Category Archives: Family Travel

Cycle the Erie: 400 Miles & 400 Years of History Flow By on Canalway Bike Tour Across New York State

Cycle the Erie riders leaving Medina on Day 2 of the 8-day, 400-mile bike tour from Buffalo to Albany. The 19th Annual Cycle the Erie had a record 750 riders © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

To see how America came to be – and what really made America great – you need only to join Parks & Trails NY’s annual eight-day, 400-mile Cycle the Erie Bike Tour from Buffalo to Albany. Riding the multi-use Erie Canalway, which closely follows the towpath along the original Erie Canal that was built between 1817-1825, transports you 400 miles and through 400 years of history. Unfolding before you, at a pace that flows like a movie, are the pastoral scenes of farmlands, the canaltowns that sprang up to handle the trade, the factories that emerged to manufacture the myriad inventions and innovations spawned by Yankee ingenuity, you cross the Native American tribal areas, the colonial settlements, the Revolutionary War sites. You see the rise and fall of industrialization and urbanization, and now, most marvelous of all, you see before you the reinvention, revitalization and repurposing of these villages, towns, cities and communities that the Eric Canal spawned.

The Erie Canal turned a modest port called New York City into a global trade and financial center, New York into the Empire State, and the United States into a global industrial power, with New York City as its center. It turned a subsistence farmer in the Midwest into a purveyor to the world, and not only transformed geography, but society. The Erie Canal “was the Mother of Cities” – overnight, canal towns catering to the boat traffic sprung up from nowhere and cities like Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse blossomed. The canal was an incubator for innovation and a transmitter for new ideas. It unified the nation, tying together East and West, and was the artery by which pioneers and immigrants made their way to the settle the frontier. You come away from this journey with renewed understanding of what it means to be an American.

Cycle the Erie riders in Lockport explore the Flight of Five– the original canal locks that were an engineering marvel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides being a marvelous car-free trail (mostly flat), with gorgeous landscapes (you can’t believe this is New York State!), what distinguishes this bike  trip is that it is so interesting – the sites, and sights along the way. Every day is enlightening, inspiring, serendipitous. We go from urban to rural, pastoral lands and back to urban, from main streets into forest and into neighborhoods “tourists” would never see. There is so much to see, in fact, all along the way you have to make choices, which is why so many people come back multiple times. Indeed, this is my second Cycle the Erie tour.

This is no typical bike tour.

In the first place, it is one of the best managed, organized and supported bike tours you will ever experience – the 2017 ride (the 19th annual Cycle the Erie) which coincided with the bicentennial of  beginning the building of the Erie Canal, July 4, 1817 – had a record 750 cyclists. The bicentennial of the opening of the Erie Canal will be held in 2025 (I’m already making plans.)

Our ride is supported by 90 volunteers and you appreciate each and every one: people who go out and mark the trail for us to follow; truck drivers and baggage handlers; SAG drivers and bikers who are there to help if someone has difficulty on the trail; rest stop crew; food service people; bike repair mechanics; medical nurse; site-set up crew; even a massage therapist and yoga instructor.

Massage therapy after a day of cycling the Erie Canalway © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is most impressive is how everything seems to be taken into account – texting is with a severe weather alert or some emergency, orientations that let us know what to expect from the trail and what to watch out for and what weather conditions to expect, what attractions to look for along the way, the best places to stop off for lunch and the best ice cream stops and trailside breweries, even cycling safety talks (done with great creativity and humor). Shuttle buses are organized to take us from the campsite into town for the evening; they arrange for indoor camping (typically the school gym) as well as Comfy Campers (a service that sets up tent for you, the closest thing to glamping). There are shower trucks to supplement the indoor facilities; access to swimming pools; charging stations.

Fairport community puts out the welcome mat for Cycle the Erie riders © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The routes are well marked and signed, and there are as rest stops morning and afternoon with water and snacks and restrooms. Very often the towns and villages set up welcome centers for us on the trail with special snacks and bottles of water that supplement the rest stops. Museums and attractions stay open, early in the morning or into the evening to accommodate us; we get discounts on admissions, shopping and free shipping just by waving our Cycle the Erie wristband.

Our tent city at the base of Fort Stanwyx, Rome. For those who don’t want to pitch their own tent, Comfy Campers provides a service that feels like glamping © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The trail makes for superb cycling – most of the 400 miles are on the dedicated multi-use trail, about 75 miles on roads (that is, until the trail is completed which is in the works by New York State). Much of the trail is crushed limestone; some of it is more rugged or overgrown (making it challenging when it rains); some is paved. The trail is mostly flat except for where we come off and ride the highway overpasses to get to our campsites, most typically on gorgeous grounds of private schools (which amazingly always seem to be at the top of a hill), and then we get to see neighborhoods that we would otherwise be unlikely to visit.

Riding the Erie Canalway. The 19th Annual Cycle the Erie 400-mile ride had a record 750 riders © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And the people! A trip like this brings like-minded people who enjoy camping, biking and discovery from across the country and around the world, and who very soon form a whole nomadic tribe. Sitting around tables at breakfast and dinner, or catching up with people on the trail, and finding people who step up to help with setting up a tent or fixing a broken pole, there is this marvelous sense of community and camaraderie. This year’s ride – with the most riders ever – drew people from 36 states including DC, 15 from Canada, as well as from as far away as Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom; the oldest rider was 84 (doing the ride for her 12th time); the youngest was 3, but the youngest self-powered cyclist was just 8 years old. Three-fourths of us are doing the ride for the first time. There were families, groups like Troop 497 from Baltimore, and lots of solos. One couple rode to the start in Buffalo from Canada and was linking this 400-mile trip to biking down to New York City.

The Demeritt Family with their boys aged 4, 8, 11, from Malta NY. Sam Demeritt, age 8, was the youngest rider pedaling the 400 miles on his own © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The unexpected treat is how fascinating the historic sites are along the way – it is so intellectually and culturally satisfying. In addition to organizing our visits so that attractions stay open for us either early in the morning or into the evening, each day there are lectures or special programs, like music.

Every day’s ride – averaging 50 miles a day but as much as 63 – is special in its own way – the sights, the experiences, the ride and its physical challenge. First timers tend to focus on the ride – making sure they can complete the distance (we travel at our own pace). But those who have done the ride before know they will be able to go the distance, so take more time to take in the sights; third timers or more explore even further afield – take that yellow brick road up to the Oz Museum, go for that farm-to-table restaurant for lunch, stop in at the brewery or ice cream shop.

Cycle the Erie riders get a tour of the Peppermint Museum, the H.G Hotchkiss Essential Oil building, in Lyons © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This was my second time doing the ride – I did it two years before. There is so much to do – so many attractions and sites and experiences – that I tried as much as possible to do things I hadn’t done on the first ride. And then there is pure serendipity, like weather, which makes a terrific difference in the experience. Knowing what to expect (and that you have done the distance before) gives you the extra confidence to take more time to explore.

Registrations have just opened for the 2018 ride, it’s 20th Annual Cycle the Erie bike tour, which will take place July 8-15. (If you don’t want to do all eight-days, 400-miles, they offer two and four-day segments but then you would have to organize getting back to your starting place.)

And We’re Off! 

The tour begins in Buffalo and a good portion of us drive to Albany where we pull up to the Visitors Center, drop off our gear, then park in the adjacent municipal lot before boarding buses for the five-hour drive to Buffalo, where we camp at the Nichols School, a magnificent private academy. (If you don’t want to set up your own tent, you can sign up for Comfy Campers, a service which sets up a truly comfortable tent, with air mattress and fresh towel daily; there is also “indoor camping,” typically in the gymnasium at the schools where we stay. There also are recommended bed-and-breakfast inns along the way.)

The bus ride from Albany to the Buffalo start of the 400-mile Cycle the Erie bike tour gives peeks at the New York State countryside that will be seen from the Canalway © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our journey begins on Saturday night before the start of the ride on Sunday, on the campus of the Nichols School, a magnificent private academy in Buffalo, where we have a welcoming reception and gala dinner, and an orientation about the Erie Canal and our route  (Those of us who are here early enough can join an optional pre-tour ride to Niagara Falls and around historic Buffalo, but those of us who have come by bus from Albany arrive just in time to register and enjoy a festive kick-off reception and dinner and orientation meeting.)

The Erie Canal was the most successful public works project in America. Despite its cost ($7.7 million, the equivalent of $18 billion today), the opposition to the folly of Governor DeWitt Clinton’s “ditch” (nothing really changes) and the fact that the new nation did not even have the engineers nor the technology to build such a canal when the first shovel was put into the ground in Rome, on July 4, 1817, the canal actually quickly recouped its investment. In fact, the original canal only lasted until 1836, when it was essentially rebuilt and expanded, and then again, by President Theodore Roosevelt who redirected and replaced the Modern Barge canal altogether in 1903. No longer a “mom and pop” operation where barges and packet ships were pulled by mules, the new canal involved motorized boats.

Day One: Sunday, Buffalo to Medina, 54 Miles

Unlike my first time doing the Erie ride, when we all left at once with great fanfare, this time, we leave the campsite as every other morning, at our own pace (except that we have to get our gear on the trucks between 6 and 8 am and have breakfast (5:30-8:30 am).

Every morning during breakfast there is an orientation to that day’s ride (given twice, once for the early birds, 6:30 am and once for the rest of us, 7 am). They prepare us for road conditions, the weather forecast, alert us to any safety issues in the route, tell us about upcoming attractions we will come upon. We ride at our own pace.

We form a line of cyclists on the five-miles we ride through Buffalo’s streets before we get to the entrance to the Canalway The streets are well marked and there are police to help us through thoroughfares. It is exhilarating to be setting out.

At the start of the Erie Canalway in Buffalo, where the bike trial has brought new housing and revitalized communities © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We ride a new section of the Canalway into Lockport – indeed, the goal of this annual 8-day, 400-mile ride is to raise money and awareness to close the gaps. And it’s worked! New York State now has an ambitious program to not only complete the entire Buffalo-Albany trail, but to create a new north-south trail, the Empire State Trail, that will link New York City to the Canadian border – 750 miles of off-road trails all together. This would be the longest state ‘shared use’ trail in nation.

Blue paint along our route points the way to a historical/attraction (for example, the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village); orange paint on road shows us the way to bike to our destination. There are markers before and after each turn.

We reach a rest stop at 17 miles before coming into Lockport.

Biking into Lockport on our first day of the eight-day, 400-mile Cycle the Erie bike tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This day brings us into Lockport, where they have arranged for anyone who wants, a free 1 ½-hour-long cruise on the canal through two locks.

Here in Lockport, you get to see in the most compressed amount of space, the entire history of the Canal, with the original Flight of Five locks just next to modern locks (the only place where there is a double lock, one after another), combined with the story how the Erie Canal spurred America’s industrialization.

The 20th Annual Cycle the Erie Canal ride is scheduled July 8 – 15, 2018 (www.ptny.org/canaltour). In the meantime, you can cycle the trail on your own – detailed info and interactive map is at the ptny.org site (www.ptny.org/bikecanal), including suggested lodgings. For more information on Cycle the Erie Canal, contact Parks & Trails New York at 518-434-1583 or visit www.ptny.org.

Information is also available from the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Waterford, NY 12188, 518-237-7000,www.eriecanalway.org.

More information about traveling on the Erie Canal is available from New York State Canal Corporation, www.canals.ny.gov.

Next: 

Cycle the Erie, Day 1: In Lockport, See Erie Canal Engineering Marvel, ‘Flight of Five’, Cruise Thru Double Locks, and Go Underground to Fathom Rise of Industrial Revolution

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

72 Hours In Philadelphia: Meet Betsy Ross: A Thoroughly Modern Woman

As she sews, “Betsy Ross” chats about her life as a single working woman in Revolutionary America and her experience making America’s first flag in her upholstery shop at the Betsy Ross House in historic Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My third day of my deep-dive into Revolutionary War America in Philadelphia is devoted to exploring key figures and sites that I have never visited before: Benjamin Franklin Museum, the Betsy Ross House and the National Constitution Center. I especially appreciate what I am seeing after my visits to the newly opened Museum of the American Revolution and the National Museum of Jewish American History in the first two days.

Betsy Ross was a pistol.

The Betsy Ross House, in Philadelphia’s historic district best known for Independence Hall, proved a real surprise.

I realize that all I know of Betsy Ross is that she created the first American flag. But this museum, which is operated as a private, nonprofit attraction, really conveys what a significant figure she was – independent when few women had any independence at all, a true patriot who was courageous in working on behalf of the Revolution. And, like Ben Franklin, what a modern person she was, who I can believe, would have been at the front of the Women’s Marches waving a feminist flag of her own design.

The Betsy Ross House is operated as a private, nonprofit attraction in historic Philadelphia. The small size belies the big picture that awaits inside © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Her story would be worthy of a drama: She was shunned by her Quaker family for eloping (at age 21) with John Ross, a man of a different faith (the son of an Anglican Reverend) – imagine running off and marrying for love in 1773. She was independent: soon after they were married, John, who had joined the local militia, was killed and she found herself a widow who had to fend for herself. Because they had no children, she was able to keep her property. She rented a room in this townhouse, as well as a shop on the street level where she had her own business sewing upholstery and throughout her life was a savvy businessperson.

She would have known General George Washington from Christ Church which the young couple attended.

You traipse through the small house – to the room she rented in what was a boarding house (not just women), and realize how unusual this is, and then, as you descend the stairs into the shop, much to my surprise, you meet Betsy Ross herself, sewing some fabric. You get to ask her questions about her life.

The room that Betsy Ross rented where she sewed the flag in secret © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I ask her what the date is – Nov. 5, 1776 – and really get into the spirit of the thing, knowing that she will only answer questions up to that point, when I know what comes next.

She has been working on the flag in secret, upstairs in the room, where she keeps it hidden under fabric.

Why did she take the risk? “My late husband was a patriot. I wanted to support Washington and make something to allow the spirit of my late husband live. We never had a child. [Creating the flag] this was like giving birth.”

She said that she went from father’s house to her husband’s. Now 24 years old, “the heaviness of a loss forces you to grow up in different manner. Being on my own is more difficult than I would have imagined.”

Her husband, John, passed in January and she moved in March. “This is the Widow Lithgow’s home –she rents to individuals. I rent a room and shop space from her. If I remarry, I will go to different lodging.”

She would have lived here between 1776 and 1779.

She relates how General Washington had particular design in mind when he came to her in 1776. He was open to suggestions: his original idea for the symbol for American independence had the shape of square rather than rectangle (that was her idea).

Betsy Ross designed America’s first flag © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, Washington had wanted six-pointed stars but Ross pushed to change the shape to five-pointed stars by demonstrating that it was easier and speedier to cut, and how she would sew it in so that the design could be seen on both sides.

She tells me with an appropriate measure of sass in her tone that a trusted messenger brought her flag  to Washington rather than he come himself. “He has heavier things on his mind – to win the battle, not a flag.”

I never considered, before “meeting” Betsy Ross how courageous she was to make the flag – she could have been caught and jailed for sedition.

I ask if she has met Ben Franklin (thinking that his printing shop is nearby), but she says that she knows of him but has not met him. “He’s out of town a lot. I hear he is quite taken with squirrels,” she says with a slight smile as she continues to sew.

She actually had a very good business going during the American Revolutionary War, making flags for the Pennsylvania Navy.

“Betsy Ross” is happy to answer questions about her life with visitors to the Betsy Ross House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Betsy Ross was born in 1752, and after attending a Quaker-run school, her father apprenticed her to an upholsterer. There, she fell in love with John Ross, a fellow apprentice, the son of an Anglican priest at the historic city parish of Christ Church, and the nephew of George Ross Jr. who was a signer of the Declaration of the Independence. The young couple eloped in 1773 when she was 21, marrying at Hugg’s Tavern in Gloucester City, New Jersey. The marriage resulted in her expulsion from the Quaker congregation.

The young couple soon started their own upholstery business and later joined Christ Church, where their fellow congregants occasionally included the visiting Virginia Colony militia regimental commander who would soon become General of a newly organized Continental Army, George Washington, as well as other visiting notaries and delegates who would become leaders of the rebellion and later, members of the Continental Congress.

They were married only two years when John Ross, a member of the local militia, was killed. They had no children.

She continued working in her upholstery business for the Revolution, repairing uniforms and making tents, blankets, and stuffing paper tube cartridges with musket balls for ammunition for the Continental Army.

