Category Archives: Historic Places

Fall Getaway in the Catskills: Thomas Cole National Historic Site is Site #1 on the Hudson River School Art Trail

Thomas Cole’s studio at Cedar Grove, a National Historic Site “Where American Art Was Born.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The first thing you notice about the Thomas Cole House, “Where American Art Was Born,” is the view from his porch – out to the ridges of the Catskills Mountains, the Hudson River curving around a bend. It is not hard to imagine that in Cole’s day, there would have been fields between his house and the river. But it is the same scene immortalized in paintings renowned as the “first American art movement.”

Cedar Grove, Thomas Cole’s home, is where you discover how one man invented a new way of looking at America © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Thomas Cole’s Cedar Grove, now the Thomas Cole Historic Site and Site #1 on the Hudson River School Art Trail, has been redone since I last visited – more of the house restored to the way it was when Cole, at 35 years old, married 24-year old Maria Bartow, the niece of the man who owned the house and farm where Cole was renting studio space for 10 years..

The guided tour has also been revamped with new innovative, multi-media features as well as personal effects – I love seeing Cole’s top hat, his musical instruments which he played and posed, his paint box, his traveling trunk with his signature and date, 1829 – and original paintings, and most especially his studio with his easel and paints and a room devoted to his creative process.

The view of the Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountains from Thomas Cole’s porch at Cedar Grove © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The presentation really personalizes the man, brings him into your presence. You start the guided tour in the parlor that Thompson, who really encouraged Cole, turned into a sales office for the artist. What appears to be Cole’s portrait – a video projection – becomes a slide show of his art as a voice narrates from Cole’s own journal and writings. Around the room are projections or digital reproductions of Cole’s paintings (some of Cole’s original paintings are in upstairs rooms we visit). He describes the inspiration and rejuvenation he feels from this wilderness, how he is “deliriously happy” at having his family, and his outrage over the “ravages of the axe” of progress.

Touring the Thomas Cole’s Cedar Grove, a National Historic Site © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

These themes come together in his work: while primarily a painter of landscapes, he expressed his philosophical opinions in allegorical works, the most famous of which are the five-part series, The Course of Empire, which depict the same landscape over generations—from a near state of nature (depicting American Indians) to consummation of empire (Rome), and then decline and desolation, which is now in the collection of the New York Historical Society (and will be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018); and four-part The Voyage of Life, which are reproduced in his studio. (“Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings” will be on view at the Met, January 30-May 13, 2018, and feature some of his most iconic works, including The Oxbow (1836) and his five-part series The Course of Empire (1834–36, www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/thomas-cole,).

I appreciate Cole as very possibly America’s first environmentalist, the first to appreciate conservation and raise the alarm over the march of progress at a time when the Industrial Revolution was taking hold and technological progress was worshipped along with capitalism, as he railed against the “copper-hearted barbarians” and “dollar-godded utilitarians.”

“We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our own  ignorance and folly,” he says, as a projection of his painting, “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden” (1828) appears.

Cole worried that America’s rapid expansion and industrial development would destroy the glorious landscape – in 1836, he could see the railroad being built through the valley and he bemoaned the loss of forest along Catskill Creek, “the beauty of environment shorn away.”

Cole recognized America as a land in transition – the settled and domesticated juxtaposed with the wild and undomesticated… He witnessed the changes taking place around him.. And in the early 1800s, America was still in process of creating own culture, distinct from the European settlers.

An Immigrant Dazzled by America’s Wilderness

Thomas Cole was born in Lancashire, England, in 1801 and emigrated to the United States with his parents and sister (his father was in textiles) in 1818, settling first in Philadelphia, then Steubenville Ohio, then New York City. He had little formal art training; he picked up the basics from a wandering portrait painter. Cole soon focused on landscape and ultimately, Cole transformed the way America thought about nature and the way nature was portrayed on canvas.

Thomas Cole’s paint box © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As an immigrant, Cole was dazzled by America’s vast stretch of untamed wilderness, unlike anything that existed in Europe. At this point in time, though, most Americans did not appreciate the wilderness – they thought of it as something to be feared or exploited. Instead, America was enthralled with industrialization, technology and progress.

Thomas Cole’s signature inside his trunk © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cole was 24 years old when he took one of the new steamships up the Hudson River (it was “the thing to do” at the time). He made a painting which sold immediately, came again to make another painting and that sold immediately, as well. He came so often he looked around for a studio in the village of Catskill. He came to Cedar Grove, John Alexander Thompson’s 110-acre farm with an orchard and a hilltop view out to the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains – the same view we see today – and for the next 10 years, rented a studio in a structure next door to Thompson’s house (where Temple Israel now stands).

Sketch of Mary Cole

Cole fell in love with Maria Bartow, Thompson’s niece 11 years younger than Cole, then 35 years old, and moved into Cedar Grove permanently, all living together in the modest house which Thompson had built in 1815.

Thompson provided Cole with the two parlors on the main floor to use as “sales rooms” for his painting, and built a studio for Cole, cutting out a window so he would have northern light.

Thompson also built a studio for him with a high window to bring in northern light, and we see his paints and easel as if he had just left the room for a moment.

Cole’s studio, which Mary’s uncle made for him, installing a high window to bring in northern light, has been restored. It is where he painted one of his most famous series, the four “Voyage of Life” paintings (he painted eight sets of four; one of the sets is in the New-York Historical Society and will be on display January 2018 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art).  We see his paints and easel as if he had just left the room for a moment.

Thomas Cole’s painting materials, as if he had just left his studio for a moment © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Alas, the studio probably contributed to his early death, at the age of 47, when his wife was pregnant with their fifth child – the studio in winter had little ventilation and he was working with turpentine and paints and had a respiratory illness. He died of pleurisy. Mary named their son Thomas Cole, Jr.

Frederick Edwin Church, recognized as a prodigy, was 18 years old when Cole, then 43, took him on as an art student. Cole would take his six-year old son Theodore out with them painting. Paintings by Church that have a small boy are likely Cole’s son. After Cole died, in 1848, Church, who built his Olana on a hilltop on the opposite shore of the Hudson, helped the family, even hiring Cole’s son Theodore as his farm manager.

Photo of Thomas Cole’s granddaughter below his painting © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cole’s Creative Process

Touring the house is remarkable because it contains many of Cole’s personal effects including several of his paintings, like “Prometheus,” and his special items like musical instruments that he played and used as props for his paintings.

All of this is fairly miraculous because the house was sold in the 1960s and the contents auctioned off – the paintings, the furnishings. Over the years, many of the sold items have since come back, like “Uncle Sandy’s” chair, which we see today, which was purchased by a local postman who donated it back to Cedar Grove.

Thomas Cole’s writing desk © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In a living room on the second floor, Cole’s letters “appear” on his actual writing desk (triggered by a motion detector); some of the paintings that decorate the room where they would have been are reproductions (the originals held in museums), but some are originals. There are black-and-white photos of his daughter in her later years, sitting in that very room. I am fascinated to see his “magic lantern” (an early slide projector with hand-painted glass slides) that drew its light from a candle inside. We appreciate Cole as a man of enormous talents –a poet, essayist and musician in addition to an artist and we see some of his instruments. We visit his bedroom and see his traveling trunk which he had made on Pearl Street, with his signature and date.

A magic lantern © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We learn that he was close friends with the novelist James Fenimore Cooper and provided illustrations for his work, including “The Last of the Mohicans” (1827) and “The Pioneers.”

My favorite room is his “Process Room” where we see his actual sketches, his paint box which he decorated with a beautiful painting and papers and his famous color wheel.

On my hikes on the Hudson River School Art Trail, I wondered how Cole would have captured the scenes – the sheer logistics of getting to these remote places that take us 20 minutes to reach by car along paved roads. Cole painted at a time before photography was a handy tool, before capped paint tubes made painting “en plein air” as feasible as it was for the Impressionists decades later.

