Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Monticello (again!) to Lancaster and the Amish Community

Today was the day of our return visit to Monticello near Charlottesville. We had visited Thomas Jefferson’s plantation home just over a week ago on our way north to New York. This time we were with our tour group, so whilst the others lined up for the house tour, we went off to take the ‘Slavery’ talk and the walk along Mulberry Walk where the slaves had their cabins. Again we had a very interesting and knowledgeable guide who gave us excellent information on the life and times of the slaves on the Monticello Plantation. Not all slaves were equal – there were those who worked in the house, those who were the craftsmen/women (nailmakers, carpenters, weavers, etc), and finally those that worked in the fields.

Lunch was at historic Michie Tavern which is an old inn built ca1784 quite near to Monticello. About 105 miles further on along the Skyline Drive part of the Shenandoah National Park. It was along a ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the scenery is quite stunning. Our lodge was three and a half thousand feet above sea level, and is very popular during Spring, Summer and Autumn. Despite the number of people there, it was extremely quiet and peaceful and the surrounding thick, dense woodlands with numerous walking trails, were full of animals small and large. We watched a stunning sunset over the mountains and later that night in the bar listened to a singer/guitarist sing some of the many songs written about this area of Virginia. Near the lodge we saw deer, chipmunks and, despite our rooms being on a first storey, a raccoon invaded our next door neighbour’s room during the night! There were plenty of walking tracks around and the well known Appalachian Trail goes through this area. We were sorry we only had one night here, but next morning we packed up again and were off on the next day’s adventure.

Methodist church at Harper's Ferry
Today we drove further along the Skyline Drive to the Luray Caverns, and extremely large and extensive series of astonishing caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites of amazing size and shapes. Back in the coach and we were off to Harper’s Ferry, a lovely little town, but very famous because of John Brown’s raid of 1859 which many believe started the Civil War. After lunch we travelled on to Gettysburg and at the Visitors’ Centre we collected a professional Civil War guide who was excellent – one of the best local guides we’ve had, who drove around with us and explained those three horrific days in July 1863 so well that even I understood it. The weather is hot here - about 32C, and the thought of the heavy woollen uniforms that the soldiers wore at the same time (well only a few weeks difference) in 1863 makes it easy to understand that a lot of the soldiers succumbed during their march TO Gettysburg. Afterwards we went to the Gettysburg Cyclorama and finished up in the Museum shop (of course) where we browsed (and bought) for so long, we were last to leave at closing time.

After another one and a half hour’s drive we arrived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where we had a two night stay (hooray) – a sleep-in in the morning and a chance to get some washing done. The hotel is the Cork Factory Hotel and is beautifully renovated to five star standard but with the huge wooden beams and brick walls exposed as feature items. Our top floor room was lovely - however we had a night-time visit from a bat!  Only for 10 minutes then he disappeared. I'm not sure the receptionist believed us next morning. 
A leisurely breakfast, then we set off with our bag of dirty washing to the nearby coin laundry, to find that they also offer a ‘wash, fluff and fold’ service and would charge only $10 in total. Considering the amount of shirts, trousers and underwear we had in our bag, it was a bargain we thought, and save us an hour or so waiting around watching the washing machine and then the dryer. Three hours later we picked up a bag of fresh, folded washing – perfect!
The afternoon was spent in Amish Country after we had collected a local guide to show us around. Lois was an older lady of the Mennonite faith from which those of Amish faith broke away in 1693. We were told a little of the history and beliefs of the Amish but mostly about their lifestyle and how they manage to live such a simple (but hardworking) life in 21st century America. We visited a variety of businesses – a bakery, craft shop, quilting and craft shop, a farm and a rug-weaving and broom making business. At a furniture shop, we saw a wide range of beautifully made wooden furniture which was all solid wood – definitely no veneered chipboard used. The prices were amazing cheap also and there was one beautifully crafted rocker I would have loved to have had (if only I’d had a bigger suitcase!). Wherever we drove in the area the nearby fields were being worked with horse-drawn farm equipment. Crops were being harvested and hay being made. Many of the farm tasks were being carried out by young people (it is vacation time here in America) and children as young as 12 are taught the ethics of hard work and seem happy and pleased at the responsibilities given to them. The Amish mode of transport – the horse and buggy were often on the roads as we explored the area. It is a beautiful part of America – the farms and businesses are all beautifully neat and tidy – a tribute to their hard working ethics.

For dinner today, we visited a delightful Amish couple and ate dinner prepared by them. It was lovely to sit down and talk over dinner in a family situation and the food – much of it grown on the property – was absolutely delicious. Despite not having electricity in the house, huge meals were often prepared for various groups of people – but it was made a little easier with a kitchen mixer which was a cordless Markita drill with a large mixer beater in place of a drill. Clever! The couple were in their late sixties, had 7 children and 37 grandchildren and ALL were going camping together the following weekend!

We left them just on dusk to return to our hotel, and we noticed no light fittings inside. They rely on a single LP gas light for lighting at night. No electricity is used, but fridges, freezers and any necessary mechanical items are run either by gas, wind, solar or water power.
A great day out – we thoroughly enjoyed learning about these hardworking people of faith who live so differently from the rest of us.

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