Little Lancaster

Taking toddlers to Amish country turns out to be a real trip. Along the way, a family finds warm greetings, furry new friends and kid-friendly good times

$500 Getaway

August 27, 2006|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,[Sun reporter ]


I think there is a law out there that applies almost without exception to family vacations.

Let's call it Griswold's Law, after Chevy Chase's famous character in the National Lampoon Vacation films. The law dictates that these trips, however well planned, will be chaotic, exhausting and often worse. And then, after the passage of time, they will become, quite clearly, the best fun you've had in years.

My comedy of errors in Pennsylvania's Dutch country -- where I was accompanied by my wife and two young daughters and limited to a $500 budget -- pales in comparison with the many blunders of the Griswold family.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's Travel section incorrectly identified the owner of Verdant View Bed and Breakfast in Paradise, Pa. He is Donald Ranck.

I didn't have a tryst with Christie Brinkley or strap my dead aunt on a station wagon, but my weekend getaway included a rendezvous with an electric fence, the manhandling of farm animals, an early morning wakeup call from a sickly baby and a minor day-care crisis involving me and three crying tots.

The Lancaster area is a great place for a family trip, especially on the cheap. There's plenty to do for even the youngest of little ones, and as confessed city slickers with a daughter who adores animals, my wife, Kira, and I wanted to have some fun on a farm.

So off we went to Paradise, one of many small townships on the outskirts of Lancaster.

We had an uneventful drive from Annapolis to the Verdant View Farm Bed and Breakfast, although neither of our two daughters -- including Isabelle, 2, and Cora, 1 -- slept. This can make for an awful road experience, especially when your car is not equipped with a portable DVD player, that opiate for the family vacation masses. Luckily for us, the kids were in a good mood and happily sang ridiculous songs the whole way -- in full Griswold fashion -- over and over and over. Plus, we gave them chocolate.

Settling in

We were greeted warmly at Verdant View by Ginny Ranck, who owns and operates the 118-acre farm and bed-and-breakfast with her husband, Ron, and several Amish employees.

She was very welcoming to Isabelle, who immediately became enamored with two pygmy goats eating grass in the front lawn. They seemed to like her, too, munching a bit on her shirt and pants.

The Rancks put up guests in two houses: a green house they live in that's adjacent to their barn, and a white guest house about 100 yards away, separated by a pond with swans and ducks. Both houses look a little worn on the outside, but inside are brimming with character.

We booked two rooms on the lower floor of the guest house for $104 a night, which gave us access to a shared kitchen, dining and living room, complete with a window air conditioning unit to cool the place down, a TV with almost no channels, a VCR and DVD player. We shared that space with another guest and her two young sons.

After getting settled and unpacking the legions of accoutrements that accompany small children, we went to eat. Keeping in mind the way my daughters litter food on the floor and scream when they are hungry or bored, we searched for a family-friendly place. With more money than normal at our disposal, Kira and I decided to splurge at one of the area's many nice restaurants.

The Olde Greenfield Inn -- a centuries-old restored farmhouse in Lancaster with a classic American menu -- seemed to fit the bill nicely. It's Web site brags that children of any age are welcomed with a special dinner menu, balloons, coloring books and crayons.

This was true at first, as a very sweet hostess shook Isabelle's hand and tied a balloon to her wrist, but our server was terse and obviously uncomfortable around small children, which made us feel very uncomfortable.

Still, the food was exquisite, making the ornery waitress much easier to endure. I ordered a tender, sweetly lacquered duck with fresh vegetables, and my wife had parmesan-encrusted cod that she said was delicious. The kids, I'm a little embarrassed to admit, had chicken fingers and fries. It's not adventurous, or healthy, but they did eat it, and they were quiet. In a fancy place, that's about all you need them to be.

When we got back to the farm, Isabelle was desperate to play with the swans and ducks in a pond near our house, so I took her over a few fences to see them up close. After she chased them into the water a few times, I decided it was time to head back. I briefly touched one of the fences after lifting Isabelle over it and was startled by a slight jolt. I was a bit stunned at first, but began laughing when I realized: the fence was electric, used to keep the cows away from the pond during the day.

After getting the kids to bed, Kira and I sat on a porch that faces a road and then the fields of an Amish family's farm. We talked a little about Dutch country's seemingly split personalities: the vast farmlands next to huge outlet malls, and Amish buggies puttering on the same roads as zooming cars.

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