Monday, August 22, 2011

Part 17 - Longwood Gardens...

Off we headed towards Longwood Gardens (again in Philadelphia - about an hour’s drive from Amish village). There were a couple of mistakes we did - we didn’t carry snacks with us (comes in very handy when you are traveling) and we didn’t have lunch before entering the Garden. The parking lot was huge and by the size of that we knew we’d have to do plenty of walking inside.
Just outside the entrance there was a beautiful set of tulips and my friend started clicking again.
“People usually take snaps from above but it looks good when you take it from below.”
“Oh; the subject should be above our eye level then.”
We would have spent more than 5 minutes in that area. The trailer sure did look impressive!
There was a decent crowd; we picked our tickets and strolled inside. Going by the map we headed first to the Terrace restaurant. The Easter buffet was sold out - a little expensive buffet, held once a year; my friend was keen on trying it out but it was all sold out online itself. So the second mistake we did was not having lunch outside - pretty much always, the food in tourist spots are a lot expensive than outside. We could even have brought food from outside and had it here. 
The concept of audio tours is very popular in the US - either it is a kit you can borrow (like in Eastern State Penitentiary) or some app that you need to download to your smartphone before visiting the place. From the restaurant we entered the New East Conservatory block and the place was very beautiful - a glass house with plenty of plants and flowers in a pleasing arrangement. You could simply sit there and admire them for hours.

It was  a rectangular hall with symmetry in the sense that what was on the left side was repeated on the right with a pool of water in the center. And on the right there was a lady playing on a harp - the slow music with intermittent high tempo tunes sounded good. Many kids stood looking at her in awe and so did we. Plants, trees, flowers, water and music was a great combo to soothe the mind.
There were numerous flowers we had never ever seen or even heard of - some names I still remember are the bell flower, slipper orchid etc; flowers in different colors and different shapes and sizes - some even appearing like beetles and insects. There were the standard ones like daffodils and roses as well (different colors of roses - red, white and what not). There was a children’s area where children are encouraged to get themselves wet playing in the water that shoots across from fountains in different areas. We took quite a lot of time to finish the conservatory area itself and this was just one portion of the garden!
My friend was tired when we stepped out of the Conservatory building and the sun was beating down on us; not too strong but still pretty hot - and the weather forecast said rain! The water bottle we bought was almost over.
“I’ll sit here,” my friend said and took a seat on the balcony that was facing the open air theatre - a grand theatre down below.
“I’ll check out the area on this side behind the theatre and come.”

There were a couple of things on this side - the Idea garden and the eye of the water. The Idea Garden had a few patches of tulips - tulips in multiple colors - pink, white, yellow, red, orange. Further down on an uphill was something called the Chimes Tower. I was tired with walking but still continued - having come so far, might as well finish the round and return. At the base of the hill was a waterfall and beside it was an old tower. The Chimes Tower housed carillon - a set of bells at the top of the tower that are used to play music - these aren’t small bells but large bronze ones. It plays every half an hour and sounded grand. Climbing to the top you reach the “eye of the water” - that’s kind of like the starting point for the waterfall down below. The entire place was filled with greenery and flowers; even the walk up the hill.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Part 16 - The Amish way of life

Going with the aid of a map and also with Google maps on my friend’s iPhone, we reached the Amish Village. We had received mixed reviews about this place - one person highly recommending it while another said there isn’t much out here. The place was empty and the main gate locked. I was quite sure of seeing the opening time as 9am while researching online. There was a phone number on the main gate board and an automated voice informed us that the opening time was 10am! My friend found a few tulips near one home during the drive and he stopped the car beside the pavement.

“We might be trespassing.”
“No one around.”
He clicked plenty of snaps from different angles. We had 40 minutes to 10am and so we went on our covered bridge tour. On the way we saw horse-driven carriages passing by with people in them.
It was a quiet and pleasant country-side with lots and lots of greenery. On either side of the main road we found a number of shops - some are famous names that you hear in the city. But behind the main road it was all greenery. The covered bridges were small ones - hardly a couple of car lengths in distance. There was only one that was a little longer but that was closed for traffic since the bridge was fragile. There was no sign of us encountering any heroine on these bridges (the pic above is what you call a covered bridge). We headed back to Amish village at 10am.

The Amish tour

We were among the first set of people to arrive and were grouped for the tour. We had a discount of a dollar - found it somewhere online; bring the cutting and get a discount. The first part of the tour was a small lecture about Amish culture - I found it quite interesting.

The Amish learnt three languages - English for communicating with the outside world, Dutch for home and German for church. Amish is actually a division of the church - the Mennonite church. They have a simple set of rules that many would consider very conservative. They don’t use the regular electricity we use and they don’t use the regular automobiles - only horse driven carriages that are called buggies (see pic to the left). The Amish give their children the option to baptize; anytime before 25 years or so. If the child wants to continue the Amish way, they get baptized otherwise they can venture into the world like any other person (the non-Amish way). The Amish believe in a strong community relationship - in case any Amish family suffers a tragedy then all the other families contribute to help them out. They believe in simplicity and being humble - that explains the restrictions they have on clothing; nothing bright or flashy to be worn. The Amish pay taxes but not the Social Security tax because they don’t expect to be supported by the Government. It is against their culture.

