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Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania is an eastern state in the United States. It is known for its Revolutionary War-era historical sites like Valley Forge, its large cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, its farming regions, some occupied by the Amish, and a (once)-strong industrial history. With equally large swaths of cities and towns as fields and mountains, Pennsylvania is a rich and varied state, as well as a worthy travel destination. Pennsylvania is bordered by the states of New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and Ohio. The main cities are the aforementioned Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, along with other smaller cities such as Allentown, Erie, Reading, Bethlehem, and Scranton.

Regions

  • Alleghenies and Susquehanna Valley
  • Erie Region
  • Pennsylvania Dutch Country
  • Pennsylvania Wilds
  • Philadelphia Region
  • Pittsburgh Region
  • Poconos and Endless Mountains

Cities

  • Harrisburg — the state capital
  • Allentown — largest city of the Lehigh Valley, third largest city in state
  • Erie — home to Pennsylvania’s slice of Lake Erie, great for boating and beaches
  • Hershey — Birthplace of Hershey’s chocolate
  • Lancaster — a relatively large city right at the heart of Amish country; the birthplace of the battery-powered watch, and a good shopping destination for Amish goods
  • Philadelphia — “The City of Brotherly Love,” with lots of history and cheesesteaks
  • Pittsburgh — “The Steel City,” a scenic, multicultural, major city
  • Scranton/Wilkes-Barre — coal region towns perhaps best known for TV’s The Office
  • Williamsport — host to the annual Little League World Series

Other destinations

  • Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site
  • Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
  • Gettysburg National Military Park — the site of the most famous battlefield on U.S. soil, which saw the bloodiest battle and the turning point of the Civil War
  • Johnstown Flood National Memorial
  • Lehigh Valley
  • Northern Tier
  • Penn State University — the third-largest “city” in the state, but only when the Nittany Lions football team is playing
  • Poconos and Endless Mountains
  • Steamtown National Historic Site

Understand

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a geographically diverse state with a Great Lake on one shore and a major seaport on the other. The climate of Pennsylvania is pleasant, with cold, often snowy winters, mild to hot, humid summers, and gorgeous green springtimes, and most notably, spectacular displays of colorful autumn foliage.

Pennsylvania hosts a number of vital cities, from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia houses the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, two major national historical landmarks. The interior of the state has a number of subcultures worth exploring, including the famous Amish countryside, a religious community.

Pennsylvania is also home to a diverse group of people, with ethnic enclaves of black, Hispanic, and Southeast Asian populations in its major cities.

Pennsylvania is also diverse in that the Eastern and Southeastern parts of the state are urban and densely populated, while much of the rest of the state is rural and/or mountainous.

Talk

Most Pennsylvanians speak American English, although many subtle regional accents and ‘dialects’ do exist. There are large Latino, Spanish-speaking populations in Reading, Allentown, and Philadelphia. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh also have their share of Asian, European, and other languages. There will be no problem communicating with people who live in Pennsylvania, except, of course, if they resort to the famous Pennsylvania Dutch “Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch” dialect of German. Although widescale non-Amish use of the language faded circa 1950, there are pockets of young people who are learning the language as a way to preserve their heritage. The Pittsburgh area and the anthracite coal region of northeast Pennsylvania are known for their colorful regional accents.

Get in

By car

Pennsylvania is a densely populous state in a densely populous part of the country, with many roads in and out. Interstate highways lead most traffic into the state. Major national interstate highways leading to Pennsylvania include I-95 S from New England, I-95 N from the American South, and I-70 E, I-80 E & I-90 E from the American West and Midwest. Specifically, clockwise from north of Harrisburg:

  • from Montreal & Ottawa to Scranton & Harrisburg: I-81 S.
  • from Boston to Scranton: I-90 W to I-84 W.
  • from Boston to the Lehigh Valley & Harrisburg: I-84 W to I-91 S to I-95 S to I-287 W to I-78 W.
  • from Boston to Philadelphia: I-84 W to I-91 S to I-95 S.
  • from New York City to Scranton: I-80 W.
  • from New York City to the Lehigh Valley & Harrisburg: I-78 W.
  • from New York City to Philadelphia: I-95 S.
  • from Baltimore to Philadelphia: I-95 N.
  • from Baltimore to Harrisburg: I-83 N.
  • from Baltimore to Pittsburgh: I-70 W.
  • from Washington, DC to Philadelphia: I-95 N.
  • from Washington, DC to Harrisburg: I-95 N to I-83 N.
  • from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh: I-270 W to I-70 W.
  • from West Virginia to Pittsburgh: I-79 N.
  • from Columbus & Indianapolis to Pittsburgh & Harrisburg: I-70 E.
  • from Cleveland to Pittsburgh: It’s close, but complicated.
  • from Cleveland & Chicago to Erie: I-90 E.
  • from Toronto & Buffalo to Erie: I- 90 W.

