When Your Travels Don't Go As Planned: Our Summer in Central Pennsylvania
It’s August. This time last year – heck, this time three months ago – I pictured myself sitting here typing about my life-changing experiences in Europe. Wandering through lavender fields and castles, climbing mountains in the Alps, grabbing drinks at the local pub – those were our summer plans. Years of prep in the making had finally lined up the perfect opportunity for us to leave our NYC apartment for three months and spend that time backpacking Europe.
It seems fate had other plans. Twenty-four hours before we were supposed to board our flight to Edinburgh, Scotland, I (Amanda) broke my ankle. We had planned twelve weeks in Europe, and I had sustained an injury with a minimum 12-week recovery time. What are the chances?
And, to make a complicated situation even more complicated: our summer subletters had moved into our NYC apartment so, not only we were missing out on our backpacking trip, but we couldn't even stay in our home. Instead, we moved in with my parents in our hometown of York, Pennsylvania - we are so thankful for their open doors and hospitality.
And yes, this blog post is about our journey and finding ‘joy within the pain,’ and ‘beauty within the ordinary’ and ‘learning to dance in the rain,’ but keep in mind: before I found that beauty and joy, I had to heal. And no one could speed up that process for me; it was something that my mind and body went through alone and in its own time. I spent 6 painful weeks in a hard cast before I was transitioned into a boot. But there wasn’t a sudden jump into positivity and exploration after the cast came off; there was, first, an arduous process of relearning how to walk and enduring the pain of weight-bearing.
And my heart had to heal, too. I had to have a head clear enough to see the beauty that outweighed the pain. I had to acknowledge the support of my husband, parents, family and friends as the incredible and overwhelming blessing that it is. I needed to see the green grass and the fluffy puppy and the shimmering pool as the reminders of love and comfort and childhood that they were. I had to have my breath taken away by a very visible and very red Mars in the night sky, or imagine myself dancing (since I couldn’t physically do so) through the field that sparkled with more fireflies than I’d ever seen in my life, or drive down a bridge I’d driven down hundreds of time before, but underneath a perfectly golden sunset. I had to recognize these moments for what they were - reminders that life is a gift.
As each day passed, Daniel and I healed together. We let our dream go and we began to discover how much guts it takes to “make the best” out of a shitty situation. Being travelers, we have built a life of movement, curiosity, growth and exploration, and our summer was sorely lacking in all of the above; so, around week 7, I asked my Facebook friends (many of whom either also grew up with us in PA or still live there) if they had any recommendations for things to do, see or eat in Central Pennsylvania. We put together a list, and on the days when I felt strong or the pain was lesser, we’d venture out to discover these places in the hometown we hadn’t lived in for nearly a decade.
1. Callaloo in Lancaster, PA
Daniel and I love callaloo (a dish of stewed greens and coconut milk that was introduced to us by Freda’s) and Caribbean is among our favorite cuisine, so we put this recommendation on the top of our list. Imagine our surprise when we realized Lancaster housed what we consider to be among our Top 5 favorite restaurants in the world. Callaloo Trinidadian Kitchen boasts unique and flavorful Caribbean dishes – each dish is the perfect blend of sweet, tropical, savory and spicy. The atmosphere is quaint and the service is fantastic; we visited twice and, each time, our servers were excited to explain the Trinidadian roots and tell us their nightly specials. In our two visits there, we sampled the doubles (a Trinidadian street food), the aloo pepper roti, coconut jerk chicken, callaloo rice, spicy pepper beef, coconut bread and street corn (also covered in coconut!). Read more about these items and the rest of their menu here. We’re glad to have family in the area, because that ensures that we will be back to visit Calalloo!
2. Leg Up Farmers Market in York, PA
York, Pennsylvania isn’t known for its health-consciousness, and it doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of culture that doesn’t involve chain restaurants or big-box stores. So that’s why when we discovered Leg Up Farmer's Market, we shopped there as often as possible. This natural foods store supplies the people of York with organic, local and sustainable selections. You can help yourself to maple syrup tapped in Lancaster, honey harvested in Red Lion, or fresh produce picked from local farmers. And why not? Pennsylvania is full of farmers! Being a patron of Leg Up Farmers Market not only let us retain a healthy diet in the midst of a culture of fast food restaurants, but always allowed us to feel good about giving our money to a small business that coincides so nicely with our values.
3. Long’s Park in Lancaster, PA
I had been to Long’s Park as a child, but our nearly-three-month stint in Pennsylvania just continued unintentionally leading us to Long’s Park! We met friends there, attended a Food Truck Festival there, saw the Fourth of July fireworks there, and went for frequent evening walks through their beautiful weeping willows that line the large pond. There are playgrounds for the children (and, let’s face it, for me too if I hadn’t been in a wheelchair! #childatheart), a petting zoo of goats and pigs, multiple pavilions to house picnics, dozens of turtles and geese that relax at the pond’s edge, and picturesque walking paths. The park is beautiful, especially at golden hour, which makes it the perfect place to snap that quintessential ‘life in a small town’ Instagram photo. (In fact, we took photos of our writer friend @rhapsopdyreads here, and the photos turned out great!)
