Travel is vitally important to rejuvenating one’s body and soul,
not to mention providing life-enhancing experience, new learning and new
understanding; it offers a chance for bonding with loved ones, making new friends
and building new relationships. Concern for the coronavirus is causing many of
us to withdraw and miss out. But because travel offers a universe of
possibilities, there are options that might better suit the circumstances, and
many travel suppliers are doing their best to accommodate travelers and
Many are waiving cancellation penalties, reissue and change fees
if destinations become impacted or allowing changes and rebooking for future
As a rule of thumb, we are suggesting people think Great Outdoors
where you can be active in clean fresh air and avoid crowds, density and
proximity. And if concerned about mass travel (even though airlines are doing
their level best to assure passengers of healthy environments), choosing
destinations that are within driving distance. Indeed, this is a great time to
enjoy spring skiing in the Northeast’s many world-class mountain ski areas and
resorts, from New England to New York State.
Resorts like Windham Mountain are being scrupulous about health
precautions, even limiting crowds to promote social distancing.
Also, look for deals as this season winds up: ski areas like Gore Mountain
are inviting people to pre-purchase next season’s passes at discounted prices
and have free skiing for the rest of the season.
By Dave E. Leiberman and Laini Miranda
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
This past Sunday, we were lucky enough to ski Windham Mountain in New York’s Catskills on a windless, bluebird spring-like day. After a few colder nights and some flurries during the week, every trail was covered by a snow pack that managed to maintain just the right level of softness, from our first run almost through to last chair. The combination of perfect weather, enjoyable snow conditions, great demo skis, and an idyllic lunch on the terrace picnic tables at the midmountain Wheelhouse Lodge made it a truly memorable ski day.
We woke up at 5:30am (which felt like 4:30 due to Daylight Savings Time) in the Manhattan Financial District, slid onto the FDR drive, grabbed delicious bagels on Route 4 in Jersey, and were at the Windham Demo Center next to the D lift by 9am. Whether you are in the market for new skis or just interested in cruising on the highest performance skis, renting from the demo center is an easy and worthwhile experience. Ideally positioned next to the D Lift, the Demo Center shack lets you ski in and out to test a range of top quality skis without losing any time on the slopes.
Like Nascar drivers at a pit stop, we popped in to swap skis a few times throughout the day, stepping our boots onto the platform for them to quickly change the bindings and send us on our way. Peter and Dave are extremely knowledgeable and set us up with Volkl Yumi’s and a gorgeous pair of Stockli Stormrider’s, a “Windham classic”. (The ski and boot package is $90 for the day). While the rental shop just a few steps away carries a great line of Rossignols (changed out every three years so that one-third of their fleet is always new), the Demo Center has a huge range of new season skis (Armada, Atomic, Blizzard, Dynastar, Head, Kastle, Nordica, Salomon, Stockli, Rossignol, Volkl, etc.). Our Rossignol Alltrack Elite 100 AT boots felt brand new too.
For a great start to the
day, we took Upper Wraparound (Blue) to Wolf’s Prey (Blue-Black), down to the
mid-mountain G lift (the East Peak Express Quad), which took us to a group of
nice wide Blacks. (East Peak also offers a leisurely 1.4-mile perimeter Green,
Wanderer, which we also enjoyed.) On soft snow, intermediate and advanced
skiers will enjoy skiing every level trail at Windham, and it’s easy to pop
between East and West peaks because everything converges to the same base. The
efficiency of the mountain’s design was also reflected in our chairlift wait
times, which ranged from zero seconds (most common) to a maximum of two
minutes. We loved zig-zagging from West Peak F lift (the Westside Six) to the
East Peak G. The slightly slower (and quieter) B Lift (the Wheelchair Double)
will take you to a series of fun double blacks on the West Peak, including the
long and windy Wide Connection to Upper Wipeout. Lower Wipeout will take you
through a lovely village of slope-side houses that will give you real estate
envy (5 home sites are still available to buy!
And at least one is available to rent on VRBO). The Whisper Creek ski-in,
ski-out condominiums are also available for sale or rent.
Windham started out as a
private club and continues to offer that ambiance. It is just the right size to
offer lots of variety in skiing, but compact enough to make you feel very
Windham offers 1,600
vertical feet from a summit of 3,100 feet. Its 54 trails and six terrain parks
provide 285 skiable acres, accessed by 12 lifts including a new high speed
six-passenger detachable lift and two high-speed quads. Windham also offers
night skiing on six trails (45 acres).
In the spirit of the
low-key social club vibe, Wheelhouse Lodge is a no-frills, mid-mountain dining
option with fantastic hearty chili, a new taco bar (open on weekends and
holidays), and an unbeatable view. On a warm sunny day like the one we had, a
lunch on the patio with almost 360 mountain views is hard to top.
In the last two years,
the resort has spent $12 million to improve the guest experience.
“In a time of
industry consolidation, strong, independent resort competition continues to
carve out unique guest-focused experiences and provide an alternative to
crowding and other downside impacts of acquisitions and mergers,” the
resort states. “A passion-powered outdoor community with the support of an
active investor group, Windham is well-positioned to continue offering a more
boutique and personal experience to skiers and riders in the Catskills. Windham
Mountain is a place to get lost and found again, to find stunning adventure
close to home, and to be reminded of how good it feels to be alive with family
and friends in the fresh air.”
Among the improvements
for this season, snowmaking was increased, which is reaping benefits for
keeping the base robust for spring skiing. There’s also a brand new, 33-foot
diameter European-inspired “Umbrella Bar” with an enclosed, heated dome in the
center of the reenergized patio area between the base lodge and the lift
lodging area. Other improvements include renovated rooms at The Winwood Inn, a
quaint lodging property in the village of Windham owned and operated by the
mountain; a newly renovated an reinvented restaurant at the inn called Tavern
23 (classic American comfort food); an upgraded booking system with new
software that allows guests to bundle lodging stays with lift tickets, lessons,
and even rentals in one easy transaction; and an expanded Guest Services
department and on-site call center.
A second new building
houses a unique ski and snowboard simulator that offers guests the chance to
ski or ride downhill race venues from around the world virtually while
supporting the Adaptive Sports Foundation. This building will also house a new
equipment valet and quick tune up station. Windham also offers Terrain Based
Learning™, beginner packages, an Adventure Park, and the full-service Alpine
For experts only, the
Windham “First Tracks” program provides ultra-exclusive snow moments before
lifts open to the public every Saturday, Sunday, and Holiday morning, weather
and conditions permitting. This is a guided mountain experience for ages 14 and
up ($20 tickets, free for season pass holders). Call 518-734-4300 x1515 or
The Spring Daze Pass is available starting at $104. With this pass you’ll get unlimited skiing and riding from this Friday, March 13, 2020 to the end of the season. For current conditions, check the Mountain Report page or call Windham’s Snow Report Hotline at 1-800-729-4766.
Note: To insure the health and safety of
Windham’s guests in light of concerns over Covid-19 (coronavirus) and New York
State’s restrictions on large gatherings, Windham Mountain is limiting indoor
gatherings and augmenting food and beverage offerings on the patio area,
limiting the number of people in certain areas at one time and closing the
Alpine Spa and Children’s Learning Center for the remainder of the season.
In the summer months,
Windham Mountain Bike Park is famous for its World Cup course, but also features
a three-mile-long beginner trail. Windham Mountain Country Club is an 18-hole
public golf course with a private club atmosphere.
Aside from our relaxing mid-mountain lunch break and our occasional cycle through the demo center to try new skis, we skied through the day and were surprised that, on only a couple hours of sleep, we made it comfortably to the last chair. By 4:30 we were on the road to dinner in Albany, and by 5:30 we had apres ski drinks and appetizers in hand. It was a perfect day!
(Skiing weekends and holidays 8am-4pm, Monday-Friday 9am-4pm).
Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
transported in time, place and even space. Immerse yourself into the realm of
ideas and imagination. Come in from the heat or whatever the weather is doing
outside by taking in one of New York City’s museums. Here are just a few
highlights of summer’s blockbuster attractions:
Met Museum Welcomes ‘Saint Jerome’
Metropolitan Museum of Art is about to welcome a very special visitor: Leonardo
da Vinci’s Saint Jerome. To
commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci
(1452–1519), The Met is presenting the artist’s painting Saint Jerome
Praying in the Wilderness (begun around 1483), a special loan from the
Vatican Museums. The exquisitely rendered work represents Jerome (A.D.
347–420), a major saint and theologian of the Christian Church. The scene is
based on the story of his later life, which he spent as a hermit in the desert,
according to the 13th–century Golden Legend. The unfinished painting provides
viewers with an extraordinary glimpse into Leonardo’s creative process; a close
examination of the paint surface even reveals the presence of his fingerprints.
The display of this monumental masterpiece pays homage to one of the most
renowned geniuses of all time. Opening July 15, the painting is on view
through Oct. 6, 2019.
the oldest works of art to the first forays of civilization into outer space, ,
the Met Museum is marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11
mission with Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in
the Age of Photography, on view through September 22, 2019. Apollo’s Muse traces the progress of astronomical
photography and attempts to produce ever-sharper images of the moon,
particularly during the 130-year period between the invention of photography in
1839 and the moon landing in 1969 as astronomers and artists capitalized on
technological improvements to cameras and telescopes to create ever more
accurate visual records of the lunar surface. Exhibition highlights include two
newly discovered lunar daguerreotypes from the 1840s, believed to be the
earliest existing photographs of the moon, and works by such pioneers of lunar
photography as Warren De La Rue (1815–1889), Lewis Morris Rutherfurd
(1816–1892), and John Adams Whipple (1822–1891). A stunning photographic atlas
of the moon, produced at the Paris Observatory between 1894 and 1908 by the
astronomers Maurice Loewy (1833–1907) and Pierre Puiseux (1855–1928), will be
displayed for the first time in its entirety.
these scientific achievements, the show explores the use of the camera to
create fanciful depictions of space travel and life on the moon, including
George Méliès’s (1861–1938) original drawings for his film A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune, 1902) and
a large selection of “paper moon” studio portraits from the early 20th century.
Also featured will be artists’ evocations of the otherworldly effects of
moonlight, including major works by German Romantic painter Caspar David
Friedrich (1774-1840) and American Pictorialist photographer Edward Steichen
The night of the Museum Mile Festival, I popped into the opening of this year’s P.S. Art exhibit, an annual celebration of achievement in the arts in New York City public schools. This juried exhibition of the work of talented young artists showcases the creativity of 122 prekindergarten through twelfth grade students from all five boroughs, including students from District 75, a citywide district serving students with disabilities. The exhibition consists of paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs, mixed-media works, collages, drawings, and video. Each work of art demonstrates personal expression, imaginative use of media, the results of close observation, and an understanding of artistic processes. Some of the works on display are completely astonishing
Met is three museums.
At the Cloisters, “The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish
Legacy,” is on view July 22-January 12, 2020. A cache of jeweled rings,
brooches, and coins—the precious possessions of a Jewish family of medieval
Alsace—was hidden in the fourteenth century in the wall of a house in Colmar,
France. Discovered in 1863 and on view in an upcoming exhibition at The Met
Cloisters, the Colmar Treasure revives the memory of a once–thriving Jewish
community that was scapegoated and put to death when the Plague struck the
region with devastating ferocity in 1348–49. A generous loan of the Musée
de Cluny, Paris, the Colmar Treasure will be displayed alongside select works
from The Met Cloisters and little–known Judaica from collections in the United
States and France. Although the objects on view are small in scale and
relatively few in number, the ensemble overturns conventional notions of
medieval Europe as a monolithic Christian society. The exhibition will point to
both legacy and loss, underscoring the prominence of the Jewish minority
community in the tumultuous fourteenth century and the perils it faced.
the Met Breuer,
“Home is a Foreign Place:
Recent Aquisitions in Context,” through June 21, 2020.
residents still can pay what they wish, by presenting proof of residence;
out-of-towners need to pay the regular admission).
The iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art is at 1000 Fifth Avenue, on Central Park, (definitely take a Highlights tour when you visit), The Met Breuer (945 Madison Avenue) and The Met Cloisters (99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park). Visit metmuseum.org to plan your visit.
Jewish Museum Pays Homage to
Leonard Cohen With Multi-Media Exhibition
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect
offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets
in.” from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”
from the album The Future (1992), provides the title for the special exhibit at the
“Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything”.
The contemporary multi-media exhibition devoted to the imagination and legacy
of the influential singer/songwriter, man of letters, and global icon from
Montreal, Canada can be experienced through September 8, 2019.
Cohen: A Crack in Everything includes commissioned works by a
range of international artists who have been inspired by Cohen’s life, work and
legacy. A world-renowned novelist, poet and singer/songwriter who inspired generations
of writers, musicians, and artists, Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) supplied the world with melancholy and urgent
observations on the state of the human heart. In songs such as “Suzanne,” “Bird
on the Wire,” and “Hallelujah,” he interwove the sacred and the profane, mystery and accessibility. Collectively, it is
the oddest, most creative biographical tribute. Featured works include:
Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen) (2017), a
multi-channel video installation by Candice Breitz, brings together a community
of ardent Cohen fans who pay tribute to the late legend. Each of the 18
participants was offered the opportunity to perform and record his own version
of Cohen’s comeback album I’m Your Man (1988) in a
professional recording studio. At Breitz’s invitation, the album’s backing
vocals were reinterpreted by the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir, an all-male
choir representing the congregation in Montreal, Canada, that Cohen belonged to
all his life.
Ari Folman’s Depression Chamber (2017) allows one visitor at a
time into a darkened room, where they are confronted by the demons of
depression, a theme that can be traced throughout Cohen’s body of work. After
the visitor lies down, Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” plays while
the song’s lyrics are projected on the walls, slowly morphing into letters and
icons that symbolize Cohen’s multifaceted thematic universe.
Heard There Was a Secret Chord (after the 2017 work of the same
title, 2018) is a participatory humming experience by the art and design
studio Daily tous les jours that reveals an invisible vibration uniting people
around the world currently listening to Cohen’s Hallelujah. The
work is an exploration of the metaphysical connection between people on a
common wavelength. At the Museum, real-time online listener data is transformed
into a virtual choir of humming voices. The number of voices played back in the
gallery corresponds to the current online listener count, which is visible on
the hanging numerical display. Participants can sit or lie down on the
octagonal structure, and by humming along with the choir into the microphones,
low-frequency vibrations are generated, closing the circuit of collective
resonance with their bodies.