Also, U.S. Routes 219, 15, and 220 (soon to be I-99) all enter the state at alternative points from both the north and south.

State-operated Welcome Centers and Comfort Facilities are located just inside the borders at all major crossings into Pennsylvania.

By train

Amtrak offers a total of nine different passenger train lines in or across the state of Pennsylvania. A fair amount of these run between New York and Philadelphia, continuing to points south, such as Charlotte, and New Orleans. The Pennsylvanian crosses a large swath of the state during its journey from New York to Pittsburgh, and the Keystone travels from New York to Harrisburg. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are also each connected to Chicago and Washington D.C.

By air

The two major airports in Pennsylvania are Philadelphia International Airport (IATA: PHL, ICAO: KPHL) and Pittsburgh International (IATA: PIT, ICAO: KPIT). Philadelphia is a major hub for US Airways and Pittsburgh is a large focus city for the same carrier. Both are served by all major carriers and have low fare service by Southwest and AirTran Airways. Philadelphia is also one of the Northeast’s major international termini, with flights to an array of European destinations.

Regional airports in Pennsylvania include Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. All of these airports are served by US Airways, US Airways Express, Delta, Northwest and Continental.

Get around

By car

In addition to the Interstate highways that enter Pennsylvania and travel throughout:

  • The Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76) is a toll freeway that is the main east-west route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with state capital Harrisburg along the way. Take note of the four tunnels through Appalachian mountains (Blue Mt., Kittatinny Mt., Tuscarora Mt., and Allegheny).
  • The Turnpike’s “Northeast Extension” (I-476, also toll) reaches north from Philadelphia to Allentown and Scranton. Another tunnel is found along it (Lehigh through Blue Mt.).
  • U.S. Route 322 travels diagonally from the Philadelphia area to just below Erie. Many portions have been converted to freeway, but numerous small towns still lie directly on the way.
  • U.S. Route 22 is an alternative, more mountainous path west through Altoona and Johnstown to Pittsburgh.
  • U.S. Route 6 is a long, rural, scenic drive across Pennsylvania’s “Northern Tier”. Go west from the northern Poconos through the valley of Scranton and its suburbs, follow the Susquehanna River through the “Endless Mountains”, spend three hours through state and national forest land, and end near Lake Erie.
  • U.S Route 30, also named the Lincoln Highway, is a section of the first coast-to-coast paved road in the United States. The highway is especially nice in the central part of Pennsylvania where it passes agricultural areas and is the main street of many small historic towns. Many of these towns have attempted to capitalize on their location on the Lincoln Highway by preserving original structures and opening them as visitors’ centers.
  • Interstate 80 runs east and west throughout the northern area of the state.

There also exists a wide network of state highways and municipal roads that reach into the mostly forested and farmed rural areas. The more mountainous of these areas should be traversed with caution by visitors as they can be drastically winding, narrow, or steep (or all three!) in parts.

Speed limit signs are almost exclusively posted in miles per hour, “mph”. Seatbelts use is mandatory, and a second ticket and fine will be issued to those who are pulled over for speeding, etc. if not worn. Pennsylvania has not yet enacted a ban on hand-held cell phone usage while driving, as some neighboring states have, although the cities of Philadelphia, Allentown, Bethlehem, Erie, Harrisburg, and Wilkes-Barre have enacted bans.

As conditions go, Pennsylvania has two seasons according to an old joke: winter and construction. In the rural majority of the state, large snowfalls render the most minor of roads impassable, but the major thoroughfares like Interstates are comparatively well plowed and salted. Still, car travel anywhere should be done with extreme care in the winter, especially by those unfamiliar with the visited area.

Likewise, the jest rings true in the remainder of the year. Look out for occasional paving, line painting, or road widening projects on freeways that restrict travel to a single lane. Bridge repair or any major redesign may force detours that are typically marked clearly. Speed limits in work zones are always reduced and State Police will impose double fines for breaking them. Proceed carefully around PennDOT (state transportation department) crews, who are easily visible in fluorescent yellow attire.

