We knew that it was highly likely Mary would run out of steam at some point during the trip - after all, not many weeks ago it wasn't considered likely she would make the trip at all. So it seemed like good timing that it happened this morning since we didn't have to leave Hershey until 11 or so. But her decision to remain in bed meant she missed The Hershey Story, which proved to be the highlight attraction of the town; much better than that which we encountered the previous day at Chocolate World.
Opened in January of 2009 the facility is comprised of several attractions in one. The main event is the museum, which retells much of the basic story about Milton Hershey we heard yesterday - started young, failed a lot, made it big, left it all to charity - but in much greater detail and with more bells and whistles. Interactivity is the key here so slightly older kids will love it, especially the big video map of the town that allows you to click on buildings, learn history, and project photos on the surrounding walls. Younger kids will enjoy the scavenger hunt style game that rewards sharp eyed participants with small gifts from various attendants.
Especially noteworthy was the wall showing videos of former students at the Milton Hershey School, each explaining their often troubled past and how much of a difference attending the institution made in their lives. It would be impossible to watch them and not get choked up, unless you're a robot.
Downstairs is an art gallery and a cafe offering chocolate tastings from around the world plus the only chocolate lab in the country open to the public. They offer a number of "courses" on everything from Art of Chocolate (make designs with chocolate) to Where in the World? (chocolate geography) to the one Rick took called Choconomics. In addition to a history of cacao and how it makes it to your mouth as chocolate, you get to design and build your very own candy bar. Ours, known as Plucky Bar, features marshmallows, white chocolate chips, milk chocolate, and cow-shaped sprinkles! It was good, too! We'd buy it.
Oh, speaking of cow... the reason we haven't mentioned it at all so far on this trip is because there haven't been any cows - at least until yesterday when Mary racked up the first win with a score of 10-0. Of course all the cows came from one field so and there weren't any others spotted all day so it really wasn't much of a game.
Today was much more thrilling, if by much more you mean double that amount of cows, with the score very close until a last minute cemetery on the driver's side and a small surge on the passenger side found Mary winning again 41 to nothing. Seriously, everywhere we go touts this state as Dairy Country. Where then are the cows? Apparently they are hiding in some county we haven't visited yet.
Mary was lured out of bed by the promise of a donut shop where you can essentially create your own, The Fractured Prune. Hot cake donuts, fresh out of the fryer, can be topped with any number about two dozen glazes plus or minus assorted toppings or you can choose from their already extensive menu of combinations. We are simple folk, so Rick got the Rolo (caramel glaze with chocolate chips) and Mary got flavor of the month Raspmellow (marshmallow glaze with streaks of raspberry glaze) plus another dipped in chocolate glaze. If she was still not feeling well, you certainly couldn't have told it by her appetite today (more on that in a moment). The donuts were terrific and when they mentioned franchise are available we were more than a little tempted. Somebody please bring The Fractured Prune to LA!
Then we were off to Lancaster County, heart of Amish country where we planned to go through a corn maze, but not just any corn maze, one shaped like the state of Pennsylvania at the Cherry Crest Adventure Farms near Lancaster. Unfortunately we were thwarted when it was unexpectedly closed. We called the PR rep, whose last name is... get this... Kornfield (you can't make this stuff up), and she called the owner who very kindly drove over and showed us around. Unfortunately "showed us around" did not include letting us into the maze because apparently it's so large and complicated they have to have attendants posted at various points in and on platforms above the thing to help find their way out. The family does this maze every year in a different elaborate shape, so maybe we'll get to take a crack at it some other time.
In addition to the maze, the attraction has small rides, food vendors (fudge!), and a small petting zoo. Regarding the latter, it's worth noting that while these family friendly entertainment that can too often be creepy and sad, this one was ultra-clean and tidy and all the residents looked very happy and healthy. Okay, the llama pictured could use some orthodontia but other than that he (she?) greeted us with a snort and a toothy smile (or at least that's the way we interpreted things).
Now, remember the couple we met at Tony Luke's back in Philly? When we told them we were going to Amish country they told us a local dining specialty is the smorgasbord and said Miller's, which has been operating since 1929, was their personal favorite. We passed Miller's on the way to the closed corn maze, which seemed like a sign, and lunch was settled.
It seems that Rick and Mary would translate smorgasbord as buffet, but that's okay because we happen to be unashamed buffet fans. As the veterans of many a Las Vegas all-you-can-eatery, we can say that this one features uncommonly fresh and well prepared dishes. Not that Mary ate anything else once she started in on the ham with cider sauce. But there were delicious bowtie noodles in browned butter and Swedish meatballs, mac and cheese, quite a lot of fresh veggies, sirloin and turkey along with the ham at the carving station, fried chicken... well, you get the idea. Truth be told, one rarely eats enough to justify the price but we were really happy and full so we didn't care.
By the way, Amish country is really beautiful, and it is so hard not to squeal with excitement when an Amish buggy goes by. But visitors, including us, have to remember these are real people and not theater performers here for our entertainment. The Amish strongly prefer not to have their picture taken and so that's why you won't see any photographs in this entry - we respected their privacy even from a distance.