On June 15, 1777, she married her second husband, Joseph Ashburn, a seaman. In 1780, Ashburn’s ship was captured by a Royal Navy frigate and he was charged with treason (for being of British ancestry, because the British did not recognize American colonial citizenship) and was imprisoned at Old Mill Prison in England. During this time, their first daughter, Zilla, died at the age of nine months and their second daughter, Eliza, was born. Ashburn died in the British jail.

Three years later, in May 1783, she married John Claypoole, who had coincidentally met Joseph Ashburn in the English Old Mill Prison and had been the one to inform her of her husband’s death. (Ross must have really been something, and the young woman playing the part today conveys that spirit.)

Betsy gave birth to five daughters with John Claypoole: Clarissa, Susanna, Jane, Rachel and Harriet (who died in infancy). With the birth of their second daughter, in 1786, they moved to a larger house on Philadelphia’s Second Street, settling down to a peaceful post-war existence.  Philadelphia prospered as the temporary national capital (1790–1800) of the newly independent United States of America, with George Washington as the first President,

By 1812, John Claypoole’s war injuries had left him disabled; he died in 1817 after two decades of poor health. Betsy’s young, widowed daughter Clarissa moved into their home with her five children and a sixth on the way. With Clarissa’s help, Betsy continued to run her upholstery shop and flag-making business. But after 50 years in the trade, Betsy’s rapidly failing vision led to her retirement at the age of 76. Betsy eventually became blind. She spent the last three years of her life living with her daughter Jane’s family on Cherry Street in Philadelphia. She died peacefully in her sleep on January 30, 1836, at the age of 84.

Betsy Ross’ gravesite was moved to this location in downtown historic Philadelphia in 1975 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Betsy Ross’s body was first interred at the Free Quaker burial grounds on North Fifth Street in Philadelphia (interesting in that the Quaker’s shunned her); 20 years later, her remains were moved to the Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia. Then, in 1975, in preparation for the American Bicentennial, the City ordered the remains moved to the courtyard of the Betsy Ross House. Cemetery workers found no remains beneath her tombstone, but bones found elsewhere in the family plot were deemed to be hers and were re-interred in the grave which we tourists visit at the Betsy Ross House.

The museum does an excellent job of revealing the situation of women in Revolutionary times, what it was like for the women and children left behind when their men went to war, and how they provided for themselves when they were widowed. I go down to the kitchen area where another woman interprets what it would have been like to have been a Washerwoman – one of the few professions that a woman who had to fend for herself could undertake.

At the Betsy Ross House you learn about how women lived and worked in the Revolutionary War era © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Working as a laundress was a difficult, low paying job in the 18th century; in early colonial period, many were enslaved or indentured servants; toward the end of the 18th century, most were free black women and widows struggling to support themselves.”

We are introduced to Judath, an African American washerwoman employed by Elizabeth Drinker, a wealthy Quaker woman. Jane Gray, a widowed African American washerwoman, who was a member of the “Black Class” at St. George’s Methodist church and later joined St. Thomas’ African Episcopal church. Susanna Cook, a widow with two children who lived at 3rd & Walnut Streets, whose husband died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 and to earn a living, rented out rooms and worked as a washerwoman earning $3 a week; she fell ill in 1801 and died impoverished in an almshouse.

There are special exhibits: “Stitching the Story Together: Betsy Ross and the American Flag” opens March 1; “Furnishing the Widow’s Chamber (opens March 1).

Allocate about an hour to visit.

Admission: Self-guided tour: $5/adult, $4/seniors, children, vets, students; add $2 for the audio tour (a child’s audio tour is available).

Betsy Ross House, 239 Arch Street. 215-629-5801. Operated by Historic Philadelphia, Inc. 150 S. Independence Mall West, Suite 550, Philadelphia, PA 19106, 215-629-4026,  visitorservices@historicphiladelphia.org.

Shopping at The Outrage, a feminist shop that opened appropriately just a few doors down from the Betsy Ross House © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

When I leave the Betsy Ross House, I think how appropriate that other clothing/sewing places are also on this block, and just a few doors down, come upon Women’s Resistence – The Outrage (www.the-outrage.com)

The brand was started 2016 – it was supposed to be celebratory for first woman president, but instead, has become an outlet for outrage and resistance for artists and activists. A portion of sales helps benefit organizations – ACLU, Planned Parenthood, 350.org. The first store oened in DC; this one opened this fall, with other outlets planned across the country.

My immersion into Revolutionary War Americana in Philadelphia continues at the Constitution Center.

Visit Philadelphia provides excellent trip planning tools, including hotel packages, itineraries, events listings: 30 S 17th Street, Philadelphia PA 19103, 215-599-0776, visitphilly.com.

See also:

National Museum of American Jewish History is Unexpected Revelation in Philadelphia 

Philadelphia’s New Museum Immerses You into Drama of America’s Revolutionary War

72 Hours in Philadelphia: Ben Franklin, America’s Revolutionary ‘Elder Statesman,’ Would Have been Quite at Home in 21st Century 

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Mountain Top Inn & Resort: The Perfect Vermont 4-Season Family Retreat

A horse-drawn sleigh ride, a signature experience at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort, Chittenden, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

There are subtle things. Little surprises. Like shortly after our arrival at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort, I peek outside to see the horse-drawn sleigh gliding across the field. It is a signature experience at the inn, a class Vermont scene, but when you see it, you are overwhelmed.

It’s a place that organically brings people together. The low ceilings, the cozy sitting areas (I estimate probably one for each family grouping can be found), fire places, the fire pit with a supply of s’mores.

Even getting there along the narrow winding Vermont country roads to Chittenden, brings you through a Currier & Ives landscape.

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, Chittenden, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mountain Top Inn & Resort has all the charm, the warmth, the cozy, intimate hospitality of a country inn, and all the luxury, amenities, activities and quality dining of a resort. It is both small and big in the ways you want.

It’s the sort of place that you instantly feel at home, exquisitely at peace. You don’t want to leave. Even the memory of having been there, fills you with longing to return.

The setting is breathtaking – 350 acres surrounded by open fields, a 740-acre lake and mountains beyond, and the Green Mountain National Forest. Indeed, Mountain Top’s name comes from the fact that at nearly 1,800 ft in altitude, the inn may well be the highest non-alpine resort in Vermont.

It is no wonder Mountain Top is so popular for weddings (elopements too!) – it exudes romance (two weddings were scheduled during the holidays). But any family gathering is special here.

I take note of the many, many cozy sitting areas – almost as many as there might have been families staying. The low ceilings and soft lighting, the fire in the fireplace, much more of a living room than a lobby, more of a den than a lounge.

Sit in front of the fireplace in the lobby at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are here at the holidays and the inn has decorated Christmas trees and lights, fires going in the fireplaces; there is hot coffee, tea and hot chocolate set up in the afternoon.

Mountain Top Inn offers 32 rooms in the main lodge (classic, luxury and luxury suite), four king-bedroom cabins and more than 20 guest houses, each individually decorated, affording stunning views of the Vermont Countryside.

Our Lago Vista Suite is breathtaking – a kind of Colonial Spanish feel with a gas-operated double-sided fireplace separating the sleeping area from a living room area with plush easy chairs, a flat-screen TV, kitchenette. A stunning bathroom done with decorative terra cotta tile. All incredibly warm, like a big blanket enveloping you. And the view! Windows all across the wall out to the open field and the reservoir and mountains beyond. The bedding is so plush, it is a struggle to get out of bed in the morning.

The views from the Main Lodge rooms and suites at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other suites are notable: The High Meadow Suite, popular as a bridal suite, has 8 windows with views to the lake and mountains, a luxurious bathroom, double-sided fireplace visible from the living room and bedroom, a large kitchenette.

Of these, Ike’s View, on the southern corner of the second floor, is particularly noteworthy.  Rich in history, it is named for President Dwight Eisenhower who stayed at the inn during a fly fishing expedition in 1955. Ike’s View can be combined with the adjoining suite, Mamie’s Retreat, to create an expansive two-bedroom/two bath wing with living room, kitchenette and fireplace. Presidential, indeed.

During the holidays, the guests are provided their own s’mores kit (and each evening, a tray of s’mores fixings are left by the fire pit).

The resort also features four newly built luxuriously appointed cabins, which are open-plan, king accommodation living space -inviting and cozy,  a perfect mountain retreat for two. Each with its own unique design, and within easy access to all resort amenities. The cabins are located across a quiet country road from the Main Lodge and adjacent Event Barn.

Accommodations also include hearty Vermont buffet breakfast – complete with eggs, bacon, sausage, yogurts and cereals, breads and pastries, fresh juices and coffee.

The Main Lodge rooms and suites are not pet-friendly, but some of the inn’s luxury cabins and guest houses are (and some of the snowshoeing trails also are pet-friendly).

Dining Inn

The inn on this winter day we arrive after a five-hour drive is fairly isolated and we are content to enjoy dinner in its traditional mountain lodge atmosphere. We opt to dine in the nicely appointed Tavern at a table right in front of the fireplace (there is also a dining room, and you can order from either menu).  In warmer seasons, you can also dine on the outdoor terrace. In or out, you still have gorgeous views of the mountains, lake and meadow.

The Tavern at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The menu and preparations are superb – artfully crafted selections featuring locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. The tavern has an extensive selection of locally crafted Vermont brews on tap. (Reservations are recommended, especially during the holidays, 802-483-2311).

The inn also can prepare picnic lunches – which would be really a good idea for a day cross-country skiing or snowshoeing or hiking.

The Baked Brie, featuring  12 Blythedale Farms Brie in a puff pastry, orange marmalade, blackberry jam, and grilled baguette, was out of this world.

The truffle fries, prepared with Parmesan cheese and truffle aioli was superb.

The Grilled Caesar was prepared with grilled Romaine hearts, capers, croutons, Parmigiano-Reggiano, roasted garlic and house-made Caesar dressing.

The French Onion soup, with Spanish onion, red onion shallots, croutons and baked Swiss cheese, was perfect.

We also enjoyed perfectly prepared burger and short ribs.

The restaurant did a fantastic job of accommodating our gluten free requests and promptly provided delicious gluten free rolls for both dinner and breakfast. The restaurant will also accommodate special dietary needs, including vegetarian, with advance notice.

The dining room serves breakfast and dinner; a children’s menu is available.

During the holidays, there is live music playing.

Staying in one of the guest houses? Special arrangements can be made for one of the chefs to prepare a private dinner in the home. (Advance notice required, pricing based on items chosen.)

So Much to Do!

Inn guests have access to daily afternoon refreshments in the Main Lodge lobby, use of the hot tub, sauna and fitness room, free WiFi, as well as access to seasonal activities. In winter, these include a access to the inn’s 60 km cross-country ski trail network (rentals, lessons available), snowshoe trails, ice skating rink (a small, cleared area on the meadow that is flooded; skate rentals available, $10). Warm weather activities include heated outdoor pool, tennis court, lake-front beach where there are kayks, canoes, paddleboards for guests, disc golf.

We get to enjoy the hot tub on evening – you can see the stars from the outdoor hot tub. When the mist would dissipate, it would open up to a view if the sky.  It’s a 15-second walk from the hotel Tavern (wear shoes).  It takes a minute to adjust to the temperature of the hot tub (very hot! then it’s perfect). You can call ahead and request that they fire up the tub for you.

The firepit beckons with s’mores © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

With 350 private acres perched at the top of a quiet mountain road, a 740 acre lake, miles of trails, expansive meadows, the Green Mountain National Forest and a full host of activities, there is no shortage of things to do right at the resort.

Nordic Skiing at Mountain Top has been a favorite past-time since 1964, with 60 km of trails plus the meadows, offering varied terrain and sweeping views.  Through over 50 years of continuous operation, Olympic Athletes, Vermonters and XC Skiers from all over the country have come to Mountain Top. You can get Nordic ski lesson; learn to ski package; rent equipment.  Trails are open 8 am to 4 pm.

Snowshoeing: Whether you’ve been doing it for years, or this is your first try, snowshoeing (one of the easiest new sports to acquire, you just walk) is a wonderful way to explore the woods and meadows and get that cardio going! The team at the Activities Center will provide a trail map and the inn’s chefs can pack you a lunch.  There are pet-friendly trails. There are twilight group snowshoeing tours (lamps provided).

Horse drawn sleigh rides, the quintessential Vermont thing to do, are offered mid-December through March (weather permitting); reservations are required for the 30-minute tours; private rides and packages are available (maximum 9 adults & children per ride; $40 adult/ $20/child call 802-483-6089).  A Sleigh Ride & Dinner Package (includes sleigh ride, 3-course dinner for two & taxes , can be scheduled ( $150, gratuity & alcohol not included).

Snowmobiling: Hit the VAST trails or tour Mountain Top’s property. You can take a guided 30 minute Snowmobile Tour through the meadows and along some of the trails at the Mountain Top Resort, or stop by for a bite to eat (or overnight stay) as you journey along the VAST Trail System –the Inn is  located right on the trail ($60 pp as a driver; $15 as passenger for 30 minutes).

Spa & Salon: Mountain Top’s spa is located on the ground level of The Mountain Top Barn adjacent to the pool and hot tub. With features such as barn board wall paneling, hammered copper pedicure basins, a spacious cedar sauna, custom soapstone sinks, rich leather and wood furniture and views to the mountains and lake –  the spa & salon is a perfect example of ‘rustic luxe’ design in a wholly relaxing space.  The Spa offers several signature treatments; services include a wide variety of massages, scrubs and wraps, facials, manicures, pedicures and professional hair and make-up for wedding parties. The spa & salon operates seasonal hours – please contact us for a current schedule (Available for special events upon request). (For reservations, call 802.483.2311 ext 404 or spa@Mountain Topinn.com).

The fitness center  is equipped with state-of-the-art treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bicycles and a cable weight system and take a dip in the hot tub, or relax in our sauna, after your workout. (Guests under 18 yrs must be accompanied by an adult; open 7:30am – 9pm).

A White Christmas: The Barn was built for events; it can accommodate 250 guests © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Warm weather activities include:

Activities available for guests at no charge include tennis (you can borrow a racket; the court is available on first-come, first-serve basis); Disc Golf on the inn’s newly designed 9-hole disc golf course which takes advantage of the open meadow space, adjacent woods, spectacular views and finishes just a few steps from the Mountain Top Tavern and terrace (discs can be borrowed from the front desk, and discs and greens fees are included in your stay);  heated outdoor swimming pool open (weather permitting) from June into September; the  pool-side hot tub is open year-round; 40 miles of hiking trails; sand volleyball.

Private Beach: Less than ¾ mile walk down a private lane from the main lodge, Mountain Top’s exclusive beach is situated on a quiet cove within a 740 acre lake. Available spring through late fall, you can enjoy boating, swim or simply relax on lounge chairs. Kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are available (no charge for guests; lifejackets provided). A beach towel is available from the front desk. You can arrange to take a picnic lunch. (Available spring through late fall.

Guided hour-long pontoon boat rides touring the entire lake are offered daily (weather permitting, through October; reservations are required).

Also available:

Equestrian Center: Mountain Top Inn is the only Vermont resort, and one of only a handful of properties in New England, to offer a full equestrian program, accommodating neophytes and experienced riders. The Equestrian Center is open May through October.

Mountain Top Inn is one of the few places in Vermont with a full equestrian center © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Children’s Adventure Camp is open July through August 14, for children 6-13 years old; the program is offered 9:30 to 3 pm weekdays (minimum 3 children). (802-483-6089).

Fishing: Go fishing for Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Yellow Perch and Sunfish on the 740 acre lake: you can rent a small fishing boat with electric trolling motor, seating up to four people.

Clay Bird Shooting: Lessons are offered daily by our experienced staff from spring through fall (weather permitting). For safety reasons, we have a maximum allotment of six people per time slot.  The minimum age to participate is 15 years old and reservations are required. ($40 per person for 20 shots with instruction).

Golf:  Mountain Top Inn & Resort, has several challenging yet fun courses near-by (including Rutland Country Club, Green Mountain National Golf Course, Killington Golf Course and Neshobe Golf Club – all of which are accessible to the public).  

Destination Weddings, Elopements, Retreats

For all the reasons – the setting, ambiance, facilities and activities, it is easy to see why Mountain Top is a favorite wedding destination.

Mountain Top Inn can accommodate up to 250 guests in the events Barn and the majority do tend to stay on property –it makes for less travel for guests and everything being pretty much within walking distance and gives family and friends that much more opportunity to be together and share experiences.

