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Or . . . What I did on my Summer Vacation
This year, instead of the annual trek through Maine visiting, in order of preference - bookstores, beaches and relatives - I decided it was time to be a tourist in my own State. In the course of putting together this page I learned about the many areas in New York I'd never seen and things I'd never done. Let me assure you, it is humbling to be shown the depth of one's ignorance. But I'm not so humbled that I won't show-off what I learned!
DAY ONE: K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, Stupid) is the way to start. I decided to do some serious driving first. I went west up Rt 28, still in familiar territory - passing great bookstores I can (and do) visit regularly. First stop Catskill Corners - a money pit with great potential - and one of the contenders for the (sometimes defunct) Catskill Interpretive Center. Worth a stop even though it is still mostly empty. It is built from a renovated old barn moved to the site, with a silo styled the "Largest Kaleidoscope In The World" and a humorously designed Firehouse Restaurant next door. I don't know what will become of the place, but it is landscaped and painted to the nines. You've got to see it.
Speaking of "seeing it" - next stop was a people watching tour of the normally sleepy village of Fleischmann's, where some generation "x" movie was in the last days of shooting. I didn't bag any stars, but the film equipment and crew gave Main Street an air of excitement I haven't felt there before. Then it was on to Margaretville, Delhi (to see the Frisbie Courthouse, of course) and finally to Cooperstown through gently rolling hills and lush green valleys. A beautiful Sunday drive!
Cooperstown! It conjures thrilling tales of frontiersmen and Indians - true "Leatherstocking Country" on picturesque Otsego Lake. (Oh, and by-the-way, it has some baseball interest also.) With good signage, free public parking and 50 cent trolleys running every few minutes, not to mention some delicious eateries, this town has it made. Probably its most remarkable aspect is how well the hordes of tourists that crowd the baseball card shop riddled streets are handled. And all with a politeness and sense of humor that have long been absent in towns closer to the "Greater" New York area. This is the perfect day-trip into another world to start a vacation with. While here, be sure to see Will Monies book store, (I'm not the only one who considers it the most important attraction in Cooperstown) the Farmer's Museum and the Ontisaga Hotel (I think I got that spelling right) and of course there's always Doubleday Field and the Baseball Hall of Fame for those of you on a pilgrimage. I spent a wonderful afternoon and hated to leave, but the challenge of finding a completely different route home (through antique shops, flea markets and street fairs!) quickly caught my attention and I was off.
DAY TWO: Hudson Valley Magazine (free plug) had an article on Rail Trails that intrigued me. First thing in the morning I followed the directions to the old railroad depot in New Paltz and, with the permission of the owners, parked in their lot. (Dumb me - they were most gracious - but there is a public lot across the street!) Anyway, what a delight! A level, pleasant stroll through the Historic Huguenot House neighborhood stretches before you in one direction, and, in the other, a woodsy 2+ mile walk along the Wallkill to the old bridge and a glorious view of the Shawangunks. When I got there, I was disappointed to see that the bucolic setting spread out before me - cows lying in their pasture under an enormous shade tree with a stream flowing past - was marred by a new road's progress through the fields and a sub-development underway. So go - while it is still reminiscent of a pristine country valley. The view is worth it. Along the way there was a rabbit and a deer, but no people! So by all means go. A pleasant secluded walk awaits.
That left me hungry enough to eat the HUGE portions Mary P's (another free plug) serves on their patio overlooking the Rondout. It is the perfect spot to rest and people-watch while the boats go in and out of the harbor. It was tempting to linger but Olana beckoned.
Olana, Frederick Church's incredible hilltop castle overlooking the Hudson and the Mountains beyond. Actually, it overlooks nothing. EVERYTHING for a full 360 degrees is spread out before you. With the good fortune of clear weather, you can truly see forever. And everything is perfectly framed. Each window a separate, ever-changing landscape he created as he would a painting. What a place! Unfortunately, it is obvious that there is not enough money available to keep up the house and grounds, but the staff does a marvelous job within their limited budget. It is well worth a visit.
