For those of you who don’t know – despite all my whinging about tea and biscuits, missing British Bake Off and of course, the need for some cooler weather; I was actually born in the good ‘ole US of A, right here in the state of Pennsylvania as it turns out. All of my family were born and raised here too.
It just so happens that by a fluke of fate, my dad, mum, sister and I moved to England when I was young and is where I’ve spent my whole life, thereby now making me extremely culturally British.
The only memories I can conjure up about Pennsylvania include a couple visits to the row home of my dad’s parents in the centre of Philadelphia, visiting my mum’s mother as a surprise one snowy Christmas and hiking the Appalachian Trail through the state; so that means most of my recollections of PA are either of a city/town type scenery or rocks, rocks and more rocks. My body equates PA with painful feet.
So once again, rather unfairly I realise, I’m not expecting a lot from my ‘home’ state.
And once again, I should just learn to shut up and not pass judgements so easily.
We cruise into Pennsylvania by way of Interstate 80, a long stretch of motorway running east to west across the top part of the state. And here’s the first thing I learn – northern Pennsylvania is beautiful; unexpectedly so.
Our long drive becomes a pleasure as I take in the thick lush forest and particularly like the high arched bridges we rumble over, so high above the river valley below, it makes me feel like we’re almost in the clouds. And hills! Why does it seem we haven’t seen hills in such a long time? It appears that just within minutes of crossing the state line, the scenery is a complete contrast from Ohio. It’s as we travel through this green and verdant landscape that I realise I’ve never actually really toured this state, except around Philadelphia and its outskirts. I have obviously missed out.
Along the motorway we come across our first major traffic accident since we began, a large truck that has overturned; bursting through the guard rail and tumbling into the grass below. We both comment on the fact that we have travelled nearly 6,000 miles around the country and this is the first real accident we’ve encountered. However, hang around in Largo FL near a traffic light and you’re certain to see a fender bender within 30 minutes.
After a long day of motoring, we stop off for a Cracker Barrel dinner, courtesy of Loops’ dad who has sent us a gift card, and then head across the street for another first for us – to spend the night in a Walmart carpark!
Now if you follow other people’s blogs or YouTube RV channels, you might see that Walmart carparks are a frequent home for many people. You simply find a slightly out of the way, deserted area of the car park, go ask politely inside if they mind you staying and, usually as a goodwill gesture, buy some groceries from the store. It’s not uncommon to pass a Walmart in the evening and find four or five RV’s parked up and spending the night. Why we haven’t done this so far is, I think, simply because we haven’t had to. Sometimes the idea of having a quieter or more scenic place to sleep in, or maybe just being less obvious and not sticking out in a car park where someone late at night could come a rap-tapping at your door, is preferred. However, it seems that for tonight, either a lack of camping options, or lack of cheaper camping options perhaps, has made us try this out for the night. And as a bonus, the Walmart has a hairdresser inside, so we buy some food and I get my first haircut since being on the road (one of the things you don’t really think about – where the heck am I going to get my hair cut when you’re in a different town every day?).
Our sojourn the next day is courtesy of me, and my love of reading random blogs in the internet. Today we stop to explore Centralia.
You may have heard of this little town before, but if not, here’s a quick introduction. Centralia used to be a mining town, as most of Pennsylvania once was (and the local town names still bear this out – Minersville, Port Carbon, East Mines and Frackville). Centralia has coal seams running underneath it and one day it was discovered that a fire had started underground (accounts differ as to how this occured) and to this day, and predicted for the next couple hundred years, the fire is still burning. The majority of the town was evacuated when smoke started rising randomly out of the ground, through cracks in the roads and even in the cemetery. Homes were torn down and the town which once housed a few little blocks was left for nature to reclaim it. State Road 61, which ran just outside of the town, buckled and split from the heat of the fires and had to be closed and a new portion of the road had to be built.
Today people stop in to Centralia to see what is left, which is not much besides the two cemeteries, a couple of houses (where residents refused to leave) and the ‘graffiti highway’, the section of state road 61 that was blocked off and has now be totally vandalised.
I don’t know why seeing this ‘town’ appeals to me. I suppose I find it interesting because it almost gives a glimpse as to what would happen if there was some sudden apocalypse type event, and nature began to swallow the world man has made. Here in Centralia, that’s the feeling I get as Loops and I cycle up and down what used to be neighbourhood streets -there is nothing besides the cracking pavement to suggest that there was once a living and breathing community of people here.
While there are still some people residing here, the town itself has actually been disbanded. The post office officially closed down its zip code and it is no longer recognised as a town. There are literal roads to nowhere in this place. This is what the end of modern human life will look like when it eventually occurs. It’s a sobering and reflective experience to stand here. Eerie.
