Monday, June 17, 2013

I'm the only one that calls it the Oatmeal State.

I have had quite the busy weekend- I actually have something to post about other than sponsorship! Haha.

This weekend, my dad, my aunt, and myself took a trip up to Pennsylvania to visit my cousin Melissa. Melissa has been living there since late in the summer of 2011, working for a university on a project. She will be moving back home to the bluegrass state later this year. This is the first time I've been able to go up and see her.

Our trip started a little after 2 in the afternoon on Friday. My aunt had a lunch meeting on Friday, and I had to work that morning, so after work I ran home, changed clothes, and my pappaw and my dad came to pick me up. Pappaw took the both of us over to my aunt's house to wait for her to get home. We loaded up her car and hit the road. I'm glad she has such a spacious and comfy car, because it was a very long trip! I had loaded up my Kindle with library books in anticipation for the long drive. I read Mary Beth Chapman's Choosing to See on the way up there, and I thought it was good. I like reading adoption stories, even though this one was sad because she wrote the book after the Chapmans lost their youngest daughter Maria Sue.

We made pretty good time until we hit one of the cities in Ohio- it might have been Cincinnati, but I'm not sure. There was sooooo much traffic. We crept along for what felt like a long time, but was probably about half an hour or 45 minutes. I haven't been to Ohio in forever. It is very flat. I even held my camera up to the window a few times and took pictures of the completely flat landscape. The sky looked very pretty that day, though, so that was nice.

One thing we always do whenever we go on a trip is stop at Cracker Barrel. We didn't eat there on this trip, but we did use their restrooms a few times, because that's nicer than stopping at a rest stop. At the first Cracker Barrel, I got a mustache sucker for my brother, because it made me laugh. I also got some little Dover activity books for some of my sponsor kids. I love those things!

We stopped for dinner around Columbus, I think. One goal I had for this trip was to eat at restaurants I don't have the opportunity to visit back home. We had dinner at Uno's. We used to have an Uno's down the street from where I work, but it closed a long time ago. We decided to get appetizers because that would probably be faster than ordering entrees. I got a little half a crispy pizza with eggplant, tomato, pesto, feta, and caramelized onions. It was really good. Dia (that's what I call my aunt) and my dad got an appetizer platter. It came with two avocado spring rolls with a tamarind-cashew dipping sauce. They don't like avocado, so I ate the spring rolls for them.. They were very overstuffed- way too much avocado! But the sauce was SO GOOD. I want to try to find a recipe for it. The service was really slow at the restaurant, so we also lost some time there, and then we got back on the road.

It was getting dark as we drove through a tiny bit of West Virginia, but I liked what I saw. It was hilly and green. We drove over a river, and I saw a riverboat. I liked the way the town lights settled in the valleys. Then we made it to Pennsylvania, which, unlike Ohio, was not flat. Pennsylvania has some pretty ridiculous toll roads, too. But one thing they do have going for them? Their rest stops. They were very nice, especially at night, when there weren't lots of people. Most of the ones we drove by looked like lodges, with wood framing. We only stopped at one, but inside there was a kind of food court with several restaurant options, a full Starbucks, and a big, clean, well-stocked convenience store with lots of souvenirs. There were several young Amish women hanging around at the rest stop we visited. All but one of them were wearing bonnets. I don't know what they were doing out so late- it was almost midnight! Anyway, after that we headed on and got to my cousin's after 2 in the morning, and we crashed.

The next morning, we stopped at Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast, and then we headed out to Gettysburg. It took a little less than 2 hours to get there, I think. I fell asleep on the way because I didn't get much sleep the night before. Our visit to Gettyburg was pretty well timed, because this July is the 150th anniversary of the battle. We purchased tickets for a bus tour, then we were able to stop at a few of the shops before our tour started. We ducked in a little hole-in-the-wall place and shared a bucket of fresh made, hand-cut french fries for a snack, then powerwalked back over to the place where the tour would depart.

Our tour guide looked like Stan Lee. He was very knowledgeable of the area and the history of the battle, even telling us specific times of day when the events occurred. The bus went through part of the town, where you could see the train station Lincoln arrived at that November for the dedication of the cemetery, the hotel where he stayed, several buildings that were standing at the time of the battle (marked with bronze plaques), and other sights. We saw one building on this part of the tour that still had a piece of artillery embedded in it. It was interesting, but spooky. I think the guide said that there are 9 such buildings standing in Gettysburg today.

The Gettysburg courthouse

This is the train station in Gettysburg, where Lincoln arrived in November of 1863 to attend the dedication of the cemetery

The tour then went into the battlefield area, which is basically farmland. Fortunately they have been able to reclaim a lot of it for historical preservation (the tour guide pointed out one part where there used to be a Ford dealership.) We made our first of three stops near the eternal flame memorial, which was very big. When we got out of the bus, we stepped onto the pavement, and then onto the ground. I felt something when my feet left the blacktop. I'm not saying it for dramatic effect- I really felt something. It was like sadness seeping up through the ground and into my shoes. I felt like crying, looking out over this beautiful green landscape. I couldn't keep my eyes in one place for long without my imagination filling in images of fallen and bleeding soldiers, hearing imaginary shouts and gunfire, smelling the powder and the blood. It was overwhelmingly sad. I have always been enamored with history, but I have never cared much for learning about the Civil War. I think that has changed now. I plan to do some reading in the next few months about this incredibly sad and bloody time in our nation's history.

