It still strikes me as a little odd that if anyone asked me right now where, during our travels of the USA, I have most enjoyed being; that the answer would unequivocally be “Shipshewana, Indiana – staying in the car park behind Yoder’s Department Store.”
And as we spend yet another two days in the little town, my answer is only solidified further.
It seems each time we visit, we experience both something new and something that has become familiar and comforting; to me at least.
On our way into town we make our pilgrimage to the Essenhuas for yet another filling meal and left overs that last for two days, spend time making friends with the plastic cows in the courtyard outside and wandering the shops in case we spot a suitable Christmas gift for family or friends.
Upon reaching our usual spot in Shipshe, we find that this go round we have arrived in time for the weekly flea market, an activity which we have managed to miss on our other visits. The flea market is one of the largest I’ve ever seen and if you enjoy window shopping, it’s a fabulous place to stop in at. We pop over in the morning and don’t leave until well after lunch time with our legs aching from walking miles up and down the rows. There is a vast array of stalls selling everything under the sun. Yes, you get the usual tat like mechanical swimming frogs for your bathtub for $1, but there are also oddities such as the man selling dental and medical tools (which freaked me out a little until Loops explained that model makers use them when building with tiny parts), interesting demonstration stalls such a gentleman polishing stones for jewellery (including Petoskey stones) and my favourite, the second hand book stall (so good, I visited him twice).
It is interesting watching the buying habits of people here. Visitors are more apt to buying total rubbish and wasting money than forking over good cash for some excellent local crafts on offer. It seems a shame. The lady selling silly household signs, plastic sunglasses and t-shirts is making more money than the nice Amish chap selling beautifully hand carved wooden household items. It makes me a bit sad really.
When we have overdosed enough at the flea market, we wander through the car park and into Yoder’s Meat and Cheese; another institution we have managed to miss out on so far. We peruse the produce and debate buying some snack supplies, but I still prefer the Deutsch Kase Haus where I have previously bought cheese, and so we leave empty handed this time.
Lunch is calling and we pop next door into the small shopping centre (for want of a better word, though really it’s a big red barn with 6 shops in it). We’ve been recommended to try Ben’s Pretzels which are supposed to be the best in town; and yes, indeed they are delicious. Loops and I buy a traditional salted pretzel to share, with some mustard dipping sauce, and are thoroughly impressed. Our pretzel has a perfectly crisp outside and a wonderfully thick doughy centre inside. Ben – your pretzels get two big thumbs up from Button and Loops!
One of the other shops inside the centre is called Wana Cabinets and Furniture, and if someone wanted to give me about $10,000 to furnish my home, I’d buy everything in there. The woodwork is so perfect and beautiful it makes you want to cry. The rocking chairs are to die for, and if we had enough space in the bus I would have insisted we left with one. Instead I had to make do with sitting in it for 15 minutes before the lady started looking at me suspiciously, like she suspected I was trying to work out how to disassemble it and sneak it out in my handbag.
I use my second day in Shipshe as I have before, and me and the Blue Bandit head out on our own to enjoy the peace and seclusion of the Pumpkinvine Trail; and to make our regular stop to pick up cheese and corn chips for our travels.
On my ride this time I encounter something I haven’t previously seen, Amish children at school. Sitting right next to cycle trail is a white clap board, single room school house with a small bell tower. Each time I have passed by, there were never any children to be seen, I guess because of the school holidays? This time however, under the blue sunny skies, there is a small group of boys and girls, around 15 of them, playing baseball together. They are swinging at the ball and running through the grass barefoot, the girls with their long skirts swishing around their legs, the boys unencumbered by their trousers. They all look happy playing together.
I turn off the cycle trail and head up the quiet lane toward the main road where the cheese factory sits. As I approach the junction I notice another field full of children. I hadn’t realised before but there is another school sitting across the road from where I’ve stopped. However as I pause to watch the kids I realise that in this field of about 30 children, they have divided themselves into a distinct boy/girl split. The boys here are playing baseball and the girls are crowded in little groups around the rest of the field talking or chasing each other. I find the difference intriguing, as well as the fact there are two separate schools this close together and wonder why?
Finally, as I am almost back to the bus, I pass a normal American school near the little town centre and clearly spot in amongst the bike rack, several Amish bicycles (they are easy to pick out because of the distinctive panniers on the sides) and low and behold, out in the playground are a handful of Amish children mixed in with the other kids. Why would these Amish children be going to a non-Amish school? I have absolutely no idea. But I find it all fascinating.
At least all of this gives me something to mull over as we pull out of Shipshewana for the last time to make our way across the border and into Ohio.
Before I get to my thoughts on Ohio, I do just want to point out that in one of my previous blogs I had mentioned driving through a crossroads with the stone Ten Commandments, but didn’t manage to snag a picture…..well, guess what……?
Right, now I hate to do this, but it someone asked me to sum up our four days in Ohio, the word I’d use would be “Meh.” The scenery made me feel apathetic and trying to find anything of major interest that jumped out at Loops and I was tough. I would simply say that I don’t plan to visit the state again any time soon. Sorry, people of Ohio.