Intimate sitting areas abound at the Mountain Top Inn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The inn also has more intimate spaces on property such as the beach pavilion for rehearsal dinners and events of fewer  than 100 guests (where the barn can feel a bit large) and for even more intimate events (an elopement, or corporate dinner) the larger guest houses are ideal.

The houses make for a great option for the weddings because family groups can stay together in one house and have common living space to share amongst themselves.  As well as bridal parties or just groups of friends who want to stay together and not have to head back to separate accommodations at night. They can hang out in their pj’s! (With the spa, the inn is also ideal for bachelorette getaways.)

The popular wedding ceremony site in the spring, summer, fall is the knoll up above the lodge (an amazing view). And in winter it’s the terrace outside the tavern (with a similar, but not as high altitude) view. For both, the ‘weather’ ceremony location is the loft in the barn which has lovely floor to ceiling windows that still provide that view.  In the warmer months, weddings are also held at the houses and on the beach.

A White Christmas at the Mountain Top Inn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Overcome with the romantic ambiance and want to elope?

The Mountain Top Inn & Resort is the ideal setting for an elopement or intimate wedding. The inn has a dedicated staff of wedding coordinators. And because some elopements are planned with limited lead-time, or are truly a surprise, the inn has a special package which includes many of the elements the couple will need, or can be customized.

The Mountain Top Elopement Package includes two nights lodging; three course candlelit dinner for two; full breakfast each morning; scenic pontoon boat ride (summer) or horse-drawn sleigh ride (winter); one hour massage for both; Champagne and Truffles; bouquet and boutonniere; petite wedding cake ($1550 in classic lodge room; $1775 in luxury lodge room; $1975 for a suite; $200 more for peak dates and holidays).

The Inn is also ideal for corporate retreats, functions and events – having a place that brings people together in a close setting, plus has many activities to engage, dining and meeting venues. Mid-week November through April is when availability is the best. Various venues are used for meeting space including the yoga studio, the barn loft, the beach pavilion (in summer), living areas in larger guest houses for smaller meetings. The barn can seat upwards of 250 for larger conferences and functions.

Hometown Connection: A Distinguished History

The Mountain Top Inn has a marvelous history, and as it turns out, a connection to our Long Island home town.

As we were driving up the country lanes that lead to the Mountain Top Inn, I spotted a library named for Frederic Duclos Barstow, and recognized the name from our Great Neck, Long Island community: he was the son of William S. Barstow (1866-1942) and Frangoise Duclos Barslow (1876-1958) – he was the first mayor of Kings Point and his mansion is now the Merchant Marine Museum on the grounds of the US Merchant Marine Academy. Barstow, who was an important electrical engineer and a partner of Thomas Edison, made a fortune establishing utility companies (including the one in Chittenden) and even electrifying the Brooklyn Bridge. Their only child, Frederic Duclos Barstow, born in 1895, was exposed to poison gas during War War I, and suffered lung damage and from shell shock. He moved to Chittenden, Vermont, believing the clean air would be more healthful to him, but died in 1931, at the age of 35. The Barstows built the Barstow Memorial School in his memory.

Classic country scenes in Chittenden, Vermont © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

William Barstow purchased a farmhouse in Chittenden on his son’s property to serve as a hunting camp (what is now Fox Creek Inn on Dam Road). Here he entertained such notable figures as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone.

In 1939, Francoise Barstow bought the Henry Long Turnip farm, dating from the 1870s, which overlooked the Chittenden Reservoir, renovating the barn as an additional place to entertain her many friends – this is the property that became Mountain Top Inn.

Throughout the ensuing years, improvements and additions to the original barn building were made to accommodate the growing number of visiting friends and family – eventually evolving into a full service Inn & Tavern.  While Barstow, an associate of Thomas Edison, was a forward thinker, the couple maintained the integrity of property’s Yankee origins and protected the beauty and ecology of its natural surroundings. Barstow died in 1942.

In 1945, William and Margery Wolfe purchased the Mountain Top Inn. They continued improvements to the property and in 1955 put the Inn on the map when they hosted President Eisenhower and his entourage during a fishing expedition. Photos of the expedition are still displayed in the Main Lodge Lobby.  Ike’s View, a luxury room in the Main Lodge in which the President stayed, is named for him and the adjoining room is named for his wife, Mamie’s Retreat.

In 1964, realizing the natural terrain was ideal for winter sports, the Wolfes began to develop a cross country ski center and trail system. Today, one of the oldest in the country, the resort boasts 60 kilometers of trails.

Mountain Top Inn & Resort is the perfect synthesis of old and new © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A fire in 1977 destroyed most of the original Inn’s structure. Undeterred, the Wolfes rebuilt the Inn using traditional post and beam construction.  Large Douglas fir beams span the lobby and lend warmth and charm to the Main Lodge.  Rows of windows and a signature glass “silo” staircase offers the perfect vantage point for stunning views.

This is what accounts for the feeling you get of the Mountain Top Inn, that is both old and new – it is the faithful preservation of the traditional inn, with the modern amenities and materials.

With an appreciation and love for the property and its history, in the early 2000s a small group of investors purchased the Mountain Top Inn & Resort and have carefully nurtured its evolution from small country inn to a premier Mountain Lodge and destination resort.

Winter Family Wonderland package is available for non-holiday periods, and includes three nights accommodation;  Vermont country breakfast each morning;  horse-drawn sleigh ride for your group; one hour “family” cross country ski lesson with rentals (must be 6 years of age or older to take this lesson; one parent must participate); trail passes; use of resort facilities; tax and resort charge ($1260 for quad occupancy in classic lodge room, $1620 for luxury room; two-bedroom guest houses also available at $1670).

The website is really complete and easy to use to get information, but you need to call 802-483-2311 to book the packages (https://MountainTopInn.com/specials-packages/winter-spring-packages/)

Mountain Top Inn & Resort is also located a short distance (about 20-30 minutes drive) to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing; the inn provides shuttle transportation (8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm); reserve in advance.

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.

See also:

Killington, ‘Beast of the East,’ is Roaring into 2018 With Powder Snow

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

New York’s Olympic Regional Development Authority Continues to Make Improvements at Whiteface, Gore, Belleayre Mountains

Nestled in the Adirondacks, Gore Mountain offers expansive views of a real wilderness © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Believe it or not, New York State, with more than 50 ski areas, has more ski areas than any other state in the country and the biggest vertical ski drop east of the Mississippi; New York is the 4th in terms of skier visits, after Colorado, California and Vermont. The ski areas range from pleasant family-friendly nearby areas that are ideal to learn to ski or ride, to the two-time Olympic mountain, Whiteface.

The three ski areas owned and under the aegis of New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Agency (ORDA) – Whiteface, Gore and Belleayre – are continuing to implement dramatic improvements and programs like SkiNY3 and Parallel from the Start programs, along with state-wide-programs  like free skiing programs for 3rd and 4th graders, to entice new skiers.

The three ORDA areas have multi-lesson packages and lift tickets that allow the flexibility of using them on nonconsecutive days and at the different areas.

Already this season, major competitions have been held to decide who the athletes to represent the United States at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, including five major international events at Whiteface – in bob sled and skeleton, figure skating, luge, freestyle aerial.

Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid

Whiteface is New York State’s Olympic Mountain, with actual Olympic facilities all around Lake Placid that you can take part in, as well as special attractions that altogether make for a unique winter experience: skating on the Olympic Speedskating Oval, plunging down the Olympic Bobsled Track where you can try bobsled or skeleton (truly thrilling); touring the Ski Jumping Complex; Nordic skiing on the Olympic course, and testing your own mettle at the biathlon, a sport that combines cross-country skiing with riflery (lesson available), visiting the Olympic Museum.

Whiteface, Lake Placid, is where you can experience Olympic sports such as bobsled on an Olympic track © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Whiteface offers the greatest vertical (3,430 ft. of any lift-serviced mountain in the Northeast, mile after mile of groomed cruising trails with 98% snowmaking coverage.

This is a serious mountain, with more expert terrain, more long, rolling groomers (including the longest single intermediate run in the Northeast, the 2.1 mile-long Wilmington Trail). Whiteface summit is a 4,867 ft.; Lookout Mountain tops at 4,000 ft.; Little Whiteface at 3,676 ft.. Whiteface offers the highest skiable terrain, The Slides, at 4,650 ft. elevation. In all, explore 288 skiable acres including 35 inbounds, off-piste double-black diamond wilderness terrain (“The Sliders”, conditions permitting) and 58 acres of tree skiing. There is terrain for everyone: 38% rated expert; 42% intermediate and 20% beginner. Among the lifts is an eight-passenger gondola and a high-speed detachable quad.

There have been extensive improvements on the mountain over the past three years.

There’s so much to do in and around Lake Placid (even a slide onto the lake once it freezes over), that it actually competes for time on the mountain, but richly fills the time after the lifts close down; an all-access Olympic Sites Passport is $35 (provides discounts on attractions and experiences): the Lake Placid Olympic Museum; speed skating oval, Olympic Jumping Complex, Snow Tubing, Bobsled and skeleton experiences, cross country skiing, biathalon.

Ski like an Olympian at Whiteface, Lake Placid © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Save up to 50% on lift tickets by purchasing in advance online at whiteface.com; Frequent skier cards, valid at Whiteface, Gore and Belleayre give you the first day free, 50% off nonholiday weekday skiing, 25% off weekends and holidays and every 6th day free ($99 for ages 20+, $79 for students 13-19; $59 for ages 7-12).

There is no lodging on the mountain (it’s a wilderness area, after all), but many lovely inns, bnbs, hotels and resorts nearby, including the Whiteface Lodge Resort & Spa, Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, conveniently located in Lake Placid village, walking distance to everything, and accessible to a convenient shuttle bus to the mountain (www.golden-arrow.com).

Whiteface, Lake Placid, 800-462-6236, 518-946-2223; Olympic Center, 518-523-1655; vacation planning assistance at  whitefacenewyork.com, lakeplacid.com, whiteface.com.

Gore Mountain

Gore Mountain is one of my favorite places to ski. Nestled in the Adirondacks, it offers expansive views of a real wilderness. You actually feel as if you were in the Rockies.

This season, guests will benefit from major renovations to three lodges.

At the base area there are two two large additions which will streamline the rental process and facilitate getting back on the mountain.

Skiing Gore Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Last season, Gore introduced Nordic skiing, turning its old tubing park into a cross-country ski area –– which will have snowmaking on 3.7 km of its 5 km trails. The new area was so successful last year (even opening by Thanksgiving) that Gore is hosting the NYS Nordic Championships. The Ski Bowl where the Nordic area is also has a half pipe, border skier cross and twilight skiing (til 9 pm).

Gore participates in the I Ski NY Free Passport for 3rd graders; also, kids under 19 ski free with an adult.

Gore Mountain is 30 miles away from Lake George and the magnificent grand, historic Sagamore Resort & Spa, Bolton Landing (www.thesagamore.com).

We loved our stay at the delightful Copperfield Inn in North Creek (www.copperfieldinn.com/), a truly charming village that is just outside the entrance to Gore Mountain, with lovely bistro restaurants and shops. A shuttle bus operates from North Creek and the surrounding properties to the mountain, as well as the train station.

Gore Mountain, 793 Peaceful Valley Road, North Creek, NY 12853, Snow Phone: 518-251-5026, info 518-251-2411, goremountain.com.

Belleayre Mountain 

Belleayre boasts a new gondola this season (part of an $8 million investment in the mountain), the first one in the Catskills (third in New York State). The 60-car gondola whisks guests from the lower lodge to the summit, bottom to top in just 7 minutes.

A new trail was opened in conjunction with the new gondola: the Deer Run extension trail  starts just to the right of Tomahawk Lift parking lot, crosses under the access road via a skier tunnel, and winds down to the lower area popping out just above Running Bear into Iroquois. The mid-section of Deer Run, just above the shale bank, is widened to create a more natural fall line, while on the upper sections, the natural rollers are filled in, creating less of a pitch for easier intermediate skiing from the summit.

This season, Belleayre opens the new Catskill Thunder gondola.

The new “Catskill Thunder” gondola will operate year-round – and  open up the mountain for mountain biking (now you have to hike up) as well as for wedding and party rentals at the summit. In the next five years, there are plans to open cross-country skiing on the summit’s plateau with snowmaking – which will make for a fairly unique experience.

Belleayre is bigger than people realize but what is especially wonderful about Belleayre, particularly for families, is the natural separation between the beginner area on the lower mountain, and the intermediate and advanced trails at the top. It’s snowmaking and grooming is highly rated. This year, beginner terrain has been doubled in area, and separates snowsports lessons from the general public. Also, gladed terrain is being expanded.

Belleayre is a very family-friendly, comfortable mountain, all the more popular because of its close proximity to New York City – just about 2 ½ hours away.

Belleayre offers a Learn to Ski package at $79 that includes a lift ticket for the lower mountain, rental, two-hour lesson; a three-day package is $169 (it doesn’t have to be consecutive days, you can split them up), and even take the lessons among the three ORDA mountains, Gore and Whiteface.

You can save up to 40% on the price of a lift ticket by purchasing in advance online.

Belleayre does not have lodging at the mountain but there are delightful BnBs, lodges and inns close by (check the website for lodges that offer Ski & Stay packages which provide savings up to 50% on lift tickets.)

Belleayre Mountain is located off of State Route 28 in Highmount, NY, just hours from New York City.

(Belleayre, Highmount, NY 12441, 800-942-6904, 845-254,5600, www.belleayre.com).

I Ski NY

The Discover NY Ski Day will be held on Thursday January 18th and offers discounted lift tickets starting at $12 and discounted learn-to-ski/snowboard packages start at $25. It is open for all and the tickets are typically 8 hour tickets. The Learn-To-Ski/Snowboard packages start at $25 and give people who never skied or snowboarded or haven’t been on the slopes in a long time the opportunity to get on the slopes again. Full details and sales at https://www.iskiny.com/ski-deals/discover-ny-ski-day.

NYC Winter Jam, a free winter sports festival for New Yorkers of all ages will return on January 27, 2018. Presented by NYC Parks, I Love NY, I SKI NY, and the Olympic Regional Development Authority, Winter Jam is a great opportunity to experience skiing, snowshoeing, and winter as a whole. Gore Mountain will blow lots of fresh snow in the heart of Manhattan for all to enjoy. Location and time yet to be determined. Details will be available at nycgovparks.org.

The I SKI NY Free For Kids Passport Program returns for the 2017-18 ski season. For the 2017-18 ski season, I SKI NY is once again offering the award winning “Free for Kids Passport” program for 3rd and 4th graders. The program allows a 3rd or 4th grader to learn to ski or ride for free at all participating ski areas and / or also ski for free when an adult ticket is purchased. The program is free, but there is a small processing fee to enroll. More information at ISKINY.com.

Golden Arrow lodge at Lake Placid, ideally situated for skiing Whiteface. Many lodges are participating in I Ski NY ski & stay packages© Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ski & Stay: The Ski Areas of New York (ISKINY) has teamed up with lodging properties to bring you three special ski & stay weekends this winter (January 5 – 6, February 2 – 3, March 2 – 3). Ski and stay two nights you get a third one free.

Guests can choose to add on the Thursday night before or the Sunday night after for their free lodging and skiing. The promotion is subject to availability and may not be combined with any other offers. The third night lodging and day skiing can be used for a Thursday stay Friday day skiing/riding or Sunday stay Monday day skiing/riding. Lodging for two nights and lift tickets must be purchased for the two days and you will get third free.

Contact the selected hotel directly and identify this promotion as “I SKI NY SKI and STAY” to arrange reservations. Lift tickets will be provided at check in or at the resort ticket window.

For information on all New York State’s ski areas, visit www.iskiny.com/explore-new-york/mountains.

Find Ski & Stay packages at www.iskiny.com/ski-deals/ski-stay.

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Big Changes Await at Ski Colorado Destinations This Season

Skiing at Winter Park, Colorado. The resort, which is owned by the City of Denver, has new connections by Amtrak from Denver, and is now in the Aspen/Snowmass ownership family © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Whoa! Hold onto your skis, it’s going to be a wild ride! This year’s big skiing newsflash is the mega-mergers creating new behemoths that span the nation and even beyond, which has the independents looking for differentiating ways, as well as collaborations to compete.

Vail Resorts (with four Colorado ski destinations: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone plus 10 more coast-to-coast, Canada and Australia) just keeps getting bigger, with the acquisition of its first Northeastern resort, Stowe Mountain, giving Eastern skiers a really good reason to buy Vail’s Epic Pass.

