Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Off the beaten path: Gettysburg, PA, USA

While not exactly an unpopular place to visit, Gettysburg certainly can’t boast the same level of fame as the bigger cities of the United States.

Famous, quite predictably, for the Battle of Gettysburg of 1863 and Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address of the same year, it is a favorite place for American history buffs and students of surrounding schools who seem to be obliged to visit the battlefield with a tour guide as part of their studies.

So what is there to do in Gettysburg, PA, a town with the population of roughly 8,000 people?

First of all, the Battlefield/National Military Park itself, including the cemetery, the Pennsylvania State Memorial, cannons and the like. Several companies offer guided tours of the battlefield. Needless to say, the high season for the battlefield and thus Gettysburg is July, 4 as well as a couple of weeks before and after this date.

Each year the battlefield sees the Civil War Battle Reenactment and being part of it is supposedly not a very easy task to accomplish, you have to be experienced in events of this kind and preferably a member of an actual reenacting unit.

In addition to this, July, 4 or the week after normally sees Gettysburg being the host town for the Bike Week which is quite an event in its own right, it seems not dozens and hundreds, but more like thousands of bikers flock to the town to have several days of booze-filled bliss and live performances, be sure that hotels, motels and campgrounds will be booked months in advance for this period. Also, if your accommodation unit happens to be located on Cunningham Rd, please be advised you won’t get much sleep during the event, since it’s the main road artery for bikers to enter and exit Gettysburg.

For fans of guided tours, there are ghost trail tours available throughout the city. Narrated by ‘professional storytellers’, they are interesting for kids and young adults – however, some grown-up have been noticed in showing a particular interest in ghost tour as well. Many a local might also share with you some stories of their encounters with ghosts of Gettysburg.

Fans of teddy bears, rejoice and prepare to be delighted because Gettysburg is home to Boyds Bear Country or Boyds Bears, heaven for anyone who likes plush. The store is a three-storey barn literally stuffed with bears of all colors, shapes and sizes – it’s highly unlikely you’ll leave the store without having purchased something. Surprisingly enough, bona fide store visitors and notorious collectors are not kids, but grown-up men and women who like Christmas bears, Halloween bears, Nascar bears, baby bears, merry-go-round bears and so on. It’s a fun way to spend several hours. The store has a nice food court (with pastry to die for) and every once in a while a country band will do a live performance on weekends. Triple chocolate cookies are fantastic.

A great place to dine would be Tommy’s Pizza, right in the center of Gettysburg, a family-run pizza/sub restaurant frequented by a whole lot of locals and visitors. In operation since 1973, it’s a good place to visit if you like American-style pizza and subs. White pizza, stromboli and a veggie sub would be my personal choices (for 3 separate meals… hopefully) at Tommy's.

And before I forget:

It seems the best month to visit is September, the weather is not as hot and humid as in the summer anymore and fall starts gracefully in Gettysburg

Located within comfortable driving distance (1-2 hours) from Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD. Camp David is not far away… if you should dare go there. Gettysburg does not have public transportation, nor does it have a Greyhound bus link, if you choose to take a bus, your nearest option might be York, PA, you can get a taxi from there to Gettysburg ($70 in 2006).

As per personal experience, bike seems like a comfortable means of transportation around the town.

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