In June of 2012 we flew out of the Lone Star State and headed for a vacation in Pennsylvania. It's one that we'd been planning for some time, and we were looking forward to it with much anticipation. Our three main target areas to visit were Philadelphia for the Independence trail, Gettysburg for the Civil War history, and finally a bit of time in Amish country. Below is a travel log of our trip - the good, the bad, the rain, the shine, and everything in between. We had a wonderful time, saw many great sights, and learned a lot... we're delighted to take you along with us as we re-visit The Keystone State of Pennsylvania!

Day 1 – Getting ready for the trip

You know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men. We booked a night at the DFW LaQuinta South – it seemed perfect; we’d get there the evening before the flight, go to bed early, get up at 4:00 AM, and then catch the 5:00 AM shuttle to the airport for our 6:10 flight. We could even leave the car there during the trip. When we got to the hotel, the desk clerk advised us to get to the airport a little earlier to make sure that we made it through security in time. He was extremely helpful, and booked us a cab for 4:30 AM (complete with a reservation #), so we were all set... thanks, LaQuinta! They went above and beyond the call of duty. We went to bed at 7:30 that night, and set the alarm for the unthinkable hour of 3:30 in the morning. Thus endeth the first day.

Day 2 – Off to Philadelphia

The alarm went off at 3:30 AM, we got up, and started plodding through the getting-ready process like zombies. Tami suggested that I go online and see what terminal and gate our flight departed from, which sounded like a great idea. I went to the American Airlines website, put in our flight number, and was given the error: FLIGHT DOES NOT EXIST. I did it again, then again, and finally told Tami that it appeared that we might have a little problem. After a call to American Airlines, mostly working through the maze of automated responses, we finally got a real person and found out that our flight had been canceled and we’d been put on another one at 9:15 AM. So there we set at 3:30, wide awake, and very frustrated at the start to our trip. There was only one thing to do – go back to bed, try to grab a little more sleep, and re-set the alarm for later.

Finally catching the plane - To make a long story short, we got up (again), caught the LaQuinta shuttle to the airport terminal, breezed through security (if you read all the rules in advance and have everything ready, it helps immensely), ate breakfast at T.G.I. Friday's near our departure gate, boarded the plane, and finally left DFW airport headed for Philadelphia - which was about a three hour flight. We figured that with the canceled flight that morning, we’d used up all the bad luck for the trip right there at the first, and everything else would go perfectly smoothly... which is about when we discovered that we’d left our cash at home. Sigh. Thankfully, we figured that Pennsylvania had Automatic Teller Machines just like the rest of the world, so we didn't let it get us down.

Parking in South Philly - Once we were in Philly in our rent-a-car, we headed for our B&B. According to Frommer’s Travel Guide, only locals could call Philadelphia “Philly,” but we’re going to at least ignore that rule in our travel tales. We were booked at Bella Vista, which is in the south Philly area. We quickly found out something that people had told us, but we didn’t understand the magnitude of... THERE IS NO PARKING IN SOUTH PHILADELPHIA. Now, when I say that there is no parking, I don’t mean that it’s inconvenient, or a little tough to find... THERE IS NO PARKING IN SOUTH PHILADELPHIA!!! Everyone parks on the street, bumper to bumper, in spaces that are only good for two hours, so even if you’re lucky enough to find a place you will be moving your car every couple of hours. For an extra bit of a challenge, if you do move our car, you must move it to the other side of the street. In the evenings and on weekends there are grace periods, but if you have a parking place and move your car to go somewhere, you may not find another when you come back!

The Parking Garage -We finally found what may be the only parking garage in the South Philadelphia area at the corner of 10th and South streets, and it has a CVS Pharmacy and a SuperFresh grocery on the bottom floor. We drove up the ramp, and took one of the very last parking places on the very top floor. We couldn’t figure out how, where, or what to pay, and we were standing on the main ramp feeling more than a little intimidated about leaving the rent-a-car in a place that we knew nothing about. After all that driving around looking for a parking place, both of us were tired, frustrated, and ready to get to the B&B. A lady in a car pulled in, and Tami motioned for her to roll down her window. When she did, Tami asked, “Do you know anything about parking here?” The woman looked confused, said, “No,” and then pulled back out – she was apparently just turning around. Most people would call what happened next a happy coincidence. We looked up and saw a young lady walking into the garage. She smiled and said, “I know everything about parking in this garage.” She proceeded to tell us that the car would be safe, and what to do. After that she turned and walked down the street, so we looked at each other, shrugged, and went off in search of Bella Vista, which was only a few blocks away. Cynics would say that she just happened upon us and decided to help out (even though the locals were barely speaking to us), but we were fairly sure that we'd had an angelic encounter.

Our B&B, Bella Vista - Bella Vista is an 1860 “row house,” which (according to Rowhouse Magazine) is a style of multi-floored houses built in a row at the same time and in the same style (initially Federal architecture). Row houses got their start in the U.S. in Philadelphia in the 1800s. Our hostess led us up the flight-and-a-half of stairs to the Victorian Room. We actually had a suite, consisting of a large bedroom with a sitting area, a full kitchen, and an ensuite bathroom, all decorated with antiques. Aside from how wonderful the room was, a great feature of Bella Vista is that it's within walking distance of so many of the things that we wanted to do - restaurants, attractions, and many interesting things to see.

The Philly Cheesesteak - We unpacked, then headed out on foot for dinner. Having just arrived in Philadelphia, we had one mission: an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. Everyone that we asked fell into basically two camps: Pat’s King of Steaks, or Geno’s Steaks. Both are on lower 9th street and Passyunk Avenue, right across from each other.

While Geno’s has been in business for over forty years, Pat Olivieri (founder of Pat’s) claims to have invented the sandwich in 1930. Both had lines at the window, so we figured that both were delicious. We chose Pat’s, and it was incredible. By the way, they had a large sign with instructions for ordering, in case you were new to the whole process... like us.

After eating we walked around some of the south Philadelphia neighborhoods and took in the local sights. To be honest we felt safer in some areas than others, but we weren’t out after dark, and there were a lot of pedestrians around. As we got back to the Bella Vista neighborhood, we felt like we were back home – families were out for strolls, people were walking their pets, and there were a few pick-up basketball games going on in the park a block or so away. Very tired, we turned in and slept wonderfully.

