Instead of a bustling campus, traffic jams and a sea of bobbing heads in boring lecture halls, picture a landscape of rolling hills, oceans of corn and wheat fields, with the occasional horse and buggy moving slowly but steadily through traffic. You’d think you were in another time, but the truth is that’s a glimpse of today in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
After three days of driving up the East Coast and absorbing the changing scenery, I could really appreciate the sight. The landscape looked like an oil painting – each farm appeared to be freshly painted in bright shades of red and white, each blade of grass shone bright green against the sunlight. This was what I’d waited for; this made the car trouble, the packing and unpacking, and all of the school I was missing worth it.
When I arrived in Lancaster on the afternoon of June 19, I started sightseeing immediately. I spent our first afternoon at the Kitchen Kettle Village, where I browsed through shops offering things like homemade jams and relishes, handmade music boxes and original paintings of the countryside. Walking around the village, I knew I was far from home. The sound of many different birds singing rang through the air that afternoon, and the weather invited us to sit down outside and take in the atmosphere. The air was cool and crisp, and I could comfortably wear my favorite cardigan without pushing up the sleeves.
Amish culture is a key part of what makes Lancaster differ so greatly from typical vacation destinations. The Amish are a group of very religious people who live very humbly. They live so humbly, in fact, that they live without electricity. They don’t own televisions or go to the movies, they don’t wear modern clothing and they generally avoid the hustle and bustle of our technologically advancing society. They are farmers and families who live off the land and grow their own food.
On our first night in Lancaster, I ate at an Amish restaurant called Good ‘n’ Plenty. The restaurant itself is located in an old farmhouse. I was seated with my family at a long table already decorated with dishes of chicken salad, applesauce and homemade bread. The server took our drink orders and told us that “hot food would be out shortly.” A few moments later, another family was seated at the table. The waitress introduced us to one another and informed us we’d be sharing dinner. The entire meal was shared by passing plates around like it was Thanksgiving. It was strange to be at a restaurant, sharing food with people I’d never met before, but sharing is highly valued by the Amish.
I also visited Lancaster’s Dutch Wonderland. This theme park was designed for children, but it’s a thrilling experience for a person of any age, because all of the rides can accommodate both adults and children. There are train and boat rides, a ride in a cave with a dragon overlooking it, a ride in a spinning house and a monorail ride spanning the entire park, to name a few. I made my way through just about every ride in the park, played a couple of games, looked through the gift shop, and snacked on chocolate-covered fruit while my cousin and I experienced the same Dutch Wonderland our parents visited as children.
The last two days of the trip were spent shopping in the farmer’s market and visiting the Strasburg Railroad. Amish women at the farmer’s market sold an array of items, such as handmade porcelain dolls and jewelry, including homemade fudge that I just couldn’t resist.
The Strasburg Railroad provided the most relaxing view of Lancaster that I experienced. The century-old train takes passengers through the countryside with fields of wheat and trees towering high above. I stared out at the landscape that seemed to go on forever and enjoyed the weather as a light breeze crept into the car. The train stopped halfway to pick up passengers from a picnic area nearby, and brought us back to Strasburg where I enjoyed sandwiches and ice cream at a local creamery.
After living on fast food and ramen noodles it’s nice to get away and enjoy some homemade chocolate chip cookies at the Bird in Hand bakery, or sit down for a meal of roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy in one of the Amish restaurants.