I learn that Cole hiked with a pocket easel and pencil. He would get to a place like Sunset Rock by dark (a trail which I hike), camp and stay there a few days. He made copious notes of the smallest details – the light, color (he created a color-wheel for himself which we see), the atmosphere, the vegetation and natural forms.

Thomas Cole’s color wheel © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But then he would wait before he painted the scene, for time to pass “to put a veil over inessential detail to turn it into beautiful and sublime…He had a vision of nature as an expression of the divine.”

It is important to realize that at the time, a painting afforded the only way for people to see places without actually visiting for themselves.

He began to turn his landscapes into allegorical exposition. Over a three-year period, he painted “The Course of Empire” a series depicting the same landscape over centuries and generations as civilization rises and falls, from savage to civilized, from glory to fall and extinction. He intended the series as a warning against American unbridled expansion and materialism. It took him three years to create and earned him a veritable fortune in commissions and fame.

Thomas Cole’s top hat © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cole also became progressively more spiritual – coinciding with a rise in spiritualism in America. – and used his landscape painting as religious allegory. This is manifest in Cole’s “Voyage of Life,” a series of four paintings that show a pilgrim from infancy to old age, led by a guardian angel, which became Cole’s most popular work.

Each year, there are always special exhibits as well – in the Cole house, oddly juxtaposed with Cole’s 18th century works (we even see the wall trim that he painted himself) is a contemporary artist, Kiki Smith. In the New Studio, a separate building, this season is “Sanford R. Gifford in the Catskills.”

A glimpse into Thomas Cole’s creative process © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most days when you visit the Cole house, you take a guided tour, but on Saturday and Sundays, 2-5, you can tour the house on your own. The house usually closes at the end of October but this year, it is open for three weekends in November.

Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, NY 12414, 518-943-7465, www.thomasscole.org (Normally open May-October, but will have extended season this year, three weekends in November).

Get maps, directions and photographs of all the sites on the Hudson River School Art Trail at www.hudsonriverschool.org. 

A great place to stay: The Fairlawn Inn, a historic bed-and-breakfast, 7872 Main Street (Hwy 23A), Hunter, NY 12442, 518-263-5025, www.fairlawninn.com.

Further help planning a visit, from lodging to attractions to itineraries, is available from Greene County Tourism, 700 Rte 23B, Leeds, NY 12451, 800-355-CATS, 518-943-3223, www.greatnortherncatskills.com and its fall hub http://www.greatnortherncatskills.com/catskills-fall-foliage

See also:     

3-Day Fall Getaway in the Catskills: Fairlawn Inn is Superb Hub for Exploring the Hudson River Valley

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

3-Day Fall Getaway in the Catskills: Fairlawn Inn is Superb Hub for Exploring the Hudson River Valley

The historic Fairlawn Inn, Hunter, NY, looks out to the Catskill State Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

View of Kaaterskill Clove with the Hudson River School Art Trail marker that lets you compare the scene today with the Cole and Durand paintings © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

The charming dining room at the Fairlawn Inn where a made-to-order breakfast is served © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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).

One of the parlors at the Fairlawn Inn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Each of the guest rooms at the Fairlawn Inn bnb has its own theme and decoration © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Fairlawn Innkeeper Chuck Tomajko preparing breakfast © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Wicker lounge chairs on the Fairlawn Inn porch make for a comfortable place to relax © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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).

The Spring Valley room at the Fairlawn Inn was used as a mikvah by the original owner, Harry Fischel, who built the Victorian home in 1904 © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

The Hunter Synagogue which Harry Fischel built across the street from his home, in 1914 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Harry Fischel’s summer home, now the Fairlawn Inn, and the Hunter Synagogue directly opposite, both built by Fischel more than a century ago © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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 outdoor patio which Innkeeper Chuck Tomajko created is part of the lush landscaping at the Fairlawn Inn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.)

Plenty of space: the architecture of the Fairlawn Inn, the summer home of Harry Fischel, was unusual because he used it to house students and today makes a great venue for corporate retreats, special interest groups, and family gatherings © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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).

Pre-Revolutionary chair, made in Philadelphia, may well have been used by George Washington; it is flanked by chairs that had been owned by Elizabeth Abell, who introduced Mary Todd to Abraham Lincoln © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Fairlawn Innkeeper Chuck Tomajko shows how he might make a bird feeder out of blue-and-white china cup and saucer © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

The intersection of Rte 214 and 23A, just two miles from the Fairlawn Inn, looking toward Bear Creek is ranked as one of the best foliage views in New York State © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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).

You can follow the Hudson Valley Wine and Craft Beverage trail (travelHudsonValley.com)

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.

The Fairlawn Inn, 7872 Main Street (Hwy 23A), Hunter, NY 12442, 518-263-5025, www.fairlawninn.com. (Children must be 10 or older.)

Really helpful sites to plan your getaway include www.greatnortherncatskills.com and its fall hub www.greatnortherncatskills.com/catskills-fall-foliage offered by the Greene County Tourism, 700 Rte 23B, Leeds, NY 12451, 800-355-CATS, 518-943-3223.

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

 

Mansions on Fifth Historic Hotel is Steps Away from Pittsburgh’s Top Cultural Attractions

A parting shot of the Carnegie Museum of Art © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I must admit to relishing my stay in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, where I am staying at Mansions on Fifth, two mansion homes originally built in the early 1900s by Willis F. McCook, a prosperous attorney and legal counsel to steel and coke magnate Henry Clay Frick for himself, his wife Mary and their 10 children, that have been turned into a boutique hotel. The neighborhood was also home to most of the city’s (and therefore, the nation’s) leading industrialists, innovators and bankers, including George Westinghouse, Frick, Andrew Mellon, Andrew Carnegie and the rest of Pittsburgh’s exceptionally wealthy families of the era, and boasts stunning mansions, churches as well as some of the city’s most important cultural attractions.

Staying at the mansion, you really feel part of that whole privileged Gilded Age society.

A young woman from the hotel spends a lot of time with me suggesting how to best spend my afternoon exploring. It turns out, the hotel (a true mansion) is only a short walk to the Carnegie Museum of Art. She also tells me about the Cathedral of Learning a few blocks beyond, in what is technically the Oakland neighborhood.

The neighboring mansion to Mansions on Fifth in Pittsburgh’s tony Shadyside neighborhood © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I set off for the short walk to Carnegie Museum of Art (it is attached to the Carnegie Museum of National History, two of four Carnegie museums; the others are the Carnegie Museum of Science and the Warhol Museum, downtown), dazzled when I pass the neighboring mansions along Fifth Avenue. It reminds me of Newport or Palm Beach.

The Carnegie Museum of Art is arguably the first museum of contemporary art in the United States, collecting the “Old Masters of tomorrow” since the inception of the Carnegie International in 1896 – held at various times, from which much of the present museum’s collection came (there are notes that say if the painting was in an exposition).

“While most art museums founded at the turn of the century focused on collections of well-known masters, Andrew Carnegie envisioned a museum collection consisting of the ‘Old Masters of tomorrow.’ In 1896, he initiated a series of exhibitions of contemporary art and proposed that the museum’s paintings collection be formed through purchases from this series. Carnegie, thereby, founded what is arguably the first museum of modern art in the United States. Early acquisitions of works by such artists as Winslow Homer, James McNeill Whistler, and Camille Pissarro laid the foundation for a collection that today is distinguished in American art from the mid-19th century to the present, in French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, and in significant late-20th-century works. Today the International remains an important source for the museum’s acquisitions of contemporary art. Presented every three to five years, it features works by contemporary artists from around the globe.”

Some of the galleries at the Carnegie Museum of Art are organized as you might expect the Carnegie International exhibits of a century ago © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a stunning collection – much of it coming out of annual Carnegie International Art Expositions, or from other important benefactors including Mellon and Scaife. Some of the galleries are arranged much like those expositions, with multi-levels of paintings; some of the rooms are more intimate, like private collections, and some are more institutional. The notes and themes that accompany the rooms and individual pieces are wonderful.