Next stop (tired yet?) was Montgomery Place. I wanted to pick raspberries but the early crop was finished, so I toured the grounds. This is one of those riverfront estates that almost make you wish you were alive in it's heyday - before Livingston's Lament (land taxes) made it impossible for all but the wealthiest to own. But for 3 bucks - Hey! - I owned it for an afternoon! There is a great bookstore there, (I know, because they sell my books) and enough vestiges remain of the beautiful landscaping to really appreciate what it used to be like. There are miles of walking and hiking trails through gardens, fields and wooded valleys, and a huge commons with massive, sentinel trees guarding the picnic tables. What a great family outing it would make! A look at the house reminds me again that there can't be enough money to keep it the way it should be - the way it was. But, the setting is perfect and the Hudson River views are magnificent. I look forward to my return.
On the way home it was late but I couldn't pass Poet's Walk. This is a new, free walk down to the river between two large riverfront estates. One in search of a muse could do no better than to take a contemplative look down this winding gravel path, and sunset over the Catskills can only be viewed better from the nearby Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge. Here though, you have time to linger and enjoy it. So I stayed awhile - then went home.
DAY THREE: Back in a driving mode to give my sore legs a rest. It was overcast with rain threatening, so I thought, "what better way to spend a rainy day than underground?" and off to Howe Caverns I went. I'd come home from Cooperstown on DAY ONE via 145, so I started on 23A and went up through Grand Gorge to get there. Most of the little towns, or wide spots on the road, as some were, showed signs of earlier prosperity, and I wondered what brought each into being . . . what first traveler decided to undergo the awesome task of carving a clearing from the virgin wilderness to stake his claim on the future? They certainly were a hardier breed! I'm happy for whatever slim genetic remnant of them I carry, and glad traveling is so much easier today. Meanwhile, my rainy-day musings almost made me miss the white letters on the hillside announcing my destination.
The durability of Howe Caverns as a tourist attraction is apparent in the wide variety of people from all over the world on line for the tour. There was a half-hour wait to get in on a Tuesday afternoon, but the people-watching made the time pass quickly. Then young children, senior citizens, myself and everything in between were crushed together in the elevator for the 200 foot descent. As the tour began, memories of an earlier visit returned. The witch and the turtle are still cast in stone, and the cows still get credit for the cavern's discovery. If Howe Caverns has changed at all over the 35 years since I was last there, it has gotten smaller. I remember it as being HUGE! (Of course I was just a little boy, after-all.) But, it is still fascinating, and I saw my younger self in the faces of the awe-struck children, wide-eyed and rubber-necked, soaking up the hokey spiel of the (can she be old enough to handle all 40 of us in an emergency?) young lady who led our group. Fortunately, I never found out. The old fellow who was acting irrationally, didn't have his stroke during the tour, and in 1979 a "new" tunnel was blasted connecting the dead-end 33 s-curve labyrinth with the elevators, so the hyperventilating claustrophope behind me somehow managed to (just barely) get through it. We laughed about it when we got back up top, but there were a few dicey moments there. All-in-all, it was a good tour. Next time I'll rent a kid to take along. It's an experience to share with the young.
Well, that's it. A meandering ride back through a phalanx of closed antique shops (is nothing open on a Tuesday?) and flood ravaged towns still looking sad in the gloomy afternoon, months after the devastation. One stop at a roadside stand for some delicious fresh corn and local (yeah, right) tomatoes, and it was straight home - vacation over.
My regret is that within the self-imposed limitations of taking only three days off, and having to be home every night, I didn't get to see anywhere nearly enough. New York State is FILLED with things to see and do! I recommend just getting out there and starting (see the Community Events page for leads on what to do & where)
So what did you do on your vacation?
If this hasn't gotten you into the mood to leisurely enjoy the extravagances of this web site, you may want to read my "Hikes, Walks & Drives in the Saugerties/Woodstock Area", written as a guide for all the (500,000) visitors expected here for Woodstock '94 Reunion Festival.
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