Our second stop was just to use the restroom back at the building where our tour departed from, so I stayed on the bus. The second leg of the tour featured a lot more monuments. There are over one thousand three hundred monuments at Gettysburg. Most of them are honoring the Union states, though,  of course, since as our tour guide said, history is written by the winners. That and the south was flat broke after the war, and didn't have lots of extra money for monuments to be erected in a Union state. But I digress. I got some pretty good pictures of some of the monuments from the bus, thanks to my camera's digital image stabilization feature. I plan on going back and looking up the monuments I got pictures of, so I can learn more about them.

Our last stop on the tour was near the area called the Devil's Den, a rocky hillside covered in huge boulders and slabs of rock that came up from an ancient volcano. I was interested to learn about that part, since I never thought about volcanoes in Pennsylvania! We spent some time listening to our tour guide talk about the battle while looking out over the landscape from our high perch. Then it was back on the bus, and back to the tour starting point. All in all, the tour took about two hours. It was a great experience. I wish we had more time to do a personal tour of the park, too.

Post-tour, we went and found an ice cream and candy shop. Dad and I got ice cream cones (as the second part of our lunch, of course) while my cousin went a few doors down looking for soft serve. I got a chocolate peanut butter scoop in a waffle cone, and let me tell you, it was probably the best ice cream I have ever tasted. We walked along the streets of Gettysburg, ducking in shops here and there. There was a shop full of just books and maps, a shop with some really cool World War II memorabilia (including patriotic posters and pin-up stuff), a really neat gift shop where Melissa found a pretty centerpiece (and I found lots of jewelry I liked!), and a Victorian clothing and accessory shop I know my mom would have loved. Unfortunately, they didn't allow photographs in the shop, which is kind of dumb. They had cameo jewelry, hair accessories like hair rats and snoods, bloomers and underthings, and incredibly expensive Victorian clothing. I wish I could have taken pictures for my mom- she just LOVES Victorian history. Gettysburg is full of all kinds of interesting shops. We spent quite a bit of time there, but we only saw a handful of what the town had to offer. They even have a cupcake shop! It was so cute- lots of pink and cupcake-themed decor. I didn't get a cupcake here because I was planning on getting something else sweet later in the day. I did take pictures, though!

We left Gettysburg and headed back to King of Prussia, where my cousin lives. She and my aunt dropped my dad and I off at the humongous mall across the street from her neighborhood so we could get a start on our shopping while they took the candy and cupcakes back to my cousin's apartment. The first store we visited was Build A Bear. We have one in Louisville, but I never visit it because I think doing Build A Bear is something special reserved for family vacations! I had a gift card, so I made a flop-eared bunny. When one of the employees asked me if I had a name picked out and I said no, she asked if it was a girl bunny or a boy bunny. I said "It depends on whether or not I find a cute boy outfit or a cute girl outfit." Girl won out. So now I have a new stuffed animal. : ) My aunt and cousin came and found us as we were wrapping up our purchase at Build A Bear (dad made a dog for my mom), and then we proceeded to the candy store. Gertrude Hawk chocolates are made in Pennsylvania, and they have even made appearances on The Office (though they aren't mentioned by name.) I got quite a bit at this store- treats for me, my in-laws, my coworkers, my Bible study group, and more for me! In the end, my bag from the candy store weighed as much, if not more than, my purse. If you know me, you know that is quite an accomplishment. I am notoriously bad about carrying huge, heavy purses.

We didn't really have time to do any more shopping, so we went on over to Maggiano's, where we had dinner reservations. Maggiano's is wonderful. It's a fantastic Italian restaurant that, though it is a national chain, doesn't taste or feel like a chain restaurant. We don't have one anywhere close to where I live, but I did visit one of the franchises on our trip to Florida last year. One of the cool things about Maggiano's is that with a lot of dishes, you get another dish to take home for later! So we got lots of leftovers for my cousin to eat this week. I got eggplant parmesan, and it was so good. I also got a piece of tiramisu to go. After dinner we went back to Melissa's apartment and we all watched Night at the Museum together. I ate my tiramisu during the movie. It was so good. Then we went to bed.

The next morning, we had breakfast at a little restaurant next door to Maggiano's called the Corner Bakery Cafe. They reminded me of Panera in that they offered pastries and breakfast dishes as well as soups, salads and sandwiches at lunchtime. I ordered a chocolate muffin, which was warm and fresh out of the oven, and a caramel latte. After breakfast, we loaded up the car and hit the road again. It's sad that our trip had to be so short, but I am glad that I got to visit Melissa and see where she's been living these last two years. I'm also really glad I had the opportunity to visit Gettysburg.

The trip home was pretty uneventful. We stopped at one of those rest stops for lunch, and had pizza and garlic knots from a place called Famiglia's. It was pretty decent- on par with a lot of mall pizza, I guess. It was really the only place at this particular rest stop that was vegetarian-friendly (the other choices were Burger King, Popeye's chicken, and ice cream.) We also made a little detour and stopped at Hershey's Chocolate World on the way home. That was fun! We rode the little ride that takes you through and explains how they make their chocolate, then toured the gift shop area. It was super busy and loud. It kind of reminded me of Disney World. They have a huge section of Hershey products that you can find pretty much anywhere, but then they had lots of fun stuff like cute t-shirts, handbags, plush characters, gift sets, lotions and candles, and plenty of other things. They also had a few bakery counters (along with other food offerings.) Dia and my dad got cookie sandwiches for later, and I got a slab of peanut butter cup fudge. It was really yummy.

After that, it was pretty much a straight trip home. We stopped at Friday's for dinner (and once again tried and failed to eat quickly by just ordering appetizers) and made a stop at a Russell Stover's store, and got home a little after 10 last night. I'm glad we had such a good trip, and I'm happy to be home!!

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