And now, the Crown family, owners of Aspen and Snowmass resorts, and KSL Capital Partners acquired Intrawest Resorts and Mammoth Resorts, in a $1.5 billion deal, and then, for good measure, purchased Deer Valley, in Utah, as well, literally just down the road from Vail Resorts’ Park City mega-resort.

This newly formed mega-operator mergers a dozen mountain resorts into one company, including many iconic destinations, such as former Intrawest flagships Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado (though Winter Park is still owned by the City of Denver), and Stratton in Vermont. Also in the new portfolio are Mammoth Mountain, California’s busiest ski area, Lake Tahoe’s Squaw and Alpine, and Tremblant in Quebec. The deal also includes heli operator Canadian Mountain Holidays. Collectively these resorts represent 20,000 skiable acres and draw 6 million skier visits.

While it is easy to imagine a system-wide ski pass to rival Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass in the not-distant future, for this upcoming season, the variety of passes that the resorts had been offering will be used: Rocky Mountain Super PassMountain Collective, and the M.A.X. Pass will be honored at the respective resorts.

 

Here are more highlights of Colorado Ski Country USA resorts:

  • Olympic qualifiers in Colorado will feature the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain in December and Snowmass in January in advance of the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
  • Notable anniversaries include the 50th Anniversary of Snowmass, which will be celebrated with a day of 1967 lift ticket pricing at $6.50, Loveland Ski Area’s 80th Anniversary and Cooper’s 75th Anniversary.
  • New terrain across the state includes 468 new skiable acres at Arapahoe Basin with the expansion into the Beavers and Steep Gullies. Purgatory will also open new expert and intermediate trails.
  • New lifts across Colorado Ski Country: Eldora Mountain Resort is opening this season with a new six-person detachable chairlift, the first six-person chairlift in its history. Steamboat’s Gondola underwent significant upgrades over the summer to modernize and improve the guest experience and Purgatory will welcome a full season of its new transfer lift.
  • Mountain Coasters galore with Copper Mountain, Steamboat, Purgatory and Aspen Snowmass all opening a year-round mountain coaster in the fall or early winter.

Steamboat

The news at Steamboat is that it is now part of the group that owns Aspen/Snowmass, Intrawest, the four Mammoth mountains in California; Squaw Valley; Mont Tremblant and the Canadian Mountain Heliskiing (CMH) company in Canada, plus Deer Park, Utah, and Stratton Mountain, Vt. and operates Winter Park, Colorado.

Steamboat has made significant improvements to its gondola for the 2017-18 season, installing new grips, hangers, terminal equipment, electronic controls and other infrastructure to the resort’s main access point. These renovations will provide a faster, smoother and more efficient experience for guests.

Half of Steamboat’s terrain is intermediate and beginner, and there is an entire lift devoted to intermediate terrain offering long cruiser blue trails.

The Outlaw Mountain Coaster, which will operate year-round, opened September 8, 2017. The mountain coaster descends more than 400 vertical feet with a riding length of more than 6,000 linear feet, making it the longest mountain coaster in North America.

A true destination resort, Steamboat is now accessible by direct flight from Newark. It is a 30 minutes drive from Hayden Airport – if you show your boarding pass, you can ski free for the afternoon; rental shops are open late so you can get your equipment the night before, saving time and hassle for the morning.

Kids & Grandkids Ski Free programs enable children 12 years of age and under to ski free the same number of days as their parent, grandparent, or legal guardian when the parent, grandparent, or legal guardian purchase a five-or-more day adult lift ticket. For season passes, one child (12 and under) is eligible to receive a free season pass with parent, grandparent, or legal guardian purchase of an adult Steamboat Season Pass. For more information, visit www.steamboat.com.

Visit Steamboat’s central reservations, tell them what you are looking to do and they can direct you to the best value offers. Steamboat is also part of M.A.X. Pass and the Rocky Mountain SuperPass. Intrawest operates the Steamboat Grand hotel at base area.

For more information, visit www.steamboat.com.

Winter Park Resort

Ski school at Winter Park, Colorado © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Winter Park is expanding and improving the Winter Park Express, the train service between Denver’s Union Station and Winter Park Resort that was reintroduced last year (and sold out). The addition of three First Friday trips will give guests a total of 27 round-trips to choose from. Prices on select departures have been lowered to $29 one-way, providing additional cost savings for those looking to travel to the slopes by train.

The Winter Park Village will feature a renovated rental shop and a new retail location, reducing wait times on busy rental days. There are two new snowcats to increase grooming efficiency, 4,500 new feet of snowmaking pipe and 15 new snow guns to improve early season snowmaking.

A new trail from the top of the Zephyr Express Lift to the Mary Jane Trail will allow easier access from the Winter Park side of the mountain to the Mary Jane side.

Kids and Beginners Ski for Less: At Winter Park Resort, kids five and under qualify for beginner lift tickets for $10 a day or $30 for the season with no black-out dates. These lift tickets are intended for beginners only and grant access to the Galloping Goose chairlift at Mary Jane.

For more information, visit www.winterparkresort.com.

Aspen Snowmass

Aspen Snowmass will host Olympic qualifying events when the U.S. Grand Prix stops in Snowmass January 10–January 14, 2018. U.S. Snowboard Team and U.S. Freeski Team athletes will be competing to punch their tickets to February’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.

Snowmass will celebrate its 50th Anniversary all season long including $6.50 lift tickets on December 15, 2017. This was the original price for a lift ticket on opening day in 1967. Celebrations will also include a 50th Anniversary Golden Gala, monthly firework displays and other festive events.

The Breathtaker mountain coaster will open at Snowmass Mountain in December 2017. The mountain coaster will drop guests more than 400 vertical feet on a mile of turning track and be open year-round.

Kids Ski Free: Children six and under always ski free at Aspen Snowmass. For children ages seven to 12 years old, Aspen Snowmass allows kids to ski free when booking two or more nights of lodging through Stay Aspen Snowmass or renting children’s ski or snowboard equipment from Four Mountain Sports. There is no limit on the number of days children can receive free lift tickets when renting from Four Mountain Sports. The offer is valid January 1 – April 15, 2018. Mention kids ski free when you call 800-290-1326 or visit www.aspensnowmass.com for more information.

Copper Mountain

Copper Mountain: Skiers and riders this season can enjoy a new lift and lodge, the Kokomo Express Lift and Koko’s Hut. The lift will serve beginner terrain in the West Village © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Copper Mountain, which is famous for its Woodward Barn camps, clinics and individual indoor sports training, will host Olympic qualifying events December 6-10, 2017 when U.S. athletes compete in the halfpipe and big air events during the U.S. Grand Prix.

Skiers and riders can enjoy a new lift and lodge, the Kokomo Express Lift and Koko’s Hut. The lift will serve beginner terrain in the West Village, while the lodge will offer seating, casual dining and more, complete with a large outdoor deck and sweeping panoramas of Copper Mountain and Tenmile Range.

Copper Mountain, which is owned by Powdr (the ski company that also owns Killington, Vermont and just bought Eldora Mountain, Colorado) is debuting the Rocky Mountain Coaster in fall 2017. With an overall length of 5,800 feet and a vertical drop of 430 feet, the mountain coaster will be a thrilling year-round experience for guests.

 

One, Two, Free! With Copper Mountain’s One, Two, Free! Package, kids 12 and younger ski free with the purchase of an adult two-day lift ticket. The deal also includes additional perks like a third night of lodging free, a third day of rentals free, a free half-day ticket on the day of arrival or departure, and free upgrade to the Secret! Pass for early access and shorter lift lines. Children five and under always ski/ride free at Copper Mountain.

Copper is part of the M.A.X. Pass and Rocky Mountain Super Pass.

The resort is a 90-minute drive from DIA through Eisenhower tunnel.

For more information, visit www.coppercolorado.com.

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Arapahoe Basin is adding 371 acres of most difficult and extreme terrain this season (photo by Dave Camara)

With one of the few terrain expansions in the country, Arapahoe Basin is adding 468 new acres over two years with the expansion into the Beavers and Steep Gullies. For the 2017-18 season, 371 acres of most difficult and extreme terrain will be open, adding 50 feet to the vertical; guests will need to hike back to the Pallavicini chair. Next summer, a four-person lift will be installed for the 2018-19 season, and two more intermediate trails will be added in the Beavers.

Arapahoe Basin is always the first ski resort to open in the nation and the last to close (June, sometimes even July), and is a free shuttle bus ride (five miles) from Vail Resort’s Keystone (A-Basin was once owned by Vail Resorts, Vail Resorts’ EpicPass and Keystone lift tickets are accepted), where there is also plenty of lodging choices. People know A-Basin, which has been owned by a Canadian real estate company since 1997, for its blacks and double blacks advanced terrain, but there is plenty of intermediate trails, also offering long cruisers, groomed runs on the back side of the mountain a mile long.

Kids Free 2 Ski Pass: Children five and under ski free every day at Arapahoe Basin with a free Five & Under lift ticket from the ticket window. Children ages six to 12 can ski or snowboard for free any two days of the 2017-18 season with no blackout dates through the Kids Free 2 Ski Pass. Register online, at a Front Range ski show or at the mountain by December 18, 2017.

The rental shop was remodeled this summer to help guests get out on the slopes quicker during busy days. The resort also launched a new website, free device charging stations and free public WiFi throughout the base area and at Black Mountain Lodge at mid-mountain.

Because of the extended season, Arapahoe also offers its own multi-day and spring pass.

In summer, A-Basin offers summer events; disc golf, hiking to mid mountain, mountain biking (not lift served). Weddings are a big summer business: “The lift is the procession; couples get married in front of Continental Divide. A rustic romantic lodge at mid mountain, can accommodate 200 guests.

Arapahoe is a 75 minute drive from Denver (2 hours from airport). For more information, visit www.arapahoebasin.com.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Fireworks and torchlight parade at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (photo provided by CBMR)

Crested Butte is enhancing the guest experience for beginners by re-grading the teaching terrain and introducing a new adult beginner area. Guests looking for a break from the slopes can enjoy a slice from the new pizza oven at Paradise on Crested Butte.

A new program, CB North Face Guides, will help expert skiers and riders navigate the extreme terrain of the resort including the famed North Face.

Kids 12 and Under Ski Free: Children six and under always ski free at Crested Butte. All kids ages 12 and under visiting Crested Butte Mountain Resort Nov. 23 – Dec. 15, 2017 and Apr. 1 – 8, 2018 ski or ride free. No strings attached, no parent ticket required, no lodging stay required, no advance reservations, just a free ticket for kids.

Crested Butte will host its annual Christmas Eve celebration, an evening complete with a torchlight parade and Santa Claus coming down the mountain in a sleigh pulled by a snowcat.

Crested Butte is the sister resort to the popular Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont,m and is part of the M.A.X. Pass.

The closest airport is Gunnison or Montrose. For more information, visit www.skicb.com.

Telluride Ski Resort

Celebrating its 45th Anniversary, Telluride is continuing an ongoing multi-year, multi-million-dollar investment in snowmaking upgrades and technology. For this season, the grooming fleet is being expanded and there is a new dual-purpose project that serves as a golf course practice facility in the summer months and a 15-acre terrain-based learning area during the winter ski season.

People associate Telluride wih tough skiing, but half of the terrain is rated as intermediate and this year, Telluride is adding 15 acres of beginner terrain and new magic carpet.

Advanced skiers can revel in black and double black diamond trails and hike-to-terrain; intermediates have trails from top to bottom that let you  “see forever”.

Kids Ski Free: Free lift tickets are available at the Telluride ticket window for children ages five years old and under. Child lift tickets for children ages six to 12 are available online at discounted rates for two or more days of skiing when you purchase at least 48 hours in advance. Telluride also offers children’s ski school lessons divided into programs that offer age and skill specific learning experiences.

Telluride is a charming walking town, connected to the Mountain Village by gondola, where there is The Peaks, a luxury hotel that is the resort’s largest, with a world-class spa; the Inn at Los Creek, a boutique hotel,  and other lodging options, plus shops and restaurants.

The privately owned ski area is part of Mountain Collection of 15 quality resorts.

Options to get to Telluride include flying into Montrose or Telluride airport.

For more information, visit www.tellurideskiresort.com.

Purgatory

Skiing Purgatory (photo by Scott DW Smith)

Purgatory Resort will have a new mountain coaster this season, which will be accessible from the base area and operate year-round. The coaster is 4,000 feet in length with a 300 foot-vertical drop, and features eight switchbacks and one loop.

Purgatory is also expanding its terrain with new intermediate and expert trails on the back- and front-sides of the mountain, and is adding new gladed tree skiing. The triple chairlift, Needles Lift 6, offers a new mid-way loading zone to provide an easier way to access terrain for ski teams, terrain park users, and skiers or riders who want to take laps on the frontside of the mountain.

The resort also has new snowmaking infrastructure including increased pumping capacity and more energy efficient snow guns.

Kids and 4th Graders Ski Free: Kids seven years old and younger ski free every day at Purgatory Resort. Fourth grade students also ski free at Purgatory with proof of grade. For more information, visit www.skipurg.com.

Loveland Ski Area

To celebrate its 80th year of operations, Loveland is offer snowcat skiing in Dry Gulch for the first time. Loveland will also continue the popular Mountaintop Matrimony event on Valentine’s Day.

Kids Ski Free: Children five and under ski free every day at Loveland. Children five and under can also purchase a ski or snowboard package equipment rental for $12.

3-Class Pass for Kids  is for all children, ages four to 14, of all ability levels. When guests pre-purchase or complete three full-day lesson packages, they receive a free unrestricted season pass to keep practicing their skiing or snowboarding skills for the rest of the season. Children’s full day lesson packages include a lesson, lift access, equipment rentals (ski or snowboard), helmet and lunch.

For more information, visit www.skiloveland.com.

New Direct Flights, Expanded Train Service Ease Travel to Colorado Ski Resorts This Season

DENVER –Colorado Ski Country USA has announced new direct flights to and from Colorado’s eight regional airports and expanded service on the Winter Park Express this season that will provide skiers and riders from across the country easy and convenient travel options to their favorite Colorado ski resorts by train, plane or car this winter.

Also, the Amtrak Winter Park Express, coming off a highly successful inaugural season, will offer expanded train service for the 2017-18 ski season. The Winter Park Express will depart from Union Station in downtown Denver each Saturday and Sunday from January 5 through March 25, plus three new “First Friday” round-trips, with a reduced fare of $29 each way on some departures. With more than 27 round-trip options and over 500 seats on each train, the Winter Park Express allows visiting skiers and riders to travel to Winter Park Resort without renting or setting foot in a car.

Colorado’s eight regional airports are offering new and expanded flights for the 2017-18 season. Steamboat will feature new nonstop flights from Austin (AUS) and Kansas City (MCI) on ViaAir into Steamboat/Hayden (HDN) airport beginning Dec. 13, 2017. These additional flights bring Steamboat’s total direct air service to 14 major U.S. airports.

Aspen Snowmass has new daily nonstop flights through American Airlines from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) starting this winter along with expanded service from both Dallas Ft. Worth (DFW) and Chicago O’ Hare (ORD).

Telluride has increased access this winter through new American Airlines direct flights into Montrose-Telluride Regional Airport (MTJ) from Charlotte Douglas International (CLT), Saturdays starting Dec. 23, 2017. Delta Airlines will operate new flights this winter from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Montrose-Telluride (MTJ) over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Skiers and riders hoping to make it to ski areas in the southwest part of the state: Telluride, Silverton, Purgatory and Wolf Creek, have another option from Denver (DEN) on a new Boutique Air flight servicing Alamosa San Luis Valley (ALS) with three daily non-stop flights with a round-trip as low as $100.

Visitors can also access seven resorts within a two-hour drive of Denver (DEN), including Colorado Ski Country USA’s newest member resort, Echo Mountain. Only 35 miles or 50 minutes from downtown Denver, the Idaho Springs ski area offers six trails on 60 acres just a short drive from the Front Range.

For a full list of flights into and out of Denver (DEN) servicing Colorado’s eight regional airports and for direct flights into airports servicing all of Colorado Ski Country USA’s member resorts visit coloradoski.com/traveling.

5th and 6th Grade Passport Program

Colorado Ski Country USA offers any fifth grader the chance to ski or ride three days at 22 participating member resorts across the state absolutely free. That’s up to 66 free days on the slopes. Fifth graders who have never skied or snowboarded are eligible for the First-Class program which provides never-ever skiers and riders one free full-day beginner lesson and equipment rental at the resort of their choice. All Passport holders also receive one complimentary junior rental from Christy Sports. The corresponding 6th Grade Passport Program offers four days of skiing at the same 22 resorts for only $105 before November 30, or $125 through the end of the season. To register for the Passport Program visit:www.coloradoski.com/passport.

Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) is the not-for-profit trade association representing Colorado’s 23 ski & snowboard resorts. www.ColoradoSki.com, on Twitter @ColoradoSkiUSA and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ColoradoSkiCountryUSA.

See also:

Vail Resorts Unveils Major Improvements at Network of Ski Destinations; Deadline to Purchase EpicPass is Nov 19

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn Biketour on Great Allegheny Passage Showcases Forgotten Towns

Biking through the Pinkerton Tunnel on the Great Allegheny Trail on the way to Confluence, PA © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Our first day on this year’s Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn biketour on the Great Allegheny Passage and the Montour Trail, 140-miles biking over six days through Western Pennsylvania, brought us from Deal to Meyersdale with a side-trip that brings us across the Eastern Continental Divide (with gorgeous murals on the tunnel depicting the story), to the Mason-Dixon Line and a striking monument. It is a relatively short ride that brings us to the tented city we create at Meyersdale’s community park. We have time to explore, and to enjoy the town’s gracious hospitality with a dinner at the firehouse and pancake breakfast, complete with Meyerdale’s famous maple syrup, in the gym of the former high school. 

Meyersdale, PA © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 2: On the second day, we also have an option: to cruise an easy 31 miles downhill to the Confluence Outflow Campground, riding through an enchanting tree tunnel, or taking an on-the-road route to ride up to Pennsylvania’s highest point, Mount Davis. 

The forecast of rain all day makes the choice an easy one: the easy tree-tunnel route through tranquil forest. Despite some shelter from the trees, we get soaked, but it is a warm rain, and the amount of good cheer keeps us warmer still. The rain stops just as we arrive at Confluence, where we are greeted with two representatives of Confluence in period dress, inviting us to follow the balloons lining a route into the town center for free bike washes at the local cycle shop (and a gift!) and ice cream at the gazebo on the village green. Confluence, I am told, has a population of 700; for these two days, the census swells by 200 more. That evening, no one complains about the rain.

Rails-to-Trails Sojourners are welcomed to Confluence, PA © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The campground is absolutely magnificent, literally at the base below the enormous dam, constructed in 1944 to control flooding and more recently, to generate hydroelectric power. It is a popular place for fishermen.

Just after our evening “talk” (a workshop on repairing our bike), and sitting around waiting for phones to recharge, we get word that there is a major storm at Ohiopyle, about 11 miles away. We have 10 minutes before it hits us. Sure enough, small drops start to fall as I am just steps away from the tent. By the time I get there, rain is coming down in sheets. 

The Rails-to-Trails Sojourn campsite in the Outflow Campground, beneath the dam at Confluence, PA © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 3 is our “Fun Day” when we don’t cycle (unless we want to), but instead have a choice of activities: Fallingwater tour (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), Kentuck Knob tour (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), a rafting trip on the Middle Yough Class 1 – 2, or, the one I choose, a class 3 whitewater rafting trip on the Lower Yough.

In fact, 81 of us choose this option, organized by Wilderness Voyageurs, the same company that organizes the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn rides including this one (the company has a catalog full of bike tours). I’ve done a fair amount of white water rafting trips in the past, but this one on the wonderfully scenic Youghiogheny River was absolutely the best – truly thrills and chills, especially since this is the only Class 3 rafting experience offered as a “guide-assisted” instead of having a guide in each raft. That means we are arbitrarily put into rafts and we “elect” a captain. This proves a great challenge and  a great experience (I lasted about 5 minutes as captain, exactly one set of rapids, when one of our four rafters got bounced out and we all decided to go into other rafts, leaving one of the guides to portage the raft to a point where he could deflate it and pick it up later). Getting bounced out of the raft – going for a “swim” – is not unusual and we have been cautioned to only wear what can get wet or lost.

We aren’t really on our own – one guide positions himself on a rock and gives us hand signals how we should “attack” the rapid, where to enter and so forth (though the instructions are for naught when inexperienced paddlers can’t follow directions, forget which is left and right, or are being bounced so high, they can’t reach paddle into the water); other guides in a kayak and in a raft are there to pick up anyone who is bounced out, and three of the rafts have guides in them (that’s the one I go into). Over the course of the trip, several of us get tossed out of the raft; one fellow gets a bit beat up.

A view of a portion of the lower Youghiogheny River where we had our class III whitewater rafting trip just the day from the overpass on the Great Allegheny Trail © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is one point, though, where we come to an ominous sign warning that anyone who doesn’t want to raft through this particular set of rapids can portage their raft around it. The reason is because there is an underwater cavern, and if you get bounced out here, it is possible to be sucked down under. (Our guide says that most people die of heart failure rather than drowning. Small comfort.) The lead guide says that if any one of us in a raft wants to portage, the whole raft has to. We are in the lead raft and get to watch everybody coming through, cheering them on. Everyone makes it through.

We pull in for lunch at a small lagoon – we fill pita with chicken salad (fantastic) or tuna, cheese, lettuce and tomato, and have a wonderful time before continuing on down the river.

I don’t even know how long we are on the river – it all goes by so fast. But we are back at the campground by around 3 pm.

Storyteller Pennsylvania Jack © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

A few of us climb up to walk across the dam – the lake that was formed is popular for swimming and boating.

That evening, we are regaled by Pennsylvania Jack, a storyteller, and there is a campfire with s’mores.

Day 4 is our longest ride – 58 miles on the schedule (albeit mostly downhill), but with an option that increases the distance to a touch over 62. This section of the Great Allegheny Passage, between Confluence and West Newton, where we camp, is the most scenic, with much of it going through the stunning Ohiopyle State Park (Pennsylvania’s largest in land area). We ride along the river for just about the entire distance. When we reach the Ohiopyle State Park Visitors Center, about 11 miles into the ride, I go off the trail to do a hike that I had heard about the year before: Cucumber Falls. I had seen a painting of it in the Visitors’ Center, where there is an excellent historic exhibit, and heard about a hike starting a short walk from the center, and always regretted not doing the hike then.

Biking the Great Allegheny Passage, Confluence to Ohiopyle © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Follow the yellow feet on the sidewalk,” they tell me. The hike is just about 25 minutes each way – a little over a mile – and proves absolutely enchanting: you follow yellow markings on trees and rocks, do some scrambling, and then, you make a turn and there ahead of you is the most magnificent falls, tucked into the woods. I felt as if I were John Muir coming upon Yosemite Falls for the first time.

Cucumber Falls, Ohiopyle State Park, PA, reached by an enchanting hike scrambling through the woods, along the Youghiogheny River from the Visitors Center © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The lighting is perfect – just a touch of sunlight hitting the waterfall. It is a magical experience and I am transfixed.

(I heartily recommend this hike, which should add 1 to 1 ½ hrs to the day’s ride time.)

Climbing up behind Cucumber Falls © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I’m calculating the extra time, as I get to mile 25.9 (not even halfway), when we have another option: to steer off about 2.1 miles on the Sheepskin Trail connector off the GAP, to go into the tiny town of Dunbar. Having visited last year, I knew this was an off-trail visit not to be missed, especially when you come in this way, off a back trail (even worth the half-mile over a rocky unimproved section). (See: Pascal Glass Sculpture with Trump Connection is Boon for Dunbar) 

The sculpture and the rest of the historical society is really worth seeing (www.dunbarhistoricalsociety.com).

Dunbar, PA, once a glass-manufacturing center that depended upon railroads, now seeing a new lease on life with rail-trails and the Pascal “Seated Torso” sculpture, donated by Donald Trump, on view in the historical society © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The train tracks come straight through the middle, as if a main street. On the village green is a coke oven and a memorial to those who died in a nearby mine accident.

RTC has basically adopted Dunbar as an example of how a town can be revitalized through tourism and culture.

Dunbar, PA was a bustling town a century ago, © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 5: This proves our most challenging day – not just because it is 48 miles of cycling after yesterday’s long ride, but I suspect because of the humidity and also because much of it, it seems, is uphill. But it also proves very interesting, as we leave the GAP after 17 miles (just after Boston, PA, where the trail becomes very urban, bringing a certain culture shock after such pastoral scenes.). To get from the GAP to the Montour Trail, we ride six miles on urban streets, through a small town of Glassport (where we are treated to snacks and cold water at a church), ride over a bridge to Clairton that gives us an eyeful into what I expect defined Pittsburgh just a couple of decades ago: a humongous pile of coal dwarfing the trucks scooping it up, and across the railroad tracks, a giant carbon materials and chemical plant. We finally get to the beginning of the Montour Trail, which includes several places where you are on/off the trail, on/off a shared road.

Culture shock as we leave the pastoral Great Allegheny Trail, ride through Clairton, on our way to the Montour Trail © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At one point, I ride around a bend and find myself in a different time zone or the Twilight Zone – a hodgepodge of train cars, trucks, firetrucks, gas pumps and signs from the 1940s or so, as if they were just left there.  After a rocky start, the Montour Trail becomes as idyllic as the GAP, nestled in trees. A highlight is the 600-foot long National Tunnel.

Biking through the National Tunnel on the Montour Trail © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We finally arrive at the small town of Cecil, where we camp at the Cecil Township Ballfield Park, and are treated to an absolute banquet (no kidding), Sierra Nevada beer, and finish off with a talent show.

It pours during the night (I am snug in the Comfy Camper tent), but amazingly stops just in time for breakfast. We are told to expect a break in the rain from 8 to 11am – exactly how much time we need to go the 26 miles to the end of our ride, including the last mile of the Montour Trail (actually an added mile that goes beyond the zero-milepost that they are working to improve), which is very definitely “off road”. The trail is really nice – it is wonderful to see how local communities show their pride and appreciation for the trail with beautiful gardens and rest stations. It also offers an example of the serendipity that takes place on the trail: I suddenly come upon what appears a depot of antique trucks, cars, gas station pumps and signs – either the historical society or a warehouse for theatrical props.

Local volunteers worked to improve rail bridges for bikers on the Montour Trail © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This last day’s ride also lets us see some of the “hybrids” and innovations in repurposed multi-use trails – a section of the Montour is a trail-beside-a-rail – the multipurpose trail is carved out of the right-of-way beside the active rail line.

We also literally ride over the “Panhandle” Trail which goes to Parkersburg West Virginia, with the connector that ultimately will allow bikers to cycle from Pittsburgh to Parkersburg (PtoP).

As for the rain, sure enough, as I pull into the parking lot at 11:15 am, the drops turn into deluge in a matter of moments.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Washington, DC 20037, 202-974-5150, Railstotrails.orgTrailLink.com. 

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn is a wonderful introduction to bike touring.

Wilderness Voyageurs, which operates the Sojourn on the GAP for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, offers Ride the GAP trips with bed-and-breakfast accommodations (they portage luggage from inn to inn), as well as a full catalog of guided bike tours that includes Colorado; Missouri’s Katy Trail; Idaho’s Hiawatha & Coeur D’Alene; South Dakota’s Mickelson & the Badlands; the Erie Canal, Finger Lakes, and Adirondacks in New York; Shenandoah and the Civil War; Gettysburg & the Civil War; Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay; Pittsburgh to DC on the GAP & C&O; Pennsylvania’s Amish Country; Kentucky’s Bike & Bourbon; Georgia’s Gold Coast; and a biking trip in Cuba. (855-550-7705, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com)

See also:

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s BikeTour on Great Allegheny Passage Highlights Benefits of RailTrails

Pascal Glass Sculpture with Trump Connection is Boon for Dunbar, Pennsylvania

 

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s BikeTour on Great Allegheny Passage Highlights Benefits of RailTrails

Riding over the Eastern Continental Divide on the Great Allegheny Passage railtrail on the first day of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn biketour © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The ages of the 200 of us on this year’s Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn, biking 150-miles along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and Montour Trail across western Pennsylvania, ranges from 9 to 83 years old. Indeed, there are 15 young people and three octogenarians among us.

A bike tour such as this, along relatively flat trails free of cars and other hazards, is a great equalizer: youngsters feel competent, accomplished, adventurous; and oldsters, well, feel competent, accomplished, adventurous and youthful.

Our group comes from more than 30 states plus Canada and as far as Alaska, including families, three generations (a grandfather who is a retired physics professor, his three sons and two grandsons); grandfathers with grandsons, a mother with her son; husbands without wives; wives without husbands; and single women relishing the simultaneous independence with community.

Three generations of the Parsegian family who have come from Massachusetts, Texas, Michigan and New York to bike the Great Allegheny Passage on the RTC Sojourn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I reconnect with a couple from DC whom I first met on the 400-mile Erie Canal bikeride two years ago, again last year on this RTC Sojourn on the GAP, and this year, we find ourselves sitting next to each other on the bus from the drop-off to the start of the ride – he is the 83-year old. I meet people like Ed Holowinko of Connecticut, who was one of the activists who helped save the Walk over the Hudson, when otherwise, the bridge would have been taken down and instead has become one of the most popular attractions in the state. I meet people who defy the stereotype of an environmentalist cyclist: a woman who is as comfortable riding her motorcycle as her bike and a man who proudly defends the NRA (though political discussions are assiduously avoided, just as at any family gathering).

Comfy Campers set up 81 tents for the RTC Sojourners – the closest thing to “glamping” – creating a tent city at Meyersdale © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The supported ride is ideal for singles and families as well as those on their first biketour or experiencing their first long-distance ride: a luggage truck brings your stuff from one campsite to the next; there is breakfast and dinner provided daily; shower trucks and portasans supplement the campsite’s facilities; charging stations. If you don’t want to set up a tent, you can luxuriate in hiring Comfy Campers which provides a terrifically comfortable, watertight tent with air mattress, chair, fresh towel daily, cooling area with water and lemonade and chargers – the closest thing to “glamping” you can find. (Those who don’t want to camp can take advantage of bed-and-breakfast accommodations along the route.) In addition, there is a bike mechanic and massage therapists, and a volunteer nurse who travel with us.

There is such a sense of community that immediately forms in our tent city – sitting around long tables at breakfast and dinner; waiting for a turn at the shower truck, brushing teeth at the sinks – it’s like a giant pajama party. The kids come together in games and activities; we gather around for an evening talk (one night Pennsylvania Jack, a storyteller, regaled us), a campfire, and, for the final night, a talent show (contestants competed for the grand prize, a Fuji bike!). Another nice feature this year: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company joined as a sponsor, and we have free beer (terrific Pale Ale!) on a few of our dinners.

Oldest and youngest among us on Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s 140-mile Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage and Montour Trail © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are endless conversations with people who have never heard your stories before that typically begin, “Where are you from?” I meet a woman from Michigan who, now retired, takes one of these long-distance biketours on rail-trails practically monthly – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; the Katy Trail, in Missouri; the Louisiana Bayou.

Many of us (one-third, in fact), had been on this Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage before, including me, but the destination and the experience is so fantastic, it is delightful to return over and over. Each day provides a different highlight, and each person will have a different experience. And each day brings its own serendipity, its own uniqueness – the season, weather, lighting, chance encounters, different things to explore. Indeed, even the sections of the Great Allegheny Passage that I had traveled last year in spring were very different this summer.

The Great Allegheny Passage crosses over the Mason-Dixon Line © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is more, there are significant differences in the itinerary – this year’s trip was longer in distance and days, starting out closer to the Mason-Dixon Line and the Eastern Continental Divide (and the beginning of the 150-mile long GAP, which starts in Cumberland, Maryland, 21 miles further east from the Mason-Dixon line, but would involve a steep uphill climb; the way we do it, there is only a slight incline and most of us ride the mere 4 miles out and back, adding a mere 8 miles to the first day’s tally); featured a “fun day” in Pennsylvania’s magnificent Ohiopyle State Park when we get to choose among four different activities (I choose a Class III whitewater river rafting experience which is sensational; others choose a milder Class I river rafting trip, or visits to one of two Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes, Fallingwaters or Kentuck Nob, and still others just do their own thing), which also meant we had two days at one campsite.

