I was traveling to Chicago for a weekend and since I’ve been around downtown Chicago numerous times before, I wanted to explore something different. I started researching what was near Chicago and came upon Shipshewana, Indiana; a small Amish town only a couple of hours away and thought it was a perfect place to check out!
The more research I started doing on Shipshewana and the Amish culture, the more intrigued and excited I was getting about visiting this town with a population of only 600. Honestly, I didn’t even know Amish communities still existed, so when I found out that the Amish people were still using buggies as a means of transportation, I had to go see this for myself.
Before stopping by Shipshewana, I wanted to visit Cook’s Bison Ranch first, which was 30 minutes southeast of the city. I have never seen bison up close before, so thought this was a perfect opportunity to learn more about these animals going through the fields in a tractor. It was a great experience and I highly recommend this place!
The drive to Shipshewana from Chicago is only 1.5 hours and as soon as you start entering the city, you see the horse and buggies. I couldn't believe I was seeing it for real! I've never seen anything like this except for in movies, so it was surreal. The most fascinating thing about it was that they're mixed in with the modern world of automobiles driving right by them. You even see buggies parked at gas stations and restaurants. They actually have a hitching post set up at every location in this town.
I was hungry after visiting the bison ranch, so I stopped by Blue Gate Restaurant for some lunch. This place is HUGE! Inside the building is a bakery, gift shop, theater and three dining areas, upstairs and downstairs. The buffet and regular dining are in separate rooms. I chose to do regular dining.
The tables were all decorated with cute carriage holders holding apple sauce and peanut butter. I tasted both with the complimentary bread and they were both yummy, but that peanut butter was phenomenal! It reminded me of the peanut butter in Japan. For my entree, I ordered their best seller, fried pork sandwich, and it was amazing, but I didn't get to eat too much of it because I filled myself with bread and that awesome peanut butter.
After lunch, I headed to Elkhart because I read online that you can get a visitor's guide and audio CD at the Visitor Center and go on the Heritage Trail Audio Tour. Well, I kind of wish I hadn't gone there because there was absolutely nothing in Elkhart. The best part about Elkhart was the cupcake shop I stopped by called Sugarush. The cupcakes were delicious and the manager was so friendly telling me all about the shop and the employees. It's a family run business and the owner's 18-year old daughter makes the gelato herself. She gave me a few samples and they were all very tasty.
Besides the awesome cupcake shop, there was nothing else for me to do in Elkhart. The downtown area is beautiful, but there's not much to do. They have all this open space and don't seem to do anything with it.
I listened to the audio tour in the car for a little while and learned some things about the Amish and the surrounding areas, but I later learned that there was an Amish museum, Menno-Hof, in Shipshewana and wished I would have visited there instead of boring Elkhart.
After my quick visit to Elkhart, I headed back to Shipshewana for my buggy ride tour with Buggy Lane Tours, which I was really looking forward to. I had talked to the owner, Kenny, on the phone a couple of times before my trip and he was very excited for me to visit and surprised that I was coming all by myself. He made it his mission to make sure I would not feel alone and have a great time in his town.
He called me before I arrived for my tour to make sure I was finding everything okay and that I was still coming for the tour. I told him I wouldn't miss it for the world and hopped on a buggy with a nice Amish man named Butch. He was such a jolly guy and told me all about his Amish lifestyle. According to Butch, the Amish people of Shipshewana are a bit more laid back than the other Amish communities. They get to use cell phones, pose for pictures, get in cars (but not drive them), use the internet (but only at the library), and so on. He used to live in another Amish town in Ohio, but moved to Shipshewana after he met his wife, where she was from. He has a son, but he is no longer Amish since he met his wife, who is not Amish, and chose to live the non-Amish lifestyle.
After about 15 minutes of talking, we arrived at the farm. Kenny was there and told us a little about their farm and what animals they raise. They have horses and milk cows. We got to feed the horses first and Kenny made sure to take a picture of me feeding the horse.
Next, we learned how the family milk their cows and we all had a chance to milk a cow ourselves. I thought this would be a lot harder, but it was fairly easy to milk a cow! Afterwards, we got to taste some fresh cow milk and it was so rich and delicious! It tasted like Japanese milk, which has a thicker texture and more flavor.
Finally, we got to feed the baby cows milk with huge bottles and they were so cute! There were about 10 of them and they were all hungry for attention and food. They wouldn't stop licking your arms, which was a little ticklish, but adorable.
At the end of the tour, we all enjoyed some fresh, homemade ice cream and headed back into Shipshewana. Butch even let me drive the horse for a little, which was really fun!
Everything in Shipshewana closes around 5pm, so I headed to Das Dutchman Essenhaus for some dinner. I read rave reviews about this restaurant online, so I was really looking forward to it. I think all the locals and visitors eat dinner at this restaurant because it was packed with an hour wait. I didn't mind waiting the hour because the place was huge, similar to Blue Gate Restaurant, and had lots to look at like the bakery and gift shop. They also have a waiting area upstairs with nice couches and chairs. The wait ended up being 40 minutes and I really enjoyed the buffet. It was $13.75 for a buffet of fried chicken, roast beef, mashed potatoes, macaroni, vegetables and more. Everything was so delicious. I think I went up to the buffet at least 3 times because it was so good. The roast beef just melts in your mouth and it reminded me of my grandma's roast beef, which is the best!
That ended my visit to Amish Country and it was one of the best solo trips I've taken. I loved everything about the Amish community and have such a high respect for them. As I was driving back to Chicago, Kenny called me once again to make sure I had enjoyed everything and we made plans to see each other again. He visits Sarasota often (where there is another Amish community) and it's not too far away from where I live, so I might be visiting another Amish community very soon!