Day 3 – The Independence Tour

Parking Again - We looked the situation over as we were eating breakfast, and decided that even though it was theoretically possible to walk to Independence Square from our B&B, we might not be as tired at the end of the day if we took the car. It was about three blocks to the parking garage – we got to the car, put the ticket in the machine, put a credit card in the same slot of the machine, and $14 later we were headed north. There are parking garages near Independence Visitors Center, but since we didn't know that, we kept winding through the blocks until we found street parking. Since it was Sunday, it was free for the day. Because we were finding it so easy to get turned around, I took a photo of the church with a distinctive front window at the end of the street where we parked, figuring that if we got lost, we could find a local, show him the photo on the camera, and ask, "Can you tell us where this church is?"

Independence Visitor's Center - The tour of Independence Hall is free, but time-stamped tickets are required, and you get them at the Visitor’s Center. In other words, they have a certain amount of tickets that they give out for the 10:30 AM tour, and once those are gone, they start giving out 10:45 tickets. After picking them up, it’s only a short walk across a park. Like I said before, the tickets will be for a specific time, and you’re encouraged to get in line thirty minutes early to get through security. It’s a standard checkpoint where they search bags, purses, sacks, etc, and you’re not allowed to bring in weapons or explosives... which we thought was a reasonable request. Back home I carry a pocketknife, but I’ve learned not to do that while traveling, so we passed through security with no problem.

Remembering National Treasure - While waiting to start the tour, we looked up and saw a familiar sight – if you remember the movie National Treasure, Nicholas Cage was up in the clock tower of Independence Hall looking down, and he saw the shadow of the top of the building cross a particular column at a particular time. He then ran over the roof to that specific column, and dug out a pair of secret glasses that had been invented by Benjamin Franklin (in the movie of course). You can see those columns in this photo on the right side, and of course the clock tower is above it on the left. I asked a security guard if he really was running around up there, and was told that indeed he was - some of the interiors were filmed in California, but all of the exterior shots were done right here.

The Courtroom - There are two major rooms to see in Independence Hall. One is the courtroom, and the other is the signing room. The guided tour of Independence Hall, led by National Park rangers, begins in the courtroom where lawyers from opposing sides shared tables and law books. The number of judges varied depending on the type of trial it was, as did the number of people on the jury (there are several jury stands here). The most interesting thing about the courtroom was that there was a little barred-in space where the defendant would have to stand while the trial was going on. Unlike his attorneys, or the prosecutors accusing him, he could not sit down... which gave rise to the concept of "standing trial."

The Signing Room - As far as I was concerned, this was the highlight of the entire tour - the place where all those brave men put their names on the Declaration of Independence, and then some time later, on the Constitution. George Washington’s “rising sun” chair dominates the Assembly Room which is arranged as it was during the Constitutional Convention. As you stand there, you can close your eyes and imagine that those incredible patriots - those men committing high treason to the throne of England to found our nation - stood in this very room and put their lives in jeopardy for a cause that they believed in. Personally, I'd love to bring them back and point out that the vote of every single congressman and senator today is up for sale to the highest lobbyist or bidder... I'm sure that they'd be horrified. But I digress...

The Congress Hall - The newly-formed U.S. Congress occupied the building when Philadelphia was the capital of the United States during the years 1790-1800. Congress Hall (the photo on the left below) has been restored to the way it looked during that time period. The first floor was occupied by the House of Representatives (center photo). The upper floor was occupied by the Senate (the photo on the right). In 1793, President George Washington was inaugurated here for a second term. Four years later, in a precedent-setting ceremony in the House of Representatives chamber, the reins of power were passed from George Washington to John Adams. At the close of the ceremony, John Adams waited for Washington to lead the exit, as everyone had grown accustomed to, but Washington insisted on waiting until the new President had walked out to greet the public. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, the Bill of Rights was ratified while Congress met in these very rooms.

Old George - Out in front of Independence Hall is a statue of George Washington, to commemorate the fact that he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army here in 1775. This bronze was sculpted in 1910, and was modeled after the 1869 marble statue of Washington done by Joseph A. Bailey (a French-born American sculptor who spent most of his career in Philadelphia), which previously stood in about the same place (that original statue is now on display at the Philadelphia City Hall). To pay for this bronze statue, Philadelphia schoolchildren donated their pennies toward the cost. Nearby are plaques set into the concrete courtyard commemorating the visits of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. I'm surprised that there aren't more presidential plaques here - to be honest, if I was a president, I'd make some kind of official visit just to make sure that I got one.

The Liberty Bell - Our final stop before lunch was the Liberty Bell, which is housed in its own building in the park between the Visitor’s Center and Independence Hall. Like most everything else, there is a line (this one out in the direct heat of the sun), and another security stop. Once inside, however, there is an impressive display telling the story of the Liberty Bell. The final presentation is the bell itself, and a park ranger is there to answer any questions. He gave a talk on the crack in the bell that was incredibly interesting – we learned a lot from it, the strangest being that that that visible crack (the one that he's pointing to in the photo) isn't a crack at all - it's a gap that was intentionally made to try to repair the original crack!

Lunch at City Tavern - By then it was lunchtime and we were starving, so we took the short walk to City Tavern, which serves period food and the staff dresses in Colonial attire. It opened in 1773, and has an incredible history. Paul Revere stopped there on his midnight ride, and the place hosted the very first July 4th celebration. Today chef Walter Staib re-creates period dishes that are out of this world. I had the beef medallions, and Tami had the Chicken Madeira. They also had handcrafted beers, so we enjoyed the General Washington Tavern Porter, and the Poor Richard’s Spruce Beer. It was a memorable dining experience - one of the best meals of the trip!

Parade Day!

While we were looking for our next stop, Christ Church, the crowds began getting heavier. We'd been standing in moderately long lines all morning, and we were thankful that the tourists weren't that thick while we were there - yet suddenly we found ourselves in quite a crowd. In another block we found out why - it was parade day in Philly! We had stumbled upon the 2012 Philadelphia Gay Pride Parade, so we stood and watched for a while. After the parade there was voting for the best entries, and when we got home we checked the website to see who'd walked away with the honors. To name but a few, the following trophies were handed out: Best Marching (W/Music) - Philadelphia Freedom Band; Best Marching (W/O Music) - Philadelphia Family Pride; Best Float - Reconciling Methodists; Spectator Favorite - The Flaggots (a flag drill team); Gayest In The Parade - Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus; and finally, the Grand Price Fruit Bowl - Tabu Sports Float And Liberty City Drag Kings.