Organized by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC), the exhibition is curated by John Zeppetelli, Director and Chief Curator at the MAC, and Victor Shiffman, Co-Curator. Following its New York showing, the exhibition will tour to Kunstforeningen GL STRAND and Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen, Denmark (October 23, 2019 – March 8, 2020) and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco (September 17, 2020 – January 3, 2021).
During the run of Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything, the Jewish Museum will open one hour earlier than usual on Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 am to 5:45pm. Advance tickets are available online at thejewishmuseum.org/buy/general-admission. For questions about ticket sales, email email@example.com or call 866.205.1322.
Founded in 1904, the Museum, on Fifth Avenue’s fabled Museum Mile, was the first institution of its kind in the United States and is one of the oldest Jewish museums in the world. Devoted to exploring art and Jewish culture from ancient to contemporary, the Museum offers diverse exhibitions and programs, and maintains a unique collection of nearly 30,000 works of art, ceremonial objects, and media reflecting the global Jewish experience over more than 4,000 years.
Admission: $18 for adults, $12 for seniors, $8 students, free for visitors 18
and under and Jewish Museum members. Free on Saturdays and select Jewish
holidays. 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, New York City, 212.423,3200, firstname.lastname@example.orgTheJewishMuseum.org.
of the City of New York: New York at Its Core
make it a ritual to visit the Museum of the City of New York during each year’s
Museum Mile Festival. I never cease to be fascinated and intrigued by the
York at Its Core
is the first-ever museum show to comprehensively interpret and present the
compelling story of New York’s rise from a striving Dutch village to today’s
“Capital of the World,” a preeminent global city now facing the future in a
changing world. There are different galleries that tell the story, but most
fascinating is The Future City Lab, where you get to design the city of the
future, tackling the most pressing problems like housing, public spaces, water
supply. You even get to put yourself in the picture.
to be missed: Timescapes, the museum’s popular and
critically-acclaimed multimedia experience, brings the sweeping narrative of
New York City from the early 1600s to the present day. The 28-minute,
award-winning documentary explores how NYC grew from a settlement of a few
hundred Europeans, Africans and Native Americans into the multinational
metropolis of today, re-inventing itself multiple times along the way.
Activist New York, an
ongoing exhibit, examines the ways in which ordinary New
Yorkers have advocated, agitated, and exercised their power to shape the
city’s—and the nation’s—future, from the 17th century to the
City of Workers, City of Struggle: How
Labor Movements Changed New York, traces how New York became the most
unionized large city in the United States.
in the City: A 200–Year History, on
view through October 6, 2019, tracex how the bicycle transformed urban
transportation and leisure in New York City and explores the extraordinary
diversity of cycling cultures, past and present.
Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave., Manhattan, NY 10029, 212-534-1672, mcny.org.
Guggenheim: Summer of Know
in the Frank Lloyd Wright building, a major attraction in itself (just walking
through the spiral is an experience),from June 18 through September 3, the
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is open until 9 pm for Summer Tuesdays, offering
music and refreshments in the museum rotunda in addition to exhibitions on view
in the galleries. Films, conversations, and performances enhance opportunities
for visitors to engage with the museum and the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed
building that celebrates 60 years as an architectural icon in 2019. Also
starting in June, Summer of Know, a conversation series addressing urgent
issues through the generative lens of art, returns to the Guggenheim, featuring
artists, activists, and other professionals discussing topics such as LGBTQIA+
rights in a global context, environmental activism, and housing rights. Details
are available at guggenheim.org/calendar.
Biennial has long been one of America’s
foremost showcases of emerging artists. Every two years, the exhibition serves
as a bellwether for the culture, both reflecting on and mirroring the country’s
political and social moods. No surprise, then, to see that this year’s work—on
view now at the Whitney Museum of American Art—offers plenty of tension, with
pieces that focus on gender identity and race, among other issues. Curators
chose the works because they represent “a snapshot of contemporary art making”;
read on for more about a few of our favorites. (See: https://www.nycgo.com/articles/whitney-biennial-2019) (99 Gansvoort
St., Meatpacking district).
of Natural History Presents T.rex, The Ultimate Predator
At the American Museum of Natural History’s blockbuster exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, you encounter a massive life-sized model of a T. rex with patches of feathers—the definitive representation of this prehistoric predator, T. rex hatchlings and a four-year-old juvenile T.rex; a “roar mixer”where you can imagine what T. rex may have sounded like; a shadow theater where a floor projection of an adult T. rex skeleton seems to come to life. At a tabletop “Investigation Station,” you can explore a variety of fossil casts with virtual tools including a CT scanner, measuring tape, and a microscope to learn more about what such specimens reveal about the biology and behavior of T.rex. Finally, you encounter a massive animated projection of aT. rexand its offspring in a Cretaceous-age setting. which reacts to visitors, leaving you to wonder, “Did that T. rex really see me?”
T. rex: The Ultimate Predator is the first major exhibition of the
American Museum of Natural History’s 150th anniversary celebration. Plan your
visit (you could spend weeks in the museum), check out the special programming
and events, and pre-purchase timed tickets at amnh.org.
Hayden Planetarium Space Theater, see “Dark Universe” (through December 31,
Open daily from 10 am – 5:45 pm. American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100, amnh.org.
Summer at New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, the oldest museum in New
York (and directly across the street from the American Museum of Natural
History on Central Park West), is presenting a Revolutionary Summer. A Museum-wide
exploration of Revolutionary War times, Revolutionary
Summerpresents outdoor events every weekend featuring characters
from the era; 18th-century art and artifacts; a diorama of the Continental Army
and a host of programs for all ages, including trivia nights, DJ evening, and Revolutionary
Drag Tea Party. On select weekends, visitors can explore a replica of George
Washington’s Headquarters Tent at an outdoor Continental Army encampment, meet
Living Historians portraying soldiers and spies, and learn about the many
facets of camp life during the War for Independence. (Through September 15,
Also on view: LIFE: Six Women Photographers showcases the extraordinary work created
by Margaret Bourke-White, Hansel Mieth, Marie Hansen, Martha Holmes, Nina
Leen, and Lisa Larsen. (through October 6, 2019); Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society, through September
22, 2019, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and the
dawn of the gay liberation movement; Hudson Rising explores 200 years of ecological change
and environmental activism along “the most interesting river in America” (through
The Big Picture,
opening August 23 through December 8, 2019, explores wide-angle, bird’s-eye
imagery from the 17th to the 20th century, revealing the influence that
panoramas had on everything from mass entertainment to nationalism to imperial
expansion. Through more than 20 panoramas, the exhibition presents the history
of the all-encompassing medium in New York City, San Francisco and beyond.
New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (77th Street), New York, NY 10024, 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org.
Spy v. Spy
Want a real escape? Visit Spyscape, which offers a different twist on spy museums, and is more of an experiential attraction, immersing you into the psychology and ubiquity of surveillance and espionage, and literally, with the ending “profile” (developed with the a former head of training at British Intelligence) showing you where you might fit into this world (I’m an analyst). SPYSCAPE, which opened in 2018, illuminates secret intelligence, from espionage to hacking, and investigative journalism. It offers a balanced perspective on big issues – privacy, security, surveillance. You get to engage in real spy challenges, including lie-detection in interrogation booths, surveillance in a 360 degree environment and test strategy and agility in special ops laser tunnels. The museum also features quite a good Spy Shop, a Book Shop, Café and multiple Event Spaces. (928 8th Avenue, entrance on SE corner of 55th Street, spyscape.com).
And in a very real Spy v. Spy scenario, a very different
experience awaits at another new entry to New York City’s museum scene: the KGB Museum. This place presents the
artifacts and history of the KGB in a kind of antique-shop setting but the
items are chilling. You realize that the spy movies, even the satirical “Get
Smart,” didn’t so much fabricate as reveal the tools and techniques and
paranoia of Cold War spying. (KGB Spy Museum tickets are available online or in
the museum. (245 West 14th Street, New York,
NY 10011, 10 am -8 Mon-Sun).
Museum of Illusions
The Museum of Illusions, which opened September 2018 in New York City’s West Village, contains three-dimensional illusions on the walls and floors which will mesmerize visitors of all ages. You might assume by its name that it is a children’s museum or about magic which depends so much on illusion. Nor can it be considered an “attraction” although many of the exhibits are interactive and you get to help create the illusions. It is really about educating about the physical and psychological science behind illusion – placards posted near each exhibit provide the explanations for what you sense. And while the museum does not explicitly delve into magic, when you leave, you will have a better understanding of how some magic tricks work. (77th 8th Ave, New York, NY; newyork.museumofillusions.us)
Cradle of Aviation Museum: Countdown to
Apollo at 50
out of this world, beyond the city limits, to Long Island: The Cradle of
Aviation Museum and Education Center is one of the great space and aviation
museums, home to over 75 planes and spacecraft representing over 100 years of
aviation history and Long Island’s only Giant Screen Dome Theater. Currently,
the museum is celebrating “Countdown
to Apollo at 50”
sponsored by the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation, showcasing Long Island and
Grumman’s significant role in the Apollo program. The Museum was recently
recognized and listed on New York State’s National Register of Historic Places
as a significant part of American history. The museum is located on Museum Row,
Charles Lindbergh Blvd., in East Garden City. For more information call
(516) 572-4111 or visit www.cradleofaviation.org.
Laurie spent years staying away from New Orleans, Louisiana, with the excuse that she didn’t enjoy jazz enough to go there. Recently, though, we found ourselves in the Mississippi River delta city to attend a family destination wedding. After five days in New Orleans (affectionately known by its acronym — NOLA), we can now say that this is one of the most exciting and interesting cities we’ve visited. It is certainly a destination to return to, perhaps at Mardi Gras time!
We stayed in the old, quaint French Quarter at The W New Orleans (316 Chartres St., (504) 581-1200, https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/msywh-w-new-orleans-french-quarter/) — a Marriott property with rooms that surround a serene, outdoor garden, fountain, and pool. The modern style of our hotel room contrasted with our balcony view of the colorful, historic buildings built during the city’s French and Spanish periods, with distinctive French Quarter pastel colors and balconies decorated with rod-iron scrollwork.
travelling to New Orleans, it was recommended to us to forego a rental car as
long as we planned to stay primarily in or around the French Quarter and the
other New Orleans neighborhoods. We found that Ubers, Lyfts, and taxis were
never more than 5 minutes away, and usually inexpensive – and then we didn’t
have to deal with the nightmare of parking.
around the city, we recommend using the red, double-decker bus marked, “24-hour
Hop-on Hop-off City Bus Tour.” This bus
follows a loop around New Orleans, going through the colorful neighborhoods.
With a day pass, passengers may stay on the bus the entire time and learn about
the NOLA neighborhoods from the bus guides, and get off and back on at various
stops along the route to spend more time exploring. (https://www.hop-on-hop-off-bus.com/new-orleans-bus-tours)
abound in the French Quarter with guides retelling stories about events,
pirates, voodoo queens, and hauntings. Our private walk around the historic
Quarter was fun and interesting: we stopped to read the plaques describing the
French and Spanish history, visited little boutiques and galleries, checked out
themed bars and restaurants, checked out a few unique museums, and strolled
through the beautifully groomed parks.
For an historic
mode of transportation, NOLA offers an electric streetcar trolley system. The St.
Charles line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world.
All four of the NOLA lines either run along or intersect with Canal Street in
the area between the French Quarter and the Central Business District. A
standard, one-way fare on a streetcar is very reasonable at only $1.25 per
person. However, a word of warning: the
trolley system was not the quickest form of travel, and we had to wait at least
15 minutes before a trolley arrived to pick us up.
NOLA knows how to party — 24×7 — both inside and
outside the many bars and restaurants. We saw visitors out and about at all hours carrying
alcohol between bars and restaurants in the French Quarter. Live music abounds in venues, on
street corners, and in the parks, throughout the day and night. We noticed colorful beads from
past Mardi Gras celebrations layered like tinsel on the trees lining the city
streets. We listened to the sounds of the city as we enjoyed breakfast
and afternoon snack on the balcony of our French Quarter room.
Second Line brass bands marched down our street and through the French Quarter throughout the day and evening – one of the most popular traditions during a New Orleans wedding (we soon experienced this first hand) – a common occurrence and one of the many reasons New Orleans is one of the most popular venues for destination weddings.
For a wedding, the Second Line signifies the start
of a new beginning of life for the bride and groom. A Brass band
leads the bridal party and the guests from the ceremony to the reception
venue or it may take place at the reception itself. The first line is
usually a brass band and the ones being honored, the newlyweds. The newly
married couple leads the second line holding decorated umbrellas or
parasols. The guests who join in the celebration make up the second
line, forming a line behind the band and the newly married couple, as they all
dance and stroll through the streets to lively music waving handkerchiefs.
Soon enough, instead of watching a Second Line brass band from our balcony, we were parading in ourselves, as the newly married couple we came to New Orleans to celebrate led their wedding guests on a New Orleans musical journey around the artsy Bywater neighborhood near the French Quarter.
in the French Quarter is legendary for its barhopping and music. Only about a
mile from Bourbon Street and our hotel, we also found a real gem of bars,
restaurants, and local artists selling their art late at night on Frenchman
Street. We came back to this street often for the diverse live music and food,
as well as to purchase gifts for the family from the artists. We
enjoyed sharing small plates and meaty gumbo at the Three Muses Restaurant (517 Frenchmen St., (504) 252-4801), while listening to a jazz pianist playing some of our
favorite Scott Joplin Ragtime jazz songs.
We dropped in to the Spotted Cat, a small bar with a live band playing traditional Dixie jazz, then went across the street to Cafe Negril (606 Frenchmen St, (504) 229-4236), for drinks and to listen to our favorite Caribbean sounds being expertly played and sung by a large reggae and funk band. We came back another night for Cajun and American food at The Maison (508 Frenchman), where we listened to two different local jazz bands — the stage in the back of the restaurant had a band playing and people dancing when we first walked in but by the time we were into our dinner; a second band had set up and played from the small stage at the front of the restaurant.
