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Tuesday, June 4, 2013 : Lancaster, the Amish country

 

Too bad we stay only one night, this hotel is absolutely superb, and its gigantic breakfast buffet remarkably well stocked.

 

Fortunately, the fears of yesterday with the camera were only a false alert. We cleaned it thoroughly, let it dry the whole night, and we get out of it with a bad contact on an SD card. Phew !

 

Salvatore's Garden Place, Williamsville, New York, inside the hotel

Salvatores' Garden Place, decorated as a Renaissance Italian village

 

The main lobby is decorated like a small Italian town of the Renaissance. Everything is there : Main Street and its shops, the marble stairs, the elderly couple on the balcony and the monumental chandelier.

 

The breakfast buffet is on one side of the wide lobby that can partly be seen on the picture. We do not know yet, but we will not find a better hotel during this trip.

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Salvatore's Garden Place, a tribute to the workers who built the Empire State Building

A tribute to the workers who built the Empire State Building

 

Outside is this wall painted as a tribute to the workers who built, among others, the Empire State Building at the beginning of the 1930s. The creator of this hotel, a pure-bred italian who has no intention of repudiating his countrymen, dedicated them this artwork.

 

But it is now time to go. We leave Williamsville.

 

Once again, we have to make choices. On our road are the American Car Museum at Hershey and the eponymous candy factory, about which nobody really knows whether it gave the city its name, or the other way round. We forgo those two visits to devote as much time as possible to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, the country of the Amish, east of Lancaster, in the south of Pennsylvania.

 

We will not be disappointed.

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Lancaster, the wooden frame inside the old market

Lancaster, the wooden frame inside the old market

 

We arrive in Lancaster early in the afternoon, and we begin with a detailed visit of the visitor center, where we are warmly welcomed  by an hostess who takes all the necessary time to praise the many curiosities of the Amish country.

 

Before leaving, we cross Lancaster Central Market, still in use, to buy a light snack. This old market is carefully maintained. Just its beautiful wooden frame is worth a visit.

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Amish Countryside Tour

Amish Countryside Tour

 

Since the movie Witness was released in 1985, all the part of Pennsylvania east of Lancaster is linked with the Amish, although they have settled there since the early 18th century after emigrating from German-speaking Switzerland.

 

The Amish are not a sect, rather a group advocating a quite literal interpretation of the Scriptures. It looks hard to repudiate their values : non-violence, solidarity, primacy of collective and family links over the individual. What made them known for may not be the essential : refusal of modern technology, religious practice at home instead of in churches, traditional clothing, and preservation of a spoken language, the Pennsylvania Dutch, directly derived from German (and not from Dutch).

 

It is wrong to say that the Amish only live closed on themselves. On the contrary, they live in the midst of the rest of the population and fully participate in the contemporary society, into which, however, they refuse to be assimilated. For instance, we will see Amish farms in between "English" (their own word) farms, and even, at the local supermarket, a shed with rings to fasten the buggies.

 

Many Amish are farmers or breed cattle. Others are masons, carpenters, joiners or craftsmen. Some work for the "English", some others, probably of a less strict order, sell their production to tourists.

 

Our first stop is at the Amish Farm and House, a few miles east of Lancaster. Is it by irony ? The museum is just at the end of the parking lot of one of the largest supermarkets of the county. I will learn later that the farm was there long before, and sold part of its land to build the shopping mall, pocketing a nice, hefty sum in the process, that was immediately reinvested into developing the museum.

 

The museum also offers minibus Amish countryside tours. A party is ready to leave, we join them with no hesitation.

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Pennsylvania Dutch Country, first Amish farm

Pennsylvania Dutch Country, first Amish farm

 

Since the Amish refuse any fixed link with the outside world, their farms can be recognized by the total absence of wires, an absolute oddity in the United States. The Amish have neither telephone nor electricity, or locally produced only. We will see a few diesel generators, gas lamps for lighting, windmills almost everywhere and more than a few solar panels. Paradoxically, by refusing technology, the Amish made a serious step forward toward the use of renewable energy.

 

We cross the beautiful countryside. Everything is clean and well maintained, the absolute opposite of a place that would have been forgotten by the rest of the world and ignored for three centuries. It is a prosperous and nice area in which the Amish, around 30,000 around Lancaster, maintain traditional values and an ancestral lifestyle.

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Genuine Amish buggy, almost their only vehicle

Genuine Amish buggy, almost their only vehicle

 

Among the technologies shunned by the Amish, automobile obviously ranks at the top, since it would singularly bring them closer to the world sourrounding them. To go around, they use these horse-drawn carriages, covered or not, which they call buggies. It's not that far from us : don't we also drive convertibles ?

 

Contrary to other carefully resurrected and preserved historical landmarks, everything is true. For instance, on the picture, we do not see actors but people who just live their life their own way. These two women are really driving home after, perhaps, having done their shopping at the local supermarket, as anyone else.

 

All this is for real.

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Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Amish farm. No wire links it to the outside world

Amish farm. No wire links it to the outside world

 

We go on touring the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. We do not see any derelict or neglected buildings. All farms are similarly shining clean.

 

Some, like the one on the picture, look richer. There must be wealthier farmers among the Amish, like anywhere else.