Historic Christ Church - When we were able to cross the street, we finally did make it to Christ Church - which is often referred to as the "Nation's Church." It was founded in 1695, and was attended by Benjamin and Deborah Franklin, Betsy Ross, George Washington, John Adams, and members of the Continental Congresses. It is also steeped in African-American history - 25% of Philadelphia’s free and enslaved Africans were baptized, a school was created to educate slaves, and the first black priest, Absalom Jones, was ordained. Today Christ Church is a privately-managed historic site that is an official component of Independence National Historical Park, and is still a functioning church. You enter through the gift shop, and inside the sanctuary we were able to sit in one of the pews and listen to a live presentation on the history and architecture of Christ Church.

The Dead Sea Scrolls in Philly - We got a wonderful surprise while exploring Philly... a special touring exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls happened to be in town at the Benjamin Franklin Institute. A chance to see part of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we jumped on the chance. It was an entire display, not just on the scrolls, but on their discovery and life in Israel at the time they were produced. We got to see several passages of the Old Testament written on the actual Dead Sea Scrolls, and many artifacts from the time period and area of the scrolls' discovery. It was an unexpected highlight of the trip.

By dinnertime it had been a long day, so we took the car back to the parking garage, and stopped at the Superfresh grocery store on the first floor. We picked up some chips, sodas, and a couple of sandwich wraps, and headed back to Bella Vista. While it wasn’t the most elaborate, gourmet meal of the vacation, we made a little picnic, plugged a Sci-Fi movie into the computer (The Darkest Hour, which was a fun little flick), and had a quiet, restful evening after a day packed full of interesting sights.

Day 4 – Gettysburg Bound

Valley Forge - Although we would end up in Gettysburg by the end of the day, the first thing on our agenda for the day was a trip to Valley Forge, which was a short drive from Philadelphia. Although it’s not far on the map, we were in traffic for a good part of the trip – but we finally arrived at our destination. On the way there we were comparing notes as to what we thought happened at Valley Forge. We both had the same thing in mind: General Washington and his troops hunkered there for the winter. While that may basically be true, it is that and a WHOLE lot more. This turned out to be a side-trip that we talked about beforehand, wondered if it would be worth the trouble, and finally decided just to go check out. I'm very glad that we did.

We stopped at the Visitor’s Center for some information, and there are several ways to see the park. You can either 1) Ride the bus with a narrated tour, 2) Drive it yourself and use your cellphone at specified places to hear recorded messages, or 3) Buy the audio CD that guides you through the park. We chose the third option, because it would allow us to go at our own pace, pausing to look at things and take pictures as we went along. As it turned out, the audio CD was the perfect option. It was a dramatic production with sound effects and such to keep the presentation interesting, and really presented the history of Valley Forge well. The CD (the package is shown in the photo) was 60 minutes, but we easily added another hour or so to the tour by stopping to get out of the car and get a closer look at some of the things there, going through the museum by Gen. Washington's headquarters, stopping to eat, etc.

The Valley Forge Cabins - The men had to build the cabins where they would weather the winter, and while they were doing that, they slept in tents. To General Washington's credit, he would not take up residence in his headquarters until his men were all secured in cabins. If his men were sleeping under canvas, General George Washington was sleeping under canvas... that's a real leader, and there's no wonder that the troops loved him so much. The cabins that you see today aren't original, but are built to the same specifications - a small room for four soldiers with a fireplace for warmth. They're exactly what the Colonial Army would have had back in the day. When you stop and take a good look at them, it underscores the amount of dedication that these men had to the fledgling nation.

Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge - Washington made the Isaac Potts House his headquarters, which was located at the confluence of Valley Creek with the Schuylkill River. On the audio tour, you're prompted to take time out to walk down and visit the small museum, and then make the walking loop where there are a number of things to see. There were a group of small cabins a short ways away that belonged to the presidential guard, the hand-picked soldiers who protected General Washington, and were the precursor of the Secret Service. The restored headquarters - the Potts house - is part of the Valley Forge National Historical Park and is open to the public; a guide is stationed there to answer questions and give more information about the place.

Lunch at the Cabin - The last stop on the tour was Washington Memorial Chapel, and after taking a look at it we saw a sign out front that said "Eat Lunch at the Cabin!" As it turns out, the Cabin Shop is behind the church, and is, well... a cabin! It has a shop with all kinds of souvenirs, gift baskets, colonial art, fine pewter, and homemade baked goods. And if you have kids along, you'll find colonial toys, books and other things especially for them. We were starving, though, so we headed back to their cafe area for sandwiches, chips and soft drinks. I ended up my meal with a piece of their shoo-fly cake. It was standard deli fare, and calmed our hunger pains quite nicely! The best thing is that the shop benefits the church, which is where all the profits go - even the staff is volunteer.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike - Once we were finished, it was time to head to Gettysburg, and the best course of action seemed to be to take Interstate 76, a.k.a. the Pennsylvania Turnpike, from Valley Forge to Harrisburg, and then grab Highway 15 down to Gettysburg. According to the online maps, the trip would only take a couple of hours, so we started out. My only concern was that 76 is a tollway, and the longer that we were on it, the more I wondered how much it was going to cost to exit off! There seemed to be some sort of chart on the entry ticket that we'd taken that explained this, but it looked to complicated to study while driving, so we just hoped for the best. In the end, the toll to drive on 76 for an hour was only $7.85... not bad at all, and the road was great.

Farnsworth House B&B - Our bed & breakfast for the Gettysburg stay is one of the most historic buildings in town - the Farnsworth House. What you really can't see in the photo are all of the bullet holes in the brick wall. Confederate sharpshooters had taken over the building and were firing at the Union troops, who were peppering the building with rifle-fire. As the fighting continued, the basement was converted to a makeshift hospital - this house was literally involved with the Battle of Gettysburg from the attic down to the basement floor. It's now a B&B with a fine dining restaurant. We booked the Sarah Black room, which is in the original part of the house on the second story in front... and as a bonus, it is also supposed to be haunted.

The Battlefield Visitor's Center - Although we wouldn’t be going out to the battlefield until the next morning, we decided to go to the Visitor’s Center to kind of get the lay of the land. One of the things that we had to determine the kind of battlefield tour that we would be doing – this is something that is extremely important, because it will end up defining your Gettysburg experience. There are basically four options: 1) simply drive the marked path and stop to read all of the markers yourself; 2) take the narrated bus tour; 3) buy a CD tour that you play in the car as you go through the park; or 4) hire a personal guide to take you on a private tour. We dismissed the first option, because we figured that we would miss so much. While the second is a viable option, we wanted to do the driving so that we could stop wherever we wanted to, so we tossed out the second as well. The fourth option, hiring a guide, came HIGHLY recommended by a good friend, and you can do that at the Visitor’s Center if you get there early enough – it costs about $65 – and while that person would be very knowledgeable, we’d had such a great experience with the CD experience at Valley Forge (and on a previous trip to the Vicksburg battlefield) that we decided to choose the recorded CD tour.