Besides the music for which NOLA is known, the major
attraction is its food – NOLA has some of the most unique local foods in the
US, from traditional Louisiana Po-Boy sandwiches (usually roast beef or fried seafood,
often shrimp, crawfish, fish, oysters or crab), meat or shrimp gumbo
(like a thick soup), and beignets (donut pastry with powdered sugar). Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter is a popular open-air coffee shop
that serves only beignets along with non-alcoholic drinks (800 Decatur St, in
front of Jackson Square, 504-581-2914). Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar offers
traditional seafood po-boy sandwiches, fried and boiled seafood, gumbo, raw
oysters, char-grilled oysters, blackened seafood (3203 Williams
Boulevard, (504) 443-6454). Cafe Degas is located a few blocks from the house
where Edgar Degas lived while in NOLA. The restaurant offers French bistro food
(mussels, in-season soft shell crab,frites, escargot, French onion soup) in a
setting where a large pecan tree grows through the dining room, giving the
feeling of an open-air patio (3127 Esplanade Ave., (504) 945-5635).
NOLA is more than alcohol and music and food – it is
a city with plenty of attractions for visitors of all ages. Go online or speak
with your hotel’s concierge for suggestions, and to make reservations on tours
and at restaurants. Also check with visitor centers around town for discounts
through “Day Passes.”
Our attraction recommendations are:
Take a walking or bus tour to the historic and purportedly haunted locations in the French Quarter and local cemeteries. We joined an evening bus tour to four city cemeteries to look for evidence of hauntings, while learning about NOLA history from our resident guide. Although we did not experience a “haunting,” we viewed a Christian cemetery from the gates to look at the iconic NOLA “houses” for the dead, and walked around a Jewish cemetery to see if we “felt” anything, while our guide explained how this lower-than sea level town interns their dead when they can’t be buried six feet down. We also walked around the Hurricane Katrina Memorial Park (5056 Canal St.): six blank, black mausoleums were designed for the unnamed and unclaimed victims. They border the paths representing a hurricane’s spiral path, and lead to a central, vertical rock which depicts the eye of the storm.
In the center of the French Quarter is a little museum which preserves New Orleans’ unique history and culture of the practice of Voodoo. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is open seven days a week and most holidays, from 10AM to 6PM. General Admission is $7.00/person; $5.50/Seniors, Military, College Students with ID; $4.50/High School Student; $3.50 Kids under 12. (724 Dumaine St., www.voodoomuseum.com, (504) 680-0128).
The National WWII Museum is a complex of buildings with immersive, interactive, multimedia displays to help you learn about the WWII campaigns. Visitors first start out by obtaining a “dog tag” (think “card key”) and you “board” a simile of a train to be assigned a digital WWII service person. You can then learn about the individual’s experiences, and collect digital WWII artifacts at stations posted throughout the museum campus. The Museum is open daily, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (closed Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.) General admission is $28/adult, $24/Seniors (65+); $18/Military (w/ID), college student with ID), child (K-12). (945 Magazine St,, https://www.nationalww2museum.org
The Audubon Nature Institute has three facilities
which offer visitors special NOLA experiences:
The Aquarium of the Americas (https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/aquarium; open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am-5pm) is a two-story building located along the waterfront, and accessible by public transportation, including the trolley car lines. We love visiting aquariums across the country, as each one showcases local fish, mammals, and birds. This is true for the NOLA aquarium, where the main floor leads you through indigenous marine creatures from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as jellyfish and the Mayan reef. On the second floor, you can visit the Mississippi River Gallery and an albino alligator. Also check out the penguins, sea otters, sharks, and marine animals from the Amazon rainforest.
While walking around upstairs, take a break for some pizza at Papa John’s or a bowl of Haagen Dazs ice cream. Don’t forget to walk around the ice cream bar to check out the large collection of colorful parakeets. Look for the large, fanciful sculptures which are scattered around the Aquarium and are made from reclaimed plastics from the oceans and seas. Without having to fly to the Maya Riviera in Mexico, you can treat yourself and others to a snorkeling experience in the Maya Reef exhibit, as well as schedule an up-close visit with the penguins and the sweet sea otters
To save $3 per Aquarium admission, go to the Audobon web site: $25.95/Adult; $17.95/Child (2-12); $20.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax and $1 transaction fee per ticket). You need to book the marine encounters in advance of your visit, either online or contact the Aquarium directly.
We walked into the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 4:30pm), expecting to be in and out in an hour — three hours later, we walked out with amazing new experiences. This facility is a living museum, with many examples of live insects and a wonderful butterfly room with a koi pond. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by one of the facility’s entomologists, who walked with us and described each live insect in the long hallway cases and rooms. The entomologists rotate throughout the facility, always ready with a smile and a story to help you learn about the bugs.
The same entomologists take turns in the ‘Bug Appétit’ Kitchen, six days a week. They prepare many of their own recipes to allow visitors to sample food made with edible insect ingredients. On the day we visited, we sampled roasted whole crickets with barbeque and other flavorings, chocolate “chirp” cookies with organic cricket flour, and crackers coated with garlic spread, humus, and cheese spread — all contained ground, roasted crickets or mealworms. Surprisingly, these delicacies all tasted quite good and turned out to be the highlight of our visit. As Mack, the head of Bug Appétit noted, “This is the wave of the future.” In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been promoting the increased consumption of insect protein around the world since 2003 — farming of edible insects produce low greenhouse emissions, and offer a sustainable and inexpensive source of protein, vitamins, and amino acids essential for humans.
The Insectarium price includes an animated, 4-D movie about superstar bugs and their outstanding achievements. “Awards Night,” is fun for all ages, with celebrity voices by Jay Leno, Joan Rivers, and Brad Garrett. The “Flea Market” gift shop has unique items to take home: Laurie purchased amber earrings and keychains with baby scorpions and other bugs as gifts for herself and the family!
To save $3 per Insectarium admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site: $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee per ticket).The Audubon Zoo offers an animal-themed water splash park for all ages with three different splash zones and one area specifically for toddlers and younger kids. Grab an inner tube for a lazy ride along Gator Run, slide down a huge alligator water slide, run through spider monkey soakers and water-spitting snakes. Check the web site to confirm when the water park is open.
To save $3 per Zoo admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site: $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee).
If you plan to visit all three Audubon centers, the best value is to purchase the “Audubon Experience” ticket, which offers a savings of up to $30.90 per person: $44.95/Adult (plus sales tax); $34.95/Child (2-12) (plus sales tax); $37.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax).
The Music Box Village in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans was the location for the wedding which brought us to this part of the country (the bride, an artist who had done a couple of residencies in New Orleans, had a personal connection to the Music Box, and the groom had an American Roots band). The “Village” is a unique, outdoor, artist-created sculpture garden of life-sized, interactive musical houses. Each “house” is whimsically designed with different types of materials and equipment. The overarching purpose is to allow visitors of all ages to explore many different ways to make sounds and music. It is a magical, enchanted garden that turns anyone into a kid absolutely enthralled with making music. Check the Village’s web site for events while you are in town, so you, too, can experience this magical outdoor venue. (4557 N Rampart St., https://musicboxvillage.com)
New Orleans turned 300 during 2019.
Here are more highlights of a visit to New Orleans:
New Orleans & Company, the visitor bureau, has an excellent website to help plan your visit, including sample itineraries: 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130,800-672-6124, www.neworleans.com.
Nantucket, a porkchop-shaped island just 14 by 3½-miles with just a few thousand inhabitants, hangs 30 miles out to sea off Massachusetts’ mainland. That creates a special kind of isolation and 350 years ago, made for a special incubator for culture and industry.
“Nantucket has been a microcosm of America for 350 years, a magnet and unique laboratory for some of our most powerful impulses…People around the globe knew of Nantucket whalers,” says the narrator of a documentary, “Nantucket” by Ric Burns. Nantucket, he says, has a history of reinventing itself.
“Nantucket was created by sea. In as little as 400 years, it will be taken by the sea. We are on borrowed time.”
That alone sets up the drama before our visit to Nantucket. The documentary is an evening’s activity aboard Blount Small Ship Adventures’ Grand Caribe, and now, we sail into Nantucket’s harbor in a dense fog, on the last day of our week-long voyage that has taken us to the New England islands.
This tiny place, we learn, became a global powerhouse because of whaling, which itself required technological innovations and produced a revolution in the way people lived: “Nantucket was the first global economic engine America would know.”
Indeed, here in Nantucket, we realize how revolutionary candlelight was, extending people’s days into the darkness of night. “Nantucket sperm oil made the Industrial Revolution happen.”
It also proves to be a lesson in the importance of globalization and immigration.
“In 1820, Nantucket entered its golden age. The entire Pacific its backyard, America as world power.” The square-rigged whaling ships we think of as quaint today “were state of art, decades into development, a perfect factory ship to render oil. They could go anywhere, withstand horrible conditions, serve as the home for dozens of men for three to four years at a time. They were vessels of exploration, the space ships of their day, they could travel to unknown worlds…Nantucketers were astronauts of their day.”
But here on Nantucket, we are introduced to another aspect of the story: Quakerism and feminism.
Whaling, it turns out, became a thriving industry because of the Quakers who settled Nantucket, peacefully coexisting with the Wampanoags who had lived here for thousands of years (their numbers were decimated, though, by the diseases the Europeans brought). The Wampanoags knew how to harpoon whales that were beached and introduced the English to whaling.
But it was the Quakers’ open-mindedness, their values of modest living, hard work and practice of reinvesting money into the industry rather than on lavish living that produced the innovations. Even more significantly, Nantucket could become so successful in whaling because of the Quaker sense of egalitarianism, seeing women as having equal ability. How else could Nantucket men go off for years at a time, leaving their home, business and community to be run by the women they left behind (one street is known as Petticoat Row because of all the women-owned businesses)? Quaker women, including Lucretia Coffin Mott (who was from Nantucket) became leaders of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement.
So it is no wonder that Nantucket enabled a woman, Maria Mitchell, to thrive.
Born in 1818 on Nantucket, Maria Mitchell became America’s first woman astronomer (famous for discovering a comet in 1847, which was named “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”), the first woman elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1848) and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1850). She was Vassar’s first professor of astronomy, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Women, and active in the Women’s Suffrage movement.
We first are introduced to her on “Gail’s Tours” of the island, then when we visit the Whaling Museum which has a whole gallery devoted to her, and after, I am so fascinated with her, I follow a self-guided “Walking in the Footsteps of Maria Mitchell” which takes me to the Quaker Meeting House. (Ironically, Mitchell was too skeptical and outspoken for the Quakers and “written out” so she joined the Unitarian Church instead, which today shares its building with the Congregation Shirat Ha Yam, “a pluralistic Jewish congregation”).
Nantucket has a land area of about 45 square miles (about half the size of Martha’s Vineyard), yet seems larger, somehow, to get around. The best way to experience Nantucket when you only have a day and when mobility may be somewhat limited, is to take an island tour.
So we take the launch boat into Straight Wharf (this is the only stop on the New England Islands cruise where we anchor instead of dock), and walk along the cobblestone streets about half-mile to where Gail Nickerson Johnson has her van parked in front of the Visitor Center.
The first impression of Nantucket is how much it looks like a movie set with its quaint shops and cobblestone streets. Indeed, the one square-mile National Historic District is the largest concentration of antebellum structures in the United States. I take note of a mural on the side of a building that shows how many miles from places like Iceland, Pitcairn and Cape Town are from Nantucket, as if the center of the world.
We have been recommended to Gail’s Tours, and what a find this is. Gail, it turns out, is a 6th generation Nantucket native, descended from the Nickersons (her family line includes the Gardners, Coffins, Foulgers), was raised here, and knows just about everybody and every house we pass. She took over the tour business from her mother, who, she says, used to summer here before marrying her father. Her mother used to take visiting friends and relatives around in a woodie, and then got the idea to turn it into a tourist business, which she ran for 40 years.
Gail points out all the local sights:” I remember when….” “We used to ….,” “When we were kids….” “That used to be ….”
She notes that some 10,000 to 15,000 people live on Nantucket year-round, quite a jump from the 3,000 people who lived here year-round when she was growing up.
Gail jokes that Nantucket is on shaky ground – it is predicted to be under water in 400 years time. “In 300, I’m outta here.”
We pass all the important sights: the island’s oldest house, built as a wedding present for Jethro Coffin and Mary Gardner Coffin in 1686. It has been restored after lightening struck the house, splitting it in two; the Old Windmill (1746); the Quaker cemetery where there some 5,000 people are buried but few headstones, so it looks more like a rolling field; the Maria Mitchell Observatory; cranberry bogs; the Life Saving Museum.
She points to the house that Frank Bunker Gilbreth owned – the efficiency expert depicted in his son’s book, “Cheaper by the Dozen.” “They found among his papers Morse code for how to take bath in 1 ½ minutes.” The family still owns the house. She points to where Peter Benchley (“Jaws”) lived, the house where John Steinbeck stayed when he wrote “East of Eden.”
We stop at Sankaty Head Lighthouse so we can get out for a closer look. The 70-foot tall lighthouse was built of brick in 1850 and automated in 1965; its beacon can be seen 26 miles away. It had to be moved and was re-lighted in its new location, just next to the fifth hole of the Sankaty Head Golf Course in November 2007.
The tour finishes just around the corner from the Nantucket Whaling Museum. We pick up phenomenal sandwiches from Walter’s, have lunch on benches outside the museum.
We had been to the excellent New Bedford Whaling Museum and now come to the renowned Nantucket Whaling Museum. Interestingly, the presentations and focus are very different – so the two are like bookends that add to the telling of this dramatic story.
We arrive as a historian is describing the hunt for whales, and then join the docent-led highlights tour, which is sensational.
The sperm whale oil, she says, “is a light source, power source and lubricant and could be used in winter. Artificial light in winter revolutionized life for 3 to 4 months of the year. It was used throughout the United States and Europe, prized the world over.”
The earliest whaling industry was created by Quakers, who were austere, not vain, and reinvested income into growing the industry. Portraits were not permitted (the portraits that decorate the entire wall are made later), but by the 19th century, they were not practicing Quakerism. She points to one of the earliest portraits which, without a tradition of art education in colonial America, was probably made by a housepainter, and probably an authentic representation of her likeness without artifice. She has one blue and one brown eye, which was a genetic trait among some of the earliest Nantucket settlers.
She points to a portrait of Susan Veeder, one of the women who accompanied their husbands on a whaling voyage. She kept records of the day-to-day life. “Her journals are anthropological, whereas the men’s journals were mainly about weather, tides and number of whales caught. She is the reason we know so much about life on whaling ship.” The docent adds that Veeder delivered a baby daughter while on board, but it died. “While British whalers had to have a surgeon on board, American whalers were not required to. The ship had a medical kit with numbered vials and instructions. But if they ran out of #11 vial, a captain might just add #5 and #6 together.”