4. Issei Noodle in Lancaster, PA
This was another recommendation that came from a Facebook friend, and among our favorite places we dined in Central, PA! This restaurant has noodle dishes that span across Asian cuisine - Vietnamese pho, Japanese ramen, Thai egg noodle dishes, and on and on. (They also had a delicious seaweed salad!) We’d love to visit Issei Noodle again; and it’s location in downtown Lancaster beside the Lancaster Farmer’s Market makes it a convenient lunch during a day of sightseeing!
5. Longwood Gardens in Chester County, PA
This renowned botanical garden is huge! We expected to spend four hours there, but ended up spending nine and still not seeing everything. They have displays that feature plants from across the globe, as well as seasonal gardens to wander through and ogle over. From the plants of the Serengeti to the Amazon, and from gardens of bonsai trees, exotic fruits and vegetables, water lilies, roses, peonies and more - they have it all! We saw plants with spiked bark, lily pads with metallic colors, trees that grow in perfect circles, and succulents that are shaped like cups and gather water. Longwood Gardens is well worth a visit. Expect to spend the entirety of the day there, and be rest assured: they do sell lunch items, snacks and ice cream. (The prices are, albeit, high, and the menu tries to be elevated but it still obviously masses produced. We did, however, greatly enjoy our milk chocolate ice cream in a red velvet cone.)
6. Kitchen Kettle Village in Lancaster, PA
Experience quintessential Lancaster at Kitchen Kettle Village. On your way there, you’ll drive through miles of Amish farms - keep an eye out for the young couple in an uncovered horse-drawn carriage called “buggies” (no roof on the carriage because they aren’t married), or the children who travel via bikes without pedals. Once at Kitchen Kettle, be prepared to sample an assortment of delicious Lancaster-made goodies! From meats and cheeses, to pickles, hot sauces, jams and salsas: there’s plenty to sample at the Kitchen Kettle Market! Outside the market, a variety of vendors sell handmade goods and galleries host local art. We snagged ourselves some of 'Pappy's Moonshine Madness' hot sauce - with a tagline like "so hot, you'll go blind!," we couldn't pass it up. Then, we spent the rest of our day wandering through aisles and shops, and sampling all we could stomach!
7. Sarah’s Creamery in Dover, PA
Did you know that, at Penn State University, you can major in ice cream? That’s right! An entire major is dedicated to the science behind, production of and experimental process of making ice cream. And that must be why Sarah’s Creamery is so good. Founded by a Penn State alumni and hidden in Dover, PA, this shop has flavors that span from 'death by chocolate' to 'apple cinnamon pie.' Daniel got peanut butter, his go-to, and I got my favorite combo: one scoop of cotton candy and one scoop of 'bittersweet mint' (aka mint chocolate chip). It's a good combo - I promise! We visited a second time after discovering Sarah’s because the ice cream is so fresh and creamy. On top of that, the atmosphere is wonderful. They have a yard of fresh grass covered in games like corn hole and horseshoes, the benches and walls are painted in bold, colorful murals, and they even hosted live music during one of our visits! Any business that supports locals artists is one we’re proud to patron!
8. 2nd St Shawarma in Harrisburg, PA
This Mediterranean restaurant in the heart of Harrisburg also made it to the top of our PA dining experiences: the ingredients are so noticeably fresh, the flavors are reminiscent of our time in the Mediterranean, and our waitress was so passionate about the food she was serving! We ordered their sample platter of hummus (garlic, red pepper and original hummus paired with a basket of pita), as well as their sample platter of falafel, beef and chicken pitas 'sandwiches.' And a huge bonus: the mint lemonade at 2nd St Shawarma tasted exactly like the mint lemonade I remember so clearly from my trip to the Palestinian Territories. I have never been able to find mint lemonade quite like that since; so imagine my surprise when I found it in Harrisburg, PA! This place is well worth the visit - and make sure to get the mint lemonade.
This summer, we've learned that sometimes circumstances force you to be stationary in this life, but that doesn’t mean you are no longer a traveler. We've heard it said many times before: “travel in your own backyard" - we've just been spoiled by having New York City as our backyard. But this summer we learned that, no matter what backyard we find ourselves in, there is so much to be discovered. Sometimes it just takes a little extra effort.
The daily habits of a traveler can be utilized everywhere and anywhere: make a point to explore, wander, enjoy nature, talk to locals, get their recommendations, learn from their stories, see the world through different eyes, learn, grow, get out of your comfort zone, do something new every single day. All that sets the traveler apart is that wide-eyed wonder for the world and its inhabitants.
Someday soon we'll be back on a plane exploring distant lands. But until then, we're thankful for the months that reminded us to slow down, forced us to make an effort to grow and to enjoy the little things, and showcased the true and unwavering support system that we have in our lives.
"Slow down, you crazy child.
You're so ambitious for a juvenile.
Slow down, you're doing fine.
You can't be everything you want to be before your time.
Dream on, but don't image they'll all come true.
When will you realize: Vienna waits for you."
- Billy Joel, 'Vienna'