Just about every artist of note is represented with at least one piece – including a superb collection of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

I take particular note of Childe Hassam’s snow scene, “Fifth Avenue in Winter,” of New York City, painted circa 1892, when here I am on Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh.

The entire museum, though, is a reminder of how an economy that is designed to bestow such riches on a small segment, at the expense of the vast majority produces a society in which “the public” depends on the kindness and charity of the ultra-wealthy.

“The Chariot of Aurora,” an Art Deco bas-relief masterpiece, was a gift to the Carnegie Museum of Art by the renowned collector Frederick K. Koch in 1994 © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This juxtaposition was absolutely clear in one room where the massive (18 feet high and 26 feet long) gilded and lacquered relief, The Chariot of Aurora, takes up an entire wall. The stunning example of Art Deco was a gift of the renowned collector Frederick K. Koch in 1994 (brother of billionaires Charles and David Koch, who have their names on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, PBS, and scores others, as well as significant donors to political candidates and entities).

Pittsburgh artist Raymond Simboli’s “Pinkerton Riot” is an homage to the Homestead Strike at the Carnegie & Frick steel mills so brutally put down in 1892 © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just next door is a room devoted to Pittsburgh artists, including Raymond Simboli,, whose “Pinkerton Riot” depicting the Homestead Strike at the Carnegie & Frick steel mills so brutally put down in 1892, uses the dress is of the 1940s. Another artist, Sam Rosenberg, similarly paints from the perspective of working class Pittsburghers in such stark contrast.

I set out for the Cathedral of Learning and find myself in the Carnegie Library, another cathedral of Learning, just across the street from the academic tower.

Truly an inspiring place, Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning looms large over the city – in fact, I am told, the largest academic structure in North America.

The Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh Historic Landmark, 1926-37, Charles Z. Klauder, Architect © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is part of the University of Pittsburgh which “was well on the way to becoming an acropolis of neoclassical buildings on an Oakland hillside when John G. Bowman became the University’s 10th chancellor in 1921. In those years following World War I, student enrollment had dramatically increased, causing a critical shortage of space. A 14-acre plot known as Frick Acres, which housed residences, gardens, and tennis courts, became the focus of Dr. Bowman’s plans to erect a monumental building. A structure expanding upward, though unorthodox, would solve the growing University’s problems of space and distance. More important, a tower would be a visible inspiration to all who approached the city. It would carry the message that education was the result of aspiring to great heights. The parallel lines of the truncated Gothic form, never meeting, would imply that learning is unending. The sweeping proportions would symbolize the spirit and achievement of Pittsburgh.  Architect Charles Z. Klauder translated these concepts into drawings that guided the placement of steel and stone.”

Chancellor John Gabbert Bowman, himself, offered the reasoning behind designing such a dramatic tower: “The building was to be more than a schoolhouse; it was to be a symbol of the life that Pittsburgh through the years had wanted to live. It was to make visible something of the spirit that was in the hearts of pioneers as, long ago, they sat in their log cabins and thought by candlelight of the great city that would sometime spread out beyond their three rivers and that even they were starting to build.”

The Cathedral of Learning is as much a monument to the immigrants who flooded its halls in their quest for education as a ticket to the American Dream.

Following World War I, Chancellor Bowman was charged with developing a great university in a city richly populated with first-generation immigrant families. He wanted to provide students with unique classrooms which would reflect a highly-creative period in the motherlands of Pittsburgh’s new citizens. He conceived the idea of inviting community representatives of diverse nations to plan and build classrooms depicting an era or aspect of the heritage they had brought to America – known today as the Nationality Rooms – appointing Ruth Crawford Mitchell as his special assistant. It took 30 years.

Peeking through peepholes to the Irish Room, one of dozens of Nationality Rooms in Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Cathedral of Learning, I seek out the “Nationality Rooms” – each one for a different nationality, such as Irish, Hungarian, Polish, Armenian, of ethnic groups who settled in Allegheny County. Rooms were subsequently added – like the Israel Room, in 1987 after a 30-year hiatus, which is modeled after a 1st-century stone dwelling in Galilee.

Unfortunately, when I get to there, the rooms are locked for the weekend, but I get to peek through peep-holes to the Irish room (the other rooms have peep holes much too high).

Members of Quo Vadis, a student organization, conduct guided tours for nearly 30,000 visitors each year. Special interpretations are adapted for children, senior citizens, the handicapped, and groups with special interests such as architecture, interior design, art, mythology, or religion. (See http://www.nationalityrooms.pitt.edu/content/touring-options-requesting-group-tours ).

 

Pittsburgh Neighborhoods

Shadyside has been Pittsburgh’s premier upscale address for more than a century. It is fairly obvious that this was once home to Pittsburgh’s robber barons – who could enjoy the clean, cool air well away from the choking smoke belching from their steel mills that shrouded the rest of the city – and now features a legacy of stunning housing on leafy green streets, awe-inspiring churches, and two active and growing business districts (Walnut Street and Ellsworth Avenue) with retail stores and eating and drinking establishments, including several that are considered among the best in the city. Shadyside is also home to Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University, Shadyside Hospital of UPMC, and the Hillman Cancer Center.

I take my bike for a spin around the neighborhood and am dazzled by the architecture.

Shadyside is distinguished with stunning homes built by Pittsburgh’s high society © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The large residential area includes beautifully restored Victorian mansions alongside modern homes and condos (I notice that many of the houses have lawn signs stating in three languages, “No matter where you are from, we are glad you’re our neighbor.”)

Shadyside is also walking (or an easy bikeride) distance from two other distinctive Pittsburgh neighborhoods:

Home to prestigious museums, world-class hospitals and universities and international cuisine, Oakland is considered the cultural, academic and medical center of Pittsburgh, where you will find the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, the Carnegie Library and Cathedral of Learning, among other cultural venues.. It is also one of Pittsburgh’s liveliest neighborhoods, with cool coffee shops, multi-cultural eateries and interesting specialty shops alongside grand architecture. Oakland offers all of the attractions of a major university in terms of concerts, lectures, theater and other entertainment, along with a wide variety of retail offerings, bookstores, restaurants and bars (ethnic and otherwise). (onlyinoakland.org)

I am particularly intrigued as I drive to Mansions on Fifth from the highway, to pass a synagogue. This is Squirrel Hill, one of the fastest growing sections of Pittsburgh, which has also been a home to Pittsburgh’s Jewish community for many years. That history is reflected in the storefronts of the neighborhood’s two main business streets, Forbes Avenue and Forward Avenue, which feature a variety of grocery stores, retailers and restaurants honoring the Jewish heritage. But Squirrel Hill is also one of Pittsburgh’s most delightfully diverse neighborhoods as well, with residents (many connected to nearby universities and hospitals) from all over the world, reflected in the diversity of the cuisine of the various restaurants and eateries. Five minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, Squirrel Hill combines tree lined residential streets, a bustling business district, internationally recognized educational institutions, and two large public parks spanning 1100 acres.

Mansions on Fifth, 5105 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232, 412-381-5105, 800-465-9550, http://mansionsonfifth.com/.

For more information, contact Visit Pittsburgh, 412-281-7711, 800-359-0758, 877-LOVE PGH (568-3744), info@visitpittsburgh.comwww.visitpittsburgh.com.

See also:

Mansions on Fifth Historic Boutique Hotel in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside Sends You Back to Gilded Age

One Day, Two Nights in Pittsburgh: From Grey to Green, A Proud City Revitalized

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Point State Park Proves Highlight of Walking Tour

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Andy Warhol Museum is at Center of Revitalized City

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Strip District Exemplifies City’s Past, Future

Two Nights, One Day in Pittsburgh: Historic Omni William Penn Hotel Connects to City’s Proud Heritage

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

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

‘World’s Largest’ Glass Sculpture with Trump Connection is Boon for Dunbar, Pennsylvania

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

Mansions on Fifth Historic Boutique Hotel in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside Sends You Back to Gilded Age

The jaw-dropping grand Mansion on Fifth, in Pittsburgh’s tony Shadyside neighborhood, home to Carnegie, Frick and other celebrated industrialists and bankers, now a boutique hotel where you get to feel as if you were transported back to the Gilded Age © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

I return to Pittsburgh when I come back to do my second Rails-to-Trails Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage, a fantastic rail-trail that stretches across Western Pennsylvania, from Cumberland, Md. to Pittsburgh, this time a longer trip, 150 miles, that finishes on the Montour Trail (see stories).