The Battlefield Tour - But the decisions weren’t over. There are three recorded CD tours of the battlefield – a long, medium, and short tour. The longer the tour, the more the package cost, and they range from an hour-and-a-half to three hours. Of course, that’s without stopping. Since we wanted a very detailed tour, we went for the long version that you see here. We figured that we could pause it to look around whenever we wanted, stop it and come back if we needed to, and still get the full, dramatic presentation of the battle. As it turned out, it was a great decision... not only would we end up splitting the tour into two halves, but we’d be able to stop it long enough to eat lunch, see a few sights along the way, and even tour the Eisenhower home. But I’m getting ahead of myself...

A tavern dinner after a long day - For dinner, we went back to Farnsworth House and hit their pub – Sweney's Tavern, named after a former owner of the house. We had a very simple meal there, burgers and such, but it was good. The pub itself had a ton of memorabilia from the movie Gettysburg on display, and they had the movie playing continuously on a television by the bar. I asked our waitress if she'd seen it enough times to be able to quote from the movie, and she just rolled her eyes and said, "Every single line." With all that said, it's not a commercial place at all - it has a very down-to-earth feeling about it, and the bartender can pour a perfect black-and-tan, so we really enjoyed our meal there.

Day 5 – Rain on the Battlefield

No coffee for you! We woke up on our first morning in Gettysburg, and went down for breakfast at the Farnsworth House. Since it was raining outside, we ate in the formal dining room. On that first night, we discovered the worst thing about the inn (in our opinion, and to quote from the sign on back of the door): " or beverages of any kind are not permitted in any of the rooms... A $50 per night service charge will be levied against your credit card if you or anyone with you violates these rules." It doesn't say that on the policy page of their website when you're considering staying there (or it didn't as of June 2012), and you're not told that when making reservations or even checking in. It's in the fine print on the back of the door (shown in the photo). For us, that meant you couldn’t have a bottle of water by the bed if you woke up and wanted a swallow, and when you got up in the morning, you couldn’t have coffee. We’ve stayed in rooms across the country that were just as old and historic (if not more so), and twice as expensive, but this was the first place that didn’t allow water or coffee in the room. For us, that alone would be a decision-maker before staying here again. But we were there with reservations for three nights and it wasn't worth the additional $150 penalty, so what’s a tourist to do...

Rain on the Battlefield - History tells us that the conflict ended after three days of fighting in Gettysburg, and on the fourth day, it rained. We got to see a little of how that must have been, because the one day that we were planning on doing the battlefield drive, the sky opened up and the rain came down. A long time ago we came to the realization that we had no control over the weather while on vacation, so no matter what happened - rain, heat, snow, whatever - we'd just smile and trudge through it. It's been a philosophy that's served us well over the years, so instead of worrying about getting wet, we cruised by WalMart and picked up a couple of cheap umbrellas, then began the tour. From the puddles along the road on Seminary Ridge, you can see that it was coming down strong.

Sallie and the 11th Pennsylvania - In 1861 when the 11th PA Volunteer Infantry Regiment was in their first month of training, a townsperson brought them a pug-nosed brindle bull terrier puppy. The men fell in love with her, and named her "Sallie." As the men went through their drills, they looked forward to playing with the little dog and giving her scraps during their leisure time. Our CD tour guide told us that the puppy was even-tempered and very affectionate towards all the men of the regiment, and that there were only three things Sallie had a distaste for: Rebels, Democrats and women. During a spring 1863 review of the Union army, Sallie marched right along with the 11th Pennsylvania. One of the officials reviewing the troops was a tall, lanky fellow, and when he spotted the dog, he is said to have raised his stovepipe hat in salute... so Abraham Lincoln gave a special nod to the girl. During the first day's fighting at Gettysburg, the 11th Pennsylvania was forced to retreat from Oak Ridge back toward town. In the confusion of the fighting, Sallie disappeared. Three days later the 12th Massachusetts found her at the place where her regiment had entered the battle. She was there standing guard over the dead of the unit - she had taken a post to watch over their bodies, and had not left even for food or water. Many battles later, the 11th Pennsylvania was attacking the Confederate line at Hatcher's Run, and Sallie was running along with the first line. The men later found her, shot through the head in the fighting. These battle-hardened men were openly weeping as they buried her where she fell. Long after the war, in 1890, the surviving members of the 11th Pennsylvania dedicated a company monument on the Gettysburg battlefield with a vigilant soldier looking in the direction of the Confederate attack. If you get out of your car and walk around to the front side, you'll see that the men put a bronze statue of Sallie, forever keeping watch over her boys. When we were there, there were several pennies beside her, as if people wanted to leave some memento that they had been there to honor her. We left a penny, much richer for hearing the story of the little dog named Sallie.

Lee's Headquarters - It's not an official stop on the tour, but in the course of following the prescribed route you'll pass the home that General Lee used for his headquarters during the battle. It is now a private Civil War museum with a gift shop, and is worth stopping to see. Lee and his staff took over this stone house, located on Seminary Ridge, on July 1, 1863. Along with viewing many artifacts from the battle, you can see the room where Lee and his Confederate commanders planned the different aspects of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was easy to imagine the General sitting at the desk, maps spread over it, with some of the biggest names in the battle standing around it giving Lee their opinions as every hour dragged by, and reports - both good and bad - came in.

Lunch at Appalachian Brewing Company - Directly next door to Lee's Headquarters was the Appalachian Brewing Company, which sounded like a good place to try lunch... especially since it was raining, the car was already parked, and it was just a few steps away from where we were. It turned out to be a very memorable meal - delicious! Tami had their Caesar Salad, and I went with the cheeseburger and chips. Everything was good, but the star of the cuisine were the chips. We're not talking out-of-a-bag, ordinary potato chips. These were sliced from a potato, fried, and then hand-seasoned to perfection. I can't describe how incredible they were, and the photo doesn't do them justice. Since this was a brewpub, we tried a few of their selections - specifically, the Pennypacker Porter, the Anniversary Maibock, and the Celtic Knot Irish Red. All were delicious, and unfortunately they were out of the Susquehana Stout, or we would have tried it as well!

