After spending a few weeks with our family and friends in Western New York we were itching to complete our Alaska to Tampa trip and were ready to get back to Florida. We always imagined that when we leave our family home to go on a 1000+ mile trip our family and friends are there to see us off. In reality people are normally working and it turns out to be just Julie and I locking the front door, hopping into Bubbles and saying….well that was nice, time to hit the road!
Today we were heading to the Hershey area where we would stay for the next few days. Leaving Rochester, we drove half an hour south to Avon, NY where Julie grew up. Here we had breakfast with Julie’s parents at a local diner before hopping into Bubbles once again and continuing our way south.
Driving Western New York
Driving south through the central part of Western NY is spectacular in the summer. This area of the state sits on the very eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains and is home to a group of lakes called the Finger Lakes. These lakes are all roughly ½ mile wide by 5 to 30 miles long. Driving in this area you come across small villages, summer lake cottages, hiking trails and too many wineries to count.
We drove down highway 390 south (I know we generally do not take the highway but being from the area and driving almost every single road in this part of the state, we wanted to get to Pennsylvania faster than slower) until we reached Corning then switched over to highway 99 and drove into PA.
Our first (and only) mid travel stop for the day was going to be in Williamsport. Williamsport is small town probably best known as the home of the Little League World Series. We had driven through Williamsport many times on the way to visit friends in NJ, Philadelphia and Washington DC but had never really stopped to check out the town. As this was the case we decided to pull over and take a walk around.
Walking around the small downtown main street we thought the town was nice. The buildings were beautiful, but you could tell that while the town wasn’t exactly in a decline it didn’t seem to be doing amazing either. The town was also very clean which was nice. Flowers filled planters lining the street and almost all of the shops were full of one thing or another. In doing a little research we found out that lumber used to be a big industry in town and there was a section called millionaires row where all of the lumber kingpins used to live. We drove over to the street and while the houses were nice it looked like most of them could use a bit of work. All in all we were glad we finally stopped and checked out the town. From Williamsport we drove south to Hershey where we set up camp, made dinner and made sure the RV was set for another few weeks on the road.
The next day we woke up to a grey and drizzly day. Today we would be catching up with one of Julie’s relatives before checking out some of Hershey’s famous sights. We drove from the campground to the town of Myerstown, just next to Hershey. Julie showed me where her grandparents once lived, where she used to stay when she came to visit them and where they used to go out to eat. We then drove towards Hershey where we stopped at the Cedar Grill where we met Julie’s Uncle Stanley for lunch. It was really nice to see him as we had not really been able to catch up for a few years since Julie’s aunt had passed away. We had a great lunch and a nice time catching up with Stanley before it was time to go see some of Hershey.
Our first stop in Hershey was what everyone’s first stop in Hershey should probably be….Hershey Chocolate World! Hershey Chocolate World is basically just a ginormous Hershey chocolate store but damn what a store it is. After going in we took the “chocolate ride” in which you get put into little cars and driven through the production of chocolate. Julie had been here quite a few times as a kid and it brought back a lot of memories for her. After we took the ride we looked around and saw that there was an area where you could make your own chocolate bar and a comedy show of sorts….all for a price. We decided to just walk through the store and buy a few things. While they had everything that Hershey makes (including a 5 pound chocolate bar) they didn’t have the one bar that I wanted….the Krackle Bar. The Krackle bar is Hershey’s version of the Nestle Crunch bar. While they sort of had the Krackle bar at the store (it was sold as miniature size in a bag with other assorted chocolates) I could not just buy a full-size bar of it. C’mon Hershey, get it together!
Our last stop for the day was one of Pennsylvania’s most famous craft breweries, Troegs. I had been wanting to stop by Troegs for years. I had always enjoyed their beers and while they do have a small brewery in Harrisburg it was always closed when we passed through town. Today we were heading to the main location. In only a few minutes’ drive from Hershey Chocolate World we were pulling into Troegs. Walking in we could tell that the building was brand new. It was massive as well. We walked in and found the huge beer tasting/dining room. After getting a flight of beer we wandered over to the food counter and ordered fries smothered in cheese & chorizo sausage. Delicious. One of the cool things about this brewery was that they had a self-guided brewery tour. As you walked down a hallway on the far end of the building there were windows which looked into the brewing area with signs to tell you what they were doing. All in all pretty neat.