I had been dazzled by Pittsburgh on my first visit a year ago, and the same is true this time. It is no wonder that this city, built on steel and coal, rejuvenated, revitalized, has been named one of America’s most liveable cities. What is best about it is how it retained the best of old and new.

This time, as luck would have it, I choose a historic hotel, Mansions on Fifth, that is in the Shadyside neighborhood, a short walk away from the Carnegie Museums and the Cathedral of Learning, so that my all-too-brief time in this glorious city is spent immersed in the city’s leading cultural attractions that I had not been able to visit a year ago.

Mansions on Fifth in Pittsburgh’s tony Shadyside neighborhood is the sort of place that when you pull up, your jaw drops. And for the brief time that you are here, you feel what it must have been like to be part of Pittsburgh’s upper-crust, the society of industrial titans. You know how historic places being “living history” places because of people? That’s what you feel like when you stay and inhabit these rooms, continuing the life and spirit of these structures that seem to have a life of their own and stories to tell. People come and go, after all, but these structures remain, albeit in the care of stewards who take on the responsibility. (Whenever I travel, I first check out Historic Hotels of America’s site, historichotels.org, to see if there is a member property because the experience is always extraordinary; for my last visit, I stayed at the Omni William Penn Hotel, an iconic property right downtown. Mansions on Fifth used to be an HHA member, prior to being acquired in 2016 by Priory Hospitality Group, Pittsburgh’s premier owner, operator and developer of independent hotels and event spaces. Among its other holdings, Priory Hospitality Group owns and operates the Priory Hotel and Grand Hall at the Priory on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.)

Indeed, Mansions on Fifth puts you right back into Pittsburgh’s history and its story:

“The late 1890’s and early 1900’s were in many ways Pittsburgh’s golden age, measured by prosperity and economic might, if not by a clean environment. Pittsburgh was a financial and industrial powerhouse as well as a center of river and rail transportation. In 1900, Pittsburgh produced more than half of the crucible steel in the nation, and by 1910, it was the eighth most populous city in the country.

“It was also a time where giants of the business world traversed Shadyside’s Fifth Avenue – ‘Millionaire’s Row’ – on a daily basis. Names such as Carnegie, Mellon, Frick, Westinghouse and Heinz were among the leading citizens of the day.”

This 20,000 sq. ft. mansion was built in the early 1900s by Willis F. McCook, a prosperous attorney and legal counsel to steel and coke magnate Henry Clay Frick for himself, his wife Mary and their 10 children.

The main house of Mansions on Fifth, built in the early 1900s by Willis F. McCook, a prosperous attorney and legal counsel to steel and coke magnate Henry Clay Frick © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

McCook was most famous for having represented Frick, but he was highly accomplished in his own right, the notes show.”A groundbreaker in modern day corporate law, McCook studied law at Columbia University following his graduation from Yale in 1873. He was also a pioneering athlete, serving as captain of Yale’s first football team and playing in the first intercollegiate football game in the nation. Later in life, he served as president and director of the Pittsburgh Steel Company, and was a partner in the law firm McCook & Jarrett. He died in 1923 at the age of 72.”

Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, which was also home to many of the city’s leading industrialists, innovators and bankers of the city, including George Westinghouse, Frick, Andrew Mellon, Andrew Carnegie and the rest of Pittsburgh’s exceptionally wealthy families of the era.

Here among the leafy green trees on a hilltop, it is easy to imagine how clean and cool the air in comparison to the choking atmosphere of the steel mills that shrouded the city below.

The Amberson House, built for McCook’s daughter, Bessie McCook Reed, next door to the main mansion. She lived in the home from the time of her marriage until her passing in 1966. It is now part of the Mansions on Fifth historic hotel © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As his mansion was being built, McCook’s daughter Bessie became engaged, so he contracted to build a more modest (but still spacious at 8,000 square feet) home adjacent to his own. The smaller mansion (now the Mansions on Fifth Hotel’s Amberson House) was completed first, and the main house (now called the Fifth Avenue House), was finished in 1906.

The two mansions were designed in the Elizabethan Revivalist and Tudor styles by the architectural firm Carpenter & Crocker, of Pittsburgh’s East End. Many of the firm’s other projects, which range from Florida to Washington state, exist today, including the iconic Trinity Cathedral Parish House in downtown Pittsburgh. The contractor on the McCook estate was Thomas Reilly, who also built the massive and magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral just down Fifth Avenue from the estate. Reilly also worked with Carpenter & Crocker on the Parish House at Trinity Cathedral.

“McCook and his designers and builders spared no expense, using some of the finest craftsmen of the era, including master ironworker Cyril Colnik (fixtures and decorative items), Rudy Brothers Art Glass (leaded and stained glass installations), and Rookwood Ceramic Tile (for the decorative tile around the fireplaces in the houses). The stunning carved wood in the Grand Hall of the Fifth Avenue House was produced by Woolaeger Manufacturing of Milwaukee. The total cost of the project was $300,000 in 1906 ($7.6 million in today’s dollars).

Light streams in to a wood-paneled lobby from stained glass windows on the staircase of the Mansion on Fifth to one of the cozy sitting areas in front of a fireplace © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After McCook died in, 1923, the family continued to live in the main mansion through the 1930’s. But the Great Depression took its toll and the family was unable to keep current with their property taxes. Seized for sheriff’s sale by the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department, the mansion was purchased in 1949 by Emil Bonavita, Sr. and his wife Margaret for $28,000. The Bonavitas moved into the mansion with their two children, Emil, Jr. and Charles.

As a way to pay for upkeep for the massive building, the Bonavitas rented out rooms on the upper floors to students at nearby Carnegie Mellon University. Students were thoroughly screened, and many of those attracted to the historic property were studying at CMU’s prominent arts and theater schools. According to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette architecture writer Patricia Lowry, tenants included Albert Brooks, Andy Warhol, Shirley Jones and George Peppard. Margaret, who acted as a house mother to the many students who resided at the home over the years, resided in the McCook mansion until her much mourned death in 2003.

Bessie McCook Reed, for whom the Amberson House was built in 1905, lived in the home from the time of her marriage until her passing in 1966. Three years later, Emil Bonavita, Jr. and his wife Marie acquired the Amberson House and moved in to raise their family of four children. Emil and Marie also assisted in the boarding operations at the larger Fifth Avenue House.

In 2004, the Fifth Avenue House, the main mansion, sustained a horrific fire which caused extensive damage to the upper floors. The building became uninhabitable, and its tenure as a home for students ended. Emil and Marie looked to sell the damaged mansion to a purchaser who would restore it.

Pittsburgh preservationists, husband and wife Mary Del Brady and Richard Pearson, acquired both houses of the former McCook estate from the Bonavitas for $1.5 million. Their idea was to redevelop the property into a boutique hotel and event center. Restoration and repair work, which was extensive given the fire damage, began in January 2010. The Fifth Avenue House, the primary mansion, was completed in early 2011 and opened to the public in March of that year with 13 guest rooms and suites, the grand hall event space, a library, the Oak Room pub, and two private dining rooms. The adjacent Amberson House, with 9 guest rooms and suites, opened in November 2012. Total cost of the project exceeded $8,000,000.

The properties were recognized as an historic landmark by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2012.