Another painting shows a wife standing beside her husband seated at a desk. “It’s a rare image. Women had roles in Nantucket – they ran the town, home and business. Her husband was a whaling captain who brought back artifacts; she set up a display in house and charged admission fee and told stories. This was the first museum on the island. The contents went to the Atheneum and now are part of the Historical society collection.”
She points to a jaw bone that is the height of the room. It would have come from 80-ft whale such as rammed the Essex (the event that inspired the story of “Moby Dick”).”For people of Nantucket (most of whom had never seen a whale) would have been seen as a sea monster. For the captain to make the decision to keep this onboard for two years or so of the journey, taking up precious space on ship, speaks to how important it was.”
We go into the part of the museum that was originally a candle factory, built by the Mitchell family immediately following the Great Fire of 1846, where there is the only surviving spermaceti lever press left in the world.
She explains, “When the ship returned to Nantucket harbor, filled with as many as 2000 barrels of oil, each holding 31.5 gallons apiece, the oil would be put in storage.
“They would wait for winter to begin processing because only highest quality oil would remain liquid in winter; then process the lowest quality in spring and summer. They kept the lowest quality in Nantucket and sold first and second pressings.
“The best oil was used for lighthouses. What was left was used for spermaceti candles.These were the best candles – they burned with no odor, no smoke, no drip. They were prized throughout US and Europe. They changed the quality of life because of having a reliable light source.”
At its height, there were 36 candle factories in Nantucket.
You become aware of hearing sea chanties in the background.
She leads us up to the second-floor Scrimshaw gallery (those who have difficulty with steps can ask to use an elevator). “It was a way for captains to keep their sailors entertained and occupied (so they didn’t get into fights). They would soak whale teeth, burnish with shark skin (like sandpaper); sharks would be attracted to ship when processed whale – and they would kill sharks for food and use the skin.
“Sailors may be illiterate. They would trace designs from newspaper images and advertising. Victorian woman a common subject for scrimshaw because they were commonly used in fashion ads they traced.”
Some scrimshaw was functional – like pie crimpers. The men would fashion corset stays as tokens of love (they were worn close to heart). Only captains would have the space to make swifts – tools to wind skein of yarn.
Today, she says, the scrimshaw is priceless.
She notes that the Essex was not the only ship that was sunk by a whale: the Ann Alexander also was sunk by whale, but the sailors were rescued the next day and returned home.
“Another ship in the Pacific found a whale with a harpoon from the Ann Alexander in it – killed the whale and made scrimshaw out of its teeth, known as the Ann Alexander teeth” that we see here in the gallery.
There is a small room devoted to Essex story, and we come upon a storyteller retelling the story of the Essex, sunk by a whale – the event that inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” – from the point of view of the actual events as documented in Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, “In the Heart of the Sea” which ended with the men so desperate, they committed cannibalism.
The cabin boy on the Essex who 30 years later wrote his memoir, was Thomas Nickerson (one of Gail’s ancestors? I wonder).
This was the first known incident of an unprovoked whale ramming a ship. But, he says, they now believe that it was hammering to quickly repair one of the chase boats used when they go after the whale, that caused the whale to charge.
Melville, it turns out, only visited Nantucket for the first time in 1852, after he wrote Moby Dick.
Most interesting is the room devoted to Maria Mitchell’s Legacy, where we are introduced to her biography and achievements.
The Nantucket Historical Association which operates the museum also operates several other attractions which are included on an “all access ticket”($20/adult, $18/senior/student, $5/youth 6-17): the Oldest House & Kitchen Garden (the 1686 Coffin House); the 1746 Old Mill (you go inside and meet the miller); the Old Gaol (1806), the Quaker Meeting House (1836), the Fire Hose Cart House (1886, the last remaining 19th century fire hose cart on the island); and Greater Light.
Nantucket is dramatic, of course, because of the whaling industry – an invention that revolutionized life by bringing light into winter’s darkness and what the oil meant to enabling the Industrial Revolution.
But for me, the most fascinating thing is being introduced to Maria Mitchell – we are shown important sites associated with her on the island tour and at the museum. I am so inspired that I follow a self-guided walking tour that is delightful to give structure to exploring the town.
I meet her again in a storefront display dedicated to her, and then follow the Maria Mitchell Foundation sites: the Nantucket Atheneum (she became the first librarian, at age 18); the Pacific Bank where her father was president; the Unitarian Universalist Church which she joined after leaving the Quakers; Mitchell’s House where she was born, the Observatory built after her death in 1908 and the natural history museum operated by the Maria Mitchell Foundation (mariamitchell.org).
This leads me to the Quaker Meeting House where I have a most unexpected – and fascinating – discussion of Quaker religion sitting in a pew.
“Quakers were the social cement of the community.” You couldn’t do business without being Quaker, but you could pretend to be Quaker.
“Quakers were seen as activists, the hippies of their day,” because they were free thinking and were egalitarian in their treatment of women and people of other races.
The Quakers were considered heretics and banned by the Puritans because they believed in an “inner light”. They refused to pay taxes to the church or accept authority, or take oaths (for this reason, they couldn’t become doctors or lawyers). It went counter to the control mandated by the Puritans, Anglicans.
“They would show up naked at an Anglican Church,” she tells me which sparks a thought: why isn’t Quakerism being revived today? It seems more consistent with modern-day approaches to organized religion.
Most heretical of all: they did not require those they sought to convert to accept Jesus. “They did not require personal knowledge or acceptance of Jesus, just to find God through Inner Light.”
“The Quakers were hanged, branded, their noses split.”
But they found safe haven in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, because in 1661, Charles II ordered that all trials of Quakers had to take place in England. “They were safe in America since they wouldn’t be shipped back to England.”
And over time, the Quakers toned down the “dangerous” rhetoric.
“They were excellent businessmen. They valued education (to this day): boys were educated to 13 or 14 when they were expected to join the whaling ships; but girls were educated to 17 or 18, so they had more formalized education than men.”
The women, therefore, were left in charge of home, businesses and community when the men left for their whaling voyages. Centre Street was nicknamed Petticoat Row because women owned all the businesses.
On the other hand, Maria Mitchell must have stepped over the line, because in 1843, even though her father was an elder, her “skepticism and outspokenness resulted in her leaving Quaker Meeting and being ‘written out’ by the Society.”
The decline of Quakers in Nantucket followed the decline of the whaling business. A great fire in 1846 destroyed much of Nantucket’s infrastructure and the livelihoods of 8 out of 10 Nantucketers. When gold was found in California, in 1849, scores of whaling ships sailed for San Francisco and were sunk in the harbor there rather than return; when petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania in 1859 as a cheaper, easier fuel, scores of Nantucketers went there. The ships, which had to be built bigger and bigger for the longer journeys, had trouble coming into Nantucket’s harbor because of a build-up of silt. Then the Civil War came – more than 300 Nantucket men joined the Union and 73 were killed; the whaling ships were easy targets for the Confederates. The last whaling ship sailed from Nantucket in 1869.
“By that point, Nantucket well out of picture,” the “Nantucket” documentary notes. “The city in the middle of the ocean was evacuated. It went from a population of 10,000 to 3000 in a matter of decades, like a sleeping beauty castle, waiting 100 years with only the memories of whaling.”
Now, the docent says, there is only one full-time Nantucket resident who is Quaker. “We get 5 to 8 people for Sunday meeting.” During that time, people sit and meditate; they do not even read a Bible.
I stop in at the Research Library where there is a stunning exhibition of needlepoint on display.
There is so much more to see; I make notes for my return visit:
Cisco Brewers (5 Bartlett Farm Road, 508-325-5929, http://ciscobrewers.com/ . The brewery operates its own free shuttle, noon to 6:30 pm daily on the half-hour, from Visitor Services at 25 Federal Street downtown.)
Bartlett’s Farm (33 Bartlett’s Farm Road, 508-228-9403, https://bartlettsfarm.com/; located about 10-minute walk from Cisco Brewers.)
The ever-shifting sandbars lurking beneath the waters around Nantucket have caused between 700 and 800 shipwrecks, making lighthouses necessary navigational aids. Besides the Sankaty Head Lighthouse which we have seen there are two others that are worthwhile visiting:
Brant Point Lighthouse, standing at the entrance to Nantucket harbor, is the second oldest lighthouse in North America, first built in 1746 (the oldest is Boston Harbor Light c. 1716). Over the years, it has been moved and rebuilt more times than any other lighthouse in the country. The present lighthouse is the ninth one built on Brant Point. It is 26 feet tall wooden tower topped with a fifth-order Fresnel lens that was built in 1901. Still in active use, it is owned by the US Coast Guard and closed to the public, but you can visit the grounds (www.nps.gov/nr/travel/maritime).
Great Point Lighthouse (also called Nantucket Lighthouse), New England’s most powerful lighthouse, sits at the extreme northeast end of the island. A wooden tower was quickly built and the station with a light was activated in October 1784 (and destroyed by fire in 1816). The following year a stone tower was erected which stood until toppled in a storm in March 1984. The Lighthouse was rebuilt again in 1986, the stone tower was built to replicate the old one, and still remains in operation today. Modern additions include solar panels to recharge the light’s batteries, and a sheet pile foundation and 5-foot thick concrete mat to help withstand erosion.
Nantucket also offers miles upon miles of beach open to all. And thanks in large part to the early efforts of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, nearly half of the island’s 30,000 acres are protected. A network of beautiful cycling paths wind through the island.
Contact the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce, Zero Main Street, Nantucket, MA 02554, 508-228-3643.
Now it is time to return to the Grand Caribe. (they make it very easy to step from the launch boat onto the stern of the ship through an open bay).
I’m back in time for the farewell cocktail reception, an open bar with delicious hors d’oeuvres. Dinner is lobster tail or prime rib (both fantastic); vanilla gelato or crème brule.
We are eating dinner when the fog starts rolling in most dramatically. Within minutes, it is difficult to see even the boats anchored nearby. The foghorn blasts every few minutes – which is funny as we sit in the lounge watching the movie, “Overboard,” when the blasts seem coordinated. (Jasmine, the cruise director, has opted for this romantic comedy instead of the movie “Perfect Storm.”)
It will be a nine-hour sail back to Warren, Rhode Island where the Blount Small Ship Adventures is based. Captain Patrick Moynihan tells us to anticipate three to four foot seats for about an hour when we reach Rhode Island waters.
What I love most about Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, is that this single island, just 100 square miles, holds such diversity of culture, heritage, ecology. You can find a place on this island to suit whatever mood or craving you have – Edgartown’s austere conformity; Oak Bluffs’ color and whimsy; Vineyard Haven’s seagoing tradition; Wampanoag Indian reservation; fishing villages, beaches, nature preserves, lighthouses, farms. Go a few miles and it’s like crossing a border to another state or state of mind.
We arrive after a two-hour sail from New Bedford aboard Blount Small Ship Adventures’ Grande Caribe at 7:30 in the morning. I watch with great admiration how Captain Patrick Moynihan maneuvers us into the Tisbury Marina in Vineyard Haven, where billionaires have their yachts (our 84-passenger ship is about the size of the more ambitious of them), swinging us around so we are perpendicular to the pier. The first mate throws out a line to lasso the pylon.
Across the way, we can see where the big ferries come in from Falmouth, Hyannis, Nantucket, New Bedford, MA; Quonset Point, RI and New York.
We see historic sailing vessels, like the tall ship Shenandoah, that add to the ambiance. Docked at the marina, we can go on and off the ship at will.It’s our third day of our New England Islands cruise – an itinerary that had to be completely rearranged because of storms at sea.
The best way to experience Martha’s Vineyard if you only have a day and especially if there are mobility issues is with an island tour. I am traveling with my brother who has some difficulty walking. We are recommended to Oak Bluffs Wharf & Land Company’s island tour, and we recommend it for both its length and scope. You come away feeling you really know Martha’s Vineyard from end to end, and more significantly, its people.
The tour company operates out of the Dockside Inn, an absolutely charming place a short walk from the ferry terminal; the inn (which I take note of for a return visit) and the tour company are both owned by John Tiernan (9 Circuit Avenue Ext., Oak Bluffs, MA, 508-684-8595, www.DocksideInnMV.com)
We hail an Uber and arrive at the charming inn in plenty of time to enjoy rocking in a wicker chair on the porch and watching the world go by (at least the people coming and going from the ferry) before we start the tour.
In the course of 2 ½ hours (more like 3) we get to visit all six of the island’s towns and go as far as Aguinnah and the Gay Head Cliffs.
Our guide, Linda, has lived on Martha’s Vineyard for 25 years but says her teenage grandkids still refer to her as a “washashore.” She is vivacious and interesting, as she drives the van and narrates about the points of interest, but also, gives us a real feeling for the people who live here and have been drawn here since the first European settlers arrived in 1642.
Martha’s Vineyard is home to some 17,000 people year-round (I envy them); the population swells to 100,000 in summer. Traffic at the five-corners intersection (there are only two traffic lights on the island and these are on the bridges; no parking meters, neon signs, or billboards either) becomes a dance and a test of neighborly good will.
I could definitely live here. I’d be right at home among all the writers, journalists, musicians, artists, political people – the diversity of their backgrounds is laudable:
There’s Gloria Swanson’s house given to her by Joseph Kennedy. At West Chop, she ticks off prominent people who lived here (I note the media people and writers); Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite, Lillian Hellman, Carly Simon. She points to where Charles Lindbergh and wife came for respite after their baby was kidnapped and killed; where John Kerry just bought property; She clicks off names of people who live in the area: Diane Sawyer (“Chip Chop” house); Mia Farrow; Katherine Graham (Washington Post), Beverly Sills; here’s where Princess Diana stayed here while divorcing; here’s a horse farm that was owned by James Cagney (still in his family); and here’s Lambert’s Cove, where Carly Simon is a regular (she always stops to ask for directions).
Michael J Fox had a home in Aquinnah, even named his daughter Aquinnah; Jackie Kennedy Onassis bought 400-acre spread, now owned by Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and Obama, who had regularly vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard during his presidency, just bought a piece of it. Driving through Chilmark, Bob Villa (“This Old House); author David McCullough (“John Adams”), Judi Blum, Susan Bronck, Philip Craig, Tom Clancy, Geraldine Brooks, and Jim Belushi; in Oak Bluffs, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. (PBS “Finding Your Roots”), Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.
It’s the atmosphere, the vibe, the ingrained culture of this place that makes it so accepting, so comfortable. I see it, feel it myself as I walk about.