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Amish country, kids ride scooters instead of bikes

Amish kids ride scooters instead of bikes

 

Youngsters have to abide by the same requirements as their parents and, of course, they are not supposed to own any vehicle that could bring them closer to the outside world. Therefore they have neither bikes nor cars. The only trade-off they are allowed are those scooters, which they may use for practical reasons : go to school and come back home.

 

And to go to church ? It is even simpler. The Amish do not have churches. They celebrate worship on a rotating basis at the home of one of the families having an active role in the parish, followed by a large meal taken in common.

 

Our minibus tour is over. We are back at the Amish Farm and House.

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Amish farmhouse dining room

Amish farmhouse dining room

 

We spend some time visiting the farmhouse, commented by an elderly guide who leaves me ample time to translate to Marie. We were also given a brief documentation in French.

 

The visit begins with a general presentation in a small room with benches, that was used as a place of worship when the house was inhabited, before it became a museum. Then we visit the other rooms, beginning with the dining room.

 

At the back of the room, no mistake, you can see a refrigerator. There are a few in Amish houses, powered by generator, windmill, solar panel, battery ... anything but a wire connected to the world of the English !

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Amish farmhouse bedroom

Amish farmhouse bedroom

 

On the second floor is the parents' bedroom, which would look like any other bedroom if it were not for the frame above the bed bringing back to the primacy of religious practice.

 

Amish families are always large. Predictably, out-of-wedlock relationships, contraception, divorce and obviously abortion are absolutely not on the agenda. Family relationships remain very strong, and very few Amish choose to leave the community, a no-return venture.

 

The Amish are certainly not an endangered community.

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Amish farm bread oven

Amish farm bread oven

 

The visit goes on outside with the various buildings of the farm. We are in front of the bread ovens. Baking bread is but one of the many group activities of the Amish.

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Amish buggy

Amish buggy

 

Look at this buggy. No mistake, it has indicators. In the area, everything is done to make the coexistence of the various communities easier. On US Route 30, there is even a lane reserved to scooters and buggies marked by a white line, a bit like a bike lane.

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Amish farm barn and grain silo

Amish farm barn and grain silo

 

This is a museum visited by many tourists, and we can imagine that everything is carefully maintained, even better than in a running farm.

 

As we can see, except the absence of wires, nothing can tell an Amish farm from any other farm.

 

Although we are supposed to be in a museum, people live on this farm. We see a few young goats and, glancing inside the barn, three baby kittens, with the most adventurous one coming to smell my fingers.

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Amish school, only one classroom

Amish school, only one classroom

 

The Amish run their own schools, all of a very small size like this one, with one only class addressing all primary school grades. Commuting being practically limited (a scooter cannot go very far nor very fast), there are many of those schools in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

 

The bell is not meant to call for prayer but just to remind pupils at what time lessons begin and end.

 

Our visit of the Amish Farm and House is now complete. We leave this museum where we have learned a lot.

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Willow Hill covered bridge, close to the Amish farm

Willow Hill covered bridge, close to the Amish farm

 

With the help of the map we were given at the visitor center, we begin our search for covered bridges.

 

We do not even have to take the car to see the first one. Very close to the farm, along US Route 30, we find Willow Hill covered bridge. Contrary to what the picture shows, it is no longer in use, except for pedestrians. It is nevertheless in excellent condition.

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Large Amish farm

Large Amish farm

 

We cross the countryside again and decide to apply what we have just learned. No wires, nothing. No mistake, this is really an Amish farm, and a wealthy one, if we can judge by the number of grain silos and the size of the buildings.

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Amish buggy

Amish buggy

 

It is now the end of the afternoon. Like anyone else after their workday, the Amish drive back home, as this furtively snapped picture shows.

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Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Herr's Mill covered bridge

Herr's Mill covered bridge

 

A few miles away, we make a stop at Herr's Mill covered bridge. As most covered bridges in the area, this one is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is nevertheless still in use.

 

The picture does not show, but this bridge is part of a compound that also includes a mill and a farm, both in excellent condition as well.

 

We drive another few miles and cross Intercourse, the village where part of the movie Witness was shot.

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Greystone Manor, Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, our room

Our room at the Greystone Manor

 

It is time to drive to our hotel, the Greystone Manor, an old Victorian mansion that also worked as a carriage house. Our room, or, should I write, our suite, is filled with classical vintage furniture. Everything is beautiful, of outstanding quality.

 

If I had to list two slightly negative points, that would be the noise (we are just above PA-340), and the absence of Wi-Fi connection inside the room. But a night in such a place remains a highly precious moment, a deep dive into the past, toward carefully preserved times.

 

Therefore, I warmly recommend the Greystone Manor.

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Greystone Manor, Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania

Greystone Manor, a  nice Victorian house turned into a country inn

 

This is our hotel, or rather our manor, seen from the garden. The old Victorian mansion is the red brick building on the right. At its side is the old carriage house and, next to it, a more modern extension. It is early evening, and the garden is quiet and pleasant.

 

We can't enjoy it for too long. Since the manor does not have a restaurant, we have to find one.

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Young Amish going out for the night

Young Amish going out for the night

 

Before leaving for dinner, we take a few pictures. We see these two young Amish having a night out, predictably in their buggy.

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