From World War II to the Great Bull Run, One Weekend is Not Enough in Greater ReadingJul 30, 2014 11:34AM ● By Vanessa Orr
There are times in life that take your breath away, and I experienced one of these at the WWII Weekend, held in Reading, PA this past June. As the first note of the Star Spangled Banner was sung, the crowd hushed. Hats were removed, hands were raised to hearts, those in uniform saluted and even children went silent as we stopped as one to pay tribute to our country, and to the brave men and women who lived through one of the most tumultuous times in U.S. history. As the song ended, the hustle and bustle returned, but not before many of us took a minute to wipe tears from our eyes.
It’s hard to explain how truly awe-inspiring the WWII Weekend is, even if, like me, you’re not a military buff. From an airfield filled with the roaring engines of massive WWII aircraft, to Allied and Axis camps and villages lovingly recreated down to the last detail, to the Officer’s Club, where performers entertain the crowd with popular 1940s songs, you can’t help but feel that you’ve traveled back in time. The feel of patriotism is palpable, and everyone—from battle reenactors to living World War II veterans—is ready to share stories of one of America’s greatest eras.
Now in its 24th year, the WWII weekend takes place every June at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum, located just minutes from downtown Reading. Daily events include the opportunity to wander through seven military encampments, climb into WWII aircraft (rides are available for a price) and watch a military convoy ‘liberate’ the city. Big band music plays each night, and visitors can even attend a live 1940s radio show, or get a closer look at how those on the home front stayed the course while their loved ones fought overseas.
While I could easily have spent the whole weekend at this event, there are so many other things to do in Reading that I was only able to spend an afternoon there, which definitely wasn’t enough. If you go, leave yourself a lot of time—and make sure that you visit the museum itself, which is open year-round.
I had my breath taken away again during my stay in Berks County for an entirely different reason. I decided to participate in the Great Bull Run Northeast, which took place at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, PA. What possesses someone to try to outrun a 1,500 pound animal in a fairly enclosed area escapes me, and that’s despite the fact that I did it three times. Is it exhilarating? Yes. Do you seriously reconsider your choice of activities as 18 bulls are bearing down on you? Without a doubt.
The Great Bull Run is followed by the Tomato Royale, a massive tomato fight which is good fun, and only slightly less painful than being trampled by a bull. Dates haven’t yet been set for next year’s Bull Run, but if they hold it in Reading again and you’re an adrenaline junkie, I’d strongly suggest you go.
Two other outdoor activities that I absolutely loved in the area were a hike through Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, located in Kempton, PA, where they have many different trails for all levels of ability, and a tour of the Crystal Cave, located in Kutztown, PA. Crystal Cave is considered one of Pennsylvania’s natural wonders and contains a variety of stalactites, stalagmites, and other calcite and aragonite formations that have been attracting tourists for more than 140 years. Even more fascinating to me than the structures was our tour guide’s story of how, in the late 1800s, the cave was turned into a crystal ballroom, where ladies and gentlemen would come to dance. While the cave is very safe for visitors today, I can’t imagine climbing deep down into the earth, wearing a long, full skirt, with only torches to guide the way.
For those who prefer more ‘modern’ amenities, the city of Reading has great shopping, including the VF Outlet Center, as well as an IMAX Theatre and the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, the largest interactive arts center of its kind in the country. GoggleWorks features gallery exhibits, a movie theater and numerous classes and workshops, and admission is always free.
While in Reading, I stayed in the strikingly beautiful Abraham Lincoln Hotel – A Historic Hotel of America, that is centrally located to all of the activities mentioned, as well as really great restaurants. I would highly recommend the Ugly Oyster Drafthaus, an authentic Guinness Irish Pub that stocks more than 80 beers from around the world. Originally built in Yorkshire, England, it was disassembled, transported and rebuilt in Reading, and is the oldest pub in Berks County. Another favorite is the Peanut Bar Restaurant, where owner Michael Leifer carries on the fine tradition of hospitality started by his grandparents in 1924, which includes keeping some of his grandmother Annie’s family recipes on the menu. Both of these restaurants are an easy stroll from the hotel.
For more information:
Reading and Berks County, visit www.gogreaterreading.com or call 800-443-6610.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary: www.hawkmountain.org, 610-756-6961
Abraham Lincoln Hotel—A Historic Hotel of America: www.abrahamlincolnreadinghotel.com, 610-372-3700
GoggleWorks Center for the Arts: www.goggleworks.org, 610-374-4600
IMAX Theatre: http://rctheatres.com/loc_reading.asp, 610-374-6195
The Ugly Oyster Drafthaus: http://theuglyoyster.com, 610-373-6791
Great Bull Run and Tomato Royale: www.thegreatbullrun.com
Crystal Cave: http://www.crystalcavepa.com, 610-683-6765
VF Outlet Center: www.vfoutletcenter.com
The Peanut Bar: www.peanutbar.com, 610-376-8500
World War II Weekend: http://www.maam.org/maamwwii.html