It starts with Martha’s Vineyard’s early European settlement – not the Puritans who settled Plymouth, but Quakers who were more tolerant and respectful of the Wampanoag Indians and later the Cape Verdeans who were recruited to whaling, and still later African Americans and Jews who were barred elsewhere.
It is most emblematic for me when I come upon the statue of a Union soldier in Ocean Park. Soldiers’ Memorial Fountain was dedicated in 1891 by Martha’s Vineyard Herald editor Charles Strahan, who had served in a Virginia regiment of the Confederate Army. He wanted to express gratitude and remorse in his adopted home and erected the statue in honor of local Union veterans. Then, in 1925, residents reciprocated by adding a tablet in recognition of Confederate soldiers. The statue, with a fountain-fed water trough for horses, originally stood at the foot of Circuit Avenue; it was restored in 2001 and rededicated at this site on its 110th anniversary. It is one of the few expressions of reconciliation after the Civil War that I have ever found.
Linda notes that Martha’s Vineyard has a rich African American history; a heritage trail through the island has 20 sites, including the Shearer Cottages, an inn to accommodate African American visitors, which was started by Charles Shearer, a freed slave who came to the Vineyard and started a laundry service, which is still run by his great granddaughter Doris Jackson. There is also Adam Clayton Powell Jr.’s house. And, Linda later points out when we are in Aquinnah, “The first African American woman to own her own property. Rebecca Amos, was a former slave married to Wampanoag, and when her husband died, she acquired his home.”
Inkwell Beach, the town beach in Oak Bluffs, Linda notes, was the first beach to be integrated. Indeed, when I return on my own, as I look around at the gatherings of people, you see genuine integration, not just neighbors –as in the historic Methodist camp meeting grounds – but in gatherings of friends and multi-racial families along the beach, the promenade, the main street, sitting on a bench at the Union Chapel.
As we travel in the comfortable van, Linda relates the island’s history:
Martha’s Vineyard was visited by Scandinavians as long ago as 1000 AD, naming it Vineland. The Italian explorer Verrazano sighted the island in 1524. But the most significant explorer was Bartholomew Gosnold of Falmouth, England, who in 1602 sailed into the Elizabeth Islands (he named), naming Cape Cod, and Martha’s Vineyard (named for his mother-in-law who financed the voyage).
In October 1641 Thomas Mayhew, an English merchant and settler of Watertown, Massachusetts, bought Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Elizabeth Islands for 40 pounds from Lord Stirling and Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who had been granted ownership by the English Crown. Mayhew, who made himself governor for life, sent his son, Thomas Jr. with a few families to settle the island; Thomas required that the settlers purchase their land from the natives and from all accounts, treated the Wampanoag fairly and with respect. (This is likely why Martha’s Vineyard did not suffer the same violence as Plymouth did in the bloody King Philip’s War, 1675–76, in which native Americans made a final stab at forcing English settlers out of New England). “The diverse peoples lived in peace and the island also became a haven for people of color, those of African and Cape Verdean descent.”
Mayhew sent his son, Thomas Mayhew Jr., a missionary, “to ‘take savage out of natives’ so they would be more forthcoming with land (to sell to settlers),” Linda relates. Mayhew learned to speak Algonquin from an Indian man named Hiacoomes. Mayhew was Quaker, who believed in the “inner light” and that it was not necessary to believe in Jesus (as I subsequently learn in Nantucket). The converted Indians settled in their own village, “Christiantown”, where could live separately. They had their own meeting house and cemetery where Christianized natives were buried.
“Many natives died of disease but not the Christian ones, so they were more amenable to conversion,” Linda says.
Still, their numbers suffered after European settlement: in 1642, there were 3,000 Wampanoag; by 1764, their numbers had dwindled to just 300.
We pass an indigenous great white oak tree simply called “The Oldest Tree”, which is 400 years old (Alfred Eisenstadt took a famous photo of the tree).
Linda points to a dirt road named Tea Lane, the oldest road to the ocean. “Martha’s Vineyard had its own Tea Party – smuggled tea, buried it. Later, during Prohibition, they smuggled rum, and in 1970s, smuggled marijuana.”
We drive into Menemsha, a working fishing village (scenes from “Jaws” were filmed here and the Harrison Ford movie version of “Sabrina” used a charming cottage. Linda, who mentions that she is the daughter of a lobsterman, says it is popular for people to buy a fresh fish dinner and watch the sunset.
As we come into Aquinnah, where the Wampanoag reservation still exists, and where most of the remaining native population live, Linda relates how the whaling captains, knowing of the natives’ prowess harpooning whales that got beached, would try to recruit them. Herman Melville spent a lot of time talking with Amos Smalley, the first Indian to harpoon a whale single-handedly, who was very likely the model for his Queequeg character in “Moby Dick.”
Indigenous Wampanoag (“people of the first light”) have lived on Martha’s Vineyard for millennia. Nearly 1,000 are still listed on tribal rolls and, of these, 150 live in the southwestern 3,400-acre peninsula of Aquinnah, designated a reservation, and another 150 live elsewhere on the island.
The town of Aquinnah ends in cliffs once called Gay Head (because of the ‘gay’ appearance given to it by stripes of variegated clay and sand of which it is composed) and now called Clay Cliffs at Aquinnah. The one mile of exposed cliffs rise dramatically 150 feet feet above sea level.
The pre-glacial sedimentary formation shows a cross section of strata from the Cretaceous through Pleistocene Ages, documenting geologic phases on the continental shelf from 100 million years ago. The cliffs are one of the Island’s biggest tourist attractions. Erosion, though, has forced the island to move the lighthouse, at a cost of $2 million.
Linda stops here to let us explore for about a half hour – take in the stunning view that includes a lighthouse (that had to be moved further inland) and visit a small market that includes a shop operated by Wampanoag, the first permanent settlers of the island.
The hiking sticks (versus a cane as an assist for those who have trouble walking) really come in handy here, to make it up even the short, but pebbly slope. I meet a woman who is also using hiking sticks instead of a cane, and she confirms my theory: they provide better balance, let you stand up erect and walk more naturally, and use the upper body, relieving some pressure on the legs; added benefit: you look more like an athlete. “And I’m a nurse,” she exclaims.
You can buy wampum jewelry in one of the shops at the cliffs, where there are also food stands, and restrooms.
There also is a trail to the lighthouse and you can climb up to the light, or (with more time), hike a steep path down to water. We opt to take the short path that takes us to a fabulous view of the cliffs and the lighthouse.
There is also a relatively new Aquinnah Wampanoag Indian Museum (in what was the Vanderhoop residence, a large Wampanoag family who run a fishing charter business).
“Jackie [Onassis who purchased 400 acres of property in Aquinnah] had to negotiate with Wampanoags for beach access from her property.”
As we drive through Chilmark, known for its sheep, Linda relates how, in September 1778, a British fleet of 40 ships sailed into Vineyard Haven harbor, after having burned New Bedford and Fairhaven. Soldiers burned and pillaged vessels and farms.
“The British said there wouldn’t be bloodshed in Martha’s Vineyard if the settlers delivered 10,000 sheep and cattle in five days.” They had no choice but to comply, but one, where we pass the Alan Sheep Farm, hid six sheep in the basement (we see descendants of those sheep in the fields today). But the economy was decimated.
Linda relates one of the most interesting aspects that go to the heart of Martha’s Vineyard culture: Some early Vineyard settlers carried a gene for deafness (the first known deaf one was Jonathan Lambert, 1694), and over years of marriage, generation after generation was born with hearing loss. At one point, one in four children was born deaf. There were so many deaf people on the Vineyard (the greatest concentration in Chilmark) that they developed a sign language, Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL), which was later incorporated with mainland signs to form American Sign Language.
Sign language was so accepted on the Vineyard that a newspaper marveled in 1895 at the way the spoken and signed languages were used by both deaf and hearing residents. People moving to Chilmark actually had to learn sign language in order to live in the community. Deafness was so common, it was never considered to be a handicap. “The intermarriages persisted and the deaf population of Chilmark and the rest of the Vineyard continued to propagate. It would have kept growing if not for the growth of deaf education on the mainland. As deaf Vineyard children attended schools off-island, they tended to settle off-island, married mainland mates, and gradually the deaf Vineyard population died out. The last deaf Vineyard native passed away in the 1950s.”
There are other aspects of Chilmark: Chilmark Chocolates, which attained national renown after Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen presented a box to Ellen DeGeneres, is notable because the couple that own the chocolate company had a disabled son who enjoyed working in the store; now they only hire disabled.
The island also has Camp Jaberwocky. Founded in 1950 by the Lemb family it was the first overnight camp for children with cerebral palsy. “We see the kids every year. It still costs same as in 1950.” (Later I see the red bus carrying children to the camp.)
Linda stops at John Belushi’s grave where people often leave bottles of Jack Daniels and rocks – not because of the Jewish tradition, but a reference to his chosen epitaph: “I may be gone, but/Rock and Roll lives on.”
“He had said, ‘Martha’s Vineyard is the only place I can get good rest’.”
Several of the sights she points out were used in making the movie “Jaws,” (despite the setting supposedly being Nantucket). One of them is a bridge where there is a prominent sign, “No jumping,” that everyone jumps off.
Beginning in 1765, Vineyard men became engaged in whaling, but when the numbers of whales near the island were exhausted, the ships sailed further and further away, with voyages lasting three to five years. By 1850, Vineyard whaling ships were found on every ocean; there would have been 50 ships out of Edgartown at any one time.
Edgartown reflects the Vineyard’s whaling tradition the most – in the many captain’s houses; the Old Whaling Church (now a performance venue); the lighthouse. There is a uniformity in Edgartown that is mandated by town code: the houses have to be white or shingled, the trim can only be black, green or navy blue.
But in the 1860s whaling collapsed – the ships had to travel further and further away, petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania in 1859, the Civil War came and ships were blockaded – and the Vineyard had to look again for a new industry. It turned out to be tourism. For Martha’s Vineyard, that began in Oak Bluffs.
Perhaps one of the quaintest institutions on the Vineyard is the Martha’s Vineyard Camp-Meeting Association, which held its first camp-meeting in August 1835 in the Wesleyan Grove, in what is today Oak Bluffs where the Tabernacle stands.
Founded by the Methodist church, the campground began with pitched tents, then canvas on wood platforms, and then cottages that were gorgeously decorated in gingerbread patterns (like family crests, the patterns usually make a statement) and gay colors. These homes have been in their families for generations (they own the cottage, but not the land).
It was, in its way, the beginning of tourism, and when whaling fell apart for Edgartown, Linda says, Edgartown wanted in on Oak Bluffs’ good fortune. A railroad was built in 1874 between Oak Bluffs wharf to Edgartown, then to Katama and on to South Beach (still the best beach on the island). The railroad operated until 1897; eventually, a rail line was linked to New York (discontinued in 1917 and the rails sold to the government for iron). (Today, Martha’s Vineyard has an excellent public bus system.)
We arrive back into Oak Bluffs. Linda points out Inkwell Beach – one of the first integrated beaches in the country. “There is no discrimination here.”
Oak Bluffs, she says, is where Martin Luther King Jr. wrote some of his speeches.
Linda’s tour finishes at the Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association’s Cottage Museum.
Grand Caribe’s Captain Patrick Moynihan has reshuffled our New England Islands voyage because of a storm which would make reaching Nantucket, 30 miles out to sea, too uncomfortable (10 foot seas) if not outright dangerous. But by staying over in Martha’s Vineyard for an extra day, he expects the weather to improve so we can sail there on Friday, as our last port of call.
The unexpected second day in Martha’s Vineyard is a gift, as if you had been given all these extra hours to do anything you want.
After two active days and anticipating another active day in Nantucket, Marty opts to spend the day relaxing on the ship.
I opt to return to one of my favorite places on the planet: Oak Bluffs. I love the color, the whimsy, the vibe. I have never seen a more open, welcoming place anywhere – it isn’t a coincidence that this is where Valerie Jarrett had her summer home, or that President Obama would summer on the Vineyard here every year during his presidency, or that there are so many media stars and celebrities (many who happen to be Jewish) who had vacation homes here.
I cross the street from the marina where we are tied up at the pier, and hop the #13 bus to Oak Bluffs (it makes a loop to Edgartown).
I pick up the “Historic Walking Tour of Oak Bluffs” brochure from the information center at the bottom of Circuit Avenue, and find myself on what seems a scavenger hunt to find all the places.
I tour of the famous Campground, with all those gorgeous gingerbread cottages with names like Respite, Time Remembered, Alice’s Wonderland, and the Tabernacle, which can seat 2000 for a service.
I make most of the 20 sites on the map, enjoying the notes about history, architecture and people.
I enjoy wandering along the Oak Bluffs Harbor promenade, and Inkwell Beach and take in the lovely shops along Circuit Avenue.
I stop in at the Flying Horses Carousel, the nation’s oldest platform carousel (a national landmark), that was constructed in 1876 by Charles Dare, and today is one of only two Dare carousels still in existence. Originally operated as a Coney Island, NY amusement, it was moved to its red barn in Oak Bluffs in 1884, delighting generations ever since. The carousel was acquired by the Preservation Trust in 1986 to prevent it from being dismantled and sold piecemeal to collectors of antique carved horses. The Trust undertook an extensive restoration to return the carousel to its original appearance, complete with the historic panel paintings that were done by a Dare factory artist. The horses were individually restored and feature real horsehair manes and tails, and distinctive objects in their glass eyes. The 1923 Wurlitzer Band Organ plays old-timey tunes on original paper rolls. The highlight of every ride is the chance to grab the lucky Brass Ring to win a free ride.
Flying Horses Carousel is one of 20 historic properties owned and managed by The Vineyard Trust. Among them: Alleys and The Grange in West Tisbury; The Old Whaling Church and Daniel Fisher House in Edgartown; and Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs.
I take the bus back to Vineyard Haven, getting off opposite the ferry terminal, and walk up to the village’s main street which has many charming boutiques. The local movie theater has a poster of “Jaws.”
It’s a short walk back to the ship – I pass the Benjamin & Gannon ship building and repair company – actually a small shack, but Linda had mentioned that they are very welcoming to visitors, and sure enough, am invited to look inside.
