Monday, December 2, 2013

Christmas City Hike, Bethlehem, PA, December 2013

A missed connection turned a group hike into a solo. A group on MeetUp hosted an easy holiday hike in Bethlehem, starting at the former Bethlehem Steel plant and turning around at the city's historic district. I arrived at five minutes to eleven, parked in what I thought was the right lot, and found.....a large number of people, none of them the hiking group. The Bethlehem Steel works ran for miles along the river, and even as a revitalized relic between the Sands Casino and the Steel Stacks redevelopment area a lot of ground is covered. And that's a lot of parking lots.

After spending a few minutes wandering around looking for hikers, and learning that I'd not charged my cell phone and thus couldn't contact the hike organizer, I decided to hike my own hike. I used the general plan the MeetUp organizer posted, but not having a map with me I couldn't locate the canal towpath. So I hiked from Steel Stacks to the Sands Casino, back to Steel Stacks, and onward via streets to the pedestrian walkway on the bridge to the Bethlehem Public Library. Once there, turning left took me into what a resident called "old Beth." I've been to Bethlehem before, and to the historic district many times, and so seeing Central Moravian Church and the Moravian Church campus of buildings, the Moravian Book Shop, and the Hotel Bethlehem was like meeting old friends.

Once in the Historic District, I did the touristy things I'd probably not have had time for as part of a group hike - seeing the inside of buildings, touring a Christmas market, viewing the Christmas Putz (Nativity display with lights and sound effect), stopping for lunch at Stations, a Christian cafe on the edge of the district. And I made new discoveries, such as the old industrial district at the base of the Hotel Bethlehem, and the mammoth Bethlehem Steel site.

Bethlehem remains a quirky town. While its a modern city of eighty thousand people its steeped in history and in a secular age it keeps the faith. While the Moravians are traditional in manner and worship, Bethlehem has charming touches of oddity - the Stations Cafe, for instance, and the mule standing outside it painted with van Gogh's "Starry Night." It has the world's oldest continuously operating bookstore. In an age of aggressive secularism Bethlehem still uses a religious symbol - the many-pointed Moravian star - in its signage and advertising. I've not met a disagreeable person in the town, and I've been visiting it for more than a decade. Bethlehem reminds me of a milder version of Portland, Oregon, with the key difference that in Bethlehem they worship something other than themselves.

After four miles of hiking on pavement and cobblestone, I called it quits.My feet were sore and my knees stiff.  I took the free holiday trolley from the Moravian Book Shop back to my car at Steel Stacks. I stuck around for the 5:30 PM Christmas light show opposite the ArtQuest Center, and enjoyed seeing the rusting furnace stacks illuminated. I had a long day in Bethlehem, and I had a long drive home, but I had a great time. And now I had a great urban hike I can add to my favorite routes.


A Taste For The Woods: 2013-12-01

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A Taste For The Woods