The next morning, we woke up to a nice day and we were excited. Today we would be visiting the capitol building in Harrisburg. Driving into Harrisburg is pretty neat as most of the main roadways follow right next to the Susquehanna River. After finding parking we walked over to and into the building. As there were no tours going on for quite a while this day we opted to take our own self-guided tour. We learned that this building was finished in 1906 and was referred to as the “Palace of the Arts” as there are so many paintings and sculptures in the building. As expected, it was an absolutely beautiful building.
Next up for the day Julie wanted to see where her grandparents and aunt were buried. Off we went to the little town of Laureldale. Driving between small towns in Pennsylvania isn’t easy in a big van. This area of the state is very hilly with tiny two-lane roads connecting everything. You really feel like you are sometimes back in colonial times as the roads are small, buildings very old and in the rural area’s you past Amish and Mennonite people everywhere. Finally, though we reached Laureldale.
More Family Time
Julie’s grandparents were buried in a huge cemetery called Gethsemane Cemetery. As Julie had no idea where they were here, we visited their main office where we were given a map and directions on where they were. Julie’s grandparents as it turned out where buried in a crypt inside the church on the property. After spending a little bit of time in the church we jumped into Bubbles and drove over to Julie’s aunt. We had been here years prior when she had died but if we didn’t have the map, we would never have found her on our own. As we stood next to the grave a high school cross country team passed us doing a training run. We thought this was a little strange, but the kids didn’t have to watch for traffic in the cemetery so maybe that made it ok? Not sure. After spending some time with her aunt, we jumped into Bubbles and headed out.
From the cemetery in Laureldale it was time to catch up with some more of Julie’s living family. We drove to their house outside of Reading to meet up with Joe, Alana, Joey, Nick & Olivia. Julie had not seen them in years, so it was great to be able to catch up again. We all went out to eat that night at a restaurant called Austin’s before heading back to their house. We then checked out their “garage”. This garage consisted of multiple car lifts 5 or 6 cars and everything that you would ever need to rebuild or fix any part of the vehicle. They also had recently purchased a Jeep Wrangler that they were going to work on and resell. It was great to be able to see the cars and talk car shop for a bit. As it was getting late at this point, we said goodbye and headed back to the campground.
The next morning after breakfast and packing up the van we were off. Our final destination for the day was going to be our friend Jen’s house on the outskirts of DC in Virginia. Today though we had a few more stops in Pennsylvania left. We drove south from Hershey passed Harrisburg and continued south until we reached the town of Dillsburg. Our friend Julia suggested this town as when she was there, they had a dill pickle festival. While there was no dill pickle festival going on this day there just happened to be a farmer’s fair along main street. We walked along checking out some of the produce as well as the fair food. It was pretty neat that this farmers fair just happened to be going on today, as this was a pretty random stop.
From Dillsburg we continued south to the town of Gettysburg and the battlefield. Neither of us had ever been here nor did we know what to expect. As it turned out the town of Gettysburg was absolutely beautiful. Small and compact with colonial architecture it was teeming with tourists. We immediately wished that we had scheduled at least one day here. As it was a bit hard to find parking for Bubbles, we opted to drive directly over to the Gettysburg National Military Park visitor center. Julie and I had learned all about this battle during our high school years but actually being here really made the history come alive.
As we were pressed for time, we quickly browsed the visitors center grabbing a few souvenirs before heading over to the park itself. Much like the military park that we had been to in Vicksburg, MS, Gettysburg Military Park is huge. At almost 4000 acres we were not going to be able to see everything in just a few hours. We picked a section of the park to tour and started driving around. As in Vicksburg this park showed where battles were fought and had memorials built for the states from which soldiers were from. When you see a memorial that you want to stop you park and simply walk up to the memorials. These can be as small as a few stones with writing to structures the size of two-story buildings. Standing at these memorials and looking over the hillsides you feel a bit strange. There’s a stillness in the air, not exactly peaceful but not violent either. Almost as if the universe wants you to know what happened here.
Julie and I would have loved to stay and explore more (and we will next time) but for now it was time to press forward and go visit friends in northern Virginia!
Next up…Northern Virginia, Delaware and the Delmarva Peninsula!