There’s so much to do on Martha’s Vineyard: with more time, I would bike (the island has 44 miles of bike and multi-user paths; several of our passengers took advantage of the rental bikes on board); 19 named beaches, 125 miles of coastline, fishing piers, kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing; horseback riding; guided cycling, natural, ecological, birding, historical, ghost and aerial tours; dozens of art galleries and boutiques, potters and artisans workshops and bookstores; visit an alpaca farm; wildlife and nature preserves, reptile and bird park, sanctuaries, arboretums, reservations; take the On-Time ferry to Chappaquiddick Island to explore Cape Poge and Wasque Reservations; visit Mytoi Japanese garden; the Vineyard’s Native American Wampanoag people at the Aquinnah Cultural Center, explore the Wampanoag Way, an Aquinnah Cultural Trail; follow the African American Heritage Trail; take in a performance at Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven or at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown; take a cooking, dance, yoga, pilates, landscape painting class; circumnavigate the island or its surrounding waters aboard a sailboat, schooner, catamaran or motorboat; take a charter fishing or sailing excursion or lesson; attend a film, food & wine, artisans or other festival.
For more information, and to help plan a visit, contact Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, 24 Beach Road, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, 508-693-0085, 800-505-4815, email@example.com, www.mvy.com.
My three-day fall getaway in the Great Northern Catskills exploring the Hudson River School Art Trail starts before I even arrive at the historic Fairlawn Inn, in Hunter, NY. Taking advantage of the time of day and beautiful weather, I stop at the parking lot on 23A for the trailhead to Kaaterskill Falls, where you get an amazing view of Kaaterskill Clove (HRSAT Site #4). You gaze out over the gorge where mountain peaks seem to thread together and compare the scene today to the way it is depicted by Hudson River School artist Asher B. Durand’s 1866 painting. The trees are just beginning to turn colors (the peak is usually around Columbus Day weekend), but I swear that the same tree, already crimson, is the same red tree in the painting, also depicting an early fall scene.
It’s a short walk along 23A (watch out for cars on the winding narrow road) to the trailhead for one of my favorite hikes, Kaaterskill Falls (HRSAT Site #5), a stunning scene that looks remarkably just as depicted in an 1835 painting by Thomas Cole, known as the father of the Hudson River School. “It is the voice of the landscape for it strikes its own chords, and rocks and mountains re-echo in rich unison,” Cole (who was also a poet and essayist) wrote.
The Kaaterskill Falls were a favorite subject of many of the Hudson River School painters and for me, is the quintessential combination of stunning scenery plus the physical pleasure of the hike – half-mile up to the base of the double-falls, then another half-mile to the top.
The two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls, 175 and 85 feet, is the highest in New York State and was described by James Fenimore Cooper in “The Pioneers” which Thomas Cole, a friend of Cooper’s illustrated.
The waterfalls, usually rushing, are just a trickle after a long dryspell, but the hike is still absolutely fantastic – just enough challenge (I love my walking sticks) – and means you can get much closer than you might if the falls were fuller.
You make it to the base of the double-falls. Last time I hiked the trail, there were barriers and warnings not to go higher because it was so steep and dangerous (people have died!), but since then, there are staircases so you can hike to the very top. (There is also access to the top from other trails and nearby Laurel House Road parking lot above).
I climb up and take a cut-off to the bottom of the high falls where there is a pool of water. Though it is already autumn on the calendar, it is as hot as a summer’s day – record heat in fact, close to 90 degrees – and people are in the shallow pool. The ledges are beautiful and you get a wonderful view back down the valley.
Another half-mile climb (another new staircase gets you up the steepest part) brings me to a winding forest trail that wraps around the hilltop to the very top of the falls. I cross a bridge over what would usually be rushing water. You can look back to the steep drop of the falls, back to the valley – just as Thomas Cole and the artists would have seen it. There is a viewing platform which looks back at the falls, bookended by trees just beginning to turn into their kaleidoscope of fall colors (the peak is traditionally around Columbus Day).
There is a small trail through the woods to the very top of the falls. Signs admonish hikers that climbing the ledges beside Kaaterskill Falls is extremely dangerous, and has resulted in numerous injuries and deaths. But the falls are not flowing when I come, so I get to walk on the ledges, giving me really nervous view straight down and beyond, to the Valley and letting me look at the carved initials and graffiti from the 1920s and 30s, some even from the 1800s. You feel a sense of kindred spirit with those who have passed through and passed on. You feel the height and the proximity to the drop off, and it makes your heart flutter.
Later, you will recognize the view in Thomas Cole’s paintings and imagine how he must have stood in this precise place where you are standing.
It is a half-mile to the base, and another half- mile to the top of the falls, for a total of 2 miles roundtrip. There are some scrambles and it is uphill almost all the way (walking sticks are really recommended), and is thoroughly fantastic.
I’ve taken my time, really savoring the views and the scenes and the smells, and the couple of miles hiking have taken about 2 1/2 hours.
(The parking lot is just west of the trailhead and across 23A, so you park and walk back along the road, being very careful. Haines Falls NY 12436, 518-589-5058, 800-456-2267).
I set out along 23A toward Hunter and the Fairlawn Inn.
Hudson River School Art Trail Hikes in North-South Campground
For my second day, after an amazing breakfast at the Fairlawn Inn, I head to North-South Campground, where there are several of the Hudson River School of Art Trail hikes (as well as many other hiking trails) – the lake itself depicted in paintings such as Thomas Cole’s “Lake with Dead Trees,” 1825, (HRSAT Site #6).
I take the longer and wonderfully more challenging (only moderately strenuous) hike which brings you to such spots as Artist’s Rock, Sunset Rock and Newman’s Ledge (you can continue to North Point). Other hikes bring you to Boulder Rock, the Catskill Mountain House (HRSAT Trail Site #8) and Laurel House sites.
The hike to Sunset Rock (HRSAT Trail Site #7) begins along the well-marked blue trail (you cut off to the yellow trail to Sunset Rock) that mostly wraps around the ledges, with the amazing views that so enthralled the artists of the Hudson River Valley. Close to the beginning is a fairly interesting scramble, then the trail winds through the woods along side fabulous rock formations before coming out again to the ledges. You reach Artists Rock at about .4 miles. Continuing on, you look for the yellow trail marker to Sunset Rock.
I continue on to Newman’s Point but overshoot and head up some challenging scrambles before turning back (the trail to North Point continues for another mile). I am delighted with myself to have gone what I estimate was an extra .4.
Back at the North-South Lake (it’s taken me about three hours taking my time), people are swimming in the ridiculously unseasonably hot (near 90) weather.
I look for a relatively easy trail and find just a short distance away, Mary’s Glen trail to Ashley’s Falls (alas, the falls are all but completely dried up when I come). This is an ideal trail for families with small children who want to avoid hiking near open ledges. You go through a lovely wooded glen alongside a beaver meadow and stream to a deeply forested cascade, Ashley’s Falls. This day, though, there is no cascade. (just .6 mile roundtrip).
Mary’s Glen trail can also be the entrance to a difficult hike, to North Point, a distance of 3.2 miles with 840 feet ascent. It is a mostly moderate climb but has some short, steep scrambles over rock, but you come to large open slabs and expansive vistas at North Point, a 3,000 ft. elevation with some of the most distant views.)
On my last visit, I did a wonderful hike to the site of the Catskill Mountain House (HRSAT Site #8), one of the earliest tourist hotels. The majestic hotel, which was opened in 1823 and accommodated 400 guests a night (Presidents Arthur and Grant were among those who stayed here), burned down in 1963 but the view that attracted visitors still remains as one of the most magnificent panoramas in the region, and can be compared to Frederic Church’s “Above the Clouds at Sunrise” (1849).
It is fun to see the initials carved into the stone ledges from more than a century ago. The Mountain House began drawing thousands of guests each season from all over the country as well as from abroad, who came not just for the cooler, healthier climate but for what had already become one of the most renowned natural panoramas in the young nation: the valley 1,600 feet below, stretching east to the Taconic Mountains and the Berkshires, with the silvery thread of the Hudson visible for 60 miles from north to south. On a clear day, you can see five states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. The hike is just a half-mile with only an 80-foot ascent.
There is a $10/car day use fee for the NYS DEC’s North-South Lake Campground from early May through late October, however the fee is waived for NYS residents 62 years or older midweek. The campground is open for camping from May through October; 518-589-5058 or call DEC Regional Office year-round at 518-357-2234, More information at www.greatnortherncatskills.com/outdoors/north-south-lake-campground.
Those who prefer driving to experience fall foliage will find two National Scenic Byways in the Great Northern Catskills: a 21-mile route that descends from high country peaks to Durham Valley farmland., affording views that stretch across the Hudson River Valley to summits in four New England states. Then take an excursion along Mountain Clove, a byway that meanders through ravines, historic districts, and waterfalls. In fact, one of the best foliage views in New York State, Innkeeper Chuck Tomajko notes, is just 2 miles from his Fairlawn Inn door, at the intersection of Rte 214 and 23A – which looks toward Bear Creek and some half-dozen mountains that form layers.
An Arts-Meets-Nature Driving/Exploration Route: The Kaaterskill Clove Experience provides a new self-guided discovery tour through the history of American art, and the primeval landscape that inspired it. Tailored, easy-to-follow itineraries provide a roadmap for families, adventure seekers and leisure travelers to experience the Kaaterskill Clove at your own pace, while enjoying everything that Greene County has to offer, from farm stands to charming cafes. (www.greatnortherncatskills.com/kaaterskill-clove)
Antiquing. The villages of Catskill and Tannersville are known for their antique shops. Actually the best antiquing of all turns out to be across the street from the Fairlawn Inn in Hunter: the Antique Mall, housed in what used to be the Masonic Center, is owned by innkeeper Chuck Tomajko. Among the treasures: two chairs that had been owned by Elizabeth Abell, the woman who introduced Mary Todd to Abraham Lincoln. Another chair dates from the mid 18th century, made in Philadelphia, could well have been used by Washington, Jefferson or any of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The Bronck House Museum, where you see how eight generations of a family occupied this same house for more than 350 years. (Greene County Historical Society, 90 County Route 42, Coxsackie, NY 12051, 518-731-6490, gchistory.org/bronckmuseum.html).
The charming town of Hudson with its galleries, antique shops, and restaurants.
Hunter Mountain is a four-season resort most famous for skiing, but offers a score of festivals and activities in fall, including weekend scenic skyrides (www.huntermtn.com).
The I LOVE NEW YORK weekly foliage report – a detailed map charting fall color progress, vantage points for viewing spectacular foliage, suggested autumn getaways and weekly event listings – is available at www.iloveny.com/foliage or by calling 800/CALL-NYS (800/225-5697).
Two hundred years ago, Thomas Cole, the father of the Hudson River School art movement, sailed up the Hudson River to the Catskills and was smitten by the landscape, by the natural world, by the respite from the bustle of New York City. And so convenient to reach, even then, coming by the new steamships which was the “thing to do”. He railed against the influx of “progress” even then, and the ravage of the axe that was already decimating the lush forest. It is remarkable that we have Cole and his student, Frederick Edwin Church who built his magnificent Olana on a hilltop with a view over this magnificent Hudson Valley, to thank for its preservation. The Catskills are magnificent any time of the year, but in fall, there is an explosion of color. And like an explosion, it is fleeting.
Less than three hours drive to Hunter, NY, from Long Island, is the Fairlawn Inn, a magnificent bed-and-breakfast inn with an incredible story to tell. It will be my hub to explore the Hudson River School Art Trail that offers some of my favorite hikes in the world. They trace the footsteps of the artists and you can see the very same scenes they painted.
On my way to the inn, I have already visited two of the sites on the trail – relished the view from Kaaterskill Clove, marveling how it still looks much as it did in Thomas Cole’s “The Clove, Catskills” (1827), and Asher B. Durand’s “Kindred Spirits” (1849) -even the tree just turning red for fall foliage seems the same as the scene in the painting – which you see from the parking lot for the hike up Kaaterskill Falls, then continuing on to take this stunning hike to the heights of the double falls. They are along Route 23A, the scenic byway you take from the Thruway to get to Fairlawn Inn, in Hunter, less than a dozen miles further.
During my all-too brief three-day getaway to the Catskills/Hudson River Valley, I spend two days hiking trails associated with the Hudson River School Art Trail in the Catskills State Park, just beginning to show their fall colors and imagining how the artists walked these trails before me, and one day re-discovering two historic jewels: Olana, Frederick Edwin Church’s exquisite mansion home and estate that has become one of New York State’s most visited historic houses (for good reason), and the Thomas Cole House Museum, devoted to the artist known as the “Father of the Hudson River School” which has been restored since my last visit with new ways of experiencing the museum that really give you a sense of the man.
The Fairlawn Inn is ideally situated, and so charming and comfortable, you immediately feel whatever city stress or physical exhaustion dissipate as soon as you cross the threshold – all of this the artistry and craftsmanship of the gracious host, Innkeeper Chuck Tomajko, who has anticipated everything to make his guests feel absolutely at home – even providing refrigerated drinks, ready snacks and fruit, a coffee maker and a refrigerator for guests to help themselves.
It is about 5:30 pm when I arrive at the Inn, bathed in the golden light of the late afternoon. Set beside Hunter Mountain (the entrance to the popular ski resort is less than a half-mile away) and with views of the Catskill State Park from its wrap-around porch, the bed-and-breakfast inn is in a Victorian jewel originally built in 1840 and expanded in 1904 as the summer home of a wealthy Jewish philanthropist and real estate developer, Harry Fischel.
Innkeeper Chuck Tomajko, with 40 years in the fast-food industry, bought the bed-and-breakfast in 2002, and remodeled, redecorated, refitted, and refurnished with stunning antiques and period pieces and other amenities, exposed the gorgeous oak and maple floors and woodwork (hemlock, which was typical of the area because it was a byproduct of the tanning process the area was known for), created the stunning landscaping, added a patio, fire pit and waterfall, all with an eco-friendly eye.
Chuck claims to have the only historic home in North America that has earned a 4-key rating (on a 5-key scale) from Green Key Global, a Canada-based eco-tourism organization and was named Good Earthkeeper for 2013 and #1 Inn in New York for 2010 by New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association.
Indeed, it is quite remarkable for a 113-year old house to get that distinction– Chuck has used composting, solar tubes that bring in natural light to otherwise dark hallways,low-flow shower (yet still wonderful pressure); LED lighting throughout; the outdoor lanterns are solar-powered (from Ikea, no less; he has a plan to use them for Christmas lights).
Walking around the inn, there are wonderful sitting areas outfitted with books, a parlor with a bar with snacks and a refrigerator with drinks as well as coffee maker to help yourself; a pool table in another parlor; a living-room area; outside a gorgeous, lushly landscaped patio with waterfall, solar-powered lanterns, a fire-pit.
