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Road Trip! Destination: Reading area

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 7:45 p.m.
GoReading
The Pagoda, a seven-story tower that seems more fitting for a city in Japan than the seat of Berks County, was meant to be a resort when it was completed in 1908, but those plans fell through. Since 1911 it has been owned by the city, which has maintained it as a touted feature.
Mary Linkevich
Hawk Mountain
GoReading
Bertolet House at Daniel Boone Homestead
GoReading
Crystal Cave near Kutztown
GoReading
The Reading Fightin’ Phils, an Eastern League farm team of the Philadelphia Phillies, opens its season April 3 in FirstEnergy Stadium.
GoReading
Hex signs on barns are an art form of the Pennsylvania Dutch.
GoReading
Trumpeter Chris Botti has performed at Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest.

Reading is in Eastern Pennsylvania, but it carries that directional adjective a bit far.

Sitting high atop nearby Mt. Penn is The Pagoda, a seven-story tower that seems more fitting for a city in the Far East than the seat of Berks County. It was meant to be a resort when it was completed in 1908, but those plans fell through. Since 1911, it has been owned by the city, which has maintained it as a tourist attraction.

Reading was founded in 1743 by Richard and Thomas Penn, sons of William, and became a center of the iron industry. That role led to canals that connected it to Philadelphia and Harrisburg. It also led to the Reading Railroad, best known as one of the properties in Monopoly.

Crystal Seitz, president of the Greater Reading Convention and Visitors Bureau, calls the town of 88,000 a “big city in a small place.” Professional sports, arts venues and outdoor activities provide a great variety, she says, “but you can get everywhere in 15 minutes.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

Telling the whole story

History is a local story, but it always is connected to the overall tale.

The Berks History Center (610-375-4375 or www.berkshistory.org) clearly takes that approach in its work. Naturally, it tells the story of this area and its role in industrialization and as a stop in the Underground Railroad. But it also takes a broader look, as in its current exhibit “From ‘I Have a Dream' to ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand',” a look at how events of 1963 changed the direction of the world.

The surrounding area is filled with significant historic sites such as the Conrad Weiser Homestead (610-589-2934 or www.conradweiserhomestead.org), home of one of the most important figures in the shaping of American Indian policy in Pennsylvania.

It also is the site of the Daniel Boone Homestead (610-582-4900 or www.danielboonehomestead.org) near the birthplace of the famous pioneer. A short drive away is the Ephrata Cloister (717-733-6600 or www.ephratacloister.org), site of a congregation of mystical German settlers hoping to approach life in a pious way.

An artsy approach

Filled with galleries and concert sites, Reading is a city that is happy to deal with the arts.

The GoggleWorks Center for the Arts (610-374-4600 or www.goggleworks.org) is an interactive, comprehensive site that is the home of displays, a wood shop, music studios, classes and films. There is never a fee to get in, and every second Sunday an open house is offered to guide the uninitiated.

The Berks County Arts Council (610-898-1930 or www.berksarts.org) promotes and creates arts opportunities from GoggleWorks. The council is behind a concert series, the Pagoda Awards for service to the arts and the Boscov's Berks Jazz Festival (800-653-8000 or www.berksjazzfest.com), an event of growing renown that will be held March 28 to April 6.

Outdoors abounds

In the air, in the water and on the ground, outdoor activities abound in the Reading area.

The Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (610-756-6961 or www.hawkmountain.org ) is a hilly, forested area filled with trails and observation spots to observe the behavior and, at regular times during the year, the migration of raptors.

The Schuylkill River in the Reading area is a pleasant recreation site for a canoe or kayak trip. It is too small for bigger craft, so it provides a quiet way to see the town. The Schuylkill River National State Heritage Area group (484-945-0200 or www.schuylkillriver.org) can provide hints on where to visit and how to get there.

The wilds of the area around Reading also are part of the 229-mile stretch through Pennsylvania of the Appalachian Trail (717-258-5771 or www.appalachiantrail.org).

Finding out what's down under

An inside view of nature is provided at Crystal Cave near Kutztown, which has been a tourist spot since 1871 when William Merkel discovered it. He was blasting areas on his family's farm for limestone when he noticed a large crack. He and a friend discovered a cave that dropped 80 feet and was about 500 feet in length. It is filled with stalactites (the ones that hang from the top) and stalagmites, highly polished stone and crystals that — to their disappointment — weren't diamonds.

Details: 610-683-6765 or www.crystalcavepa.com.

The game's the thing

Minor-league sports are a major offering in Reading.

The Reading Fightin' Phils, an Eastern League farm team of the Philadelphia Phillies (please hold down the catcalls), provide a look at players in development in addition to some who have been sent down to nurse an injury or focus on skills. The team opens its season April 3 in the cozy, 9,000-seat FirstEnergy Stadium.

Details: 610-375-8469 or www.readingfightins.com.

But if you can't wait that long for some action, the Reading Royals hockey team will provide a sports fix. The winners of the 2013 Kelly Cup of the ECHL — formerly the East Coast Hockey League — play in Santander Stadium, downtown. They are an affiliate of the Washington Capitals in the NHL and the Hershey Bears of the AHL.

Details: 610-898-7825 or www.royalshockey.com.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Roar are in the majors — the Major Indoor Soccer League. Fans from the glory years of the Pittsburgh Spirit will feel right at home in games, also at the Santander.

Details: 484-706-9578 or www.pennroar.com

Places to settle back

Reading has its share of chain hotels and motels, beds-and-breakfasts and even a recreational vehicle court here and there.

But the Abraham Lincoln — a Wyndham Hotel (610-372-3700 or www.wyndham.com) stands out because of its downtown location and its top-level nature. All of its 104 rooms overlook the skyline of the city and the surrounding hills. The executive suites have two-person whirlpool tubs. For history lovers, it was the site of the death of John Philip Sousa in 1932.

Outside the city, in nearby Macungie, the Bear Creek Mountain Resort & Conference Center (866-754-2822 or www.bcmountainresort.com) is spread over 300 acres and offers biking, hiking, golf, disc golf, boating and the full array of winter sports.

A different kind of sign

Reading has its share of galleries and venues, but some of its best art is spread throughout the countryside.

Hex signs on barns are an art form of the Pennsylvania Dutch — not to be confused with the Amish. The circular, patterned designs indicate wishes and philosophy of the owners of the barns. Interpreting the meanings of the symbols is both a challenge and some fun.

The Reading visitors office has a hex sign map that takes visitors to some of the best sites.

Details: 610-375-4085 or www.gogreaterreading.com

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