A road trip from Washington DC to New York
Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge
Driving in the USA can be daunting or charming depending on where you are. Despite initial reservations, my wife and I found driving between two of the country’s major cities was no great problem.
Day 1 Washington DC to Lancaster 190 km
This morning we leave Washington DC on route to Lancaster. We skirt Baltimore then follow I-83 north for 90 minutes before exiting at York. By now we have entered a beautiful region of rolling hills, neatly cultivated farms, covered bridges, and towns with unusual names like Paradise, Intercourse, and Bird-in-Hand. This is the gorgeous Amish Country, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, which immediately evokes feelings of nostalgia, respect, and curiosity.
The verdant countryside is laced with rural roads and we quickly find opportunities to meet Amish and Mennonites on farms that have opened their doors for commerce. There are historical sites, pretzel and chocolate factories, covered bridges, and bustling farmers’ markets. For those unimpressed by these attractions, there are amusement parks and outlet-mall shopping.
At the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau, we are given an excellent map and visitors’ guide to the region and a wealth of brochures. The Amish with their distinctive clothes and lifestyle are the big attraction in this region but we quickly learn they are not theme-park characters but hardworking people leading busy lives. They don’t drive cars or use electricity so there are 25,000 horse-drawn vehicles in the county. These tend to stick to quieter back roads, but you will certainly see many of them as you travel around.
The Amish Experience, on Route 340 in Intercourse offers three attractions that provide an authentic illustration of Amish life, past and present. Tickets for a 40-minute multimedia show, an interpretive tour of a contemporary-style Amish home, and a guided back-road bus tour may be purchased separately. We don’t do the bus tour but learn much about the lives of these interesting people. The final highlight of the day is dinner at a family-style restaurant with some local specialties.
Day 2 Lancaster to Philadelphia 127 km
Today starts with a visit to the Amish Farm and House which is a historic 1805 farmhouse, furnished like a modern Amish house. The guide explains the Amish history, clothing, customs and culture as we move through the home. There is time to wander the six-hectare farm and see a wide variety of farm animals, historic barns, a covered bridge, the one-room schoolhouse and exhibits including an authentic tobacco stripping room and an original blacksmith shop.
Next, it’s back to Intercourse to visit the Kitchen Kettle Village where there are 45 local shops, restaurants and an inn in a village. The hub of activity around here is the kitchen where locals cook up sweets, fresh baked pie and cookies, and delicious canned goods like relish, salsa and pickles. We sample some pepper jam and shoo fly pie and agree that there is something special about Lancaster cooking. Amish and Mennonite owned-stores are closed on Sundays so visit here on other days.
Road US30 East heads towards Philadelphia. Much of this follows the route of the old Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike which when built in 1794 was the first toll road and best stone and gravel road in the country. This is not the fastest route but it is the most interesting as it goes through several small towns.
Traffic is heavy as we approach Philadelphia but we find our accommodation and decide we should walk rather than drive. This is the second largest city on the east coast of the United States but it is also one of the most historic in the nation. We are hungry so head to Reading Terminal Market, an enclosed public market opened in 1892. The former train shed has over one hundred merchants and we enjoy a healthy meal.
Day 3 Philadelphia
There is a designated Constitutional Walking Tour and it seems like a good idea to follow parts of it. The African American Museum is where we start but we leave somewhat disappointed. Fortunately, the National Constitution Centre, a well-done museum about the history of the USA and its Constitution, is more interesting. This naturally leads to the Independence Visitor Center where we learn about visiting Independence Hall and other sites in Independence National Historical Park.
Immediately south is the Liberty Bell Centre where historic documents and graphic images explore the facts and the myths surrounding the famous cracked Bell. Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were adopted, is the centrepiece of the Park.
We discover there are no tickets left for admission so we make do with looking around outside. Over the next few hours, we visit the Magnificent Carpenters Hall, Franklin Court, Christ Church, and Elfreth’s Alley, which is known as the oldest residential street in the USA.
As we return back along Arch Street towards our hotel, we stop off at the Betsy Ross House, the Arch Street Friends Meeting House and the Christ Church Burial Ground.
Day 4 Philadelphia to New York 155 km
Yesterday was all about old Philadelphia and we start today by driving through Society Hill a charming district with cobblestone streets said to contain the largest concentration of original 18th- and early 19th-century residential architecture in the United States.
We make a stop at the Mütter Museum America’s finest museum of medical history before visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the largest art museums in the country. The Franklin Institute was established in 1824 as a centre of science education and it also houses a huge statue of seated Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Time is getting away so we leave the city and head along the New Jersey Turnpike (Interstate 95) to Newark Liberty International Airport where we drop off the rental car. The Newark Airport Express takes us to Grand Central Station in New York City and we take the subway to our hotel.
There is just time to reach the Circle Line pier to catch the Harbour Lights Cruise. The sun is low as we cruise down the Hudson River, around the Battery, up the East River, and back via the Statue of Liberty. As the sun sets and the skyline comes alive with millions of lights, we gaze in wonder at the hugely impressive scene and plan our next few days in the city that never sleeps.
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