I love to see Chuck’s clever innovations – how he made a wine rack out of crown moldings and planter hooks; a fire pit out of a coal bin; how he turns “shabby chic” into beautiful pieces of furniture.
There are 5 rooms upstairs of the main house, each one differently configured and scrumptiously decorated, several with fireplaces. The Glenwood Room has a two-person Jacuzzi and a fireplace. Several rooms are “outside”, along a lovely porch with charming sitting areas, in that extension to the home that originally housed the Jewish scholars and served as an ice house. My room, the Spring Valley, was originally a mikvah (a ritual bath for a bride).
The rooms are each uniquely themed and decorated in period furniture (several have clawfoot bathtubs), but with modern amenities (private bathroom in each, free Wifi) and eco-friendly features like solar-tubes which bring in natural light. Several have gas-operated fireplaces; at least one has a two-person Jacuzzi bath.
The Fairlawn Inn, a Gold Eco-Rated Lodging and 2015 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence winner. is gorgeous, comfortable, wonderfully situated, excellent amenities, but the best asset is Chuck, himself, who is more than a gracious host.
Bed-and-breakfast inns really reflect the character of their structure and the personality of the innkeeper. The Fairlawn Inn is an expression of Chuck’s phenomenal sense of hospitality and his prodigious artistic talents – the interior design and decorative arts, antiquing, painting, landscaping, and culinary arts. He loves to cook.
Many bed-and-breakfast hosts love to show off their breakfast creations but Chuck goes beyond: he offers his guests a selection of four different made-to-order omelettes (I enjoy his feta cheese, spinach, kale and arugula omelette) plus a special item like pancakes (selection of fillings), fresh fruit and muffins (pumpkin spice), freshly brewed coffee, served in a gorgeous dining room (just the right size – not too big, not too small), with glorious sunlight flooding in from the windows.
Before we leave the table, he comes out with a bottle of water and snacks to take on our hikes.
Everything is so caring, so thoughtfully arranged, so meticulous – there is even a night light in bathroom and hooks. Little things that matter. There is a remote control for the fireplace which Chuck has decorated himself with antique tiles.
The porch has a delightful sitting area of wicker lounge chairs – even a blanket nearby – as well as tables if you should want to eat al fresco.
I am truly intrigued by Fischel’s story which Chuck relates as he gives me a tour of the inn and ask who built the house and why it is so enormous, with a huge two-story extension. Chuck explains that Fischel would house Jewish students in the summer; my room, Spring Valley, actually was a mikvah (a room used for a ritual bath for a bride).
Chuck points to a thick biography of Fischel, written by his son-in-law, Rabbi Harry S. Goldstein. Fischel, I learn, was born in 1865 in a small, isolated town of Meretz, Lithuania, to poor but pious parents (his father was a cabinet maker). Yisroel Aaron Fischel (later known as Harry) became an architect and a builder by the age of 19. At 20, he emigrated to America virtually penniless (“he had 60 cents in his pocket” Chuck tells me) and earned his first million in real estate at a young age (he pioneered building tenements in the Lower East Side on irregular-shaped lots, becoming the first successful Jewish developer on the Lower East Side). But even when he was earning just $10 a week, so his biography reads, he sent money home to help support his parents. “Fischel was one of the leading pioneers in the growth of American Judaism, in general, and in American Jewish Orthodoxy, in particular, particularly in the dynamic precedent-setting first half of the 20th Century,” the Wikipedia biography notes.
Chuck notes that Fischel laid the cornerstone at Yeshiva University, built a high school for Jewish girls, and personally prevailed on President Taft to install a kosher kitchen at Ellis Island in 1911, so that Orthodox Jewish immigrants could have the opportunity to eat kosher food during a probation period (so they could be strong enough to pass the test to avoid deportation).
He also built the first modern Jewish theater in 1904 (exclusively for Yiddish productions).He was first Treasurer of the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering Through the War in 1914, a member of the Executive Committee of the Joint Distribution Committee in 1914; organizer of the Palestine Building Loan Association in 1921; built the home, office, yeshiva and synagogue for the Chief Rabbi of Palestine Abraham Isaac Kook at his own expense in 1923; established the Harry Fischel Institute for Talmudic Research in 1931 (which, after the creation of the country of Israel, trained, for many years, a large percentage of the judges who presided over the religious courts in the country); and established the Harry Fischel Foundation on January 4, 1932 (later renamed the Harry & Jane Fischel Foundation). He laid the cornerstone at Yeshiva University.
Fischel also built the first synagogue in Hunter, but it burnt down in 1914, so he built a new one across the street from his home – a charming Victorian from 1914 that is on the National Register of Historic Places and is still operating.
Fischel died in 1948, just before Israel became a nation.
The Fischel house remained in the family until 1993, when a couple bought what had become a decrepit structure and devoted 3 ½ years to restore and renovate it into a bed-and-breakfast, which opened in 1996.
Fischel’s great grandson, Aaron Reichel, has visited the inn twice, Chuck tells me.
It is interesting to see some of the relics of the past: built 1904 when electricity was considered “transitional” (they didn’t know if electricity would last), there are light fixtures that were made to accommodate both electricity and gas; fixtures pointed down (for electric) and up (for gas). Electricity was delivered but made gas on-site – capturing methane released from coal, but sometimes blew up.
The hemlock wood paneling that is so stunning especially in the dining room was actually a by-product of the tanning process that was the major industry in Tannersville and Prattsville.
The Fairlawn Inn is perfect for corporate retreat (with all the outdoor activities- from skiing to mountain biking that are so great for team-building); special interest groups, multi-generational getaways, destination wedding with expansive lawns for a tent (Chuck loves to cook and has accommodated weddings with up to 150 guests).
The inn is ideal for a hub-and-spoke itinerary for exploring and enjoying the amazing array of historic, heritage, cultural and outdoor attractions and Chuck offers lists of attractions walking distance and a short drive that fill out a three-day getaway but can also easily fill a longer itinerary. He also can put you on the path for antiquing, and the Hudson Valley Wine & Craft Beverage trail (TravelHudsonValley.com)
(And Chuck can steer you to every one, providing comprehensive lists, brochures, maps, print-outs, and his personal guidance and tips.)
Hiking is a huge activity and for my second day at the inn, I go to the North-South Lake Campground from which there are many trails as well as a fantastic lake (people are actually swimming with the record high temperature for a fall day), and set out for one of my favorite hikes that takes me to more of the Hudson River School artists’ favorite spots: North-South Lake (site #6 on the Hudson River School Art Trail), Artist’s Rock and Sunset Rock (site #7 on the HRSAT); another trail goes to where the Catskill Mountain House stood (trail site #8).
For my third day, Chuck gives me a tour of the Hunter Antique Mall, housed in what used to be the Masonic Lodge, which he also owns, which offers a literal treasure trove of fabulous finds, with fascinating documentation and excellent pricing. He points out a pre-Revolutionary chair made in Philadelphia that easily could have accommodated George Washington, and a pair of chairs signed on the bottom for Elizabeth Abell, a friend of Abraham Lincoln’s who introduced Mary Todd to him. (It turns out that chuck is an absolute expert on antiquing, and can steer you to auctions and a “junking” trail where you can find treasures at garage-sale prices). He offers his patrons clever ideas: like turning a stack of vintage luggage into a sidetable that also affords cramped apartment-dwellers storage; and how you can make a bird feeder out of gorgeous blue-and-white China cup and saucer; and decorates otherwise bland furniture with a waxy-press-on craft.
I then go on to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill (#1 on the Hudson River School Art Trail, www.thomascole.org) with a sensational guided tour as well as featured exhibit in the New Studio (this year’s exhibit is “Sanford R. Gifford in the Catskills”); the house usually closes at the end of October but this year has an extended season of November weekends; and then on to Olana State Historic Site (#2 on the HRSAT), in Hudson NY, which closes for the season on Oct. 28 (www.olana.org).
I prefer hiking to experience fall foliage, but those who prefer driving will find several scenic byways: Greene County’s two National Scenic Byways include a 21-mile route that descends from high country peaks to Durham Valley farmland.; along the way, you will find views that stretch across the Hudson River Valley to summits in four neighboring New England states. Then take an excursion along Mountain Clove, a byway that meanders through ravines, historic districts, and waterfalls. In fact, one of the best foliage views in New York State, Chuck notes, is just 2 miles from the Fairlawn Inn door, at the intersection of Rte 214 and 23A – which looks toward Bear Creek and some half-dozen mountains that form layers.
An Arts-Meets-Nature Driving/Exploration Route: The Kaaterskill Clove Experience provides a new self-guided discovery tour through the history of American art, and the primeval landscape that inspired it. Tailored, easy-to-follow itineraries provide a roadmap for families, adventure seekers and leisure travelers to experience the Kaaterskill Clove at your own pace, while enjoying everything that Greene County has to offer, from farm stands to charming cafes.
Other attractions include:
Sky Walkway over the Hudson River alongside the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.
Antiquing (Tannersville and Catskill are the main villages, but Chuck can steer you to auctions and a “junking” trail where you can find treasures at garage-sale prices).
Bike (or walk) the 2.7-mile long Huckleberry Trail that follows the old Huckleberry Railroad track and is mostly under trees.
There is mountain biking and golf at Windham Mountain (another wonderful ski mountain just 8 miles up 23A).
Close by in Coxsackie is The Bronck House (in the same family for 400 years) and the quaint town of Hudson with its galleries, antiques, boutiques and restaurants, which is operated by the Greene County Historical Society (http://www.gchistory.org/).
The Fairlawn Inn is within 90 minutes of major attractions including Hyde Park (Franklin Roosevelt’s home and library), the Walk Over the Hudson, Hyde Park (FDR),Walk Over Hudson, Huguenot Village in New Paltz (a national historic site with costumed interpreters, www.huguenotstreet.org), Howe Caverns and Cooperstown (Baseball Hall of Fame). And it’s just 2 ½ hours from “the universe” of New York City.
The village of Hunter is accessible from Amtrak to Hudson, MTA to Poughkeepsie, where you can find Enterprise and other rental car agencies, car service and Uber.
Imagine the pressure on innkeepers wanting to build new in the historic village universally known as “Quintessential New England” with its amazing array of stunning architecture from the 1800s, including the classic Woodstock Inn that graces the village center just across from the green; with its covered wood bridges, classic New England white steepled churches and homes that proudly display dates from the 1800s.
Family owned and operated, the On the River Inn succeeds in stellar fashion, seamlessly integrating the charm of a traditional Vermont inn with lovely vintage and traditional touches while embracing the best of modern design and amenities – large open floor plan, high ceilings, full-length windows from which natural light streams in.
Indeed, it was deservedly named by Conde Nast Traveler in 2015 as one of the Top Hotels to Open and “the place to visit”. The inn is conveniently located two miles from the picture book village of Woodstock on six acres fronting the Ottauquechee River, so you have easy access to lovely shops, galleries, restaurants without the bustle.
The Inn on the River is selected as our hub for the Discovery Bicycle Tours weekend biking trip (see story). This caps an exceptionally designed program – I mean, you’re in Vermont – in Woodstock, no less – but that is not enough to make a fantastic bike trip. I really appreciate this as I take note of how they have structured the itinerary – the choice of roads (this is a shared-road,, not a bike trail experience) and routes that has to be within the realm of do-ability, as well as stunningly scenic (what you imagine Vermont to be), with decent road conditions (I am amazed at the roads that are unpaved dirt and gravel. But the choice of accommodations is what really caps off the whole Vermont experience. (800-257-2226. 802-457-3553, discoverybicycletours.com)
The low-rise inn is laid out so that each room has view of expansive lawn that stretches to the Ottauquechee River; a balcony (or patio) with rocking chairs, firepits and gazebo (just waiting for a wedding).
The low-rise inn sprawls out horizontally yet is intimate. It may well be feng shui but there is such a sense of peacefulness when you walk in, which also reflects the very welcoming staff.
It offers a stunning lap-size indoor pool with gorgeous blue and white tiles, kept to a perfect temperature for swimming, with adjacent hot tub, and dry sauna and fitness center. There is also an expansive library; games and entertainment lounge and toddler play room.
Quirky Vermont antiques and vintage pieces make you smile with their whimsy when you come upon them in the hallways– an old TV, a telephone, Henke ski boots, US Post Office metal mail box door serve as room #s. The hallways are bathed in natural light that streams through full-length windows – a modern touch – which also contributes to the feeling of well-being.
The restaurant, bar and spacious lounge with fireplace is laid out in an open-floor plan though the room doesn’t feel large because of intimate sitting areas with plush leather chairs and sofas, that make it feel cozy.
The 506 Bistro serves a seasonal menu emphasizing Vermont specialties like Yankee Pot Roast, a organic burger (outstanding) sourced from a nearby farm, fresh strawberry shortcake with Vermont berries. The menu for our group is very varied so there are fish selections (grilled salmon), pasta, meet selections, vegetarian options (ratatouille) and Caesar salad with ahi tuna.
The antique bar and the furnishings of the “kitchen,” where each morning we help ourselves to a buffet breakfast, just add to the pleasant ambiance.
The inn serves a complimentary country breakfast, has coffee/tea out all day (as well as coffee maker, microwave and refrigerator in the room), free WiFi and parking.
Construction is top quality; the furnishings in neutral brown, beige and white. The bedroom is spacious with a king-sized bed, pull out sofa, lounge chair, flat-screen TV; the bathroom is marble with a warming rack.
“We work with a set of principles which we firmly believe customers recognize and appreciate: Maintain international hotel standards, incorporate a beautiful design which reflects the destination, create a feeling of home and ensure that the clients understand from the moment they arrive that the property is family owned. The attention to detail, the emphasis on creating a home away from home, warm hospitality and personalized service have always been our guiding principles.”
Besides being so near Woodstock, nearby attractions include the Billings Farm and Museum, Killington, the Longtail Brewery, King Arthurs Flour.
Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon boasts being the world’s longest running musical review, and once you decide to dismiss the stupidity of the premise – Snow White’s search for her Prince Charming – you become completely enchanted with the quality of the musical performances, the costumes that would make Ziegfeld jealous (the hats are spectacularly outrageous), the choreography, and yes, the satire.
This isn’t expressly a political satire, though all your favorite political figures are zinged. Beach Blanket Babylon is really more of a spoof of popular culture, iconic brands, hot celebrities. And though the musical has been playing here in San Francisco since 1974, sections seem as if they were written just the week before, they are that timely.