Choice of partner

Children are given a choice whether they want to continue in Amish tradition or not - they are allowed to chose their own life partner but they are expected to stay with the one they pick till the end; there is no concept of divorce. They aren’t required to pick a partner from the Amish community; they could pick from outside as well - till the child is baptized they can decide which way they want to continue - the Amish or non-Amish way. (Pic on the right is their dining room)

“I wish we also had the same custom for marriage!”
"Yeah, instead of worrying about caste and all."

We were guided through a Amish style home with the guide explaining in each room about how they lived - the kitchen, bedroom, drawing room and dining room. This wasn’t a home where a family lived - it was setup the Amish way for the purpose of explanation.
When they explained about the clothes that children, women and men wear I realized that the group of girls we saw yesterday in the restaurant were Amish girls. Before marriage, men are clean shaven while after marriage they let their beard grow. The women don’t cut their hair and they don’t wear jewelry. The reason behind avoiding technology is that they don’t want to get involved with anything that might weaken the community bond; and so things like television, telephones etc. are avoided by them. Telephones can be used but they are not kept inside the home - they'd use a public booth. They can take a ride on automobiles but they shouldn’t own them. (pic on left is their classroom)

After the tour you are allowed to walk around the place - there is a gift shop, a barn, a farm and an Amish classroom. There is also a buggy in which you can sit. We enjoyed the hour we spent here; it’s nice to learn and see other cultures.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Part 15 - the hero photographer!

It’s been a month since the last post; kind of didn’t have the mood to write - not a writer’s block but more like writer’s laziness; you just feel like you don’t want to do anything at all - just want to eat and sleep as much as possible! Strange it is - sometimes you can just go on sleeping... 

Heard about a guy who got some 13 lakhs in dowry and I was wondering, “Wow; just having a fixed deposit with that would fetch you a steady stream of monthly income - nice pocket money, like a salary!”

Anyway... back to the travelogue...

(pic on the left is just as we were exiting Philadelphia)

There was just a light drizzle along the way. A couple of hours drive with the aid of the GPS and we reached Days Inn in Lancaster. As we drove, we could feel the change in atmosphere - this was more like the country side - you had lots of farms, could see some horses and cows (they were well fed and clean - how often do we find that back home!). We had booked a room online; you could get cheaper rates if you book earlier and many places had offers incase you booked online. I picked plenty of pamphlets at the reception while my friend was collecting the room keys - it was actually a pair of electronic cards. The room was cosy; again there were no bright tube lights around - everywhere it was the orangish bulb lights. There were two double beds with nice bedside lamps. I was pretty hungry after having missed lunch as well.

Looking at the options for eateries, we went to a fast food outlet Friendly’s. Not knowing that it was just on the opposite side of the road we took the car and went around twice since on the first round we missed the parking spot. On entering, the first thing we noticed was a group of 6 young girls wearing a blue and white dress seated on a table. It looked like a school uniform but they didn’t seem like school girls - probably in college; college uniform? The burgers were pretty large and so were the french fries - you can feel the potato. And so I had my dinner with burger and fries and apple juice - I liked apple juice than soda. I ate slowly - taking my own sweet time; we finished with ice cream - I just took a double scoop with one of the flavors as blueberry. My friend ordered some other type of creamy dessert which was like a softie packed in a cup - the quantity was a lot more than the double scoop. It was 7pm when we returned back to the hotel - one hour for dinner!

100%? Not really!

The weather websites said tomorrow also would be rain but if the prediction was going to be like today then we would be pretty happy with it - 100% rain just means that it would rain at some point of time during the day; it didn’t mean that you would have rain for the whole day!
We finally dropped the Hershey’s plan - there is a Hershey’s theme park and tour in Lancaster (Hershey is a famous chocolate maker). I came across this when I was in school and ever since have wanted to visit the factory. It was there on our plan in case it rained heavily tomorrow. After some research my friend said, “It’s not the real factory that they take us on tour. It’s a made up one along with the theme park.”
I tried to watch a movie on some tv channel but felt too sleepy and my eyes automatically closed shut.
Cloudy day

Breakfast was simple - self serving style: cornflakes, bread, bagels (kind of like bread in a small oval shape but hard), muffins and cup cakes. They also had a waffle maker. Waffles were like pancakes (I loved pancakes with honey) - the difference being that you had indentations on it. Pour the batter in a small cup and then empty the contents onto a hot plate. Close the lid and wait till the machine cooks the waffle. That’s it - waffle ready. It was soft, fluffy and very tasty with honey.
We packed out by 8:30 am - double and triple checked the room before leaving. Weather looked fine - no rain.

“Cloudy weather will be good to take snaps of the flowers,” my friend commented. He was more like a professional photographer.
On the pamphlets that I picked, we had a map that said there was an information center. It was beside a petrol bunk. On closer inspection we found that there was no one around. We filled petrol and returned - it was 9am but still no one was around. They probably opened only at 10am.
My friend had researched about road trips in this area and one of them was a road trip going across covered bridges. He had seen this movie about a photographer who travelled around the country to take snaps of covered bridges - and in the process of that he meets the heroine or something of the sort. Taking snaps is fine, but I didn’t know if the heroine part would happen in our trip :-)