New Era for Mansions on Fifth

In late September 2016, Pittsburgh-based boutique hotel owner/operator Priory Hospitality Group acquired the operating assets of the Mansions on Fifth Hotel and assumed operations of the Shadyside property. Owned and operated by the Graf family since 1986, the Priory Hospitality Group’s properties include the award winning Priory Hotel (a Tripadvisor Hall of Fame member), Grand Hall at the Priory event facility (Best Wedding Venue – City Paper 2016; Best of the Knot 2006-2016; Pittsburgh Magazine Best Restaurant 2012 & 13), and Priory Fine Pastries commercial and retail bakery (Runner Up – Pittsburgh Magazine Best Bakery 2012 & 13).

Priory Hospitality Group invested considerably to upgrade the properties and amenities.

The Mansions on Fifth today offers 22 elegant guest rooms (each one different; you feel more like a family guest than an out-of-towner) in the two distinct historic buildings – the main 20,000 sq. ft. Fifth Avenue House and the adjacent 8,000 sq. ft. Amberson House. The Fifth Avenue House also has the hotel’s reception desk, dining room, Oak Room pub, chapel, library and wine cellar.

The Front Desk is staffed 24 hours a day to provide help with directions, restaurant recommendations, check in, , while butlers are available from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day to assist.

My room is in the Amberson House, which for your all-too-brief stay makes you feel like you are really at home in a mansion. The Amberson House offers its own cozy and comfortable first floor common areas in addition to guest rooms. It would be perfect for a family or group to take over (indeed, during my stay, there is a large wedding party.)

One of the cozy sitting areas in front of a fireplace at Mansions on Fifth, a Gilded Age mansion converted to a boutique hotel © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can appreciate the renovations: each of the elegant guest rooms and suites features a spacious bathroom with glass and ceramic shower enclosures, Gilchrist and Soames organic bath and shower amenities, and soft, thick towels woven with bamboo fibers.

Some guest rooms and suites also feature fireplaces and jetted tubs. The spacious Presidential Suite has two separate bedrooms and baths and nearly 1,000 square feet of living space.

My room at Amberson House makes you feel more like a weekend guest of the McCook family rather than an out-of-towner © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition, the Mansions on Fifth Hotel offers a wide variety of amenities and services, including:  complimentary continental breakfast (with a more hearty ala carte breakfast available at an additional cost); complimentary newly upgraded Wireless Internet service; complimentary on premise parking (not a small matter in Pittsburgh); guest computer with WiFi access and printer; Fitness Center and The Oak Room pub, open 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily, featuring craft cocktails, fine wines, and a variety of microbrew beers.

The Oak Room pub also is the venue for a variety of weekly events, from wine flights, to whiskey tastings, to live music.

Mansions on Fifth is a delightful venue for weddings (there is one that had just finished when I arrive), family reunions and special events. You can basically take over the two mansion homes.

(I am also intrigued to visit the Priory Group’s historic, 42-room boutique hotel that was once a Benedictine monastery, built in 1888, meticulously restored to modern standards and featuring all the amenities of a large downtown property with the intimacy of a small European hotel, located in Deutschtown on the North Shore, a near walk to the Andy Warhol Museum and downtown Pittsburgh. The Priory Group spent $2.7 million to upgrade the property, adding a new, larger front desk and a cozy pub — the Monks’ Bar – in the original building, a Fitness Center and Business Center, as well as state of the art meeting space in a new wing.)

Mansions on Fifth, 5105 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232, 412-381-5105, 800-465-9550, http://mansionsonfifth.com/.

For more information, contact Visit Pittsburgh, 412-281-7711, 800-359-0758, 877-LOVE PGH (568-3744), info@visitpittsburgh.comwww.visitpittsburgh.com.

Next:

Mansions on Fifth Historic Hotel is Steps Away from Pittsburgh’s Top Cultural Attractions

See also:

One Day, Two Nights in Pittsburgh: From Grey to Green, A Proud City Revitalized

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Point State Park Proves Highlight of Walking Tour

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Andy Warhol Museum is at Center of Revitalized City

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Strip District Exemplifies City’s Past, Future

Two Nights, One Day in Pittsburgh: Historic Omni William Penn Hotel Connects to City’s Proud Heritage

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

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

‘World’s Largest’ Glass Sculpture with Trump Connection is Boon for Dunbar, Pennsylvania

____________________

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

Barging through Burgundy, Day 5-6: Walking Tour of Dijon’s Old City

The Caprice finishes its cruise of canals and rivers of Burgundy in Dijon © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Thursday: Arrival in Dijon

We are only a few miles to the last lock before Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, and the French landscape, though still predominantly countryside, becomes more and more populated and commercial as we come closer.

After breakfast on board the Caprice, our charming barge hotel, we take bikes and explore a village.

Back on board the Caprice, Chef Herve treats us to a cooking demonstration – he is preparing salt-encrusted salmon, which is the lunch entree, along with a variety of salads.

The Caprice, one of France Cruises’ luxury hotel barges, floats up a canal in Burgundy © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The wine is a 2010 Musadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie, from the Loire Valley, with a fresh, sharp, neutral flavor to compliment fish; and a 2010 Burgundy red, Saint Armour, named for the village which was named for a martyred Roman soldier, with a fruity flavor of currants.

The last bridge before we enter Dijon’s port is one where we all have to duck – it seems the barge uses every inch of space above.

We come into the port of Dijon, where we will stay overnight.

Caprice’s Chef Herve serves the salt-encrusted salmon for lunch; earlier in the morning, he provided a cooking demonstration © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Guy, who has been our guide and bus driver throughout our journey, takes us for a guided tour into the Dijon’s old city, the climax to an incredible week-long journey into Burgundy’s countryside. Dijon is the crowning jewel.

The historic district is just a 15-20 minute from where the Caprice is docked, so we can return on our own and have a couple of extra hours to explore.

As always, Guy, who is a former journalist, is fascinating, illuminating with stories and anecdotes what we can appreciate visually.

He reminds us of the popular Burgundy drink, Kir, which was named for a mayor who served from 1946-1960, was a priest, a canon, and a member of Parliament- the famous drink is named for him. “He did nothing in Dijon – that was reason it is well preserved.” The current mayor, on the other hand, wants to modernize, and is constructing a street car (light rail).

The magnificent architecture of Dijon’s Old City © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Dijon is a household name because of the mustard, which is still produced here, but these days, they import seeds from Canada. It is also a center for artificial flavors and fragrances.

Dijon is the capital of Burgundy – hospitals, university, administrative services (government), and the main stop between Paris and Lyon.

Burgundy was an independent state, and allied with Britain against France. The last Duke was killed 1463 – his enemy was King Louis XI of France, known here as “the Sneaky One” because though France had a treaty with Burgundy but the King still invaded Dijon.

One of the highlights is the main indoor market – a marvel of steel architecture that goes back to Eiffel, though his colleague finished the project.

The Caprice squeaks under the bridge as we float into the port of Dijon © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It is just across from the church of Notre Dame with a marvelous bell clock. “The King of France tried to bribe a town in Burgundy to rebel, and when it did, the Duke besieged it and as punishment, in 1673, took the clock. At the time, it only had a man with the pipe; then in 17C, the people of Dijon (who have a good sense of humor), added a woman so the man wouldn’t be lonely, and in 18C, added two children.” The man strikes the bell on the hour; the woman on the half, and the children on the quarter hour.

Notre Dame has stunning gargoyles, but Guy tells us that a usurer was killed when a gargoyle broke off and fell on him. As a result, the “corporation” of loan sharks demanded they all be taken down; but finally, they were cleaned and replaced in 18C. Notre Dame was defaced during the 1793 Terror, and the anti-religious furor that swept through.

The Church of Notre Dame provides a dramatic backdrop at the end of the Rue Musette © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The owl is symbol of Dijon, and there is an owl on Notre Dame that legend says, you touch with your left hand to have a wish come true (it’s been rubbed smooth over time).

Here we come to the Maison Millière, the charming shop we had first encountered on our first afternoon in Dijon, which specializes in hand-crafted owls.

There are fabulous buildings – stately majestic public buildings, grand mansions that served the noble members of Parliament – through Dijon.

