We left Natural Bridge on a Friday getting ready for the long holiday weekend. Five consecutive days off of work! The drive wasn't so bad until we got into Pennsylvania. Then a combination of traffic around Harrisburg and crazy PA drivers (seriously giving FL a run for its money in the worst drivers ever contest) meant a few near panic stops, long waits in traffic and a later arrival that we would have liked, but we made it safe and sound. Even 'planty' the pothos plant, which was accidentally left out on the counter managed to stay upright.
Our home for the next 10 days was the White Oak Campground just south of Strasburg, PA, right in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch / Amish country. The campground was nice and the spot they had us in was brand new. They had apparently recently demolished an 'apartment building' (weird, I know) and turned the land into two very large pull through spots of which we got one. The park maps hadn't been updated yet and they'd just taken a black marker to cross out the building and draw in the new sites. They have a nice pool, two small playgrounds and a nice activity center and camp store. It seems we chose well for a place for some serious down time. We headed into town for a quick stock up at an Aldi. This was our first time at Aldi and for the most part we were impressed! This one didn't seem to have the best produce, though, so we'll withhold full judgement until we visit another one.
Saturday, our Delaware friends, that we met at the Wanee Festival in Florida in May, arrived for the holiday weekend and set up just a couple sites down from us in their camper van. Crayton was in heaven getting to play with Zella and Jake pretty much as all he wanted. Saturday was spent getting caught up with Zack and Heather, swimming, eating, drinking, and just general laziness. It was glorious. While we knew Crayton was going to have a blast playing with his friends, time had mercifully let us forget just how loud these three are when they're together. We were 'that' family at the campground. You know, the loud annoying ones? Funny story. The next week, Zach was talking to someone he knew at work who happened to be camping at the same campground. They didn't know the other was there, but once they realized, his friends first comment was something along the lines of "Were you camped near the big 5th wheel from Texas with all the loud kids?" Yeah. Whoops! Still, we felt somewhat excused by the fact it was a holiday weekend and they weren't being loud during quiet hours. Also, they were all being respectful of other people's campsites and generally behaved well, just a bit loud.
The next day, my sister Angela and her husband Daniel drove up from their new place in Maryland to ride the steam train in Strasburg with us. They got a late start, so we decided to meet them there. They got caught behind a bunch of Amish buggies (being Sunday) and they made it on the train literally with seconds to spare. Crayton and I are long time trainiacs, but this was Jake and Zella's first time and they really seemed to enjoy the trip. It was a beautiful day, if a bit warm, sunny with white poofy clouds. The countryside here is just lovely. The train museum they have was one of the better collections I've seen. At many we've been to, they may have a nice set of rolling stock and locos, but often haven't had the time or money to get everything restored. Here virtually everything looked practically brand new. If you go to one train museum (that we've been to anyhow), make it this one. The steam train ride through the countryside was awesome, too, but I think for sheer beauty of the ride, the Skunk Train in Willits, CA and the 1880 train in the Black Hills of South Dakota were both better, though this was still really really nice. After the museum, we drove over to the Casey Jones restaurant that we saw from the train. It was built inside a couple of old dining cars and was part of a hotel complex where every guest room was an authentic caboose. I think they had 20-something of them, making it the largest private collection of cabooses (caboosen?) in the world. The reviews were mediocre, but I was impressed by both the food and service. Afterward, we all went back to the campground to relax for a bit before Angela and Daniel had to head home.
Pals getting ready to ride the Steam Train!
Pam and Angela on the train
The Amish countryside from the train
A small part of the train collection at the SRR
The Amish farms all fit the stereotype of a 'farm'. When you think of the storybook version of a farm with the big barn, animals of all kinds, etc, that type of farm is lost to history and doesn't really exist any longer. Unless you're Amish. The farms we saw driving around and then again from the train ride were beautiful, quaint, and real working farms! It's nice to see that this kind of agriculture can still work in this era of highly-mechanized energy-intensive mega-farms. The local Amish also still drive their buggys everywhere as they don't use cars (though some of the Mennonites do). The TrueValue hardware store we visited a couple of times while we were here even had a separate parking area with horse-hitches for them. The narrow two-lane country roads with lots of hills and blind turns made sharing the road with them a matter of concentration and patience, but we didn't mind.
Sunday afternoon Traffic
Monday we all went to a local amusement park for younger kids called 'Dutch Wonderland'. Being a holiday weekend, it was pretty busy, but it was still tolerable. The kids had a blast. We went to the water-park are first, which was really just a large 'splash-pad' style park. After drying off we explored the rest of the park and rode rides the rest of the day. It wasn't terribly expensive for an amusement park and, as a bonus, if you bought one of their re-usable souvenir cups, you could refill it with ice water at any concession stand for free or with a fountain drink for $0.99. The rides were perfect for kids the ages of this pack. All the rides but one, a mid-sized roller coaster, were ride-able by Crayton. They had a dinosaur exploration area, shows (which we missed) and lots of other activities. We could easily have spent another day here, but it was exhausting as it was and by late afternoon the kids were getting grumpy and we were all ready to go back to camp.
At the Dutch Wonderland Splash-pad!
Crayton and Zella on the rides!
One wiped out kiddo after a full day at Dutch Winderland
Tuesday was the 4th of July! The Zebleys had to head home that morning to get ready for work the next day, but we made plans to drive to Delaware to see them the next weekend and said our goodbyes. After a bit of rest, Pam, Crayton and I went to the town of Ephrata to join in their Independence Day Celebration. I deliberately chose a smaller town as this whole area has so much character, I wanted to see if that small-town American vibe translated to how they celebrate the holiday. It did. It appeared to be jointly run by a local church who's property it was partly on and the local fire department. Everything was free except the food. The rides, the games, the fireworks, parking. Everything. This kind of floored me... and everyone was so nice! We left a healthy donation with the fire department. Pam was really dying to get a funnel cake and we were disappointed to not find them there, but there was so much else to like, it didn't matter. The fireworks were much better than I expected and Crayton was beside himself with excitement all day, softening the blow of having had to say goodbye to Jake and Zella.
The call him "The Ring King"
The rest of the week I worked while Pam and Crayton played in the pool and such when it wasn't raining. Saturday, though, we turned the truck south and went to visit Angela and Daniel at their new home in Fork, MD. Daniel is a Methodist minister and as such gets re-assigned with some frequency. The seem to move about every three years. The drive down was lovely, I really can't get enough of the country roads around here! Daniel had church business to attend to early in our visit but joined us before too long. Angela had held onto some toys from when her kids were young and Crayton really enjoyed a marble track game, playing with it for most of the afternoon while we all talked and caught up. That evening we visited a local restaurant, the Sunshine Grille, for one of the better meals we've had on this trip, before heading back to camp. It was tough to say goodbye. We likely won't see my family again for a while.
Dinner with the Montagues
Sunday we headed to Delaware to see the Zebleys one last time before heading north. We arrived at their (lovely) home late in the morning. They introduced us to a local pizza tradition in Grotto Pizza before we all went to the local pool in Middletowne for the afternoon. The pool was packed with summer weekend visitors, but it was a nice day and the kids were having a blast, so it didn't really matter. It was nice to visit with the Zebleys on their 'home turf', so to speak, get a feel for what their everyday life is like as we've so far only known them camping or at music festivals. We had a great visit and promised to see them again before we had to head the truck back north to camp and get ready for our next driving day in to New York!