Pickett's Charge - There were too many points of interest that we saw on the battlefield to include them all, but one that can't be ignored is the site of Picket's Charge. It was the final, last-ditch effort of the campaign for the Confederacy, ordered by General Lee against the Union forces on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863. While Lee felt like they would be victorious, Lt. Gen. Longstreet argued its futility. The charge is named after Maj. Gen. George Pickett, who was one of the three Confederate generals who led the attack under Longstreet. After an infantry barrage on the Northern line, at 2 PM 12,500 men stepped out into the field, shoulder-to-shoulder, marching toward the artillery and rifles of the Northern forces. Their mission was to penetrate the Union line, and meet it the copse of trees on the far side of the field (marked in the photo by a red arrow). The encounter lasted only a half-hour, and while the Union lost about 1,500 who were killed or wounded, the Confederates suffered a 50% casualty rate. The Union line was briefly breached, but the Southerners were forced to retreat. Many believe that it was a defeat that Lee and the South would never recover from.

Little Round Top - This hill is the smaller of two rocky hills south of Gettysburg involved in the battle. It is the companion to the adjacent, taller hill named Big Round Top. It is most famous as the site of an unsuccessful assault by Confederate troops against the Union left flank on July 2, 1863, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Considered by some historians to be the key point in the Union Army's defensive line that second day of battle, Little Round Top was defended successfully by the brigade of Col. Strong Vincent. The 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commanded by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, fought the most famous engagement there, culminating in a dramatic downhill bayonet charge that is one of the most well-known actions at Gettysburg and in the American Civil War - it is dramatically demonstrated in the movie Gettysburg. From Little Round Top you can look down and see Devil's Den, and in between the two is the ground at the base of Little Round Top nicknamed "The Slaughter Pen" because of the number of men killed there.

Devil's Den - Devil's Den is a natural formation of huge boulders at the base of Little Round Top that has the look of a small fortress. On the second day of fighting in Gettysburg, Devil’s Den saw intense fighting as part of General Robert E. Lee’s flank attacks, when Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps attacked the divisions of Major General Daniel Sickles’ III Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Some 5,500 Confederates from Major General John Bell Hood’s Texas Division division ultimately captured Devil’s Den from 2,400 defenders drawn from Major General David Bell Birney’s division. It was one of the few Southern successes in that day’s fighting. Total casualty estimates are over 800 for the Union, and more than 1,800 among the Confederates.

The Infamous Wheatfield - This 20-acre field was boxed in by Rose Woods and Stony Hill on the west, Houck's Ridge on the southeast, and Devil's Den on the south. On the second day of the battle, the fighting there consisted of a number of confusing attacks and counterattacks over two hours, which earned the place the nickname the "Bloody Wheatfield." It went back and forth between the Union and Confederate armies, and of the 20,444 men engaged there, about 30% were casualties, and the bodies were so thick that it was said you could walk from one end of the field to the other without the sole of your shoe ever touching the ground. The audio tour told of how, as darkness fell, the only sounds were moaning and crying of wounded and dying men. At one point a young man began to sing a hymn, and everyone listened to its mournful sound. When he finished, both sides - the Rebels and the Yanks - gave him somber applause.

Wrapping up the day - The Wheatfield seemed like a good stopping point for the day (another bonus of having the audio tour), so we paused the tour there and headed back to town. For dinner, we went back to Sweney's Tavern at the Farnsworth House. Don't get me wrong, there are many great places at which to dine in Gettysburg and we'd eaten here the previous evening, but it had been a long day and we had a few more things to do, so we chose something convenient (just downstairs from our room) and delicious (because we'd eaten there the night before). Tami had Ann's Meatloaf, and I had the Sirloin Steak - both were very tasty. The beverage of choice was a black & tan again, which is a Guinness Stout poured over a Bass Ale, with a clean, crisp defining line between the two.

The Ghosts of Gettysburg

If Gettysburg's main tourist attraction is the Civil War, then a very close second is the spirit world. In walking around downtown, it seemed like there were more ghost attractions per capita than any other place that we've been. We chose the Cemetery Hill Ghost Walk which started out at the Farnsworth House where we were staying, went up Baltimore Street toward the Ginnie Wade House, and ended up on East Cemetery Hill at the grove. Below are just a few photos from the ghost walk - we really enjoyed it, and had a great time.

Of course, once it was over we were several blocks away from our inn, and the skies opened up with a pounding rain that soaked us through to our skin... and there we were without our umbrellas. While everyone else was freaking out, we just laughed, knowing that we had plenty of towels back in our room. We took off in a slow run back to the inn, wrung out our clothes when we got there, and hung them up to dry (as a final note, they were so wet that it took two full days).

Day 6 – Finishing the Battlefield

We started out with a delicious breakfast at the Farnsworth House, consisting of eggs, toast and bacon - it was included with the room. Oh, and even though coffee is forbidden in the rooms, it is served at breakfast, so we took full advantage of it. While we were eating, we started planning the day - since we'd left off at the Wheatfield the day before, so that's where we were going to pick the battlefield tour back up. By the way, that was a HUGE bonus to doing the audio tour - we could pause it whenever we wanted, and then start again at our convenience. Once we finished our meal, we got in the car and started out. I have to mention that re-starting the tour isn't that big a deal; driving the path to get to any particular point on the battlefield only takes ten minutes, if that.

The Peach Orchard - Years before the Battle of Gettysburg, reverend Joseph Sherfy planted a peach orchard on the southeast corner of the north-south Emmitsburg Road intersection with the Wheatfield Road. During the second day of battle on July 2, 1863, this orchard became the site of a bloody conflict between Gen. Longstreet's Confederates and Gen. Sickles' Union forces. Sickles had ordered his men from Devil's Den to the orchard because it was on higher ground that, while theoretically more defensible, exposed them to artillery file on multiple sides. at 4 PM the Confederate artillery bombardment began, and over two hours later at 6:30 PM, Longstreet ordered an infantry assault. Confederate Brig. Gen. Barksdale moved in with his Mississippi brigade of 1,600 men, and Brig. Gen. Tatum led his Georgia brigade of 1,300 men. The 57th Pennsylvania and 114th Pennsylvania rushed across Emmitsburg Road to confront them. To make a long story short, the Confederate forces overcame the Union troops, and U.S. General Humphreys and his division made a stand along Emmitsburg Road that bought time for their comrades to retreat with the artillery, falling back and reforming on Cemetery Ridge. The 5th Massachusetts Battery had lost so many horses that their cannons had to be dragged back by soldiers.

