And now... continuing with my efforts to catch up on what happened more than a month ago...
The day after our visit to Dutch Wonderland, it was time to see (and experience) some old-style railroading. After a morning of the girls having a fine old time in the lobby (the instant they noticed me pointing my iPhone at them, they dove laughingly under a table and wouldn't come out 'til I gave up on getting a photo of them sitting & singing), we set off for the Strasburg Railroad. There was some trepidation because when we rode the train last year, the Pipsqueak wasn't exactly thrilled with some of the louder noises, but with her BFF in tow we were all in high spirits squeezing into AJ's van. (All our concerns turned out to be unfounded -- it's amazing what a change just a year can make in how little girls view the world around them!)
There was the usual "oops" as we started with a wrong turn (Dude, you wouldn't ever tell your sister "left" when you mean "right," would you...?) but it wasn't too long before we were on familiar territory and shortly afterwards the S.R.R. yard tower and nearby railroad museum hove into sight. After some review of the offerings posted on the station wall, we settled on bundle tickets offering both a ride on the Road to Paradise and entry to the railroad museum across the street.
We chose our seats on one of the beautifully restored old rail cars (the girls were happily amazed when I converted a bench facing backwards into a bench facing forwards with a quick flip of the back) and it wasn't long before the clanging, hooting old steam engine pulled us away from the platform and through the Lancaster County farmland.
There was the usual stop where the engineer blew his whistle and we waited to hear if the ghost of an old, long-defunct railroad's engine would answer (of course it did!), then a short stop on a siding while another train passed, until we came up alongside the Amtrak lines running behind a bare concrete warehouse. "This, folks, is... Paradise!" was the laconic announcement from the conductor, and we all had a fine time waving at the engineer and his fireman as they uncoupled the engine from one end of the train and drove slowly past on a parallel track to hook up at the other end for the return trip.
There was a quick stop as a couple of families got on & off at one of the railroad's picnic groves, another stop on that siding for another train to pass us on its way to Paradise, and then we were back at the station. We hung out at the station for a little while as the girls checked out the restrooms, then the gift shop. We collected the group portrait taken aboard the train by the "butcher" and set off across the street to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.
Walking past the 1950s-style Good Humor Ice Cream truck that had pulled up out front (complete with driver in the original white uniform, selling real Good Humor ice cream) and made our way into the museum's entry hall. After a few minutes oohing and aahing at a model railroad we entered the museum proper and spent a happy afternoon wandering among an amazing assortment of old engines, rolling stock, interactive educational displays (including a fun Lego town), memorabilia, and railroad-related artifacts. We also took a few minutes to walk around outside among the museum's unrestored holdings, where the girls put on a strange little show for us and I paused to investigate how one installs a bay window on a caboose.
Eventually we ran out of displays to clamber over and (after having to use our cell phones to pull everyone together from the far ends of the museum building) we sat down in the lobby and tried to find a place to go for dinner.
This may sound simple, but on a Sunday in Pennsylvania Dutch country, there aren't exactly a bajillion places open late in the afternoon or into the evening. A few failed web searches & phone calls later, we headed back to the Lincoln Highway to see which fast food joint might still be open. Before we reached the intersection, we passed the Hershey Farm, Restaurant & Inn (which is in Ronks, several miles from Hershey). Mom thought it looked open, so we pulled in and waited while she ran in to find out. Moments later, she came back out with the good news that they were indeed open and had a large buffet that cost less than many of the others we had been considering. (All a bit of a surprise, since their website listed hours that would've meant they were closed.)
After we took turns taking photos with "Amos" (the 2-story-high Amish farmer off to one side of the parking lot) and on an Amish buggy near his feet, we went in for dinner and basically ate ourselves silly. We were surprised when Miri consented to try one of the chicken nuggets and pronounced it good. In fact, she like the nuggets so much, her happily shocked uncle went back to the buffet for three more platefuls for her. (This was so amazing because, for the past couple of years, McDonald's Chicken McNuggets are the ONLY type of meat my niece has allowed past her lips.) I finally went to one of the custom dish cooks and explained that the Pipsqueak is an uber-picky eater but loved their chicken nuggets... so could he let me in on their secret? He disappeared into the back area to check with his boss and came back a minute later with a big smile and a piece of the carton the nuggets were shipped in with the manufacturer's name & description. (We're still trying to find a way to buy them in less than massive-restaurant-bulk quantities so we can see if she likes them as much when they're prepared at home.)
After a fun half-hour sojourn in the hotel's large gift shop, we packed our bulging bellies back into AJ's van and returned to the hotel. Miri's BFF and her mom had to head back home, so we said our goodbyes and rearranged our accomodations. Just like our other family trips (including China), AJ & Miri took the empty bed in my room and I had fun with my giggly niece before we all settled down for the night.
Even though S and her mom had gone home, there was still had a full day of family vacation time left to go, and we had plans for the day... which I'll write about here soon!