Many of the grand buildings have been “re-purposed” after the Revolution.

Guy, our guide from the Caprice, explains the legend of rubbing the owl that is on the side of the Church of Notre Dame, with your left hand: wishes come true © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Plaza Royale was renamed Place de la Revolution, and the avenue renamed Avenue de la Liberte.

What is astonishing is how many famous people are associated with Dijon: the architect of Versailles, Jules Mansart, also designed the Plaza Royale; Francois Ronde, who designed the Arc d’Triomphe in Paris, is from here.

I wander on my own, and am fascinated with the street names, many with biographical information

In the square of Dijon’s Old City, buildings from the Renaissance flank a carousel from 1865 © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Rue Danton was named for “conventionnel organisateur de la defense nationale, ne en 1759, mort sur l’echafaud en 1794.” I am fascinated and subsequently learn that Georges Danton was a French Revolutionary leader and orator, often credited as the chief force in the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic (September 21, 1792). He later became the first president of the Committee of Public Safety, but his increasing moderation and eventual opposition to the Reign of Terror led to his own death at the guillotine.

The clock above the church of Notre Dame, with the man who strikes the hour, his wife who strikes the half hour, and their two children who strike the quarter hour. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

I come upon Eglese Saint Philibert, originally built in 12th century, and destroyed in the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution. It is now undergoing a restoration.

I am so happy that I will have two extra days in Dijon (see story).

Gala Farewell

I walk back to the Caprice in time for our gala farewell dinner.

The last night of our cruise is a gala dinner (we “dress” in our finest, that is what we have with us) – the table, in a U-shaped banquet formation, is set magnificently, with fresh lilies and zinnias.

A fountain provides respite during a walking tour of Dijon’s historic district, spanning 97 hectares © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The menu consists of foie gras with leek salad with a sweet fig jam; filet de boeuf with red wine sauce, potatoes from Noirmoutier and mushrooms.

The 2007 Sainte Croix du Mont, a Sauvignon Blanc, Tina tells us, is produced at a vineyard on right bank of Bordeaux in southeast France, where there are early morning mists (usually not good for wine) is difficult to produce. “You need a lot of luck. The grapes have to develop a ‘local rot’ – a fungus – which actually produces a bursting sweetness. The yield is small – you have to pick the grapes by hand when ripest – a lot of work. It’s lighter than a dessert wine but full bodied.”

The red is a Grand Barrail Larose St Emilion 2009, a Bordeaux.

Three houses dating from the 1400s in Dijon’s Old City: the middle one is propped up by the two on either side © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The cheese tonight is a Roquefort – the quintessential sheep’s milk blue cheese from Avignon in the south of France, owes its distinctive character to a mold found in the soil of local caves

The second cheese is a Brie de Meaux, from the Ile de France, a creamy cow’s milk similar to Camembert. “King Louis XIV had 3 passions: poetry, wine and cheese,” Tina, the general manager, says. “He would send a damsel a cheese with a poem”

The dessert is a Chef’s surprise (actually a birthday cake for one of the guests).

Lunch onboard the Caprice always features red and white wines as well as cheeses © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Friday morning, after breakfast, we depart the Caprice. The whole crew, wearing their Barging Through France shirts, line up to greet us and bid us farewell. It is that most amazing and gratifying feeling that only travel provides when you get to realize how everyone has bonded and formed friendships in just a week’s time.

Incomparable Value in France Canal Cruising

In reflection, I think this is as perfect a trip as it could have been, vastly exceeding my expectations – in terms of the sights we have seen, the interesting attractions and excursions, the quality of the wining and dining, the cruise experience – France Cruises, the American agent for Barging through Burgundy which owns and operates the Caprice, really offers superb value for money.

The gala farewell banquet onboard the Caprice features a beef filet with red wine sauce © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The passengers onboard have really bonded – gives you plenty of opportunity – we are not on top of one another, but the meals, where you basically sit where you want or where there is room, so the table groupings always change, and you get to know one another, or when walking or biking along the canal, or on the bus or walking through the villages during our excursions, or in the evening sitting around in the lounge or on deck… people came from all over and many different backgrounds, but shared an interest and eagerness to learn and experience things, and we each shared from our own experience and knowledge base.

The immersion into French food and wine – especially with the selection of wines and cheeses at lunch and dinner – has been very satisfying and also interesting, since food and wine are so inextricably linked to culture and heritage of a place.

The size of the boat and the service makes it ideal for families, family reunions and groups of friends traveling together. There are barge boats that a single family can hire and guide themselves , though it seemed to me to be tricky process to go through the canals – some were automatic, operated by sensors, some had attendants, but some involved hand-cranking the bridge or pulling a chain to activate the doors.

Many people have the concern that you can get bored on a barge cruise or feel confined, but we are never bored or stir crazy – because of the opportunity to go off the boat and explore, especially by bike, and also the excursions. Those who want a more sedentary experience can have it, as well.

This size boat and the itinerary are perfect for us – not too small that you are forced to be on top of people or lacking in level and quality of service, and not too big.

The crew of the Caprice at the farewell gala banquet © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The daily excursions are marvelous and interesting and take you to places you might not have known to visit, and into the essence of what the region is -particularly the visit to the Chateau Rully with the Count – just seeing the portraits on wall of his ancestors, the very mug his 14th century ancestor had drunk from (that he still uses), the personal artifacts of the family were amazing.

Considering all that is provided, and the high level of service, the experience fulfills France Cruses’ boast that this cruise affords some of the best value in canal cruising in France (particularly with the special offers and packages that are available from time to time). I am a believer.

For information, contact France Cruises, Inc.,9901 IH 10 West, Suite 800 | San Antonio, TX 78230, 866-498-3920 or 210- 775-2184; Email:Marketing@FranceCruises.com, visit www.FranceCruises.com orwww.FranceCountryTours.com. Visit the blog The France Insider.

The cruise aboard the Caprice is now completely updated for next season:http://www.francecruises.com/barge-354-Caprice-742.html

Dijon is such a fascinating city, our exploration continues (see A Walk Through the Centuries in Dijon, France).

(Originally published in 2011)

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

Barging through Burgundy, Day 3-4: Hotel-Dieu, Beaune, Clos de Vougeot

Panels of the Polyptych, completed in 1445, attributed to Flemish artist Roger Van der Weyden, at the Hotel-Dieu, Beaune © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Caprice barge hotel take us through some of Burgundy’s most important attractions

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

These next two days aboard the Caprice barge hotel, we cruise to a spiritual center, which is in the capital of Burgundy’s wine region, the Hotel-Dieu in Beaune, and the next day to the “mother church,” as it were, of Burgundy wine, the Clos de Vougeot, seat of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, the Burgundy wine society.

Tuesday.

I get up early enough to have another walk in this picturesque village of Chalon sur Saône, before the barge pulls away at 8:30 am. We sail down the River Saône as we enjoy breakfast.

Hotel-Dieu a charity hospital founded in 1443, is one of the most important monuments in Burgundy © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We spend a lazy morning, sailing on river – this part more typical of a cruise. We sit and read, chat with our traveling companions, and look out at the pleasant landscape – riverside homes, and occasional heron or egret.

Before we know it, it is time for lunch – “charcuterie” (a cold meat platter), green bean salad, tomato and feta cheese salad, green salad, and lemon tart.

The wine is 2010 Macon Villages, a Burgundy white Chardonnay that is light, fruity, and perfect for lunch; and Cotes du Rhone, 2010, of Lyon, fruity flavor of cherries and red berries, a blended Gambon Cabernet, light wine for lunch

Hôtel-Dieu has Burgundy’s largest roof of colored, varnished tiles © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We arrive at Seurre, a lovely riverside town with a 16th century church and beautiful brick houses from the 17th century and travel by bus 26 km to visit the famous city of Beaune.

Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy most famous for the magnificent Hôtel-Dieu, a charity hospital founded in 1443. The most important monument in Burgundy, it boasts the finest Burgundian-Flemish architecture in the world (and I believe it) and the largest roof of colored, varnished tiles, its opulence seemingly contradicting its purpose.