As if that wasn’t enough doom and gloom for the day, we discover our second road accident in as many days we drive, far worse than the one yesterday. I have no idea what happened, but the truck was completely mangled. I hope the driver made it out ok, but Loops didn’t seem so sure. Two accidents in two days, after months of nothing.
Likewise, after months of RV Park living, for a second night in a row, we find ourselves camping in a car park – this time it’s Home Depot. And I love this shot of our home for the evening, with the wall of shale behind – this makes me totally think of coal mining country!
A short 30 mile chug the following morning takes us through Pottsville, a vast expanse of an old brick town which flashed past so quickly I missed out on any good photo opportunities, and we pull in to experience Roadside America, touted as the ‘World’s Greatest Indoor Miniature Village’.
While I can’t vouch for that claim to fame, I can tell you that Roadside America is a unique experience. You walk through the door and suddenly you are in a 1950’s holiday tourist attraction, honestly, the entrance is like some type of time travelling portal. I felt I should be walking around in a flowery dress, heel s and handbag with a headscarf tied under my chin, cooing things like “Ooh, isn’t that lovely, my dear”.
Loops and I slowly make our way around the huge display, reading the labels telling us what is happening in each scene and pushing the buttons to activate the animatronics on display (and probably showing an unproportioned amount of enthusiasm for being able to move a miniature car 1ft via a button).
The display is an 80 year old collection of miniature models built in the beginning by a solitary gentleman, while he was a child. Over 60 years his collection of miniature sceneries, building, transportation and people grew until such a point people where coming to visit it and the collection was turned into the museum it is today. All told the miniature village covers 6,000 sq. ft. containing 300 buildings/structures, 600 light bulbs and 4000 people. There are trains and trollies, moving displays and real water features. The whole collection details the last 200 years of rural America, so it gives a real overview of how the country and its people have moved through time from the pioneer days to modern life.
The pinnacle of Roadside America comes every half hour when guests are asked to make their way to the seating area at the back of the hall, the lights dim and the music and illumination show begins. It is quite simply a ‘see it to believe it’ moment, with American patriotic music belting from the speakers, a film presentation with flags a-waving on the opposite wall of the building and the whole miniature village going about its night-time affairs. I’m pretty sure I sat there in disbelief with a confused look on my face as to how this random mish-mash of a production was ever put together. I’m not saying it was bad at all, just a completely unexpected and highly unusual occurrence; for this experience alone, everyone should visit Roadside America when they are passing through.
We take two days of rest at a nearby RV park before continuing our travels in Pennsylvania. Given my new found love of Amish communities, it would simply be criminal to pass through one of the most famous Amish areas in the country and not take in the sites.
Lancaster, PA. – Not at all what I was expecting.
Whereas our Amish friends in Indiana can be found in fairly quiet and quaint surroundings, Lancaster city and surrounding villages has grabbed the Amish tourism theme firmly by the hands and run with it. It is tourist overload. Loops and I park the bus and shoulder our way through the crowds, popping our heads into household goods stores, a food market and a number quilting shops (so many quilting shops!).
We did opt to dine at Miller’s Smorgasbord, which from the looks of it was supposed to be a mirror of the Essenhaus experience in Shipshewana. Now I hate doing this but, save your money, the food isn’t worth it. We paid something like $25 each for the buffet (which is pretty much an all you can eat appetiser, main meal and dessert), but the quality and type of food is nothing compared to the Amish style fayre we have had before. I feel we wasted our money that evening.
I do however recommend popping next door into the Quilt Shop at Miller’s to browse their products as they have a nice selection of quilts, pillows, some fabrics and a nice selection of books about learning how to quilt (of which I bought one and a quilted pillow design to try for when I learn how to sew…oh, and buy a sewing machine for the bus…).
We parked overnight in the Miller’s car park which no-one seemed to mind, and then headed the next day the 6 miles over to two more ‘Amish’ villages – Bird in Hand and Intercourse. Yes, partially just to visit because of the names. I’m such a child. Again, there plenty of shops to meander and peruse – quilts everywhere, jams, cheese and meats, even a canning factory – but the hordes of people were just too much to cope with, and being a weekend, they were at their worst.
One final quilting recommendation (or for anyone into a hobby that requires fabric) – visit Zook’s Fabric Store in Intercourse, it is a mesmerising experience. While the front of the shop may not look like much at all, a tiny hole in the wall you might think, it is a fabric Tardis. Walk through the door and you enter another dimension, rolls of fabric of every colour, style and pattern as far as the eye can see! You will not be disappointed.
Loops and I decide we’re ready for a change of scenery and I’m feeling the need to be historic. Time to turn the bus east and head to one of the most famous ‘old’ places in Pennsylvania – Valley Forge National Historic Park – the site of a Revolutionary War encampment and George Washington’s Headquarters.
Let’s go learn some more about the civil war…!