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Today Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com and Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, Joanne Miller, author of Moon Handbook: Chesapeake Bay; Avalon Travel 2004: Moon Handbook: Maryland/Delaware; Avalon Travel (first edition 2002, second edition 2004)
Best Places Marin; Sasquatch Press, 2003: Moon Handbook: Pennsylvania; Avalon Travel (first edition 1998, second edition 2001, third edition 2005).




Joanne is here to pass on some of her extensive knowledge about the State of Pennsylvania.

Good day Joanne and thank you for agreeing to participate in our interview:

Norm:

Joanne, could you tell our readers something about yourself, how long have you lived in Pennsylvania, your writing experience, and your expertise pertaining to Pennsylvania?

Joanne:

I escaped from New York to State College, PA in the mid-1970s. I was familiar with the area because my boyfriend went to Penn State, and we took frequent vacations there and made a lot of great friends. We traveled around quite a bit, mostly to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, it was hard to leave Happy Valley as we locals called it.

Years later, after I published a few short stories (I have one coming out in www.carvezine soon), and written articles and interviews for publications such as Travel Holiday, the Los Angeles Times, and Writer's Market, I learned that Moon was interested in a book on the state. When I sent in the proposal, the editor said, isn't it in the (ominous pause) RUST BELT? Silly goose. Pennsylvania is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and thanks to this book, I got to travel to the farthest corners of the state. It took me three years to complete the research and writing, and by the time I finished, I was more in love with this gorgeous place than ever.

Norm:

Could you tell our audience something about Pennsylvania, where it is situated, its climate, geography etc,

Joanne:

Pennsylvania is the birthplace of America: George Washington, Ben Franklin and other rabblerousers opted for independence from Great Britain in Philadelphia in 1776. In addition to countless unique American history sites, the state was founded by William Penn to insure religious freedom to all who dwelt there, and today it's home to large groups of Old Order Amish, a quaint, black-garbed religious sect who disdain modern life and continue to farm by hand and visit in their horse-drawn buggies. Pittsburgh is the most American of cities: literally built on the ashes of burnt-out industries, it has become a model of new energy technology and intelligent urban renewal thanks to the hard work of Pittsburghers themselves.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is in the northeastern section of the US, in the Mid-Atlantic region, surrounded by New York state, New Jersey, Maryland and Ohio (and a bit of West Virginia). It's a big place--45,888 square miles and roughly rectangular. With only four major urban areas in the state (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie and Scranton/Wilkes Barre), wilderness is abundant: there are 117 state parks; 20 state forest districts comprise over two million acres--about one-tenth of the total forest in Pennsylvania.

On a topographical map, the terrain looks as if a giant wildcat's paw swiped across the state in an arc from northeast to southwest this is the continuation of the Appalachian Mountain Range that tumbles down the east coast of America. Under various names, the Appalachian Plateau makes up more than half the total area of the state. The rugged Allegheny Mountains and Poconos are on the northeastern edge of the plateau. Around Scranton, the underlying rock has folded like a paper fan; along the Susquehanna River and its tributaries lay one of the few anthracite coalfields in the world--ancient carbon as smooth and hard as glass. The dramatic granitic peaks and valleys of the Poconos contrast with the southwestern terrain of smooth, rounded, wooded hills near Pittsburgh a soft coal area. In the northwest, along the edge of Lake Erie, a 50-mile-wide strip of flat and fertile land hugs the shore--the Great Lakes Plain.

The Piedmont Plateau is a region of lowlands and gentle hills southeast of the Allegheny Mountains. The area is extremely fertile; the lush terrain, like velvet in a jewel box, boasts some of the best farmland in the country. The area has remained productive due, in large part, to the soil conservation methods practiced by the Amish, who have dwelt there in large numbers since colonial days. Southeast of the Piedmont is Pennsylvania's portion of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, a narrow strip of land covered by the city of Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania experiences four discrete seasons, though climate varies according to longitude, latitude, and elevation. Winter commonly brings snow (in varying amounts) to most of the state, and temperatures then range from below zero to the high 30s F. Spring warms up, with temperatures hovering in the 40s and 50s, leading into June's 60s and 70s and eye-dazzling profusion of green leaves and wildflowers. Summer temperatures seldom reach over 100 degrees F, though warm days are often accompanied by high humidity under the lush shade of fully leaved deciduous trees. Evenings during the summer months cool down from daytime highs but generally remain warm. September is generally very warm, but things begin cooling down rapidly through October and November, as the days grow shorter and brilliantly colored trees and shrubs blanket the region. By December, temperatures flirt with the low 20s in preparation for the snows and clean black branches of January.

Rain is common except during the winter months. Hurricanes--most of their wind- and rain-power spent by the time they enter the state--blow through from the south occasionally during the fall and spring.

Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, has the most moderate climate, with a mean annual temperature of 52 degrees F and an average annual snowfall of 30 inches. Southwestern Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, and Erie, on the Great Lakes Plain, have similar climates, with slightly lower temperatures and more snowfall. The greatest weather extremes occur in the northeastern and north-central mountains.

Norm:

Do you consider Pennsylvania a great place for a romantic getaway or wedding destination and if so, why?

Joanne:
 
Whatever appeals to your readers, Pennsylvania has it. If a formal wedding in a cathedral followed by a reception in an elegant hotel is of interest, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both come to mind. A small intimate wedding? A friend of mine and his bride and their families performed a Quaker ceremony on a covered bridge outside a small B&B in the Laurel Highlands. You can spend your romantic getaway fly-casting in a clear stream without another soul in sight, and retire to a blazing fire and a glass of wine in a cabin, or walk all day from museum to museum, stopping only to have sushi for lunch, Indian for dinner, then try a club or two for jazz, comedy, or dancing.

