I realise I probably havent gushed enough about possibly the most unexpectedly [to me!] enjoyable aspect of this whole trip – the food. Bob has definitely inherited a love of good food from his mum and was able to guide us to some memorable meals. In New York the most memorable was the wonderful Vatan on 3rd Avenue – https://www.yelp.com/biz/vatan-indian-vegetarian-new-york-2 – I have not eaten such good indian food since my Glasgow days being fed in Gujarati households. The surroundings were magnificent too – a walk down a narrow corridor off a main Manhattan thoroughfare opened out into a mock indian village, complete with straw and red tiled roofs over the eating bays and an entire enormous fig tree! Add to that naive paintings of Gujarati village scenes and enough food to choke an elephant..it was a complete delight.
I should also have mentioned more about the many exotic “watering holes”, which were essential in the heat, always designed to keep the worst of the sun away from its customers but with the legendary US service – whatever happened to the grumpy New Yorkers, we didn’t meet a single one. Some pretty strange brews though!
So…off we went…on an intriguing train journey from New York across New Jersey coastal marshland – osprey and egrets ticked from the window – into the woods and the edges of small towns until we get to the outskirts of Philadelphia. Where all appears to be post industrial rust – maybe that’s just what you get at the edge of the railway?
A change of train and were off out to the “sticks” – well, not exactly, although the amount of trees in Pennsylvania is staggering, coming from my own scalped scottish hills where a thousand years and more of exploitation, neglect and sheer vandalism has left only a few pathetic remainders of our own forests. [Always worth looking at historical context – I visited New Hampshire back in the 1990s and saw it as a forest with holes cut in it for towns, my ornithologist former colleague Iain Macleod soon informed me that it was almost all second growth forest. The first european settlers cut much of it down, before discovering that the prairies over the Appalachians to the west were a far better bet for farming, then upsticks and left. To this day by law, New Englanders have to keep open land open, to stop the forest encroaching!]
Met at Amtrak Exton Station a few miles from the university town of West Chester, Pennsylvania by Marguerite, Bob’s mother-in-law and after a short drive arrived at her beautiful house on the outskirts of the town. A modern house with big airy rooms and best of all for me, a balcony overlooking a lawn with a bird feeder next to some mature woodland. Species ticks from here included Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Cardinal, Turtle Dove, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker [!], Common Flicker, Blue Jay, Chimney Swift, Grackle, Cowbird, White bellied Nuthatch, American Robin and a Ruby throated Hummingbird which almost landed on my finger – and a couple of deer feeding beside the garden fence. Heaven.
Another surprise were the “chinese lantern bugs” a recently arrived pest of trees, from Asia. They suck tree sap opening the host trees to mould and disease. Several of them landed on the balcony table during the days we were there. Beautiful but in the wrong place and considered a notifiable pest in Pennsylvania.
Tim and Marguerite were certainly no exception to the US cult of great hospitality!..We ate and drank like Kings and Queens. The weather was superb, if a little hot for us but the house was always a cool retreat.
We had a series of outings, firstly the trip to Amish country, Lancaster County a few miles to the west of West Chester. Rolling farmland, small woods, cornfields between small villages, including the amusingly named Intercourse [postcards were obtained].We saw Amish people in the distance working in the fields and also a couple of horse drawn buggies on the roads – looking precarious beside the 21st century traffic.
Shops and a cafe were visited. One of the shops sold hand fashioned quilts – https://www.kitchenkettle.com/members/villagequilts.asp – we had a very enthusiastic lecture on how they are made by one of the shop assistants. Sadly, well out of our price range..
Nearby were some superb food shops with a superb range of pickles and sauces – many free samples were taken and a few purchases..
..and so..back to base in West Chester.