Eisenhower National Historic Site - Continuing on the tour, we were passing the Visitor's Center, so we stopped for a bathroom break and saw that the bus was about to leave for the Eisenhower Historic Site. This is the home and farm of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The newly-retired five-star General purchased the 189-acre farm located adjacent to the Gettysburg Battlefield in 1950. His retirement was short-lived, however, because he was recruited to assume command of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In 1952, Eisenhower returned home to run for the Presidency. Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower became the 34th President of the United States, serving from 1953 until 1961. During his first term, he and his wife Mamie completely renovated their Gettysburg home, and began spending holidays and weekends there - it became his remote White House. General and Mrs. Eisenhower donated their home and farm to the National Park Service in 1967. Two years later, General Eisenhower died at the age of 78. Mrs. Eisenhower rejected the idea of moving to Washington to be closer to family and friends, and continued to live on the farm until her death in 1979. The National Park Service opened the site to the public in 1980. You can see some of the rooms from the house below:

Lunch at the Visitor's Center - When we returned to the Gettysburg Visitor's Center from the Eisenhower Historic Site, it was lunch time and we decided to grab something quick at the Refreshment Saloon there. My folks always told me that if you couldn't say something nice, you shouldn't say anything at all. With that in mind, I shouldn't say anything at all... Nevertheless, I had their cheeseburger, which tasted like it had been microwaved a few hours before, and then placed under a heat lamp to ferment and cure until I picked it up. On the other hand, Tami had their soup of the day which was at least edible. This unfortunately won the distinction of worst meal of the trip (keeping in mind that two of the vacation meals were at airports). On the other hand, it was quick, and allowed us to get back out on the battlefield... and it was probably much better food than the boys had during the battle back in 1863.

The Jennie Wade House - We finished the battlefield drive and our guide CD, and thoroughly enjoyed it. After that we returned to Farnsworth House to rest up for a bit, and then drove a couple of blocks up to tour the Jennie Wade House. Believe it or not, with all of the casualties that took place during the Battle of Gettysburg, there was only one civilian death, and that was of a girl named Jenny Wade. She had been baking bread for the Union troops before sunrise every day and providing them water, and at sun-up one morning a Confederate sharpshooter positioned in the attic of the Farnsworth House was firing at the Union solders, and a stray bullet went through the wooden door of the house where Jenny was, and killed her instantly. Soldiers heard the shot and rushed to the house, and then assisted her family in taking the body down to the cellar where they could all hide during the remainder of the fighting. It was a very interesting tour, and one that we heartily recommend - several of the photos that we took are below. By the way, legend has it that a single girl who puts her ring finger through the bullet hole in the door is said to receive a marriage proposal within a year - and several young ladies have written letters to substantiate this!

Dinner at a Historic Restaurant - To round out the day, we had dinner at the Dobbin House. It is the oldest building in Gettysburg, built by Rev. Alexander Dobbin in 1776, the year that our nation declared its independence from Great Britain. It originally served as a home for their family (including 19 children). It was also the first station of the Underground Railroad north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and the slaves' hideaway is still intact and on display. During the Battle of Gettysburg, the Dobbin House served as a hospital for both sides' casualties, even though it was within the range of the guns of both armies and was frequently struck by shellfire. It's now an authentic Colonial Restaurant & Tavern. The food there was superb - Tami had the marinated chicken breast, and I had the char-grilled New York strip.

Day 7 – The Chocolate Capitol of the World

Breakfast at Farnsworth House - After breakfast on the dining patio at the Farnsworth House, we said goodbye to Gettysburg and set out for the final leg of our trip – Hershey and the Amish Country. We were going into the area of towns with names like Blue Ball, Bird-in-Hand, and Lancaster. By the way, with my East Texas drawl, I tend to make the name of that latter city have three distinct syllables, with the emphasis on the first one, as in LAN-cas-ter. I noticed that the folks up here say it very fast, as if they’re trying to say the entire word in one syllable – lancustur. Tami adapted to it right away, but I just couldn't get the hang of it.

Arriving at Hershey - It was only about an hour's drive to Hershey, Pennsylvania – the closest thing to a real-life Willy Wonka town that you’re going to find. We were told two different things about the city before we got there. The first was that the town had a horrible odor from the industrial candy-making that goes on there. The other was that the entire town smelled exactly like chocolate. Our experience was that it smelled like any other city. If you get behind a bus, you smell exhaust; if you walk through a park, you smell flowers; go into a convenience store, and you smell coffee. There are clues that you’re in a very special town, though, and one of them is that the streetlights on Chocolate Avenue are Hershey’s kisses, alternating between wrapped and unwrapped just like in the photo.

What to do, what to do - There are many things to do in town: Hershey Gardens, Hershey Chocolate World, Hersheypark, along with museums, a world class hotel, and a lot more. Since we were only there for the morning, we went straight to Chocolate World, which is a great introduction to the history of Hershey’s Chocolate. If you're only there for the day, this is probably the best place to spend your time. There are several attractions - The Great American Chocolate Tour Ride, the Create-Your-Own Candy Bar Attraction, the Really Big 3-D Show, the Chocolate Tasting Adventure, and the Hershey Trolley Works. All of it sounded interesting, but since we only had half a day, we chose the Great American Chocolate Tour Ride, and the Hershey Trolley Works.

The Great American Chocolate Tour Ride - This particular attraction is free, and tells the story of Hershey's chocolate... from the harvesting and processing of the cocoa beans to the refining of the chocolate and adding of milk to produce the product that everyone enjoys today. The attraction itself isn't the "ride," because it isn't a roller coaster or some other thrill ride (those are located at Hershey amusement park). The main purpose of the ride is to give you an idea of the process from start to finish that the chocolate goes through. It's certainly entertaining, though, because the guides are milk cows... well, animatronic ones, anyway! The interesting thing is that when you're finished with the ride, you have a good understanding of how Hershey makes its chocolate. It was an enjoyable experience.

The Hershey Trolley Works - Okay, this one is a must-see. It's a great way to see some of the highlights of the city, it's educational, and also very entertaining. There's a guide on the bus to tell you all about Milton S. Hershey, his vision, the city that he created, and the chocolate empire... more importantly, though, you learn what a great philanthropist and humanitarian he was. The trolley leaves Chocolate World and takes you down Chocolate Avenue to the main plant, shows you Milton's home (and those of the old company execs), and the Milton Hershey School. The entertainment during the trolley ride will keep you laughing (and at times, singing), and over the course of the trip you'll get several samples of various Hershey's delectable products. Below are some scenes from the tour...

