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Near to each other in miles, but worlds apart in mood and tone are Hershey and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The latter is the state capitol, dignified, worldly but with a heart?Hershey, however, is a resort that's on the brink of becoming a theme park. Just under 30 miles apart from one another on Highway 26, either can be a respite from the other, so different are they in character.

Hershey Highlights

It's Milton Hershey here, all Milton, all the time. There's a resort hotel, a spa, a lodge, a museum, the private school he founded, a park, gardens, a trolley works, a campground, a street and even a slogan: "The Sweetest Place on Earth." And every one of 'em named for the great man. He led an apparently exemplary life and toward the end of it, founded a marvelous school for underprivileged boys (more below). Despite a recent strike, the city lives and breathes the works and name of Hershey, and it's hard to find any critics willing to go on record saying anything other than praise.

By all means, start your visit to Chocolate Town USA with a visit to Chocolate World, a free attraction showing how candy is made, as you travel ("like a cocoa bean") through a simulated Hershey factory. (Yes, there's a free sample, albeit tiny, at the end.) There is also the "Really Big 3-D Show", although that is an extra charge. Open daily. Nearby is Zooamerica, also open daily, with all sorts of cute critters (over 200 animals) from five regions of North America, adults $7, seniors and young people less. Across the way is the Hershey Museum, telling the story of Milton and his successes, also open daily, adults $6. There are interactive exhibits here, as well as those on Native American life, and a hands-on discovery room. Their phone is 717/534-3439, Web site www.hersheymuseum.org.

At Hershey Gardens, you'll find 30,000 tulips on display in April and May, over 7,000 roses, annuals and perennials at various times during the rest of the year, all on 23 acres and in the garden's 66th year. There's also a Butterfly House with 300 North American of those beauties winging around, too. Open late March through late October, 170 Hotel Road, phone 717/534-3492, Web site www.hersheygardens.org.

Some big events in Hershey's world during late 2002 include an Antique Automobile Club meeting October 9-12, Halloween, Disney on Ice November 13-17, Christkindlmarkt December 6-8, and Christmas in Hershey from November 8 through January 1. For more details, phone the Hershey people at 800/HERSHEY or check them out at www.hersheypa.com.

Although you can't get in to see the whole facility, you should take time to visit the Milton Hershey School. It was originally an Industrial School for Orphan Boys when founded in 1909, but has since gone coed. The Trust that charged with running MHS owns 100% of the Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company and a controlling share of Hershey Foods Corporation. At any given time, there are more than 1,100 students from families in social and financial need here. The splendid (and astounding) Founder's Hall, with the second-largest rotunda in the world at the time it was built, and still the largest in the western hemisphere, is open daily except school holidays from 10 to 3 and there is a 22-minute audio-video program explaining the school and its students, as well as a host to answer questions. There is also a self-guided tour. Contact them at 717/520-2000 or go online at http://www.mhs-pa.org.

At Hersheypark, you can enjoy the roller coasters and 64 other typical themed rides. Open May through September, $34.95 per day for adults, $19.95 and lower for children and seniors. If you want commercial sports, the Hershey Bears (www.hersheybears.com) of the American Hockey League play in the new Giant Center starting this 2002-2003 season from October through April.

Harrisburg Highlights

The National Civil War Museum, opened recently in February 2001, is the nation's first, and so far, the only museum in the world to tell the whole story of the Civil War, from both the Northern and Southern perspectives, as well as the preceding and postwar eras. Mayor Stephen R. Reed, a Civil War buff, conceived of the idea 12 years ago and managed to bring about its creation, personally selecting most of the 12,000 rare and unusual artifacts assembled here. He says "many of the issues that divided the nation in 1860 are still with us today...economic disparity, racial divisiveness, sectionalism, individual states rights, the role of the central government and the rights of the individual." Interactive displays are interspersed with rare curios including Robert E. Lee's pocket bible, U.S. Grant's sword belt, JEB Stuart's sword, and George Pickett's hat worn at Gettysburg. If you hold strong opinions on the righteousness of one side or the other in the war, you're likely to be disappointed in the studied neutrality of this collection and its explanations, and might come out wondering what all the fuss was about, which may be what the designers intended. Open daily except Christmas and Thanksgiving, admission for adults $7, seniors $6, children over 12 just $5. Free to kids under 12. Located at 1 Lincoln Circle & Reservoir Park, phone 866/BLU-GRAY or 717/260-1861. Their Web site is www.nationalcivilwarmuseum.org.