While we were in the neighborhood we had another stop to make at the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania. Did you know there was a National Watch and Clock Museum? Well, there is and it turns out it's not just some rinky-dink affair featuring some obsessive hoarder's collection that calls itself a museum. Don't get us wrong, we love those kinds of places and have been to many but this particular collection is a full-fledged institution housed in an impressive newer building.
Basically to learn the history of clock production is to learn about humankind's relationship with time itself. The well written graphics traced the evolution of measuring time from Mayan calendars to digital wrist watches with stops along the way to explain important moments in "time." For instance, the standardization of time was the result of a need to coordinate complex railroad schedules. This took awhile because of a vocal opposition that felt solar time (ie: marking one's day via the sun's progress wherever one happened to be) was the religiously correct way to live.
Between grandfather clocks, pocket watches, and timepieces dating back to the 15th century, the standout exhibit is the Monumental Clock. 1,500 pounds and 20 years in the making, this complex gizmo features at various intervals wooden figures of revolutionary war soldiers, death, the three ages of man, the devil, and Jesus and the twelve apostles marching along and performing quirky actions. A curator puts the thing through its paces at the top of each hour - be sure to time your visit to take in the show.
Time your visit. See what we did there?
A short step away is The Shoe House in York, Pennsylvania. It's a house shaped like a shoe. We don't know anything more about it because, as with many of the intended stops on this trip, it was unexpectedly closed. We're hoping it was built by a little old lady.
Next up was the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Though situated in a stunning mountaintop setting, the exhibition is a little disappointing. Sure, the bloodiest conflict in American history is a terribly complex subject and difficult to sum up even in an entire museum dedicated to serving that purpose. But exhibits are a bit too terse, skimpy on details, and not always arranged in logical order. If you already know a lot about the Civil War, it's unlikely you're going to learn anything new here and if you don't know much about the Civil War, it's likely that you'll still need to learn more elsewhere.
The creators also haven't taken full advantage of modern museum interactive possibilities, often leaving visitors in a passive role that runs the risk of preventing them from really understanding the horror of this event. How discouraging that a museum about chocolate does a better job of engaging visitor to its subject.
We were struck however at the very end by a short exhibit showing the 50th and 75th reunion of veterans of Gettysburg. What, we wondered, did these former northern and southern soldiers, very elderly men by the time the reunions happened, talk about together?
We have failed to mention what a pretty state Pennsylvania is. Boy, is it pretty! And prettiest of all may have been our drive from Harrisburg through the Allegheny Mountains to State College. The winding two- and four-lane road carves through, around, and over said mountains, by rocky rivers, and through valleys of green fields. Everywhere you look is a postcard waiting to happen.
We're spending the night on the campus of Penn State in the Nittany Lion Inn, on the National Register of Historic Hotels of America. Built in 1933, it is immediately aesthetically pleasing, rich in the kind of character and attention to detail modern hotels often lack. The front desk attendant was one of the best we've ever encountered, offering efficient assistance, helpful advice, and a friendly smile.
The hotel turned out to be about a 100 times larger than we first thought - there are so many twisting, turning hallways that we half expected the creepy twins from "The Shining" to be lurking around a corner saying in their flat British monotone, "Come play us, Danny... forever... and ever..." Mary has gotten lost at least twice and may resort to leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to find her way back to her room.
The rooms themselves are attractive but a little more sterile when compared to the rest of the hotel. But there is so much to like here that one doesn't really care. Their list of services is too long to detail but they don't really leave anything out. From the grand yet comfortable lobby filled with sofas and sitting areas to the park like grounds that surround the place to the antiques scattered in halls and nooks and conversation areas in unexpected areas, this is the kind of hotel that remains in one's memory banks as something special.
We had dinner in their bar/cafe Whiskers and it was not only cheap, but really, really good. Mary had a mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich with a balsamic reduction while Rick had a cheese steak sandwich sliced from prime rib and a bowl of Parmesan cheese intensive French onion soup.
Dessert would bring our day of feasting to a symmetrical close. The college's ice cream shop is the Berkey Creamery where mad geniuses come up with outrageous and sometimes even exotic flavor combinations - this is where Ben and Jerry (yes, that Ben and Jerry) got their start when they went to college here. Though only a couple dozen flavors are available on any given day, you should take a look at our photo of the list to get an idea of what you may encounter. You can also look at the photo of the line, which was out the door at 9pm on a Sunday night, but moved swiftly. Mary took the advice of that fine front desk attendant at the Nittany Lion Inn and ordered Keeny Beany Chocolate - milk chocolate ice cream mixed with chocolate chips and vanilla beans. Her single scoop was roughly the size of her face and yet she ate it all, without any help from Rick who has dairy issues much to his regret.
Before retiring we took a drive around the main drag of State College and found it to be as charming a college town as we have ever seen. Tree lined streets, shops and restaurants and bars, all right next to the huge campus that is filled with beautiful buildings both old and new. It's like something out of a college movie only without the togas and goat stealing. Although there may be that too, we just didn't see it.
Tomorrow we pick up Plucky Hubby and rock out in Cleveland. Good thing Mary's appetite is going strong because her relatives have planned three or four different meals for her. Tune in to see if she's up to the challenge.
BTW... LOTS more pictures... keep scrolling.