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Visiting Amish country

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Want to take a short, interesting trip? Go to Bird in Hand, Intercourse, and Lancaster, Penn. and the surrounding Amish country. It takes about five hours by car, including meal and fuel stops, but it is worth it if you’re looking for a place to get away to this spring.

In Amish country you can enjoy seeing the simple way of the plain people yet have all the modern conveniences to which you are accustomed. We took advantage of a mid-week special offered by the Amishview Inn and Suites in Bird in Hand. The package included a two-night stay with hot country breakfast, one meal per person at the adjacent Plain & Fancy restaurant and discount vouchers for local shops. The facility opened in November 2003, has a fitness center, an indoor pool with a large hot tub and high-speed internet connections in the rooms for your laptop as well as an always-on station in the lobby. Of course, looking out the back windows, you can see a real, working Amish farm.

There are many interesting things to do for all ages. You can take an authentic horse-drawn buggy ride, shop til you drop or watch “The Amish Experience” — a multi-media presentation about a young man who must choose between remaining a confirmed member of the closed Amish community or joining the outside modern world.

We were fascinated watching activities on the working Amish homestead. The gray-bearded patriarch plowing the field handled his six-horse hitch with skill as he plowed from dawn til dusk. Using only natural fertilizer, the rich soil produces truly organic products.

One of the reasons for our visit is the food. My maternal grandmother came from Lancaster, and was an extraordinarily natural cook of Pennsylvania Dutch dishes. Our lunch favorite was at The Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse, Penn., where the soups are excellent on any given day (though they are closed on Sunday). Also commendable are the sandwiches, salads and the famed “7 sweets and 7 sours” such as chow chow and cabbage slaw as well as breads and luscious desserts (Shoo Fly Pie, Raisin Pie etc.) from their on-premises bakery.

There are also more than 30 other shops in this village offering baskets, leather products, souvenirs, garden products and clothing. Be sure to visit the fudge shop, it’s irresistible.

Next door to the Kitchen Kettle Village are other interesting shops selling authentic Amish merchandise. Our favorite was a box-car style arrangement of three stores: Zook’s Fabrics, Nancy’s Nook and The Country Store. You can enter through Zook’s to check out the fabrics and notions used by the local women, go back to Nancy’s where Amish clothing, books, locally made candy and other products are sold and ultimately visit The Country Store, where you will find interesting things such as Amish dolls and doll clothes made locally.

Dining at the Plain & Fancy Restaurant (adjacent to our hotel) was a hoot. The meals are served family style (no menu); just loads of local specialties placed on long tables. The early evening we ate there, we shared the table with only four other guests so we had a delightful, chatty feast.

The table had been pre-set with dishes of chow chow, cabbage slaw, bottled beverages and coffee. The first presentation was a big bowl containing a green salad from which we each served ourselves. The dressing was honey/bacon. Next was as whole group of entrees including real mashed potatoes, sliced pork in gravy, sausages, chicken pot pie, fried chicken, sweet yellow corn kernels, string beans and chicken and dumplings. Refills of any dish was offered but not accepted. Desserts were baked apples with ice cream, shoo fly pie and chocolate cake with peanut butter icing.

After dinner, we spent some time in the huge store in the restaurant’s lobby looking at local arts & crafts, food stuffs and watching a constantly-running video describing Amish lifestyle and religion.

One of the other pleasures of visiting Amish country is food shopping, including the weekend farmer’s markets and at Zimmerman & Sons, where the second floor features Amish household necessities — lamps, pots and pans, kitchen hand tools etc.

We also ventured (about 15 miles) to Stauffers on the Oregon Pike north of Lancaster. Here, they were having a two-for-one sale of local products such as Lebanon bologna, dried beef, shoe peg corn, Silver Floss sauerkraut as well as homegrown fruits and vegetables. (There is also a big mall nearby.)

It is amazing in this day and age to see how happily and health the Amish live; plainly and unencumbered with most worldly possessions. The peace and contentment they achieve can be contagious.

How to get there

Allow an hour to get out of New York City. We usually go via the NJ and PA turnpikes and route 30 and return via routes 222, I-476 and I-80.

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