Also, the ending of the trip takes us back toward Pittsburgh (actually Coraopolis, PA) on the Montour Trail, which, like the Great Allegheny Passage – both award-winning trails – and a superb example of how obsolete rail lines (or canalways, or right-of-ways alongside active rail lines) can be turned into multi-use recreational trails. These linear parks, if you will, not only provide wellness and outdoor activities for families to do together, but also revitalize towns and villages whose economies have been upended by shuttered factories and mines, towns and villages that for so long had been defined by the railroads, the steel mills, the coal mines. Along the way, I will capture images of the cyclists on the rail trail cutting into hillsides topped with wind turbines above the Pennsylvania towns founded on oil, coal and gas. The rail-trails provide a new lease on life, as it were, and we realize it as the chambers of commerce, tourist bureaus, volunteer firefighters, Rotary and Lions Clubs go out of their way to greet us.

RTC bikers on the Great Allegheny Trail pass by wind turbines on the Pennsylvania hilltops © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And so we are welcomed at Meyersdale, our first night’s destination, where the railroad station along the Great Allegheny Passage has been turned into a delightful historical society display, refreshment stand and shop, by representatives of local chamber; a special Sunday evening service at the church features a prayer for all the Sojourners to have a safe ride, dinner at the fire department and breakfast at what used to be the town’s high school. This is a town that once supported six hotels, a bank, a high school and elementary school – today, all but the bank (built in 1904) are shuttered. And while the GAP goes over one railroad line that has been turned into the railtrail, there is still an active railroad line that goes right through the middle of town.

Walking about after our dinner, there is this eerie quiet and stillness – a sense of being in a movie set, rather than a town, or a scene in Twilight Zone (granted, it is Sunday and Fathers’ Day at that). I pass a barber shop and peer in: there is a crumbled newspaper, brown and deteriorating with age; the leather barber chairs are cracked; the shop seems to have been left alone for decades- I take note of a Sheriff’s notice on the door handle. I pass a porch with a Confederate flag and “Don’t tread on me” banner.

Meyersdale shows its pride © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Meyersdale is a very proud community – it showcases its history on markers, on magnificent painted murals that fill entire sides of buildings, even on the placemats that picture the town’s history and attractions which are laid out for our breakfast that features Meyersdale’s famous maple syrup (who knew this was the capital of maple syrup making?).

The towns we get to visit are absolutely wonderful – quite literally, Smalltown America -and the contrast with seeing nothing but trees, rocks and river along the trail is stimulating and intriguing.

You are deep in the forest – for much of the way, riding alongside a river or creek on one side, and outcroppings of rocks on the other, riding through a literal “tree tunnel” that envelopes you. Occasionally we ride by a farm, but most of the time, the solitude is just stunning – the kind of serenity you feel when you are hiking. The only sound is the wind you create by riding, the crunching sound of the bike wheels on the hard-packed gravel, and birds. Many, many birds. Occasionally we pass by a small waterfall. It is surprising with so much land all around we don’t see that many animals, though on one day, we come upon several deer on the trail; chipmunks who scurry across the path (amazing how they time their dash), making a huge leap into the bushes just as I am about to reach them. The quiet is occasionally broken by a train whistle and the chugging as they haul something like 8000 tons of coal on tracks on the opposite riverbank.

The serenity of biking on the Great Allegheny Passage © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you are a writer or poet, this is better to get creative juices flowing than holing up in isolated cabin – your imagination and your thoughts dance in your head as you ride, nurtured by the rhythms and the endorphins. If you are an artist, you will be inspired by the scenes that stream by.

At one point, I think to myself, “We are like nomads, like pioneers, steadily picking up stakes and moving on, each time setting up a new community.”

The trail also has some wonderfully thrilling  and dramatic features – it is tremendous fun (exciting too) going through these old rail tunnels, over viaducts and steel bridges – that have been built for the trains, but now rebuilt and repurposed, largely because of the efforts of local communities and volunteers, for bikes.

Riding through the Pinkerton Tunnel on the Great Allegheny Passage © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We ride at our own pace – and can go off the trail to explore if we like – and depending upon the length of ride (from about 30 miles to the longest ride, 62 miles with some optional add-ons, averaging 35-40 miles a day), we would have one or two rest stops with snacks and cold water. They offer suggestions for lunch or ice cream or attractions we might want to explore, like Rockwood’s Opera House (our cue sheets offer great detail). And in many cases, people from the town set up to welcome us.

This is clear from the first day, when we have the option of either riding a mere 8 miles to the first night’s campsite, just 8 miles to Meyersdale, or add four miles out and back to explore several iconic sites, including the Eastern Continental Divide, the Big Savage Tunnel, the Big Savage Overlook and the Mason-Dixon Line monument.

At that night’s dinner, held in the Meyersdale Fire House, the trip leader, Tom Sexton, Director of the Northeast Regional Office of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Who is leading the Sojourn, talks about the mission of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and our role as Sojourners.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has played a key advocacy role to promote the creation and use of these repurposed trails. RTC has been a partner, providing technical assistance – such as negotiating with railroads, advising localities on visioning and feasibility studies as well as construction, and coordination with nonprofits and volunteer efforts, such as the Montour Trail Council that has been so active in building and improving the trail we will take.

A current project underway will link trails in four states, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, creating an Industrial Heartland Trail Network. (New York State, which has the Erie Canalway that extends from Buffalo to Albany, is creating the Empire State Trail, finishing 350-miles of new trails that would complete the Eric Canalway and the Hudson River Valley Greenway, and connecting them to form a 750-mile pathway, the longest in the nation, from New York Harbor, through the Adirondack Mountains, to the Canadian border, and from Lake Erie to Albany.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy promotes the use of rail-trails – there are some 23,000 miles of rail-trails- and its TrailLink.com website helps you locate them.

RTC is also an advocacy group lobbying Congress and the administration, which will be important coming up, because Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the earmarks for rail-trails.

RTC’s Tom Sexton: federal funding for rail-to-trail projects like the Great Allegheny Passage and Montour Trail are in jeopardy © 2017 Karen Rubin /goingplacesfarandnear.com

As Sexton explains, since 1991, the major funding for these rail-to-trail projects has come from the federal government, with matching funds from states and localities. The Highway Bill had typically included mass transit and railroad funding but beginning in 1991, also earmarked funding for 10 categories, including rail-trails, given as grants to states to use for acquisition, planning and construction.

But that is under threat by the new administration:

“The president’s budget proposal eliminates all funding for the wildly popular TIGER program, which is bad news for trails and active transportation,” RTC states. “Without TIGER, trails could miss out on hundreds of millions in funding. Since the program began in 2009, TIGER has provided nearly $340 million in funding for active transportation projects and trail networks like the Circuit Trails in PhiladelphiaCleveland Metroparks and the Atlanta BeltLine. What’s more, using the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials’ methodology to calculate jobs per mile of trail built, we project that TIGER investments in active transportation have generated thousands of jobs.

“TIGER is much more than a program that supports trails; it funds all transportation modes and is unique in that it encourages cross-jurisdictional and multimodal cooperation, breaking down traditional bureaucratic silos and looking at balanced transportation systems as a whole. This makes the program intentional, focused and efficient in the projects it selects—and effective in achieving outcomes after construction.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation has thus far awarded TIGER funding to diverse projects including roads and bridges, ports, railways, transit, freight operations and, of course, trails and other walking and biking infrastructure. However, the new president and transportation secretary will set their own funding priorities….

“The budget also calls for an end to general fund infusions to the Highway Trust Fund, eliminating $95 billion in expected transportation spending over the same 10 years, raising further doubts about the extent to which infrastructure investment would increase if the president’s budget proposal were to pass.”

Map of our 2017 Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn ride on the Great Allegheny Passage and Montour Trail © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, we Sojourners are ambassadors and advocates and increasingly now, also activists.

“Everyone here is an ambassador,” says Brandi Horton, RTC’s VP of Communications. “We show the towns, the communities, city and town and state governments just how important rail trails are to building community, generating economic development, building tourism and getting people out together.”

Tips for advocating include bringing a friend out with you on the trail, use social media, lobby state and federal legislators to make sure trails are included in infrastructure funding; let your Congressmember know you use the trails, send a photo.

RTC has also its “take action” section of the website, where you can plug in your zipcode, find your official and send a note.

“Be a spokesperson, do community outreach. If you want to get a trail in your community, you need your voice heard not just at the federal, state and regional level, but at the local level.”

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Washington, DC 20037, 202-974-5150, Railstotrails.orgTrailLink.com.

See next:

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn Biketour on Great Allegheny Passage Showcases Forgotten Towns

Pascal Glass Sculpture with Trump Connection is Boon for Dunbar, Pennsylvania

 ____________________

© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

 

New ‘Mummies’ Exhibit at American Museum of Natural History Lets You Peer Through Wrappings, Peel Away Layers of Time

Haunting images: the coffin that still harbor the thousands-year old mummified remains of a teenage boy who lived in Ancient Egypt thousands of years ago, and his scanned image reflected in his glass case. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gilded Lady seems to be resting peacefully, her painted visage staring up to the sky. But inside this container are the remains of a real woman who lived nearly 2000 years ago, and for the first time, the ancient coalesces with 21st century scientific techniques: we actually get to peer inside, probing down layer by layer to her mortal remains, and then, at a digitally reconstructed, 3-D image of her as she lived: this middle-aged woman was beautiful.

She has already traveled from Chicago where she lives at the Field Museum, to Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Denver and now she is reposing here in New York as part of Mummies, an extraordinary exhibit featuring one of the largest collections of mummies housed in North America that just opened at the American Museum of Natural History through January 7, 2018.

The Gilded Lady, the gold-masked coffin of a middle-aged woman who was mummified during the Roman Period (30BC-AD 395) © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit provides an unparalleled glimpse into the lives and traditions of people from ancient cultures. It puts us face to face, head to head with people who lived their lives thousands of years ago, in Egypt and in Peru – two of the many cultures that practiced mummification. The contrasts and the similarities are striking, and just as their similarities speak to a unity of humanity, this extraordinary way of connecting past to present connects us as human beings. (And to bring about an even broader connection, increasing the span from thousands to 100s of thousands of years ago, be sure to visit the AMNH’s Human Evolution wing.)

Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Mummies have long been fascinating, and now the intersection of these ancient relics and cutting-edge technology is revealing new and intriguing secrets,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “For generations, the Museum has studied and presented the diverse cultures of humanity, past and present, to help us better understand one another and ourselves. Today, when such understanding is more important than ever, Mummies invites us all to consider both what may be distinct among cultures and what is universal in the human condition.”

On a special, limited tour from the collections of The Field Museum in Chicago — and presented for the first time on the East Coast (the traveling exhibition has already been on view in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Denver), Mummies showcases the ritually preserved remains of 18 individuals from ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian Peru. The Peruvian mummies that are on display have not been seen since they were exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Significantly, you get to discover how modern imaging techniques have transformed the study of mummification by letting researchers peer inside centuries-old mummies without disturbing or damaging them. Digital touchscreens let you “virtually” peer into Peruvian mummy bundles, layer by layer from the skin to the bones, as well as animal mummies buried as offerings to Egyptian gods. You also get to handle 3D-printed figurines of burial goods that were encased within mummy wrappings for millennia and only recently revealed.

“You may think you know mummies,” Futter said at a press preview, pointing to the most popular representations in horror movies. “That’s not what this show is about. This is serious business that simultaneously offers a window to the past – two different ancient worlds – and into the latest technology and study. You get a glimpse of actual people entombed – who they were, what their lives were like, what they looked like.”

“They are like messages from a different time – they are our sisters and brothers in a shared humanity. It may not be as sensational as a [horror] movie, but more amazing than you would have imagined.”

Scan of a bundle from Peru reveals a woman in her 20s with two children, around six and two years old who died of unknown causes © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, most people – especially  young people – have never actually seen a dead body before. The most profound experience in the exhibit is seeing the remains of a woman who lived 5500 years ago, whose bundled body was left in the Egyptian desert where it naturally mummified.

Indeed, it wasn’t just pharaohs and their spouses and other royal figures who were mummified, though their tombs and the possessions that were left with them reflected their station. This was the common practice – as people were lower and lower down the economic totem pole, the possessions that they would have been buried with were more and more modest.

In Egyptian society, it was also common for animals to be mummified and buried – there is a baboon and a crocodile in the exhibit. Cats were actually popular and David Hurst Thomas, the co-curator of the exhibit, said that archaeologists found cemeteries of a million mummified cats, manufactured  for sale to be entombed with the loved one.

Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President, Provost of Science and Curator, division of Paleontology and David Hurst Thomas, curator of North American archaeology and co-curator of Mummies, American Museum of Natural History © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is fascinating to have this view to contrast the Peruvian mummies (I’m betting few people have even realized that pre-Colombian Peruvian peoples practiced mummification), with the Egyptian burial practices. The two civilizations never interacted – mummification developed independently, indeed, on every continent but Antarctica, Dr. David Hurst Thomas, curator of North American archaeology, division of Anthropology and co-Curator of the Mummies exhibit, said at a press preview of the exhibit.

In Peru, mummification was intended to enable the living to stay connected with their loved ones. The body was carefully prepared and wrapped and then a mask was placed on top the canvas.

One of the scans of a bundle reveals that it is a woman with two children. The scans also show artifacts that have been buried with the individual.

The ancient Egyptians, in contrast, mummified their dead so that they could live on – their limbs intact – in the next world. The earliest mummies, like the 5500-year old woman, were not buried in elaborate pyramids or tombs, but were put into a pit grave. Over the centuries, the mummification process became more and more elaborate – organs were preserved in canopic jars and bodies placed in magnificently painted coffins with gilded masks.

By using these new technologies – most that have come from medicine – the scientists have been able to see artifacts that were buried with them, how a mother is buried with her two children (how did they die?).

“They have so much to teach us – medical infirmities, migration, interaction of societies,”

The Gilded Lady, for example, is utterly fascinating – you see her in her magnificently decorated coffin, and on the wall are the slides that show how her hair was curled, had a damaged spine, possibly as a result  of tuberculosis. Based on the scan of her skull, they made a 3-D reconstruction using a 3-D printer, and from that, like a forensic scientist, re-created what she likely looked like in life – all of this in one view.

Gilded Lady with the scans that show what she likely looked like © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The gilded mask that we see was not meant to illustrate how the woman looked in life, but was an idealized portrait that had a purpose: the Ancient Egyptians believed that in the afterlife, the dead would need their faculties – eyesight, hearing, taste and smell. The masks allowed them to maintain these senses. The golden skin was used to show divinity: after death, the dead would be transformed into the god Osiris, who, like most gods, had skin of gold.

The Gilded Lady lays across the room from another mummy, named Minirdis according to the hieroglyphs on the coffin. The coffin was opened for the first time in a century for this exhibition. In examining the remains, researchers discovered the teenaged boy inside was mummified around 250 BC, or 200 years after the coffin was made, construction of the coffin, indicating that the mummified individual wasn’t Minirdis after all, and confirming that coffins were occasionally recycled (though might not the inscription have been added when the boy was buried?)

The hieroglyphs on the coffin say the name of the mummy who is supposed to go inside it – Minirdis, son of a priest. Preserving the person’s name was essential for their soul to reach the afterlife. Minirdis means “Min is the one who gave him,” and Min was a god of fertility. The inscription also says that Minirdis’ father, Inaros was a priest, in charge of purifying and clothing the god’s statue. The only problem was that the boy inside was mummified around 250 BC, or 200 years after the coffin was made, indicating that the mummified individual wasn’t Minirdis after all, but also confirming that coffins were occasionally recycled.

The scans of the body show that the coffin was too large for the body inside and the bones hadn’t fused, indicating that the body was a teenage boy.

Ancient culture meets Modern science: A mummy as it would go through the CT scanner, on view at the American Museum of Natural History © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The CT scans enabled scientists to generate 3D-printed skull reconstructions of both the “Gilded Lady” and Minirdis. Then, artist Elisabeth Daynès studied the replicas and built facial muscles and skin layer by layer. The hyper-realistic portraits in 3D. we meet at the end of the exhibit let us come face-to-face with these ancient people, seeing them as they may have looked in life —while their mummified remains sleep peacefully.

Peruvian Mummies On View for the First Time in a Century

We are much more familiar with Egyptian mummies, particularly with the sensational exhibits of King Tut and the artifacts uncovered from his tomb in the Valley of Kings, as well as the scientific analysis of his mummified remains. But this exhibit goes much further in its exploration of the cultural significance of the burial practice.

The first part of the exhibit focuses on the collection of Peruvian Mummies, which had not been seen in public since they were on display in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

People living along the Pacific coast of South America in what is now Peru began to mummify their dead more than 5,000 years ago. Scholars think that the Chinchorro culture (5,000–2,000 BC)—the world’s first practitioners of mummification—prepared the bodies of their loved ones personally, removing the deceased’s skin, de-fleshing the bones, and removing the organs before reinforcing the skeleton with reeds and clay and reattaching the skin. The mummy was then painted black or red and given a wig and an individualized clay portrait of the deceased.