The only real upside during the drive through was our stop in Cleveland. Now we only spent the afternoon in the city, making stops at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Lake View Cemetery, but when it came to researching things to do (and more specifically, for free), the city came up trumps. Not only are the two previously mentioned activities free, but so are the Cleveland Botanical Gardens and the West Side Market – both of which got excellent reviews from other visitors on the internet. Additionally, though you have to pay, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History also looked amazing and even better; all of these places are within walking or cycling distance of each other.
We managed to park the bus for free on the road circling the art museum, which was a real surprise to us. I can’t tell you whether that was 100% legal or not, but I think so as it’s where they direct tour and school buses to go. Cleveland I found interesting in that the outskirts is very modern ugly city, but when you get into the heart of it, you find a mixture of both old and new. There is also a very distinct black and white population here, driving through you can easily spot the changes in race as you pass through different neighbourhoods. But that is a thought and topic for another post later this year.
The art museum I thought was first-rate. It had a more diverse collection of art work than I have seen anywhere else and I especially enjoyed the mixture of art mediums. Not only are there ‘hang on the wall’ paintings; but also sculptures, furnishings, pottery, painted silks and even religious artefacts. There are three floors to explore with each collection having its own wing. Just a sample of the collections include Italian Renaissance, British, Japanese and Korean, Fabergé, Medieval and Islamic.
Here, for your enjoyment are just some of my favourites….
As we make our way to leave, I notice a display on the lower floor and discover a group of art students teaching members of the public how create prints using plates and ink. They were giving away the students work, and I couldn’t resist these two pieces. The artist who created the axolotl seemed shocked I knew what it was (I actually picked it out because that was my nickname for my dog, Axel).
Exiting the museum I was further delighted by the artwork I discovered outside. It seems that the museum hosts an event each year where people are allowed to chalk their own designs on the paving slabs around the building. Cool, eh?
Our final activity for the day was to unload the bikes and for Loops and I to cycle a couple miles towards the outskirts of town to the Lake View Cemetery. This might seem like an odd or creepy place to go on our travels, but it’s hugely popular with visitors because of the number of famous people buried there.
The cemetery is huge and is actually registered as a national landmark, being a historic burial ground. It houses President Garfield’s Memorial, the Rockefeller family, Elliot Ness (who helped bring down Al Capone) and Henry Sherman (founder of the Sherman-Williams paint company, who have the world’s most disturbing company logo – no lie – google it).
With daylight waning, and the Garfield memorial due to close soon, Loops and I were gutted to arrive and find that while cars and walkers are allowed to drive and wander in the cemetery, apparently cycling is a no go. I have no idea why this may be, but it meant we had to abandon the bikes and double time it through the grounds to get to the memorial in time, something that ticked me off royally.
Still, we made it, hot and sweaty as we got; not that I have much to say about the memorial. It was ok I guess, and you can actually visit the vault below where the President and his wife lay in state (I guess that is the correct term).
I think mostly I was a little out of sorts not only from my marching, but from the sign that unfortunately had to be posted outside asking people to please refrain from playing Pokémon Go in the memorial building; and then seeing kids and their parents inside doing just that.
It behoves me for two reasons, the first is that their behaviour is just rude and disrespectful; the second because it strikes me as sad that this is how a family has to interact these days, with their heads buried in their mobile phones. I guess some people would say it’s no different from playing a board game together, but for me, it is. It makes me so incredibly thankful for the childhood I had growing up and the time and effort my parents invested in me and my sister to actually interact with us.
Loops and I meander slowly back through the graves, stopping here and there to look at a few particular ones. The Rockefeller family sadly seems to have a number of stones for children who died extremely young (aged 4 and under if I recall correctly); and there are many intricately carved headstones and mausoleums to be seen.
The light has faded and we are almost into darkness by the time we exit Cleveland and arrive at our destination for the evening – Mill Creek COE Park. Loops is nervous there might not be space for us at the park and he hasn’t been able to get anyone there to pick up the phone today for us to book. When we arrive we realise why; the campground closed for the season a couple of days ago. It’s completely empty.
Well, this is a new one for us…
We scratch our heads for a few moments, unsure of what to do. Campgrounds have been a bit sparse in this direction of travel. It might just be because I’m tired, but I’m starting to feel overwhelmed by always having this uncertainty over where we are going to stay every night. Most often we pick somewhere to go the day we travel, and as we’ve found out today, it doesn’t always work out so easily.
We do notice however that there is a day use car park next door (empty, but unlocked), also owned by the COE. Loops pulls Belle over and we consider how much trouble we might get into if someone discovers us there overnight. Luckily, out of nowhere, a COE worker turns up on his quad bike to lock up the building on the grounds and Loops wanders on over to explain our predicament. “No worries,” the chap tells us, “You’re perfectly ok to stay and if anyone asks what we’re doing, give them my name.”
What a relief!
Now we can get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow head into my birth state – Pennsylvania!