The General Sutter Inn - After wrapping things up, we hit the road again and were soon at our next destination. The city of Lititz and General Sutter Inn Lititz was founded in 1776 by people of the Moravian church, the oldest of all Protestant denominations. It was called "Litiz". To ensure that inhabitants would be "free from all dangerous and worldly connections, and live a peaceful and quiet life in Godliness and Honesty," the Town Regulations of 1756 were adopted. There was to be no dancing, taverning, feasts for celebrations, common sports, and pastimes... and no playing of the children in the streets. Only those who signed the Regulations were allowed to live in the town. By 1856 the "Regulations" were abolished and the town opened to people of all religious persuasions - present day Lititz. It was "for the necessary entertainment of strangers and travelers" that in 1764 the inn where we were staying was built and named the "Zum Anker" (the sign of the anchor). The Inn became the Lititz Springs Hotel, then in 1930 the name was changed to The General Sutter Inn to honor John Augustus Sutter, a California Gold Rush pioneer, who lived his last seven years in Lititz, and is buried in the Moravian Cemetery.

Shopping in Lititz - The city of Lititz (pronounced Lit-itz) is known as "The Sweet Spot of Lancaster County." It bills itself as "the perfect balance of historic and charming small town appeal with upscale and sophisticated urban flair. An oasis from our box store and chain restaurant society with a myriad of eclectic and creative, independently owned shops, intimate cafes and unique and memorable fine dining." We spent the afternoon walking along the streets and exploring the shops, and thankfully some of them shipped because our luggage was filling up! We loved the fact that every store that we entered, whether we bought anything or not, had people that were very friendly - they all had time to converse, ask us where we were from, and make us feel right at home.

Dinner at the Sturgis Haus Brewpub - As we were going up and down the streets of Lititz, we ran across a little brewpub/restaurant/espresso bar called the Sturgis Haus Brewpub. We went in to look at their menu, and ended up staying for a while. They brew beers in small batches for quality control, and so we had to try some of their selections. We had the Weird Guy Anker American Wheat, the Chinook Single American IPA, and the Lawnmower Cream Ale. All were good, but the last one was the best - it's hard to nail down a good cream ale, but the brewer here did it nicely. It was getting late in the day, so we ordered dinner, which was delicious, and walked back to our room.

Day 8 – "You be careful out among them English."

Getting into Intercourse - Yes, this is really the name of the Pennsylvania town. Yes, I really took a photograph of the city sign. Yes, I immediately texted it to all of my friends. Yes, over the course of the next half-hour I got back texts with every one of the juvenile jokes and comments that you can possibly imagine. Yes, I laughed hysterically at each and every one of them. Yes, Tami just rolled her eyes and shook her head every time, wondering whether I'd ever grow up or not (and to be honest, I hope that I don't).

Kitchen Kettle Village - Our main stop in Intercourse was Kitchen Kettle Village. It is a shopping community filled with things like a world famous canning kitchen, unique specialty shops, experiential tours and activities, a rich history, delicious food, great views, lodging rooms, and fun for kids of all ages. The footpaths wind around the trees and shops, and the delicious scents from the kitchens permeate the air. There was a Christmas store, something that we can never resist, an art gallery with regional prints that were simply beautiful, and many other things to look at. We made several purchases before returning to our car and continuing on our journey into Amish country.

The Amish Experience - We drove our car into the "Amish Experience" parking lot and went in to buy tickets to the various things that were offered, and for a moment I had the feeling that this might be a little too "touristy" for us. I couldn't have been more wrong. I am here to say that if you only have a day or so in Amish country, then the Amish Experience is the perfect way to spend your time. There are several different packages that you can buy that will fill your day, and we chose three items: the tour of the reproduction Amish home, the bus tour of the countryside, and the film about the Amish youth Rumspringa, the period when they try things from the outside world to choose between it and the church.

The Amish Farmhouse Tour - Since you can't go traipsing through the home of an Amish family, The Amish Experience built an authentic, true-to-life Old Order Amish home where a knowledgeable guide can give you a room-by-room tour of their home, their life, and their culture. It starts with an Amish one-room schoolhouse, and then goes into the rooms in their homes that they use in day-to-day life. You'll not only see the children's rooms, with some of the trappings of Rumspringa, but also a typical bathroom, washroom, the family area and kitchen, and even a room set up for a funeral and viewing of the body of the deceased. The entire tour takes about 45 minutes, and our guide was very knowledgeable about her subject matter. We greatly enjoyed this tour, and highly recommend it.

The Amish Experience Theater - This is a 45-minute movie called "Jacob's Choice," which is the story of a young man going through Rumspringa, which is the time at the age of sixteen when Amish youth are given the chance to try all of the forbidden things from the outside world. During this period they can play on a sports team, buy a car and drive it, travel, party, dance, and explore all of the things that their non-Amish counterparts participate in. At the end of this period, they must decide whether to remain with the ways of the world, or join the church and be baptized into the Amish faith. The film is about a young man struggling to make that decision, and it is quite good. As enjoyable as the story is, the real star is the theater. It's a full sensory production, consisting of actual barn siding, with five multiple projection screens, 100,000 watts of theatrical lighting, custom-designed mechanical special effects, four-dimensional sound imagery, and unique ghosting effects. Very cool.

The Amish Farmlands Tour - This hour-and-a-half tour was on an air-conditioned mini-bus that took us through the heart of Amish country. The driver and tour guide was very knowledgeable, lived in the area, and had Amish friends, so she was not only able to give us a thorough tour, but was able to answer any questions that anyone had. It was a very educational experience, and I learned a lot - certainly much more that from the things that I'd been reading. We also stopped at two Amish farms where they had businesses; one with a pretzel stand and gift shop, and the other with a store with many quilts and handmade items. We bought pretzels at the first stop, and they were perhaps the best that I've ever eaten in my life... the one I had literally melted in my mouth. It was a culinary high point of the trip - no matter how long I live, I don't expect to ever get the pleasure of eating a pretzel like that one again.

In traveling around Amish country, we noticed that many families had an interesting way of bringing in extra income. They would put little boxes out beside the road at the end of their driveway or beside their mailbox, fill them with different wares, and put a can out for people to put money in should they decide to purchase something. Some of the boxes even had wheels and a wagon-handle so that they could be pulled out to the road every morning, and then pulled back at the end of the day. It's a one hundred percent honor system operation, but must work well because we saw them all over the place. The different boxes contained all kinds of things: bouquets of flowers, art-and-craft items, fresh produce, even jugs of homemade root beer.

