Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Onwards, Towards Baltimore

After leaving Philadelphia we were in for some real visual treats. Making our way first towards Lancaster we ran straight into the middle of Amish country. Never before on this voyage have we seen farms so beautiful, land so pristine. The rolling terrain served to conceal the next gorgeous field, one after the next. Each time we crested a hill we were afforded a different view of serenity. Horse drawn carriages were the norm and life clipped along at a slower pace, a pace suited for bicycle travel. Hard work and large families are the formula for productivity and success in this neck of the woods. We witnessed labor intensive tobacco harvest, processing, and drying. I’ve never seen so much tobacco before - I guess it’s not just for Virginia! I found it very impressive how much these people were able to accomplish without electricity, cars, tractors, etc.; they manage somehow to turn the saying “work smarter not harder” upside down with seemingly spectacular results. While I can’t say that I agree with many of their practices (i.e. removal of children from school following the eight grade, no indoor plumbing, shunning of those who break the rules, and so forth), I can say that I have an incredible amount of respect for the simple lives that these people lead. If you are interested in reading more about the Amish and what makes them different from others (like Mennonites) then you can read more here. One last thing about the Amish - they make wicked baked goods in addition to items like furniture. Clancy picked up some delicious cream pies from a road-side stand. He also spied something called shoofly pie, a marvelous confection that we have not had the pleasure of running across since - if you happen to have one on hand we would be happy to sample it for quality assurance purposes.

Another point of interest worth mentioning in Pennsylvania is Valley Forge National Historic Park. This site is where General George Washington’s men hunkered down for the winter of 1777 during the Revolutionary War. Though long gone are the exhausted, hungry and freezing soldiers, the park’s landmarks are a testament to these valiant men in uniform. Perhaps the most impressive monument in Valley Forge is the National Memorial Arch; standing three stories high the inscription in the top reads “Naked and starving as they are we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery” -General George Washington. On the border of the park rests Washington Memorial Chapel. Though by no means the largest church nor the most architecturally impressive, the chapel stood out as one of my favorites. The stained glass windows were among the most detailed I have ever seen - depicting colonial persons in various poses, the hundreds of panes lined all four walls of the sanctuary. Truly spectacular. The church also housed the Justice Bell, a duplicate of the Liberty Bell that tolled for the first time only after the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote.

In only a short while we found ourselves in Maryland, exploring the nooks and crannies of Baltimore. Let me tell you - some of these nooks looked a little sketchy. Once we arrived in the downtown the cityscape cleaned up and became more touristy (though we heard the docks could get mighty rowdy on a Saturday night). It was here that we laid eyes on the Chesapeake Bay. The waterfront is home to one of the finest aquariums the world round (the National Aquarium - note the terrarium in the picture) and also Fort McHenry, the fortification that was heavily shelled overnight in the war of 1812. The battle inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that when sung to the tune of a popular British drinking song, came to be know as the Star Spangled Banner. We also took time to gander at the Washington Monument (of Baltimore) and snapped some photos as darkness closed in just prior to our departure.

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