Like many people, Bruce and I had the misconception that the Amish do not use electricity at all. That is what we had heard and learned in the past; however, they just don’t use electricity off the grid. Instead, they will create electricity using a diesel-powered generator which must be housed in its own building according to Amish beliefs. The electricity is then used for air compression and machines to milk the cows.

In the home, batteries are used to provide electricity, and they even now use solar energy.

Another dispelled misconception was the use of telephones. The Amish do have phones; however, they are kept outside of the home in little huts or “shanties”. Although most don’t use cell phones, some do; however, they are simple stripped-down basic models.

The Amish are not allowed to own or operate cars; however, they are permitted to ride in cars, buses, and trains. They also forbid the use of inflated tires for their wheels, so bicycles are a no-no, but self-powered scooters are ok.

Are you confused yet? I was, and the best way I could describe their rules is “squishy”. “Gray” or “squishy”, it had me stumped.

Their philosophy and way of life boils down to this: Convenience and mobility is for the “English” (non-Amish) and not for the “Plain” (Amish). The idea is they value keeping the family unit close to home. Cars are too easy to hop in and go wherever you like, such as the road trip we are on that is taking us throughout many states. Riding on a bus or train takes much more effort, though, so the Amish think twice about making that effort. Bicycles, too, are much easier and convenient than scooters that are much more difficult to ride over long distances.

Telephones are kept outside the home so as not to create an intrusion or disturbance. (Oh, how I wish the “English” felt that way about cell phones!)
The basic philosophy we understood; however, the way it is interpreted by each Amish group (and their elder who enforces the rules) is a puzzle that nobody outside of their community has solved. It really depends on who the enforcing elder is and their interpretation of what’s convenient and what is not.

Traveling in a horse and buggy is definitely NOT convenient. It takes about 1-1/2 hours to travel 18 miles. (And, speaking of buggies, they aren’t inexpensive either. They cost $9-10,000 depending on the included features.)

Back to our tour, Joe took us to meet three Amish families on their separate farms. Levi and Fannie Fisher had a dairy farm with 40 cows they milk by machine yielding them 8 gallons each day from each cow. Hold on, make that 41 cows. This little cutie was just born yesterday!

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Now, those 40 cows eat A LOT of food each day, so they also raise alfalfa and corn to feed them. Since modern machinery isn’t permitted, the horse power used in the fields are– horses (and mules).

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Levi and Fannie work hard tending to their farm, as do their eight children. Like other Amish families, they raise their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs. All of their clothing is handmade and washed by hand as well.

Since convenience has been (mostly) taken out of the equation, it’s a very long day for them to get all of the tasks accomplished. Their day begins at 4:30 or 5:00 AM milking the cows (they have to be milked twice each day), and it doesn’t end until sundown. Even then, there are times they have to work the fields into the night.

Strong work ethic? Yes, definitely, and the reason why Amish families are so large. Children are needed to get the work done, which is also the reason why their education typically ends after the 8th grade is completed.

The Amish don’t attend “English” schools either. They are taught in one-room schools by their Amish teachers, and children of all ages learn in the same classroom.

Since two different German dialects are spoken exclusively in the home, young children don’t speak any English until they go to school at the age of 5, and learn English in the classroom. By the time they have completed their education, though, they are trilingual, speaking the two dialects of German as well as English.

Have you ever wondered like I have about their clothing and beards? The Amish are still wearing the style of clothing that was worn when they first formed as a group back in the 1600’s in Switzerland when they split from the Menonites. Men don’t grow beards until they are married, and the women start wearing white “prayer caps” when they are 15 or 16 years of age.

Zippers are not permitted to be used in their clothing; however buttons (and sometimes snaps) are. Clothing must be plain and subdued, and women must wear dresses. The men have buttoned flaps in the front of their pants.

You might think with all of these strict rules and the hard life they lead in our modern society that the Amish will soon be a thing of the past. At this point, there are only about 300,000 Amish in 32 states and Canada; however, their numbers are actually remaining strong due to the 85-90% rate at which adult Amish men are choosing to join the church rather than leave the Amish way of life. (By the way, the Amish are NOT shunned if they leave their community and decide at a later date to return. According to Henry and Emma Fisher, the third family we visited, they are warmly welcomed back.)

Much was learned about the Amish when we visited with Levi and his family, and then later in our tour when we visited with his parents.

Before we met Henry and Emma, we visited another family who had a nursery. It was a beautiful setting, and we enjoyed getting to know the family and their business as well as watching their children play and visiting their animals.

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The evening concluded at Henry and Emma’s farm, where we were taken for a tour of their home and gardens before sitting outside in a conversation circle to ask questions and hear about their way of life.

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While we were there, it was a whirlwind of animal activity. Their son was tending to the horse and buggy when another family came to visit in their horse and buggy. Between the dogs they brought with them and the dogs the Fishers had as pets, it was a humorous three-ring circus when something would excite one of the dogs, and they would all chase along with him barking the entire way.

Meanwhile, Tina, their beautiful husky wanted no part of it preferring instead to hang out with us and get petted. Their cat seemed to feel the same way.

Henry and Emma were just as curious about us as we were about them. Henry wanted to know what we each did for work, and they asked us plenty of questions, too. They host a tour once each week for extra income, and they seemed to enjoy it as much as we did! It was a wonderful way to end an interesting and fascinating day!

