Friday, July 03, 2009

Meandering Around Michiana

As we drove around the South Bend area, we noticed advertising signs for "Michiana" and realized that somewhere a marketing person had created the name to describe the area bordering on the two states. We've enjoyed our stay here - South Bend has much to offer and the surrounding countryside is intriguing. We spent a day visiting the communities of Nappanee, Middlebury, and Shipshewana, all located in the center of Amish country. All are picture-postcard pretty, but Shipshewana has to be the "Disneyland" of the Amish. A large farm/learning center offers tours, there are rides in Amish buggies, music festivals, and of course, stores. Over 100 offerAmish furniture, Amish food, Amish produce.....everything Amish. The streets are chokes with tourist cars and horse-drawn buggies, and you have to be careful where you walk; apparently the horses aren't potty-trained. We stopped at a meat and cheese store and were treated to a huge cooler offering dozens of varieties of smoked cheeses at reasonable prices. We loaded up (the smoked hot pepper cheese is amazing!) on cheese but skipped the meats except for smoked bacon (meat prices weren't quite so reasonable). Surprisingly, we were in the checkout line behind an Amishman, while an "English" girl with studded cheeks and nose ran the register. As you wander around Amish country, you see all types of conflicting behavior. Undecorated buggies with wooden and steel wheels (old order), buggies with rubber wheels, lights, and orange panels (new order), are all mixed together. On one corner we watched an Amish farmer mow hay with a team of horses, while driving by was another Amish farmer driving a tractor and pulling a power mower. We passed houses where Amish women, complete with bonnet, were mowing the lawn with a gas-powered mower. Sometimes you see an interesting mix; in this picture of the Amish farmer spraying his field you can see that the horses are pulling the wagon, and the wagon axle powers a drive shaft to power the spray mechanism. Besides the farms and stores, the Amish also work at factories; we saw a number of them when we toured the Newmar RV plant a few years ago, with beards and hats, working next to non-Amish. It's an area of interesting diversity, and for a fascinating look at Amish youth and their coming of age, we recommend the video "The Devil's Playground", available on Netflix. There's also an NPR feature on the documentary here.
If you watch college football, then you know that South Bend is the home of Notre Dame University, and we took a short drive around the university to see the sights. The local news announced that the university recently surpassed it's fund-raising goal of $1.5 billion....yes, billion. Those poor students must have sold a LOT of candy bars.
On a wonderfully cool and breezy day we took a drive north to the shores of Lake Michigan and the town of St. Joseph. There's a large sandy beach on the lakefront, a tree-lined park on the bluff above, and a pretty shopping area. We enjoyed walking along the bluff and exploring the downtown shops. It was the kind of day that makes our lifestye so special.
We're off to the Amana Colonies in Iowa - come back and visit!

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