Wild animals, most notably deer, can be a problem when driving on rural Interstates and highways. Pennsylvania currently has an overpopulation of deer, so try to avoid them crossing the road.

By thumb

Although uncommon, hitchhiking is fairly well-received, especially in more rural areas. Keep in mind that it is always illegal to hitchhike on highways closed to pedestrians, so it’s better to find a rest stop or a gas station right off the highway. I-80 in particular has many good hitchhiking spots and is the recommended route for someone trying to thumb their way across the state.

By Bus

Public bussing systems are in place across the state. However, public transit primarily exists within the limits of Pennsylvania’s largest cities.

Tourists in the area can also plan group trips using local charter bus services. Motorcoach providers include Elite Coach, Susquehanna Trailways, Academy, and others.

Do

Pennsylvania has many attractions throughout the state, from amusement parks, historic sites, beaches along Lake Erie, world-class casinos, campgrounds and more!

Amusement parks

Pennsylvania is home to some of the country’s well-known amusement parks, such as:

  • Kennywood, Pittsburgh,
  • Hersheypark, Hershey
  • Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, Allentown
  • Sesame Place, Philadelphia
  • Knoebels, The largest free-admission theme park in America, Elysburg
  • Sandcastle Water Park, Pittsburgh
  • Waldameer Park and Water World Erie
  • Dutch Wonderland, Lancaster
Casinos

Pennsylvania recently legalized casino gambling. Some of the following casinos are also horse-racing facilities, while others stand alone.

  • Harrah’s Chester Casino & Racetrack, Chester (Philadelphia area)
  • SugarHouse Casino, Philadelphia
  • Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, Harrisburg
  • The Meadows Racetrack, Casino & Bowling, Pittsburgh area
  • Mohegan Sun, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
  • Mount Airy Casino Resort Golf, Poconos
  • Parx Casino & Racetrack, Philadelphia
  • Presque Isle Downs & Casino, Erie
  • Rivers Casino, Pittsburgh
  • Wind Creek Casino, Allentown/Bethlehem (Lehigh Valley area)

Eat

  • Hoagie — A sandwich made of a long loaf of bread filled with various meats, cheeses, vegetables, seasonings, and sauces. Commonly referred to as a “hero” or “submarine sandwich” beyond the Philadelphia Region.
  • Cheesesteak — A famous sandwich famously native to Philadelphia — A hoagie roll filled with chopped steak, melted cheese, and (optionally) onions.
  • “Primanti’s” Sandwich — A sandwich of hot meat, french fries and vinegar cole slaw on sliced italian bread, local to the Pittsburgh Region. A common offshoot is putting french fries on your salad, as well.
  • Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine: scrapple, funnel cake, shoofly pie, whoopie pie, apple butter, soft pretzels, etc.
  • Hershey’s Chocolate.
  • Tastykakes — Prepackaged pastries and cakes, local to the Philadelphia Region.
  • Birch beer and Sasparilla (softdrinks).
  • Pretzel – Heart shaped breads as plain, sesame seed topped or salt topped.

Drink

  • Yuengling The oldest brewery in the United States still produces this eponymous, locally-cherished beer. Yuengling is available in almost every bar and beer distributor in the state, but is seldom found outside of the Mid-Atlantic region. Tours are available at the brewery in Pottsville. The locals traditionally order a Yuengling Lager with the term, “Lager.” It is one of the best domestic macro beers you can get in the US. Yuengling also produces several other beers that are worth trying.

However, Pennsylvania is home to many other beers. It is birth place of Rolling Rock — “#33”. Serious beer drinkers probably know Pennsylvania for its wide selection craft breweries. Hundreds of fine ales are produced each year. Some great labels that every visitor should try include Yards, Sly Fox, Victory, Lancaster, Troegs, Philadelphia Brewing Company, and Stoudts.

Pennsylvania has some of the nation’s most restrictive liquor laws. If you want to bring back a beer (especially a local beer) it is recommended that you buy it at a beer distributor. While in the past beer distributors could only sell 24 packs, recent (March 2015) changes have allowed beer distributors to sell 12 packs. Not all beer distributors sell 12 packs and not every beer is available in 12 packs. However, a few grocery stores in Pennsylvania, particularily larger stores such as Wegman’s and Giant Eagle, have special permits that allow beer to be purchased at stores provided it is at a separate register (you can drink the beer in the store if you purchase prepared food). Expect to pay $1 to $2 more for a 6 pack than you would in Ohio or New York. Bars are only allowed to sell up to 12 beers to go to any individual (although technically you can buy the beer, take it outside to your car, and return to buy another 12). Wine and liquor are available at only state stores or wineries and they can be expensive because of high taxes.