The entire state is within a few hours driving distance of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie or Scranton (where the main airports are). Having spent more than 10,000 miles on the road, I can tell you that getting there IS half the fun.

Norm:

If you had to choose the five most unique and romantic venues in Pennsylvania, which ones would you chose, where are they situated and why would you consider these five?

Where shall I start?

****Ah, the Poconos! In June: mountain laurel blooms pink in the hills, quaint little towns beckon, and two-story champagne-glass-shaped hot tubs for two welcome honeymooners to the ultimate romantic fantasy. Yes, the famous Pocono honeymoon resorts are still bubbling strong, tickling the knickers off newlyweds, olderweds, and lovers lacking legal definition. Caesars resorts were the first to have heart-shaped swimming pools. Now, according to Morris B. Wilkens, designer of the first valentine-style soaker, they're everywhere. The fantasy-glass hot tub is another product of his fecund brain: I hit on the idea of a jacuzzi in the shape of a champagne glass. Champagne ... says romance and marriage more than any other liquid I know. So I built a prototype, made it seven feet tall, and used the same material that's used for helicopter bubbles. To test them for strength, I filled them with water and banged them with sledgehammers for three weeks. Not a very romantic visual, but Caesars champagne tower suites are booked up months in advance. Caesars has several resorts in the area, all slightly different, all great--and there are plenty of other one-price-inclusive resorts (room, meals, entertainment, and often golf or other sports included) and inns in the Poconos that cater to lovers, so don't despair if all you're looking for is a simple weekend away.

**** If a pre-formed package and lots of other cuddling couples isn't your style, try this. Cook National Forest (south of the vast Allegheny National Forest) in northeast Pennsylvania features one of the original stands of trees on the continent. It's uncrowded, beautiful, and surrounded by several B&Bs that cater to twosomes. The secluded Cook Homestead Bed and Breakfast is a favorite. Hiking and kayaking are big pastimes here. It's also near one of the best breweries in the universe, Stoudt's home of the eternal tap (well, not quite eternal they try to discourage visitors from having more than two tankards). If you're in luck, the local elk herd will be hanging out at the airport.

**** While you're in the northwest, Pennsylvania's wine country (not an oxymoron, thank you) is another fun place to be. Just north of Erie, this lovely area offers bike rides, wineries to visit and sample, and those romantic B&Bs. Plus, you're close to the city and its eateries and museums. Try the Grape Arbor Inn in North East.

****If outdoor recreation is your aim, the Laurel Highlands, south of Pittsburgh, has it all. You can stay in quaint B&Bs in charming small towns (the Inn at Century Hill is very pretty) or in full-service resorts that offer everything from spas to haute cuisine in a variety of price ranges (a couple, such as Seven Springs, offer particularly good ski packages in winter). There's hiking in several state parks, rafting on the Youghigheny (call it the yuck, and you're instantly in the in crowd), and two outstanding examples of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture (one has a particularly good outdoor art collection) the Johnstown Flood Museum and Westmoreland Museum of Art are among many other attractions.

**** Pittsburgh can't be beat. When you're looking down from the top of Mt. Washington over the sparking glass towers of the city skyline and the meeting point of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers--The second most beautiful view in America according to USA Weekend Magazine you really get a sense of why Pittsburghers revived this city and made it one of the best in America. It has incredible art museums (The Warhol, Mattress Factory, Carnegie Institutes and more), modern science museums, great restaurants, inns, B&Bs and hotels all on a smaller scale than most cities, and at mid-west prices! The Appletree B&B in Shadyside is in one of my favorite neighborhoods.

*** I couldn't help myself. Last (but certainly not least) is Philadelphia, that has it all (including, alas, higher prices). This city has world-class art museums (Philadelphia Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, The Barnes Foundation and more), science museums, Independence Hall National Historic Park (with Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and many other historic buildings), America's first penitentiary, multiple-award-winning hotels (The Four Seasons and The Ritz) and restaurants (Le Bec-Fin, both dining rooms in the Four Seasons and Ritz, and many, many others), shopping. This is a major American city, with all the trimmings. Most romantic place to stay? The Gables, in University City, or the club floor at the Ritz.



Norm:

When is the best time to visit Pennsylvania from the point of view of weather, costs, etc?

Joanne:

Every season is a stunner in this state. Winter is stark and clear; spring is bursting with color; summer is nearly tropical, and fall is drop-dead gorgeous. Philadelphia is best in the early fall, especially after the crowds have left. Try to get there before mid-September. Pittsburgh is good all year round, though a bit grey in the winter. Prices don't vary much in the cities at any time of year. Generally you'll get better deals mid-week.

The Poconos and Laurel Highlands are heavily visited in the summer and fall no surprises there. The forest areas in the north are popular all year round winter sports such as snowmobiling and snowshoeing are big. Winter brings lower rates except in the ski resorts.

The Piedmont where most Amish culture is settled is most popular in the summer, but the Amish way of life continues year-round, and quite a few B&Bs and inns are open all year.


Norm:

What should people know about celebrating a wedding in Pennsylvania from the point of view of requirements, experience of the various hotels, etc?

Joanne:

Putting together a wedding in the cities is no problem. it's a big source of revenue for hotels, and their planners can smooth the path considerably.

Thanks Joanne for giving us the opportunity to learn more about Pennsylvania.


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