Ever since we moved to Downingtown, Pennsylvania, we have been discussing the opportunity to drive across the state and capture our experiences in a photographic journal, similarly to the one we made about Florida (to be posted). In fact, being so close to a whole cluster of Northern states, it seemed very tempting to start a series of weekend rides to explore the neighboring territories; Pennsylvania was just the obvious first choice. Although our nine-month-old does a wonderful job of adapting to various conditions—by, for instance, having extended sleeps on the road—traveling overall has become more problematic.
So, on the late Friday evening we finally decided to trade the usual weekend procrastination for the reconnaissance of the new lands. This is how it was:
Hershey is the home to the famous chocolate factory, and as such, is known to some as the sweetest place on Earth. Besides the factory itself, there are a number of attractions in Hershey, including a large amusement park.
Since our kid is too young (and we are too old :) to appreciate the speedy rides and sugar intoxication, we skipped the park in favor of another local sight—Hershey Old Cars Museum.
Comparing the exhibits with what is normally seen on the American streets today, one can only sigh of desperation. American auto industry is probably long past its zenith. From the stunning success of Ford’s Model T, which once accounted for the half of the global automobile production, many U.S. brands have become very unpopular even on their domestic market.
We quickly finished off the motorcycle section and left for Gettysburg.
Although much of the Gettysburg’s historical heritage owes to the Lincoln-sanctioned massacre, we were not thrilled about seeing another Civil War relic. Being on a tight schedule, we could not spend too much time riding around or strolling amongst fortification mounts and cannon ensembles; besides, it was unpleasantly chilly outside for our kid.
So, I took a few shots in the fields, and we went for a one-hour educational audio tour at the Hall of Presidents. The tour features forty-four talking real-size figures of American presidents dressed in accordance to photographic or other evidence.
Very light-weight and unimpressive, the tour also concludes with a complimentary exhibition of forty-four First Ladies figures, also in succession and supposedly original outfits, except for only 2/3 the size. (Actually, forty-four would have to be multiplied by at least two if all second, third, and other consecutive ladies were counted.) Apart from president figures unrecognizable in regards to my proficiency in American history, some looked quite unlike their human counterparts; so instead of those scoffing images I only post the pictures of a few ones that appear lively and convincing. By the way, can someone dare guess them all?
This one, in my opinion, looks like Will Ferrell:
And this one is a bit like old Andy Garcia wearing glasses:
Besides the scary name, to a discerning tourist Orrtanna can offer a great deal of comforting sights.
Since wine is a
logical good complement to pretty sights, Adams Country Winery was our next stop. Not being particularly knowledgeable and selective in wine matters, I was totally bribed by the free sampling deal. (Free money and booze is one interest universally shared among all civilized nations.) Since the sampling—which consisted of about a dozen miniature sips each—turned a t-t-total s-s-success, we also restocked our exhausted wine purveyance.
Despite the remoteness of the winery, over a fifteen-minute period we saw at least twenty people come and go; hence others must agree with me on thinking the wine there is actually good. On the other hand, free sampling might be too generous an opportunity to refuse.
It is probably a seasonal thing, but we only saw apple trees and no grapevines around. Whether a part of the technological process or a taste-saturation measure, most apple fruits had already fallen down and were lying on the bare ground.
As a whole, Pennsylvania is a semi-rural state with much of its territory covered with farm lands and—amazingly for American pragmatism—vast amount of uncultivated plains. Most of these landscapes are strewed with tall granaries of roughly the same shape and size. Another surprising thing was how green some meadows were in the late November.
Most production is situated on either side of the Pocono mountains, which is on the must-sees of Pennsylvania. While the highest elevation our poor 1.6-liter Hyundai had to surmount was about 2,500 feet, the steepness of the uphills made if feel like real mountains. And certain views were suddenly opening up to a rather breathtaking effect. Unfortunately, stopping and getting outside for pictures was not an option, so we ended up juggling the camera back and forth while on-the-go. Spotty car windows and near-distance lens did not help the effort either.
As we were approaching Pittsburgh, the temperature dropped a good ten degrees, and we started seeing first snow flakes. Half an hour later the snow cover grew noticeably even on the ground.
We would have been forced to reduce the speed, had the nature decided to drop another inch of snow, but even without unforseen delays it was getting dark to see Pittsburgh. My hope was for good night-time downtown shots from the Mount Washington.
The two things I personally did not know about Pittsburgh before this trip were that it ends with an ‘h’, and that Carnegie-Mellon University is located there, which is why it was added to the list of places we were going to see. Nonetheless, it was plain dark when we finally made it to the city, and the ruthless night winds were not inviting the three of us—all falling sick by then—to be wandering on the streets. So, we kept on driving around for a bit, only to make a few quick stops, so that I could get out to set up the tripod, latch the camera, and find a few decent spots to shoot from.
The Campus of Carnegie-Mellon featured a number of unusual buildings and seemed nice overall, but at that point I appreciated warmth over architecture, so had to soon retreat back to the car. Interestingly, about 90% of the students we saw passing by at that time of night were Asian.
At last, we headed up the Mount Washington for some good views of night Pittsburgh. And the views were indeed amazing. With very few people to be found outside, we took the opportunity to photograph as much as we wanted. I even ended up taking panoramic shots, so that they could be stitched together into one large picture (third below, and clickable for hi-res version).
Having spent the night in a low-class motel in Mercer, we went North to Conneaut Lake, a quite place about ten miles from the Ohio border and about thirty from the Lake Erie.
As with the rest of the Central and Eastern Pennsylvania, people do not leave their houses in the morning on weekends, so nothing was happening around, and we hit the road again. By the way, during our trip we passed entire towns without a single person to be seen outside. Lines of parked cars, sometimes lit windows, but no people. What do Pennsylvanians do on the weekends?
Another curious fact about Pennsylvania is the Amish communities. Although Pennsylvania is far from being the only state with considerable Amish population, it has been traditionally given the most attention in that regard. We had previously gone to Lancaster and around, trying to witness the extremes of the Amish life, but found nothing more than a bunch of old-fashioned farmers who somewhat limit themselves in their usage and consumption of the outer society’s goods and services. Predominance of black clothes, horse-driven buggies, and active involvement in the agriculture were the only characteristics seemingly attributing to the uniqueness of their culture. Some families had large houses, used electricity, and owned trucks (all carriages also have some sort of electric generators). To sum up, we were less than impressed, and therefore did not expect to see anything amazing this time either. Indeed, we did not.
If the word “Punxsutawney” is not included in some annual spelling contest, it definitely should be. I had known about Punxsutawney from watching Groundhog Day, but never bothered to look up the spelling. The town is famous for a groundhog named Phil, who every Groundhog Day predicts whether the winter will last for much longer. Besides the obsessive use of Phil’s theme in the outdoors decorations, there is actually nothing to see in Punxsutawney. Every
is a statue
or an image
of Phil. To be fair, no groundhogs were detected on this ball:
And here is Phil himself:
We checked out a small garden of ornamented Christmas trees.
And left this lovely semi-zooPHIListic town.
On the way back, we drove through the mountains once more, and once more enjoyed a number of delightful sights.
Since we had no time to extend our route to the Northern Poconos (right at the New York border), the last item added to our itinerary was Jim Thorpe—simply to see something else before returning home. As such, we did not hold this place in high regard, yet it turned out rather nice and cozy. Nested between mountain heights, this rich and splendid town was already decorated for Christmas, encouraging us to make a few final photographs and hurry home before it was too dark to be traveling on the unlit hilly roads.
P.S. Here is the entire route on the map (Pennsylvania is highlighted):