Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Amish Country - May 2006

One place I've always wanted to visit is Amish Country, and I got the opportunity in May, 2006.

Mel decided to celebrate her 40th birthday by drowning herself in chocolate in Hershey PA.   When we realized how close that is to Amish country, we tacked on a few days to the trip and spent 3 wonderful days exploring back roads, farms, family run shops.    I loved it!

On our first day, we found a really neat tour.    The funny thing is, we found it in a Target parking lot!   It's the Amish House and Farm tour, and it turned out to be one of our favorite activities.
This is a big old stone barn that is still in use today housing all sorts of animals.   The windmill in the background operates the pump that delivers water to the house.

We learned a lot about Amish life.   The really cool thing was that on the tour they listed off the core beliefs of the Amish religion, and they are perfectly aligned with "mainstream" Christianity.  They do take the idea of being "separate" to an extreme, but their core beliefs are very Biblical.  That was pretty cool.    

We got to see how they live and work.   Interestingly, they have modern appliances like stoves and refrigerators, but instead of being hooked up to the public electricity, they run their appliances off of generators fueled by kerosene or diesel.     

The amish dress very simply, and their clothes are all handmade.   Women's clothing has no buttons or zippers - instead they use straight pins for closures.   Can you imagine????   I'd get poked to DEATH!     They even secure their head coverings with straight pins.    Yikes!

While we were there, we got to see this baby goat.  She was just 4 days old.  Her name was Heidi.   Isn't she adorable?

Did I mention that my brother Terry got to join me on this trip??   He lives in Wisconsin with Mel's friend Julie.    Julie met us in Pennsylvania and toured both Amish Country & Hershey with us.   It was so nice spending time with them!

Another fun place where we stopped was the hex sign store.    You see these signs all over buildings, especially barns, in the area.    They are beautifully painted.   What I learned there was that they're not actually "hexes" (as in, spells), but the name comes from the German word for Six, (describing the six pointed star on most of the signs) and that word sounds like the English word for hex, so that's how that name came about.   Most of the symbols on these signs are actually blessings - like for happy marriage, long life, good crops....

Another neat opportunity we had was to take a tour in a real Amish buggy, driven by a real Amish guy named Menno.     Now when you are in Amish country, it's very important to be respectful.   The Amish do not want their pictures taken, so without express permission, it is rude to take pictures of them.   But they were open and friendly and very interesting to talk to.   We enjoyed riding in the buggy, through a working Amish farm, and learning about their lives.

We also spent a lot of time in quilt shops, marveling at the gorgeous, handmade quilts.   And bakeshops, enjoying all sorts of homemade goodies!    

Then, the last thing we did, and by far the coolest......

We took a hot-air balloon ride over Amish Country!!!

We got to watch while the balloon was unfolded (and boy did that look like a big tangle of cloth and lines!), and inflated - Julie & Mel even got to stand inside the balloon while it was being inflated!    And then we all got in the basket (8 of us plus the driver) and up, up, and away we went!

We went as high as a mile up in the air!   It was really cool - there'd be a moment when I'd realize I was a mile up in the air with 8 other people in a wicker basket and I'd panic, then I'd look around at the sights and forget all about that!

Things we saw:
  • The house from the movie "Witness" with Harrison Ford & Kelly McGillis
  • Amish farmers
  • A barn raising in progress
  • An Amish couple out for a walk, possibly courting....
  • An Amish lady working in her garden
  • A railroad yard round-about
  • Lots of farmland
We landed in a field.   The spotters on the ground, who followed us in a van, had to go ask the owners if we could land in their field.   They were excited - they've seen the balloons go overhead, but never had one land in their field!    And a bunch of Amish kids ran out and helped the crew get the basket down and fold up/put away the balloon!

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