The State Capitol, which Teddy Roosevelt called "the handsomest I've ever seen," houses all three branches of state government (legislative, executive and judicial), something rare in itself. The grand staircase was patterned after that of the Paris Opera House. Open weekdays daily, on weekends only the rotunda. Their Web site is www.legis.state.pa.us.

In keeping with Pennsylvania's role as centerpiece of the Northern cause, many patriotic groups keep flying the flag today. One such is the Sons of Union Veterans, legal heir to the old Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), composed of Union Army veterans of the Civil War. You can reach the SUV at PO Box 1865 in Harrisburg (zip 17105) or on their Web site, www.suvcw.org.

The First Fridays program operates throughout the summer, with free performances of popular music in the city center. On August 2, 2002, there's a Rock & Roll program from 5 to 9, featuring Cheap Sneakers, Steve Whiteman & Funny Money. On September 6, it's "Decades of Music" with Latigo Smith, Rico & The Ravens, and the Pentagon.

If you want someone to escort you around, Here's Harrisburg Tours will do so, half a day for $40 in your car, full day $75. Daily except major holidays. You'll see some or all of the marvelous State Capitol (voted the most beautiful in the US by Smithsonian Magazine), the National Civil War Museum (more on this above), the Fire and State museums, the Harris-Cameron Mansion, Whitaker Center, Doll House Museum, Ft. Hunter Mansion & Estate, the Governor's Residence, and the cemetery, not to mention a ride on the Pride of the Susquehanna, a paddlewheel steamer, with a picnic buffet lunch. Phone them at 717/770-0235, e-mail diamunns@aol.com.

Most conveniently located in the moderate price range is the newly renovated Crowne Plaza, at 23 South 2nd Street in Harrisburg, phone 717/234-5021, fax 717/221-1094, Web site www.crowneplaza.com. Each of the 261 rooms is designed featuring Pennsylvanian Dutch decor "with a contemporary flair," and with dual phone lines, voice messaging, data port, speakerphone; and coffeemaker, hairdryer, iron and ironing board. There's a heated indoor pool next to the exercise room, a restaurant and bar. Regular rate for a double is $149, but frequent special deals are available, as well as discounts for members of AAA, AARP and more.

In Hershey, the best place to stay is the Hotel Hershey, where rooms start at $209 for two persons in winter, from $325 in summer. At the Lodge, rates are cheaper, $179 and $209, respectively. There are also packages of all kinds available which effectively reduce these rates. For both lodging places, use the 800/HERSHEY number or go to www.hersheypa.com. In the hotel's Spa, every sort of body care can be had, one of the lowest in price being a whipped cocoa bath for just $15.

Cheaper, and very nice, is Addey's Inn, where a well-equipped room sleeping up to four persons goes for just $104. Contact them at 150 E. Governor Rd, phone 717/533-2591, Web site www.addeysinn.com.

Where to Eat

At a converted old firehouse in the center of Harrisburg, the appropriately named Firehouse restaurant serves up dishes on its menu graded by the number of alarms, one of the 4th Alarm best buys being Firehouse Pasta, linguine tossed in olive oil, garlic, basil red cheery peppers, roasted red peppers and fresh parmesan with chicken & shrimp, for $14. A grilled veal chop goes for $21. Amusing ambience, crowded bar, popular with young office workers at lunch or early dinner. 606 North 2nd Street, phone 717/234-6064.

Perhaps the Hershey's best restaurant is the circular Dining Room in the Hotel Hershey, where you have an unobstructed view of the formal gardens outside. You can choose from dozens of dishes at their daily lunch buffet costing $18.50 or their scrumptious Sunday brunch (with an omelet station) at $29.75. Soft drinks are included in the prices. If you lunch a la carte, a big hit is seared salmon with Havarti gratinee, vegetables and potato, for $14.75.

Additional Information

For more information on Harrisburg and surrounding area, contact the Capital Regions Visitors Center at 717/564-7500, Web site www.pacapitalregions.com.

For Hershey information, contact 800/HERSHEY or see www.hersheypa.com.

For information on Pennsylvania itself, visit www.state.pa.us.