ROAD TRIP DAY 28: Perusing Providence

Continuing the tour of Ivy League schools, an unplanned bonus of touring the New England states, we visited the campus of Brown University today. Our plan was to spend a good portion of the day seeing Providence, and Brown just happened to be right there in town.

Having seen Harvard (and M.I.T.) when I was in Boston with my mom, I was impressed with the beauty of the campus, and Brown has a reputation that matches.

Cornell was a pretty campus in Ithaca, so I figured I was on a roll. Besides, depending on how our drive south progresses on Monday, Yale is on the list to see as we pass through New Haven, Connecticut.

Today’s stroll through Brown was lovely. We had the campus to ourselves since today was a Saturday, and the school year had already concluded. The campus was quiet and serene, and full of beautiful old buildings.

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We continued our self-guided walking tour through the hilly streets of the eastern part of Providence just east of the river, and then crossed the river to see the state capitol. For such a small state, Rhode Island’s capitol building sure is huge!

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One thing missing from this capitol building, though, was a gold dome. Have you ever wondered why some state capitols have gold domes and others don’t? Bruce and I learned on our walking tour of Boston some years back that the only states that have gold domes are ones where a past president was born in that state. Poor Rhode Island. As long as there aren’t any Rhode Island-born presidents (and I doubt there ever will be), their state capitol will remain plain.

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This evening, we kicked back at a local pub, Shannon View Inn (highly ranked on Trip Advisor) to enjoy great pub food and taste a local brew, Narragonsett Lager, which was fabulous.

We had forgotten this was the evening of the Belmont Stakes, and we arrived just in time to watch history being made. For the first time since I had completed my junior year of high school in 1978, today’s winner won the Triple Crown of horse racing (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes). American Pharoah and Victor Espinoza were the champions, and it was fun to see his exuberant joy after Victor victoriously crossed the finish.

ROAD TRIP DAY 23: SAMPLING VERMONT

On a rainy day (and 20 degrees below normal temperature for June 1), what better way to spend the day than staying dry indoors sampling Vermont’s foodie favorites?

We actually did get a fair bit of walking in outdoors before the rain settled in for the afternoon. Burlington is a nice, walkable city in the historic downtown center. The 4-block long outdoor pedestrian street is lined with historic buildings on each side with shops and restaurants. “Homeport” was our favorite store– 4 levels of EVERYTHING you could possibly want for your home all loaded in a historic building. At the end of the year, it must be an inventory nightmare for them, because they have such a huge selection. From sink strainers to interesting decorative wall hooks, they had dozens to choose from. It was a very cool store.

Working up an appetite from our walk along Church St. and along Waterfront Park and back, it was time to sample Vermont.

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While walking along Church St. we came across this 124-foot mural entitled, “Everyone Loves a Parade!”  It was custom-designed by renowned Canadian muralist, Pierre Hardy, wide-known for his inventive and meticulously-detailed, large-scale pieces.  Grand Master Samuel de Champlain leads the charge as the scene depicts an evolution in time along Church St.  Notable and everyday Bulingtonians, downtown businesses, and iconic images of the past 400 years are distinguished through overflowing illustrations.

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Follow this panorama photo, and the next three photos from left to right.

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First up for sampling: Lake Champlain Chocolates. Unfortunately, there were no tours today (or tomorrow) because of new flooring being installed, but we went anyway to check out the factory and hunt for factory seconds to purchase. (Hey, they’re just going to be eaten anyway, so why purchase at full price?)

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Our next stop: Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Photos weren’t allowed on the factory tour, but I did get a few shots where cameras were allowed.

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New flavors- YUM!

Bruce and I felt right at home at the factory, because Ben and Jerry’s hearts are in the right place as far we are concerned. Their company philosophy is spot-on, and they value social justice and the environment. They even had free hook-up stations in the parking lot for electric vehicles to get juiced while they’re owners get a fill of ice cream!

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AMEN to this!

Recycling is also huge there and everywhere here in Vermont. The state’s goal is to reach a 40% recycle rate, and the businesses we have encountered are enthusiastically in support of that goal. Our motel is on board as was the restaurant we ate at this evening.

This is my kind of place; such a cool vibe. Georgia (and most of the rest of the world), GET WITH THE PROGRAM if you have any hope of leaving Planet Earth habitable for future generations!

The sampling portion of our day concluded with a stop at Cabot Cheeses where they had samples out of every variety of cheese they make as well as selections of maple syrup, dips, and other delicious foods. Fabulous!

While there we picked up a small bottle of Mannaz Mead from Groennfell Meadery, and just popped it open to sip as I type. Strange. It’s made with 100% single-source honey, something we have never tasted (or heard of) before. I think it’s an acquired taste, and I’m not sure I want to acquire it.

Earlier, after all the sampling in Burlington and Waterbuy, we made our way north on one of Vermont’s most scenic byways to Stowe. The Stowe Motel and Snowdrift is ourTrip Advisor-recommended home for a couple of nights, and it’s a beautiful, spacious property with large expanses of grass in between the buildings.

Upon arrival, we were greated by “Remy”, the owner’s gorgeous German Short-haired Pointer. We were also upgraded to a larger room without even asking! NICE!

Dinner in town was at a casual little 5-table place, “Bender’s Burritos.” Check this out: A sweet potato and black bean burrito with Spanish rice, minced ginger, mild cheddar cheese, chipotle mayo, and salsa verde. De-LISH, all one pound of it!