In addition to the Chinchorro, dozens of societies in the region mummified their dead to remember and remain connected with the departed.

As we walk through the  Mummies exhibit, we encounter a number of Peruvian mummy bundles, including the mummified remains of three children from the Chancay culture (AD 1000–1400), which placed their dead into a sitting position and wrapped them in layers of cloth.

The exhibit is very much hands-on, interactive, if you can believe it, because you get to do what scientists do, in penetrating the layers of scans to reveal the body contained in the wrappings, through the skin layer, to the bones.

There are digital touchscreens, where you can examine composite CT scans of these mummies and virtually “unwrap” them to reveal figurines and other burial offerings that are contained within, becoming surprised as surely the scientists were, when a scan reveals a mother with two children bundled together, or seeing the objects that were personal or prized which reveal so much about who they were in life.

A life-sized diorama of a Chancay pit burial demonstrates the common practice of interring members of an extended family together © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

A life-sized diorama of a Chancay pit burial demonstrates the common practice of interring members of an extended family together. These burial pits were accessible to living family members, allowing relatives to bring food or drink to their loved ones’ graves, or even to remove mummies to take them to festivals or other special events. We see examples of real burial offerings such as chicha (corn beer) pots.

Jim Phillips, curator of The Field Museum, tells me that the Peruvian mummies were uncovered on expeditions in the 1880s and 1890. This means they would have been recent finds – the most modern discoveries – when they were displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Jim Phillips, curator of The Field Museum, with the Gilded Lady and the scan that shows how imaging techniques helped reconstruct her face © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Egyptian Mummies of the Nile Valley 

Unlike people in Peru, ancient Egyptians believed the dead could live on in the next world if provided with a physical home, preferably within the body itself. This belief made it essential to preserve the corpse, and Egyptians used an elaborate process of mummification to halt the natural process of decay. Scholars posit that natural mummification—an example of which can be seen in the remains of a woman whose preservation occurred naturally in the hot, dry sand about 5,500 years ago—gave Egyptians the idea for artificial mummification.

Mummies invites visitors to compare and contrast burial practices of Egypt (statue of Osiris on left) and Peru © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Within centuries, ritual burial in Egypt evolved into a complex practice that included elaborate embalming, brilliantly decorated sarcophagi, and grandiose tombs designed to deter grave-robbers (we see magnificent limestone busts from sarcophagi that were an added layer of security to those who could afford this extra protection and would have weighed thousands of pounds). Organs that would hasten decay—the liver, lungs, intestines, and stomach—were removed, preserved, wrapped, and housed in separate containers. The heart—thought to be the source of emotion and intellect—often stayed in place, since it would be necessary in the afterlife, while the brain, thought to have no use, was removed through the nose. Forty days in salt desiccated the body, and embalmers then used resins, oils, and padding to restore its appearance before wrapping it in linen. Artifacts on view include a Ptolemaic Period mummy (332-30 BC) along with canopic jars containing the person’s organs. Here, there are stations where you can handle 3D-printed burial figurines that depict ancient Egyptian gods provide visitors with an opportunity to explore the hidden artifacts within its wrappings.

Students get to discover burial practices of ancient peoples. The exhibit is designed to be “family friendly”; the notes that accompany the exhibit are easy to understand © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The objects found in Egyptian tombs were meant to provide for the deceased in the afterlife. Burials of wealthy Egyptians include their servants, represented by figurines called shawabti; ideally there would be 365 of these, one for each day of the year, with 36 overseers, one for each week in the Egyptian calendar. Even mummified animals were included in tombs, and archaeologists have uncovered cemeteries containing millions of animal mummies, including cats, baboons, gazelles, birds and even crocodiles, some of which are on view. Grave-robbing was rampant in ancient Egypt, and an Egyptian tomb diorama represents a type of crypt that Egyptians with rank or wealth constructed to guard against such thefts. Within the tomb, a plain stone sarcophagus contains a smaller stone sarcophagus and a wooden coffin from the Late Period (525-343 BC) covered in hieroglyphs. Most of the imagery on the coffin was inspired by scenes in The Book of the Dead, a collection of funerary texts believed to assist a person’s journey into the afterlife.

Dr. Thomas says the Gilded Lady steals the show, and indeed she does. She was mummified during the Roman Period (30 BC-AD 395), a period when we see in the exhibit the most magnificently painted coffins. There is one of a woman whose coffin is a stunning piece of artwork – it has a magnificent gilded mask and the body had pronounced breasts. Why? The anthropologists could not say, showing that there is still so much more to be learned.

Magnificently decorated coffin from Egypt’s Roman Period (30 BC-AD 395) © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mummies is on view in New York through January 7, 2018. The exhibition is co-curated at the American Museum of Natural History by David Hurst Thomas, Curator of North American Archaeology in the Division of Anthropology, and John J. Flynn, Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals in the Division of Paleontology. 

Mummies was developed by The Field Museum, Chicago, and will go back there for an exhibition after its New York showing.

Explorer

Mummies is featured in the Museum’s recently re-launched Explorer app, developed with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which lets visitors think like an explorer by personalizing their onsite experience using cutting-edge location-aware technology that provides unique journeys through the Museum’s 45 permanent halls.

More information about the exhibit is available at amnh.org/mummies.

A Major Scientific Research Institution

When we see these fantastic exhibits, we don’t necessarily see behind them, to the fact that the American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions, whose research has contributed not only to their discovery, but to the understanding of what is displayed.

Indeed, the press tour takes us behind the scenes to the institution’s Microscopy and Imaging Facility – the technology that would have been used to scan the mummies. The equipment is shared by all five departments of the institution, whether AMNH scientists are studying fossils, cultural artifacts, planets or solar systems, the cutting-edge imaging technologies in the facility make it possible to examine details that were previously unobservable. While earlier studies often required unwrapping mummies – which could have damaged them – tools like high-resolution computerized tomography (CT) scanner provide scientists with non-invasive methods to examine them. MIF technician Morgan Hill walked us through the process, along with Zachary Calamari, a Ph.D. student in comparative biology program at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, who showed us how the scans help in research of two naturally-mummified newborn wooly mammoths – one who was mummified by being frozen and the other who was “pickled.”

Zachary Calamari, Ph.D. student at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, shows scan of a naturally mummified newborn wooley mammoth © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

During our visit, the CT scanner is doing an image of a rabbit. It is this ability to understand the internal aspects of dinosaurs and fossils that have led scientists to rejigger Evolution’s schema, to redefine who is related to who and what is connected to what.

The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 33 million specimens and artifacts, as well as specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data, and one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and the Master of Arts in Teaching degree.

The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president, and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.

The museum gets 5 million visitors a year and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows can be seen in venues on five continents. The Museum’s website and apps for mobile devices extend its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to millions more beyond its walls.

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100. Open daily from 10 am-5:45 pm except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Visit amnh.org for more information. 

Become a fan of the American Museum of Natural History on Facebook at facebook.com/naturalhistory, follow us on Instagram at @AMNH, Tumblr at amnhnyc, or Twitter at twitter.com/AMNH

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York City is Winter Wonderland of Spirited Delights

 

Rockefeller Center is like Christmas central in New York City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rockefeller Center is like Christmas central in New York City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City is never more vibrant than during the holiday season.

The epicenter for Christmas in New York is Rockefeller Center – the Christmas tree, ice skating on one of the most iconic rinks in the world (therinkatrockcenter.com, ringed by giant Nutcrackers and holiday garlands and a veritable parade of angels. Perhaps little known, there are delightful eateries and shops inside at rink level. Also, you are just across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue which besides stunning animated storybook windows, has for several years turned its entire façade into a holiday Sound & Light show. Cap it off with a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Thomas Church (check out the holiday concert schedule).

Take a walking tour by the famed animated windows © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Take a walking tour by the famed animated windows © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The City twinkles with holiday spirit, particularly as its famed stores strive to outdo the previous year’s artful animated windows. One of my favorite things is to structure a walking tour that starts at Macy’s on 34th Street, and moves up to Fifth Avenue to Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman on 57th Street. (Barneys and Bloomingdale’s also have window displays).  

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, holiday markets (through Jan 3), cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become a another hallmark of the holidays.

Bryant Park with its Christmas tree, skating rink, holiday market and cafes has become a warm and wonderful holiday venue © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bryant Park with its Christmas tree, skating rink, holiday market and cafes has become a warm and wonderful holiday venue © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets (through Dec 24) at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

While your at The annual Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal, a popular model railroad exhibition presented annually by the New York Transit Museum, features Metro-North, New York Central, and subway trains departing from a miniature Grand Central Terminal (through February, M-F, 8 am-8pm, Sat-Sun, 10 am-6pm (grandcentralterminal.com).

Can’t get enough trains for Christmas? The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show is a must-see New York tradition for families, featuring model trains that hum past more than 150 iconic buildings in a miniature city landscape (though Jan 16, 2017). (nybg.org).

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays, with the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com). The Swedish Cottage, an enchanting place that should be visited, is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. (The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park;s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939. On view: Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30. (West Side at 79th Street) Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30 (purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre). 

What would Christmas be without the Rockettes or the “Nutcracker”?

The Rockettes kick their way into the holidays as the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes  through January 2. The production will dazzle audiences with brand new dance numbers, extravagant costumes, and traditional fan favorites (rockettes.com/christmas).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, from November 25-December 31 (nycballet.com).

There are always fantastic things going on at the American Museum of Natural History, famous for the Origami Holiday Tree (amnh.org), The theme of this year’s 13-foot tree is origami Dinosaurs Among Us, inspired by the current exhibitions ¡Cuba! and Dinosaurs Among Us. Visitors can see feathered dinosaurs and stunning modern birds among other treasured models. During the holiday season, knowledgable volunteers will be on hand to teach visitors of all ages the art of origami folding (through Jan.6). There are scores of special activities through December (even a sleepover for adults!). The Butterfly Conservatory has reopened.

Also amazing venues: Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), The New-York Historical Society Museum & Library (nyhistory.org).

The Empire State Building puts on a show for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Empire State Building puts on a show for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Look up to the Empire State Building for its annual holiday light show series from December 20 – December 24. The building’s stunning Art Deco lobby will also be decked out with brand-new holiday decorations and custom-designed holiday windows. While you are looking up, tune in: Empire State Realty Trust, Inc. and iHeartMedia have announced that the annual Empire State Building (ESB) holiday music-to-light show will feature global superstar Mariah Carey and her iconic hit song, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” from her first holiday album, Merry Christmas. The show, designed by renowned lighting designer Marc Brickman, will premiere on December 19 and will be synced live each night at 7 p.m. ET on iHeartMedia New York’s Z100, 103.5 KTU and 106.7 Lite FM through December 25. (www.esbnyc.com/explore/tower-lights/calendar)

Holiday Tours with a Twist

The RIDE, an innovative bus tour of Manhattan’s highlights, does a special Holiday Edition, available through Jan. 8. The comfy motorcoaches, designed so that the seats face out to giant picture windows, whips around the city. (holiday tickets $79, 212-221-0853,ExperienceTheRide.com).l

Sugartooth Tours presents a Holiday Market Dessert Tour that lets you sample delectable desserts from Herald Square through lesser-known hidden gem bakeries, where you experience the culinary traditions of a wide variety of countries, including France, Germany, and Belgium, tasting hot chocolate, gingerbread cookies and other treats. The tour concludes at the Union Square Holiday Market, the area’s most exciting holiday market for shopping and other holiday treats. The tours are offered Sundays at 2 pm up until Christmas, and by request for groups. Tickets are $50 and include all tastings. Gift certificates available. www.sugartoothtours.com.

Holiday Festivities in the Boroughs

The New York Hall of Science presents Gingerbread Lane, which features more than 1,050 gingerbread houses as well as a double-decker carousel and 10-square-foot candy factory. Visitors can marvel at homemade gingerbread houses made entirely of edible gingerbread, royal icing and candy. The houses are drafted, designed, baked, planned, built and decorated by chef Jon Lovitch over the course of an entire year. GingerBread Lane has won the Guinness World Record for 2013, 2014 and 2015 for the largest gingerbread village. Lovitch’s creation will again contend for this year’s Guinness World Record. Free with NYSCI admission (through Jan 15, 2017, nysci.org).

Visitors can take a tour of the festively decorated Queens County Farm Museum during the Holiday Open House at the Adriance Farmhouse in Floral Park, December 26–28 (noon-4 pm). Enjoy free tours of the decorated 1772 Adriance Farmhouse at our annual Holiday Open House. Children will enjoy seasonal craft activities and all visitors are invited to warm up with freshly mulled cider and snacks. A Victorian Christmas tree will be on display. (Free event; no gate admission,queensfarm.org)

The Louis Armstrong House Museum, a national historic landmark, hosts annual holiday tours throughout the holiday season, featuring Louis Armstrong’s voice recording of “’Twas the Night before Christmas (A Visit from St. Nicholas)” from December 1-30 (louisarmstronghouse.org).

A Slice of Brooklyn’s Christmas Lights Tour, running through December 31 (excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), will dazzle guests with Dyker Heights’ sparkling lights exhibitions featuring 30-foot-tall toy soldiers and nativity scenes (asliceofbrooklyn.com).

 

Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

Saks 5th Avenue turns its façade into a holiday Sound & Light Show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks 5th Avenue turns its façade into a holiday Sound & Light Show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As for what to do Christmas Eve to Christmas Day (when most other places close). Here are some ideas:

For the holiday fanatic:

Skating beneath the famous Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Skating beneath the famous Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • The Rink at Rockefeller Center is open December 24–25, offering visitors the chance to skate next to the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (therinkatrockcenter.com).
  • Open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Bryant Park Winter Village is ideal for ice-skating and holiday shopping at its many seasonal vendors (wintervillage.org).
  • The Radio City Rockettes will perform the beloved Christmas Spectacular in three shows on December 24 and four on December 25 (rockettes.com).
  • The Ride: Holiday Edition is back this year, offering interactive tours on both December 24 & 25 (experiencetheride.com). 
Radio City’s world-famous Rockettes put on their iconic Christmas show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Radio City’s world-famous Rockettes put on their iconic Christmas show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For (not just) the first-time visitor:

  • Visitors can admire the City from up high all weekend long, with the iconic Empire State Building open 8am–2am (com).
  • In Lower Manhattan, the recently opened One World Observatory is open 9am–5pm on Christmas Eve and 9am–10pm on Christmas Day.
  • Above the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Ice Rink, Top of the Rock is open 8am–11pm on December 24 and 8am–midnight December 25 (com).
  • Beloved Madame Tussauds New York has extended hours on December 24–25, open 9am–10pm both days (com).
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not’s 500-plus unique exhibits are open to the public 365 days a year, with holiday weekend hours of 9am–1am (com).

For the culture buff:

  • 12 Broadway shows are offering Christmas Day performances, including Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Cats, Chicago, The Color Purple, Jersey Boys and Wicked (org).
  • Historic jazz club Blue Note New York offers brunch and evening performances on December 24–25 (net).
  • Visitors to the Upper East Side’s Jewish Museum on December 24-25 can enjoy new exhibits and a sit-down meal at the museum’s recently opened Russ & Daughters café (org).

For the outdoorsman:

  • The City’s public parks, including Central Park, Pelham Bay Park and Prospect Park, are open over the holiday weekend, (nycgovparks.org).
  • Three of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s zoos—Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo—are open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (wcs.org).
  • The High Line, a stunning urban park that is itself a work of art (and has become one of New York’s most popular attractions), is open to the public over the holidays, offering visitors spectacular views of Manhattan’s Far West Side, Empire State Building, Hudson River and beyond (thehighline.org).  

For the last-minute shopper:

Macy’s at Herald Square will be open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for last-minute shopping © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s at Herald Square will be open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for last-minute shopping © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Several department stores are open Christmas Eve (closed Christmas Day), including Macy’s Herald Square, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales (nycgo.com).
  • Arthur Avenue’s food and retail market is open December 24–25, offering the opportunity to purchase authentic Italian produce, fresh cheese, meats and holiday treats (arthuravenuebronx.com).
  • Brooklyn Flea’s Winter Market at Skylight One Hanson is open December 24 from 10am to 3pm, and is offering extended noon to 8pm holiday hours December 21–23 (brooklynflea.com).

Lower East Side staple Essex Street Market will be open December 24, with vendors including beauty suppliers, art galleries and bakeries (essexstreetmarket.com).