The Hotel-Dieu was built in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, the chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy, Philippe-le-Bon. Rolin was in charge of finances (collecting taxes), and lo and behold, became extremely wealthy. At the end of his life, he had a great desire to “give back” to community (and buy a place in heaven). In 1463, King Louis XI, said, “This is a beautiful thing to do with all the money he stole.”

Beds separated by red velvet curtains at the Hotel-Dieu, Beaune © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Remarkably, though no longer a hospital, the Hotel-Dieu is still a retirement home – with the longest waiting list in France. It is a wealthy institution from tourist revenue and donations over the centuries in the form of the vineyards and the wine that is produced. The home owns 60 hectares of most prestigious Bourgignon vineyards. At the annual wine auction, the wines typically fetch far more than wine is worth, to give “donation”.

The “new” part dates from the 17th century.

During June and July there are concerts here.

Inside, we see a vaulted gothic ceiling – how the hospital room would have had beds, with red velvet curtains for privacy, lining each side of the room.

The hospital area in Hotel-Dieu, where beds with red velvet curtains line both sides of the vaulted room © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We see where “Seule etoile” is spelled out in floor tiles, an expression of love from Rolin to his wife, meaning “only star,” which comes from the way he referred to his wife, “The only star of my heart.”

The kitchen has a huge dual-hearth Gothic fireplace, with its original accessories; the floor of the hearth is tiled with the “Seulle star” motto. Most interesting is the steel spit, made in 1698, which is turned by a little “robot,” Maitre Bertrand, dressed in the traditional costume of large floppy boots, white breeches, red jerkin with gold buttons and a white cap with turned up brim.

The Hotel-Dieu in Beaune boasts the finest Burgundian-Flemish architecture in the world © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We visit the centuries old pharmacy and can see the machine that was used then to make suppositories.

There are shelves stocked with bottles of ancient remedies from that time, like Teriacr, one of most common remedies of the time, made from venom of viper. I see a jar dated 1777.

In the pharmacy at Hotel-Dieu, the charity hospital founded in 1443, see centuries-old jars of medicines © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The glass bottles still contain “specifics” with names that sound like they have come out of Harry Potter: woodlice powder, eyes of crayfish, vomit nuts powder, elixir of property.

The piece de resistance of the hospice is the Polyptych, kept in a darkened room which you enter through a glass door. These are unimaginably stunning panels commissioned by Rolin in 1443 and completed in 1445, attributed to Flemish artist Roger Van der Weyden. Representing Last Judgment, it was placed above the altar of the Chapel, but was only allowed to be seen by the sick on Sundays and feast days.

The Polyptych at Hotel-Dieu in Beaune is attributed to Flemish artist Roger Van der Weyden © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The detail is so exquisite, there is even a large magnifying glass that makes sweeps over the panels. You see St. Michael weighing souls, Christ, Virgin Mary (trying to alleviate judgment), St. John, apostles. The people who are damned are on the right; the left has people who will go to heaven.

Then you walk through a room of tapestries – the largest series of seven tapestries, woven at Tournai at the beginning of the 16th century, tells the parable of the Prodigal Son. Another series of Brussels tapestries dating from the end of the 16th century, tells the story of Jacob.

Our walking tour continues in Beaune – the church of Notre Dame, dating the 13th century, has a magnificent stained glass window, rare for its grey and yellow coloring, dating from 16th century.

Panels of the Polyptych, completed in 1445, attributed to Flemish artist Roger Van der Weyden, at the Hotel-Dieu, Beaune © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This being the capital of Burgundy wine, there is a Museum of Wine (we visit an outdoor display of ancient presses) and walk through ramparts from the 15th century.

After Guy’s guided tour, we still have two more hours to explore Beaune on our own before returning to the barge by bus. It is a bustling city, with loads of wine cellars and shops and cafes, befitting a wildly popular tourism center.

Beaune is a bustling city in Burgundy © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Back at the Caprice, I go off to explore Seurre, which dates from 1278.

The “new” town hall was built 1771, with neoclassic façade.

L’Eglise Saint Martin dates from the 13 C-14C; it was damaged in 16 and 17C but restored. The chapels were built for the most revered families of 15 and 16 C. The largest chapel was for the Bossuet family, the most influential family in the city. Some were elected city magistrates and mayors of Seurre, but the family had humble beginnings as wheel wrights. (There is a Rue Bossuet in Dijon.)

Clos de Vougeot, seat of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Testevin, the Burgundy wine society © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Dinner consists of a marvelous gazpacho soup with crayfish; codfish in a delicious lobster sauce served with artichoke, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes; and for dessert, a grape tart.

The cheese selection, Comte, is from the Franche-Comte region, and Sainte Maure is a masterpiece of Touraine goat cheese, rolled in black wood ash, recognized for the long straw through the middle (which facilitates handling).

Clos de Vougeot, in Burgundy’s Cotes de Nuits region, famous for its vineyards © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The wine this evening is a Montagny l’er Cru (“cru” means it is a superior wine); and a 2010 Chinon from the Loire, which has a sharp, firey, fruity, black currant flavor.

I am thoroughly enjoying these anecdotes about the wines and cheeses.

Clos de Vougeot & The Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin

Wednesday.

We start the day sailing on the River Saône to St. Jean de Losne, where we connect to the canal de Bourgogne.

The Cotes de Nuits, Burgundy’s famous wine-making region © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We see scores of barges here, including many live-aboard barges that people either rent or own. I don’t envy their effort to get through these locks on their own.

Today’s shore excursion takes us through the Cotes de Nuits region, famous for its vineyards, to Clos de Vougeot, where wine has been produced by local monks since the 12th century. It also is the seat of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, the Burgundy wine society.

Winemaking in the Cotes de Nuits dates back to the 12th century © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The 12th century monks of Citreaux transformed winemaking, turning their vineyard into a model for “scientific” pruning and cultivation.

In 1790, during the French Revolution, the Abbey and its annexes including the Vougeot vineyard, were confiscated and declared “Property of the Nation”. For the next century, the domain changed owners frequently. It was gradually broken down until 1889, when the buildings and remaining vineyard came into the hands of Leonce Bocquet, a Burgundian owner, who saved the edifice from destruction and spent vast amounts of money restoring it.

The Caprice cruises the picturesque canals of Burgundy © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Etienne Camuzet, acquired the chateau in 1920 and made it available to the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, an association of wine growers, in 1934.

In 1944, it became the “spiritual” home to the Confrerie, which became the caretaker of the Clos de Vougeot, turning the chateau into a kind of Acropolis of Burgundy where pilgrims from the world over come (www.tastevin-bourgogne.cominfo@tastevin-bourgogone.com).

Roger, the first mate, maneuvers the Caprice through the narrow canal lock © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The association wanted to elevate Burgundy wine, which had fallen in prominence to Bordeaux wine. The society was meant to market the wine, but they did something quite clever: they invited popular entertainers (like Maurice Chevalier) and important diplomats to become Members of the Society. It worked, and they brought back Burgundy as a major player in the international wine industry.

On the walls, we see the annual photo of the Society members, looking regal in their sashes.

The motto here: “Jamais en vain; toujours en vin” (“Never in vain; Always in wine”)

From here, we go to a private wine tasting in Nuits St Georges before we return to Caprice.

The Caprice cruises through picturesque countryside of Burgundy © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Along the way, we see fields of sunflowers browning – used for fuel – and solar panels on “ancient” houses.

Meals are an Event

Meals are an event on the Caprice. The tables today are decorated with colored napkins, beautiful place settings. Tina waits for everyone to be seated, and then makes a presentation of the menu, the wines and the cheeses, telling interesting stories about them.

The lunch menu consists of feuillete de tomatos – sundried tomatoes and goat cheese in pastry; wild rice and tuna; celery root salad; green salad ; and for dessert, crème brule.