Stay safe

Law Enforcement in Pennsylvania

State law enforcement is provided by the Pennsylvania State Police. The state police has a mixed fleet of cruisers. Older cars are white with gold,black striping and state police logo on driver and passenger side of doors and state trooper lettering in the back. The newer police cars are a darker gray with light gray stripe. The gray cars used to have the word TROOPER in addition to the police decal. The TROOPER decal is being phased out for the state trooper in small lettering in the rear of the vehicle. Philadelphia County Sheriff patrols the city of Philadelphia and surrounding areas. They also maintain court order and jails.Philadelphia Police is the city main police force. Philadelphia Sheriff and Police drive white cars with blue and yellow strips along the front doors. The difference between police and sheriff vehicles are the logos, police vehicles have a small yellow line first then a thicker blue line after. Sheriff vehicles have a thicker blue line first followed by a thin yellow line. Third Philadelphia Police Departments are now fitted with bulletproof doors and windows. Pittsburgh Police drives all white vehicles with black and yellow markings and decals.

In Pittsburgh, crime is not a major problem in Pennsylvania. Gang activity, corruption, and drug crimes are high in the larger cities, Philadelphia, Allentown and Reading. You know you are in a rough area when you see graffiti, abandoned houses and vehicles, and shoes tossed over telephone wires, known as shoefiti, to mark that drugs are for sale. Street drag racing and prostitution are also problems in the state’s urban areas.

As with most locations in the United States, a major cause of injury and death in Pennsylvania comes from automobile accidents. Drivers can be down-right hostile on some of the more notorious urban freeways, such as the Schuykill Expressway in Philadelphia, route 22 in Allentown, the 376 in Pittsburgh and on the Interstate 95 corridor in the southeast section of the state. The roads in Pennsylvania are notoriously bad, so be careful.

Road rage can be a problem during rush hour, so if you aren’t familiar with the highway system, stay out of the left hand lane. The key to safe driving is to stay defensive, you are in unfamiliar areas and while you may feel wronged, it may be the norm.

Motorcyclists are not required to wear helmets in Pennsylvania, but it is still advised.

Rural mountain roads can sometimes be steep, and impassable in times of heavy snowfall. In many parts of the state, especially around Pittsburgh, steep cliffs reside next to major roads, and rock slides can occur, though rare. When traveling in the central to western part of the state, it is best to stay on main roads and highways. If you’re canoeing, skiing, or doing any other outdoor activity, take necessary precautions.

If you encounter mines do not enter them or explore them active or abandoned.

Doing so can cause injury or death.

Dangers of exploring mines,quarries

  • explosives, blasting caps
  • toxic harmful gas
  • dangerous animals especially snakes.
  • open pits
  • no oxygen in mines

Exploring the woods alone can be dangerous, due to the large deer and other wild animal population. Use insect repellent to avoid disease, wear long clothing, and do not wander onto someone’s property.

Flooding and snow are the most common natural disasters. Flash flooding can be a problem. Tornadoes are rare but experienced, and earthquakes are almost unheard of. Hurricanes coming up the Atlantic can strike, so be prepared. Temperatures in the summer can reach 100 degrees in places, so bring water and sunscreen. Thunderstorms are common in the summer.

If you are not from Pennsylvania you can buy any 1.4g (Class C / Consumer Grade) fireworks from an outlet for transport out of state, however, Pennsylvania residents can only purchase “Safe and Sane” fireworks (those that do not leave the ground or explode) without a permit. All brick and mortar stores will have additional information, but tents and other temporary sales locations may or may not have correct information. Local laws vary greatly and many campsites prohibit their use outright, so you will need to check before you use them in-state. Fireworks stores and tents tend to be located in border areas but can be found throughout the state.

You do not need a permit to carry a firearm openly throughout the state, except in the city of Philadelphia. Gun laws are fairly loose compared to other states.

Drugs, including marijuana are illegal in Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, the punishment for under 30 grams is only a $200 fine. Elsewhere, you can expect a heightened punishment.

During periods of hunting season, persons entering the woods are advised by the PA Game Commission to wear “blaze orange”.

Respect

Pittsburgh and some parts of Philadelphia are very liberal in terms of politics and culture. Outside of these areas, political and cultural attitudes vary significantly between individuals, especially in the Lehigh Valley which is not LGBT friendly. Many rural areas are more conservative and vote Republican.

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