A Wonderful Surprise - Sometimes things simply work out for the best, and such was the case as we were ending up our sightseeing for the day. After the Amish Experience, we were driving over to Lancaster to visit President James Buchanan's Home Wheatland. On the way over, Tami picked up the brochure to get directions and saw that the last tour was at 3:00 PM, and it was currently 2:45. There was no way that we'd make it in time, so we decided to regroup and look for something else to do. There was something on the map that we were looking at called the "National Christmas Center," and since that's our favorite time of the year, we decided to check it out. The sign out front said, "We are more than you expect!" and it couldn't have been more right.

Their name really doesn't do the place justice. It's a giant museum of Christmas, or perhaps a huge celebration of the holiday throughout history. You can enjoy a self-guided, walk-through tour of life-sized exhibits honoring and celebrating the Christmas season. Their brochure captures the place perfectly when it says: "Whimsy, fantasy, holiday enchantment!" "Relive your childhood, revisit your past!" "Travel around the world and back in time!" We were captivated by displays including The Journey to Bethlehem and the First Christmas, Christmas Around the World, Toyland Train Mountain, 1950s Woolworth's 5 & 10, A Pennsylvania Christmas, Santa's North Pole Workshop, and much, much more. You can see some of the pictures that we took below. If you're ever in the area, put this on your agenda!

Day 9 – Wrapping Things Up

Eastern State Penitentiary - We drove from Lititz back to Philadelphia, but before heading for the airport hotel there were still a few stops that we wanted to make. The first was Eastern State Penitentiary, a prison that was constructed in 1829. To quote from their literature, "Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true 'penitentiary,' a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber 'Slick Willie' Sutton and Al Capone." We found parking in the block right next to it, and we spent an hour or so there. After the trip was over, we decided that this was one of the most interesting places that we visited on the trip. Below are some of the photos that we took in the old prison...

Prisoner Al Capone - One of the more interesting things about the penitentiary was getting to see Al Capone's cell. In May of 1929, Capone was arrested in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for a concealed weapon charge, and was given a one year sentence at the Eastern State Penitentiary. While every other prisoner's cell in the place was stark and barren, Capone's cell was much different. His cell resembled a plush hotel room with an area rug, a desk, a radio, and all of the amenities of home. Surely some officials had been bribed to allow this kind of opulence in a place where everyone else was sleeping on a cot in a room with bare, concrete walls. There are some that say that Capone orchestrated the stay here to give him protection from some of his rivals during that time, but no one will ever know for sure. The only known fact is that Capone was the best-housed prisoner in the history of the institution.

Lunch at Jack's Firehouse - As we were leaving Eastern State Penitentiary, we asked one of the guides where we could get a bite to eat, and he recommended several local restaurants. One of them was right across the street, however, so we chose Jack's Firehouse. As we navigated the crosswalk, we saw that the restaurant actually looked like an old firehouse. But there's a reason for that - the building is a 19th Century Firehouse in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia. After you walk in, you'll find history in every inch of the building. The walls are adorned with photographs of the original firehouse crew, local landscape paintings and a giant-sized crown sign that once hung above the original Pat’s Steaks on Ridge Avenue. There's even an old canoe hanging from the rafters. We ate on the sidewalk in the shadow of the Penitentiary; I had the smoked barbecue platter with ribs, brisket and pulled pork, and Tami had the roasted chicken breast with bacon mac and cheese. We also enjoyed a Lancaster Brewing Celtic Rose, and a Sly Fox O'Reilly Stout - great food and beer.

Philadelphia Museum of Art - To round out the trip, we walked the short distance to the Museum of Art. It's one of those places where you can spend an hour, two hours, or six hours... all depending on how much time that you have. We were there for a good couple of hours, and saw the work of some of the masters. To name a few, we saw the original paintings of Picasso, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Seurat, Renoir, Matisse, and Monet. I was extremely impressed by all of these - and more - but I'm now convinced that I don't understand art at all. In one gallery there was modern art, including a metal folding chair that someone had cut the legs off of and bent outward. Apparently that was such important art that they had guards stationed all around it to make sure that no one even as much as took a photo. Give me a jigsaw, a few metal chairs, and fifteen minutes and I could give you some real art! Now, you could walk right up and snap a picture of a Picasso, but you couldn't photograph the broken chair at all... go figure. I just shook my head, walked to the next gallery, and went back to admiring the classical work. Just a few of the photos are below (but none of the broken chair)...

The Last Night of the Trip - You remember the problems that started the trip - a canceled flight and forgotten cash - so even though the vacation was wonderful, why expect that we wouldn't end it with a few difficulties. Tami had spoken to our rent-a-car company before the trip, and they assured us that their shuttle could take us to the Airport Sheraton Suites, where we'd booked our last night so that we could catch an early flight the next morning. That was going to be very helpful, since we hadn't packed for the flight yet; we had several sacks of various purchases, two large suitcases, a small one, a backpack, a laptop case, and a utility case. While we'd do a lot of combining and collapsing things together before going to bed, at the time we had almost too much for a couple of people to handle... but not to worry, we had a plan. We turned in the rental car, and when we were loading up on the courtesy bus, found out that they would NOT take us to the hotel, but could only go to the airport. We'd have to unload there on a curb, call the bus from the Sheraton, wait for it to come get us, load back up on it, and then unload again at the hotel. It was going to be a little more trouble than we'd hoped for, but we managed to get onto the Sheraton courtesy van. A few minutes later, they stopped at the front door of the hotel and we got everything off by the curb. I grabbed a valet cart, and as we were loading it, I looked up at the sign above the door - it said, "Sheraton Four Points." Just down the road was a large hotel whose sign read, "Sheraton Suites." As the bus pulled away, I knew that we'd gotten off at the wrong hotel. An employee came outside to help us, and I told him what was happening - I then asked if we could borrow the valet cart long enough to take it down the street. I promised that I'd bring it right back. He was kind enough to allow us to take it, and just a little bit later, we were in our suite and heaving a huge sigh of relief.

Day 10 – Back home again

Back Home Again - I snapped this photo through our hotel window as we were getting ready to leave - you can see the Philadelphia airport. Once we checked our bags and cleared security, we were looking for a place to eat breakfast. We found an Irish Pub, where we sat at the bar and had a classic plate of eggs, bacon, and toast, and we speculated on the rest of the trip. It had started out with several problems, but at that moment, all we had to do was get back to Dallas, get the shuttle back to LaQuinta, see that our car was still there, and then have it start... at that point, we'd be home free from our excursion to Pennsylvania. As it turned out, everything else in the trip ran like clockwork. We got back home with no problems, picked up our basset hounds from doggie camp, and then began the job of unpacking. It was a memorable trip, and we're already starting to think about where we'll head next year. Thanks for coming along with us!