In a phrase, it’s a hoot that carries you along with abandon as if you were riding a tube through rapids. Just suspend disbelief, sit back and enjoy the ride.
A mind-boggling statistic that would seem to make the show eligible for inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records, Beach Blanket Babylon has already had more than 16,000 performances and has been seen by six million people who come to the delightful theater at Club Fugazi in the North Beach district from around the world. The show doesn’t only spoof celebrities, it draws its share to its audience: HRH Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall as well as some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Beach Blanket Babylon (whatever basis in plot that title originates from seems to have been erased with the sands of time) follows Snow White as she finds herself in various locales around the world in search of her “Prince Charming.” (I can only imagine that way back in its history, these locations had more relevance to the plot.)
Our favorite bit was Donald and Melania Trump and the Trump family (done as the Von Trapp Family from “Sound of Music”). The incredibly long and varied list of characters that get their share of ribbing include Vladimir Putin, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Adele, Hamilton, Kellyanne Conway, Darth Vadar (Steve Bannon), Barack and Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift, Prince, Ivanka Trump, Bernie Sanders, Kim Kardashian and Kanye, Hillary Clinton and Bill, Oprah and the San Francisco Giants.
But the main reason that this show has survived all these years is the astonishing quality of the performances and yes, witty lyrics, and FABULOUS costumes (and hats!) that makes you wonder why they don’t spend a few bucks on a smarter, more updated unifying gag.
It all began on June 7, 1974, when Steve Silver produced a small show in the back room of the Savoy Tivoli Restaurant in San Francisco. There were 214 seats crammed into a tiny space. The floor was covered with two tons of sand; a lifeguard tore tickets at the door and sprayed the backs of people’s hand with Coppertone®. (Now I know where the title comes from!) For $2.50, the audience was entertained by a 45-minute show with four main performers, a chorus line of hula-dancing middle-aged housewives doing card stunts, a band dressed as poodles, one lighting man on top of a lifeguard stand manipulating Folger’s® coffee can lights and a whole lots of laughs.
The show was to run for six weeks. That was more than 40 years ago…
After a brief stint in the fall of 1974 at Club Olympus, Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon opened at Club Fugazi, a really beautiful theater that makes you think you are back in 1890s San Francisco, where it has been running since. The show became an expanded version of the Tivoli and Olympus shows, with more characters, grander sets, a larger cast and what was to become a trademark of the show, bigger hats!
This show is everybit a showy, elaborate display – you can’t believe they can get that many performers doing complicated choreography (and in those hats!) on an intimate stage. The musicians are fantastic, too.
Tickets range from $25 – $155 (based on performance date and seat location) and can be purchased online at www.beachblanketbabylon.com, in person at the box office or by calling 415-421-4222. All performances take place at Club Fugazi, 678 Beach Blanket Babylon Blvd. (Green St.) in the heart of San Francisco’s North Beach district. Shows perform on Wednesdays, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 6 & 9 p.m., and Sundays at 2 & 5 p.m. (Due to liquor license restrictions, persons under 21 are not admitted to evening performances. (Minors welcome at Sunday matinees.) Valid photo I.D. is required.
Club Fugazi happens to be in North Beach which has some of the best Italian restaurants in San Francisco (and is one of San Francisco’s oldest neighborhoods). We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at the casual and moderately priced Baonecci Ristorante – pasta with truffles, eggplant Parmigiana; Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini (Fresh homemade eggs pasta Porcini Mushroom, Garlic, Olive oli, Fresh Italian Parsley) and Pizza Rustica (San marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, gorgonzola cheese, salame toscano, arugula (reservations recommended, Baonecci Ristorante, 516 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133, 415-989-1806).
Now we set out to travel south along what has come to be known as the CA Highway 1 Discovery Route, a scenic 101-mile stretch of Highway 1 along Coastal San Luis Obispo County, from Ragged Point to the dunes of Nipomo, with scores of picturesque villages, uncrowded beaches, state parks and wilderness areas, and bountiful wine regions.
Our destination is Avila Beach, an inlet cove off the Pacific that features several piers, a fabulous beach, golf course and a great wine trail in downtown Avila, hidden among the restaurants and shops.
We make it to Kelsey See Canyon Vineyard just before sunset. Through an unintended series of adoptions years back, over 200 peacocks now roam the winery. This is not your typical wine tour stop and we suggest budgeting extra time for Kelsey. The Vineyard is family owned and these are some of the friendliest and most welcoming hosts you’ll meet anywhere. If you are not into wine, come for the art or the newly developing hard cider production. During much of the year the family hosts local musicians and barbecues on site for local patrons and club members, taking advantage of their spacious outside seating area. Over the years this place has grown with both membership sales and local popularity and is bustling when we visit during the off peak season.
This is truly a family business in all senses. They’ll make you feel so at home you won’t want to leave. The roots of their story about how they got into wine go way back. Originally the family was involved with abalones and through a series of industry transformations they became wine producers. Colleen, the Kelseys’ niece, is an artist whose latest endeavors include jazz-inspired paintings which often appear on the wine bottles. Her most iconic piece – referencing the family roots of deep sea abalone diving and her love of mermaids, originally painted on a surfboard – is the Kelsey signature.
Leading our tour is Jac Jacobs, an industry veteran who’s worked at many vineyards, but has found what seems like a second family here at Kelsey. Jac is the most down-to-earth, knowledgeable winemaker we’ve ever met. You will leave feeling like you can explain wine to others without sounding pretentious.
One of the most amazing things about Jac is that he had never had cider before starting to work for Kelsey. But when they asked him to make cider he said, “Sure.” He used his novel approach and invented a new cider. Typically, the sweetness in cider comes from the apple’s natural fermentation process, but early on, Jac adds a little bit of sugar to the mixture, creating a unique cider that is neither too sweet or too bitter. When it comes to apples, Kelsey is most known for their Golden Delicious Chardonnay, a crisp white wine that is dangerously drinkable. Although the heart of this operation is at their winery in Avila, their online shop lets you enjoy Kelsey wines from other parts of the country as well.
(Kelsey See Canyon Vineyard, 1947 See Canyon Road San Luis Obispo, CA 93405 www.KelseyWine.com)
After our wine and cider tasting at Kelsey, we check into The Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, the perfect destination for a relaxing and romantic getaway and our babymoon. Each guest room and suites features a terrace with its own mineral springs hot tub. On a cool winter night, it’s a perfect way to unwind from an active day. We stay in “Heavenly”, a 2-bedroom, 2-bath Suite. There is one queen bedroom and an even larger master bedroom with ensuite bathroom, both with access to the private terrace. The setup is perfect for a family or (in our case) for two couples. The living room is spacious and comfortable with a large modern flat screen TV and electronic fireplace to help set the mood. The large table in the dining area is a nice place to share a dinner and really makes you feel like you’re home. If you do decide to cook, this suite offers a fully equipped kitchen with a large wooden cutting board even built into the countertop. The Sycamore is just a few steps away from the Avila Valley Barn and a quick 4-minute drive from some incredible restaurants on the beach.
The Sycamore is a destination for both locals and tourists. It has a Yoga Dome with daily fitness classes included with your reservation. If you want to bump it up a notch, treat yourself at their award winning spa. For daytime guests, there are also 23 open-air naturally heated mineral spring hot tubs on the hillside around the property, as well as a private Oasis Waterfall Lagoon, all rentable by the hour. If you end up renting Pedego bikes nearby, this would be an idyllic pit-stop. The gift shop is worth a quick look and accompanies the relaxing paradise perfectly.
(The Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, 1215 Avila Beach Dr San Luis Obispo, CA 93405 805-595-7302, www.sycamoresprings.com.)
The Ocean Grill, right on the water, is a dining experience not to be missed. The pleasant aroma of wood fire greets you as enter this three-year-old restaurant. The restaurant went through a few different chefs and iterations of the menu before it found its current niche, which seems to hit all the right notes. This is one of a few local high-end places that is both accessible to locals and tourists.
Everything we try is delectable and we’ll tell you exactly what to order. The Brussel sprouts are crispy, roasted just perfectly to a slight char and accompanied by a balsamic reduction, goat cheese, and orange sauce. If you don’t love Brussel sprouts this could change your mind. The mussels are another not-to-be-missed appetizer with a garlicky broth that may make you want to lick the shell when no one’s looking and grab more of the focaccia bites to dip in. The basil pesto risotto with burrata (to which we add shrimp), is succulent and not your everyday risotto. Since we skip the salad this time, we opt for the side of pan roasted garlic broccolini.
Our helpful waiter Jake recommends the scallops. Scallops and calamari are two local favorites we see at many of the restaurants in the area. The Normand wood fired white pizza with brie, sliced apples, arugula, and garlic cream sauce had us licking our fingers. The local Morro Bay blackened cod with miso-glaze and Thai-inspired sauce and salad is incredibly flavorful. The texture is perfectly flakey and this is possibly the best fish we have on the entire trip.
But now, as far as the best anything anywhere, we’ll tell you about the desert. Eating the brown butter chocolate chip skillet cookie with ice cream and hot fudge is a race against time; from the moment you smell it coming out of the kitchen to the 60 seconds before you get to the last bite (because you will eat it that fast). Save room. The combination of hardened chocolate shell on top of the creamy, cold pure vanilla ice cream on a sizzling freshly baked chocolate chip cookie is perfect. As we finish our dessert Jake comes by and asks: “Should I load you up another?” If your waiter asks you this, the obvious answer is yes. We almost finish the second one before our friend makes it back to the table.
This is a family friendly restaurant perfect for foodie families. We see a number of children during our visit who may actually be convinced to eat their vegetables here. Definitely bring a bottle or two of wine from Kelsey Vineyards up the road which pairs great for the meal. Like most restaurants in this area you can bring the wine from your recent wine tasting and for a small corkage fee have your waiter pair your dinner with your own bottle(s). At Ocean Grill, you can eat in the more casual bistro area near the bar or enter into the more intimate dining enclosed porch area overlooking the ocean with heat lamps to keep you cozy in the winter. We enjoy a nice stroll on the beach after dinner seconds away while listening to the waves crash against the shore. It is the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
We eat a quick breakfast at the Sycamore. The vegetarian omelet with roasted kale and asparagus is good as are the eggs Benedict with crab. It is one of the better Benedicts we’ve had on the Pacific. The fresh juice bar is great with some interesting combinations of fresh fruit and vegetables. The sausage has a ton of flavor with a hint of fennel. The breakfast burrito is quite filling but you could put it down in ten minutes if you need to.
E-Bike Adventurein Avila Beach
We arrive at Pedego Bikes in Avila Beach and are greeted by the super friendly Brunsting family. They introduce us to Pedego electric bikes, a really fun way to get to know any area. Pedego offers a variety of bikes to fit all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels (this works perfectly for our babymoon). Some of the newer models offer pedal assist, the “cruise control” for biking. Debbie, one of the owners, offers just enough guidance so you feel comfortable on these electric bikes, and has great suggestions and tips of what things/places you might want to check out on the bikes. She gives you a notated map and excitedly emphasizes that anywhere you wander in this area will be worth it and that the adventure is yours to create. It’s easy to quickly get the hang of the electric bikes. However, after zipping up the coasts and hillsides it may be hard to go back to a regular old manual bike, even with 21 gears. Pedego Bikes also offers vouchers for Kelsey Sea Canyon Winery and another winery next store.
(Open Daily: 10am-5pm, Pedego Bikes, First Street, Avila Beach, CA 93424, 805-627-1414 425 www.pedegocc.com.)
We start our electric bike adventure on The Bob Jones Trail. This beautiful walking and bike path leads right to the Avila Valley Barn.
First started in 1985, the Avila Valley Barn is a local favorite for the freshest fruit and vegetables of the area. Not only will you find wonderful fresh produce you can pick up home baked pies, bakery treats or unique gifts. You can visit a farm pet area, where you can feed goats, pigs, horses, sheep, and donkeys. Hayrides are also available every weekend.
(Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.Avila Valley Barn,560 Avila Beach Drive, Avila Beach, CA 93405 (805) 595-2816;www.avilavalleybarn.com.)
Biking the trail is an ideal way to spend a few hours in Avila Beach and get to see both the beach side of the town as well as the hills and natural beauty. At the barn, so many cute farm animals greet you as well as more surprising ones like the emu and strange looking chickens. Shell beach and Pismo Beach is right around the bend, where you can park your bikes and gaze at the beautiful, rugged coastline. If you catch the tide when it’s low, there are various sea creatures like the abalones hanging out in the tidal pools. It’s also fun to watch the surfers splashing around in the cold water in their wetsuits.
After a short ride up the hill and the coast, assisted by the electric batteries, we cross a bridge bringing us to the dock on the Port San Luis Harbor, where people gather to watch the active seals, fish, and enjoy the 360 degree water view. Vendors flayed fresh fish on the dock as we arrived at Mersea’s.
Mersea’s on the Pier in Avila Beach (photo by Dave E. Leiberman/Travel Features Syndicate)
We enjoy our fresh seafood lunch at Mersea’son the Pier and highly recommend this stop when you are in Avila Beach. Atmospherically, it’s a memorable lunch stop. The seals bark and fight for valuable real-estate on the floating dock near this seaside-perched restaurant. At Mersea’s you order at the window from their extensive menu of seafood, sandwiches, and other local favorites. They had some good looking bloody Mary’s and beer options as well. If you get the taco’s we recommend the shrimp. The fried oysters and chips were delicious as were the raw oysters, which were bigger than our fists. It’s a pretty great spot for Instagrammers.
(Mersea’s on the Pier in Avila, 3985 Avila Beach Drive Avila Beach, CA 93252, 805-548-2290.)
Morro Bay and the Highway 1 Discovery Route, between Los Angeles and San Francisco, are packed with wonderful places that put the emphasis on relaxed adventure over the frenetic pace of their book-ended cities. The tranquility and peacefulness of the California’s central coast offers a level of intimacy that is difficult to find in San Francisco and L.A. The mix of outdoor activity, fine dining, and relaxed pace makes for the perfect getaway for two couples from New York City and Atlanta, whether for a babymoon, a reunion of friends, a romantic getaway, or an anytime retreat.
For more information on planning a trip contact Morro Bay Tourism, 695 Harbor Street, Morro Bay, CA 93442, 805-225-1570, www.morrobay.org; For more information on Highway 1 Discovery Route, visit highway1discoveryroute.com.