Holiday Places to Dine

As for the most festive places for dining:

  • Tavern on the Green, the Central Park holiday mainstay, offers a three-course prix-fixe Brunch menu from 9am-3pm. For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day they will offer their Traditional Tavern on the Green Christmas dinner for $125 per person. Seating will be 4pm-11pm on Christmas Eve and 11am-9pm on Christmas Day (com).
  • The Palm Court at The Plaza offers special Christmas high tea service with a three-tiered assortment of holiday delicacies on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for $125 per person. Their holiday menu runs from November 1 – January 3 (com).
  • Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem presents a three-course prix-fixe menu for $55 per person featuring American holiday staples such as cornbread, deviled eggs, honey glazed ham, butternut squash soup, and roast turkey (com).
  • David Chang’s renowned Momofuku Ko presents an eight-course tasting menu for both lunch and dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for $225 per person (momofuku.com).
  • Geoffrey Zakarian’s The Lambs Club presents a Holiday Carolers Brunch each Saturday in December and Christmas Day, featuring a traditional caroling troupe and seasonal treats like the Stuffed French Toast with mascarpone, cranberry-pear compote and hazelnuts along with decadent hot chocolate and toppings. Reservations are $68 Per adult and $35 per child (com).

Holiday Lodging Packages

Many of the city’s hotels have special holiday-themed packages © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Many of the city’s hotels have special holiday-themed packages © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Have family or friends who are visiting from out of town? Here are some hotel ideas:

  • Visitors have no shortage of options when it comes to new hotels this holiday season, including The Beekman, Four Seasons New York Downtown and Arlo Hotels’ two new properties.
  • Z Hotel NYC is offering a Making Memories Package from October 7 to December 24. Components of the package include a Deluxe Queen overlooking the Manhattan skyline, dinner for two in the hotel’s new restaurant, the ceLLar bar, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and a picture flip book capturing memories of your NYC trip.
  • For the holiday shopping season, ROW NYC offers a Bloomingdales Shop & Stay package, providing guests with a Bloomingdales’ $50 gift card, duffle bag, VIP leather wallet, key chain and special in-store offers (com).
  • Conrad New York will again offer its Conrad Skate package, including a stay in the hotel’s luxurious suites, breakfast at ATRIO Wine Bar & Restaurant and private skating lessons with Olympic skaters at The Rink at Brookfield Place, with a special autographed takeaway gift and hot cocoa at the hotel, post-skating (com).
  • Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, The Time Hotel New York offers a Holiday On Point Package. The offer includes Caviar pizza from Serafina paired with a Magnum bottle of Dom Perignon Rose Champagne delivered to the suite at midnight, as well as overnight accommodations in the Triplex Penthouse Suite and limo transfers to and from the airport (com).
  • The Surrey is launching a new package, Champagne Wishes to celebrate the holidays and toast the New Year in true luxury. Visitors who reserve a salon or suite during the holiday season will receive a child bottle of Veuve Cliquot, Champagne Truffles and a Champagne and Pearl Sugar treatment at the hotel’s Cornelia Spa (com).
  • During the month of December, The Loews Regency offers unique and festive holiday experiences including a 15-foot-tall Christmas tree, complimentary Hot Chocolate happy hour, complimentary kate spade new york pajamas, and carol performances every day in the lobby (com).

For a full holiday guide to New York City, visit nycgo.com/holidays.

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

 

 

Favorite Places to Spend the Winter Holidays

Mrs. Shapiro talks about preparing for Hanukah at Strawbery Banke, the living history museum in Portsmouth NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mrs. Shapiro talks about preparing for Hanukah at Strawbery Banke, the living history museum in Portsmouth NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Our review of our favorite places for families to spend the winter holidays continues from Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel).

Portsmouth, NH: Strawbery Banke Museum, in the heart of historic downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is an authentic 10-acre outdoor history museum dedicated to bringing 300+ years of American history in the same waterfront neighborhood to life.

Candlelight Stroll, an annual holiday tradition at Strawbery Banke since 1979 showcases 350 years of seasonal and holiday traditions against the backdrop of the Museum’s furnished historic houses. On these weekend evenings, the Museum grounds glow with hundreds of lighted candle lanterns, the houses are adorned with thousands of hand-made decorations crafted from live greens and dried flowers and herbs collected from the Museum gardens, and the air is filled with the sound of holiday music and scent of woodsmoke from the bonfire. Its authenticity is the foundation for the claim that the Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth holiday celebration, echoed by Travel + Leisure magazine, makes Portsmouth ‘the Christmas capital of North America.’

Visitors stroll from house to historic house, greeted by costumed role players and performers who recreate the traditions of times past, rediscovering the joys of simpler times. Mrs. Shapiro prepares a Hanukah celebration her 1919 Russian Jewish kitchen. Mrs. Goodwin, her family and servants prepare a Victorian Christmas. Father Christmas, the night watchman, “Mayor Frank Jones” and other role-players make their rounds along the dirt lanes; and the Abbotts await news of their soldier fighting in Europe in the Second World War. Carolers, chestnuts and holiday crafts bring all the sounds, scents and moments for family ‘stopfulness’ to this event that is a cherished New Hampshire tradition.  Complimentary refreshments and hot apple cider are offered at the Cider Shed. Traditional hearth-cooking demonstrations, crafts demonstrations, and winter projects for kids provide interactive fun for multiple generations. (December 3, 4, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18; Saturdays, 5-9 pm. Sundays, 4-8 pm. Friday Dec 16, 5-9 pm). Purchase tickets in advance at the Strawbery Banke Visitors Center at 14 Hancock Street and online, www.strawberybanke.org.

There are also Guided Holiday House Tours, weekdays, Dec 26-31 of five decorated historic houses at Strawbery Banke Museum offered on the hour, 10 am to 2 pm. Adults $15, children 5-17 $10, children under 5 free.

For more information on Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth sactivities and participating hotels, visit www.VintageChristmasNH.org.

Wentworth By-the-Sea, a grand historic resort in Portsmouth, NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wentworth By-the-Sea, a grand historic resort in Portsmouth, NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Complete the experience with a stay at Wentworth by the Sea, an AAA Four-Diamond resort and member of Historic Hotels of America, delightfully set on an island just across from historic Portsmouth, NH. Ask just about anyone who grew up in New Hampshire and they wax nostalgic about spending holidays at this grand resort hotel that has graced the shore since 1888. Among its amenities: an 8,500 sq. ft. spa, magnificent indoor pool, Wentworth Dining Room with original hand-painted ceiling mural. Check the website for special packages including Romance, Golf, Dining, and Spa, and holiday programs. Wentworth By the Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle NH  03854, 603-422-7322, 888-252-6888, info@wentworth.com, www.wentworth.com.

Victorian Cape May Christmas 

Victorian Cape May at Christmas offers six weeks of festive tours and events sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), from Nov. 18 through Jan. 1, 2017.

The wonders of the season are on display at “An Old-Fashioned Christmas Exhibit: Holiday Traditions through the Years,” at the Carroll Gallery located in the Estate Carriage House, 1048 Washington St. Here you can experience an exhibit of holiday traditions complete with a giant Christmas tree, a Dept. 56 Dickens Village, model trains, nostalgic photos from Christmas past, toys and much more! Friday, Nov. 18-Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. The Gallery is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas); hours vary. Admission is free and free parking is available.

Take a guided, tour of the 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Take a guided, daytime, living history tour of the magnificent 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours, presented from the viewpoint of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) through Jan. 1, 2017; hours vary. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8.

During the Historic District Trolley Tour, you’ll get acquainted with Cape May on a trolley tour as knowledgeable guides present entertaining and educational stories about the nation’s oldest seashore resort. $12 for adults and $8 for children (ages 3-12). Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas); tour times vary.

Enjoy a guided trolley tour of Cape May’s Historic District, followed by a guided tour of Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., decorated in true Victorian style for Christmas and presented through the eyes of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s, during the Combination Trolley/Physick Family Christmas House Tours. $22 for adults, $14 for children (ages 3-12). Tours are offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas.) Hours vary.

Relive the memories of Christmas past on Lamplighter Christmas Tours, self-guided evening tours of Cape May’s inns or private homes specially decorated for the holidays. Hear a holiday presentation by the owner at each location. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit and enjoy warm beverages and holiday treats. Adults $20; children (3-12) $15. Offered 7 p.m.-9 p.m. on Fridays, Dec. 2-23; Saturday, Nov. 26 and Wednesday, Dec. 28, and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 31. 

Ghosts of Christmas Past Trolley Rides feature a member of the East Lynne Theater Company who will regale you with a Victorian holiday ghost tale as you ride through Cape May’s festively decorated Historic District. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. Tour begins and ends at Washington Street Mall at Ocean Street except for the Nov. 19 tour which leaves from the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington Street. Offered Fridays, Dec. 2-Dec. 23, Saturdays, Nov. 19-26; Sundays, Nov. 27-Dec. 18; and Monday, Dec. 26-Saturday, Dec. 31). Hours vary. Advance reservation strongly recommended.

Thousands of Christmas lights and holly transform Cape May during the holiday season. Take one of the many Holiday Lights Trolley Rides through Cape May’s Historic District to see cheerfully decorated inns and homes as guides talk about Victorian Christmas traditions, lead sing-alongs, and play Christmas music. Rides last about 30 minutes and admission is $12 Adults; $10 children (ages 3-12). Offered nightly, Nov. 25-Dec. 31. Hours vary. (No tours Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24 25) Trolley rides leave from the Washington Street Mall Information Booth, Washington Street at Ocean (except for Nov. 19 trolley rides, which leave from the Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St.)

Revel in the sparkly lights of Cape May’s beautiful Victorian homes decorated for Christmas on a trolley ride through town, then take a guided tour of the first floor rooms of the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, authentically decorated for a Victorian Christmas during the Evening Yuletide Tour. See how the Physick family would have entertained for the holidays. Afterwards, visit the Carriage House for holiday refreshments and a visit to “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Tour begins and ends at the Ocean Street trolley stop. Adults $22; children (3-12) $14. You can also take just the house tour portion, the Evening Physick Estate Tour, a 30-minute guided tour of Cape May’s 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., decorated in authentic style for a Victorian Christmas. Included is a visit the Carriage House for holiday refreshments and a visit to “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. Both tours offered every evening, Nov. 25 through Dec. 30, except Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24 and 25. Hours vary.

MAC also offers holiday-themed food and wine tours and events.

For more information. Contact Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

Chattanooga Choo Choo 

Chattanooga, Tennessee offers a surprising array of extraordinary experiences: walk through a secret underground ice cave  and see Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, explore a nocturnal fantasyland with more than one million star-bright twinkling lights high atop Lookout Mountain; hop on board a train for a North Pole adventure; sing Christmas carols and dance with Santa on a river cruise; meet coral reef Santa divers; build creative gingerbread houses; watch animals open their own Christmas presents, visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium. Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter.

Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chattanooga Choo Choo offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the historic railroad station, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access).

The train station offers marvelous dining places (including a saloon-style restaurant where the waiters take turns singing), and cute shops. You can climb aboard the historic locomotive, and dine in the dining car as well. The music of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” immediately rings in your ears (it plays fairly constantly).

The original motel, which is still used, offers an indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, gardens. There is even a historic train ride on a trolley. Also, a free electric shuttle from the bus terminal next door takes you downtown.  I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and interesting stay. Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529), www.choochoo.com.

Grand, Glorious & Historic Hotels

You can’t go wrong in choosing a Historic Hotels of America member hotel or resort for personality, character, connection to place, authenticity and overall aura that makes for a unique experience so perfectly fitting for your own family tradition. Here are just a few of our favorites for the holidays:

Mohonk Mountain House, New York © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mohonk Mountain House, New York © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House, located 90 miles north of New York City in the Catskills,- is the very definition of a getaway-from-it-all retreat. From festive décor and favorite traditions to cozy wood-burning fires and a wealth of outdoor recreation, the historic Mohonk Mountain House exemplifies a quintessential holiday getaway.

The atmosphere at Mohonk is exceptional any time of the year, but is absolutely breathtaking for the holidays: spectacular hand-made swags, Victorian decorations, and beautifully decorated Christmas trees on display throughout the House. Families who want to create a festive atmosphere in-room can inquire about holiday decorations, including an ornamented ‘eco-tree’ and stockings hung above their fireplace, filled with goodies. Cozy wood-burning fireplaces can also be found in 124 out of 259 guest rooms –more than any resort in the nation.

The spirit of the season fills Mohonk Mountain House, National Historic Landmark resort, throughout December with many cherished traditions, including the family Yule Log Hunt, a Trim-A-Tree Party, the nightly lighting of the Menorah, holiday craft-making and caroling. Workshops on wreath making, cookie decorating, seasonal tablescapes and more are also offered. Outdoor recreation options abound, including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snow tubing (weather permitting), along with ice-skating at the resort’s stunning open-air Pavilion.

Mohonk also offers an award-winning, eco-friendly Spa (it was named the Number One Resort Spa in the United States by CondéNast Traveler). Spa amenities include an outdoor heated mineral pool, an indoor heated swimming pool with underwater sound system, a yoga/motion studio, comprehensive fitness center and solarium. For reservations, call 855.274.4020 or visit Mohonk.com.

Other Historic Hotels of America favorites:

Cranwell Resort & Spa, in the Berkshires – like being on a grand estate – equipped with every luxurious amenity – world class spa, indoor pool, cross-country skiing, and about half-hour up the road, downhilling at Jiminy Peak (www.cranwell.com).

Omni Mount Washington at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire: A grand masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture, conceived by industrialist Joseph Stickney, this National Historic Landmark opened in 1902 and has been attracting generations of families ever since. It’s located literally across the street from Bretton Woods, a marvelous ski resort, and also offers a spa and cross-country skiing. It’s also close by to the outlet shopping town of North Conway, NH (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

The Sagamore, Bolton Landing: Situated in the unspoiled Adirondack Mountains on its own island on Lake George, the Sagamore opened in 1883 and was a social center for the wealthy visiting Lake George. It’s a magical place. Nearby, go sledding or cross-country skiing on The Sagamore’s golf course, or hop its shuttle bus to ski at Gore Mountain, about 45 minutes away.

The Jekyll Island Club, Georgia © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Jekyll Island Club, Georgia © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have scores of favorite Historic Hotels – there are 275 members in just about every state and territory. Those that offer a grand resort experience include The Hotel Hershey, in Hershey, Pennsylvania; Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia; Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida; The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, and the Don CeSar (www.loewshotels.com/don-cesar), both in St. Petersburg, Florida. Each offers exquisite atmosphere, service, amenities and each has its own personality, character, and special connection with the people and place. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org.

The Loews Don CeSar, on St. Petersburg Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Loews Don CeSar, on St. Petersburg Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hey Dude!

We had an entirely different holiday experience at the Pinegrove dude ranch, an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times. Check the site for specials on February Recess, Mothers Day, Fathers Day and school vacations. Pinegrove Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, Reservations: 800-346-4626, email info@pinegroveranch.com, www.pinegroveranch.com. 

Gift of Travel 

Norwegian Breakaway. Consider giving a gift card or travel certificate. Norwegian Cruise Lines, which operates the Breakaway from New York, lets you purchase a denomination that can be applied to the cruise or to onboard experiences © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Norwegian Breakaway. Consider giving a gift card or travel certificate. Norwegian Cruise Lines, which operates the Breakaway from New York, lets you purchase a denomination that can be applied to the cruise or to onboard experiences © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Consider giving a gift card or gift certificate for a travel or vacation experience. Many cruiselines (for example Norwegian Cruise Line’s gift cards can be used toward the cruise vacation or onboard experiences, like a massage or specialty dining), hotel companies (for example, Catania Hospitality Group which has the Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa in Sandwich on Cape Cod, the Cape Codder Resort & Spa, Cape Codder Water Park, John Carver Inn & Spa in Plymouth, the Hearth ‘n Kettle Restaurants, Grand Cru Wine Bar and WaterFire Tavern, as well as gift shops, not only has gift cards, but offers special bonuses, www.cataniahospitalitygroup.com), even tour operators (for example Globus, www.globusjourneys.com/Gift/, Apple Vacations, www.applevacations.com/gift-certificates/,  and Southwest Vacations, and offer gift cards where you can purchase a denomination that can be applied to the trip or upgrade or some special activity or experience. One of our favorites for gift cards is spafinders.com.  Check the terms and how the cards or certificates can be applied. Best to choose an entity that offers lots of choices.

See also:

Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel

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