The Caprice cruises the canal of Burgundy © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The wines are Cotes Chalonnaise and Cotes de Provence Rose

After lunch, we bike along the tow path of the canal.

The gatekeeper at lock 62 shows us his museum of collections – everything from postcards to wine to coins.

Dinner this evening includes melon with cured ham and St. Croix du Mont wine; Duck breast served with a peach sauce, Provencale tomatoes and sugar snap peas; and for dessert, almond cake with a lemon tea mousse and passion fruit.

Fine dining aboard the Caprice

© Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The wines are a 2009 Saint Veran, a rich buttery white Bourgogne and, befitting this morning’s visit, a Bourgogne Hautes Cote de Nuits, a rich red, fruity wine.

The cheeses today are Morbier, a cow’s milk cheese, sometimes known as night/day cheese becasue one side is made from morning milking and the other is evening, Tina says. “With a good palette, you can tell the difference -stronger tasting side is the morning milking, more flavor.”

Valencay is a goat milk cheese in the shape of a truncated pyramid, with a salty flavor and crumbly texture, coated in wood ash to preserve the flavor. Tina tells us the story of the cheese, which dates back to Napoleon: it was made in his honor in the shape of a pyramid, expecting Napoleon to be victorious in Egypt. Instead, Napoleon, who lost in Egypt, was offended by the point of the cheese, so it is always made with a truncated pyramid “so not to offend his relatives” (it is fantastic).

The Caprice is owned by Barging Through France, and represented by France Cruises, Inc, San Antonio, Texas, 866-498-3920,www.francecruises.comwww.FranceCountryTours.com.

(Originally published in 2011)

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

 

San Francisco Throwing Year-Long 50th Anniversary Celebration of Summer of Love – Be Prepared to Be Blasted into the Past

Wes Leslie, co founder of Wild San Francisco tours, is offering Haight-Ashbury Walking Tour: A Musical Trip of The 60’s for free during the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My, how time flies!

It’s the 50th anniversary of San Francisco’s Summer of Love, when, in 1967, nearly 100,000 young people converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, turning San Francisco into the epicenter of a cultural phenomenon known as the Summer of Love. It was a transformative time, when music, fashion, art and new ideas flourished and there was a feeling that everything was possible.

“The city of San Francisco was a magnet for musicians, artists and social rebels in the mid-to-late 1960s. They created a counterculture bound by leftist politics, tribal spirit, music and art. Long stamped a literary bohemia, attracting nonconformists like the Beat Generation writers of the Fifties, it was a natural progression for free-thinking San Francisco to give birth to a radical new movement eventually embraced by the rest of the world.”

The 50th Anniversary Celebration – with some 60 different events, special tours, concerts – is already  well underway in San Francisco and I’m guessing that tens of thousands of Baby Boomers will grab their tie-dye t-shirts, bell-bottom jeans, and put a flower in their hair and join in for a mind-blowing time-travel blast back into the past.

You feel you are in a time warp in Haight-Ashbury district, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I’ve just returned from my own magical mystery tour – more precisely, Haight-Ashbury Walking Tour: A Musical Trip of The 60’s, a musical Summer of Love walking tour with Wes Leslie of Wild San Francisco Tours – when I was stunningly, and eerily transported back to my past.

Let me say at the outset that I can’t recall taking a historical tour where I personally lived the history.

Wes (he jokes that he is called “Wild Wes”) is perfect to lead this tour, using his guitar at opportune points – in front of the homes where the Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Country Joe (of the Fish) and others lived – to recreate the iconic music of that era. What is more, in keeping with the spirit of the Hippie Movement, the tour during this anniversary year is “free” (you pay a suggested donation at the end).

Though I lived through that era – memories came flooding back with Wes’ narration – there is so much more of the inside, behind-the-scenes, backstage stuff that I hadn’t known. It is kind of like sitting around a table with relatives and finding out inside scoop you hadn’t realized went on.

Wes’ anecdotes and folksy style make the tour as entertaining and fun as it is informative from a historical and cultural point of view.

Earthsong shop on Haight Street © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

What I come away with is a realization that the Summer of Love would not have happened without The Pill and how that spurred cultural changes – most significantly a willingness to challenge the entrenched White Patriarchy and Power Structure. I come away with is a new appreciation of how the Women’s Liberation movement actually fueled the Hippie movement, which, through its counter-cultural, anti-establishment, anti-institutionalism, then paved the way for civil rights, gay rights and peace movements – methods and organizations and themes which are eerily resurgent today.

During this Wild San Francisco walking tour through Haight-Ashbury (with music!), I learn about the rise – and fall– of the Hippie Movement that reached its pinnacle during that Summer of Love, when some 100,000 descended and overwhelmed San Francisco (consider that the city has a population today of 800,000), much to the horror of local Hippies who decried that famous song, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair.”

The popularity of “If you’re going to San Francisco/Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair,” Scott McKenzie’s song, contributed to the undoing of the Hippie Movement in Haight-Ashbury after the 1967 Summer of Love © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The very “success” of the Summer of Love proved the undoing of the Hippie Movement, much to the delight of Mayor Shelley at the time, who went after the hippies with such vengeance that he told area hospitals not to help young runaway teens who OD’d, and told the police to stand down so that chaos would reign. It is a complete surprise to me to learn about how brief this movement was in Haight-Ashbury – like a brief, shining light.

The Hippie Movement, which emerged 1965-1967, was aimed at overturning the 1950s culture of uniformity, conformity and obeisance to The Man (whether that is the Capitalist or the Authority of the white patriarchy power elite). The “Hippies” (named because they were the next-gen Beatniks but not quite the Hipsters the Beatniks were, according to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen who coined the names for both) renounced capitalism and embraced everything “free” (free food, free concerts, free health clinics, free love), which is why they were considered so dangerously radical (Communists!) and vilified by The Establishment. After all, America was still in the throes of the Cold War.

The social, political ideologues shaping the movement were The Diggers, Wes explains (a group I had never heard of before even though I lived through this era) and must have been news to the other people on our tour, who hailed from Wales, Australia, Hungary, Berlin and Los Angeles (that fellow had taken two other tours with Wes).

San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district has the most magnificent surviving Victorian-era homes, like the one known locally as Hippie Temptation © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Haight-Ashbury district, where the Hippies were concentrated, today seems an odd locale for these counter-culture radicals, because this district is dominated by the most magnificently preserved (expensive!) Victorian-era homes, some dating from the 1890s, surviving the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire which destroyed 80 percent of the city. Wes explains that by the 1960s, the district was run-down and cheap to live in after white flight to the suburbs. Back then, you could rent an entire Victorian house for $175 a month and divide that among 10 people (amounting to $80 a month per person in today’s money, compared to the $3400/month rent for an apartment the district now commands). So naturally, it attracted artists, writers and musicians.

In the 1960s, half the American population was under 25 years old. These were the Baby Boomers and they were coming of age, disillusioned with income inequality, segregation, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“Maybe they hadn’t figured out the solutions but they wanted whatever was furthest from whatever set those things into motion,” Wes tells us as we face one of the most magnificent Victorians, known as “Hippie Temptation”, so they reclaimed the derelict urban cities, swore off capitalism, and embraced drugs that were emerging and love and a philosophy of individual discovery and expression.

They picked up where Jack Kerouac (“On the Road” was a handbook for the Beat Generation) and Alan Ginsberg (“Howl”) left off.

Wes Leslie across from pink house where Janis Joplin used to live in Haight-Ashbury © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The emergence of drugs (and the drug culture) was a significant element that led to the rise of the Hippie Movement– like LSD (which was legal), which led to the rise of “psychedelic” experimentation and provided the subtext for culture of “seeing the world in a new way” and a devotion to individual expression, rather than conformity. “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” declared Timothy Leary.

The Diggers, Wes explains, took their name from a 17th century group of anarchists in England who would take over unplowed fields and would give away the harvest to end inequality.

San Francisco didn’t have farms, but it did have food waste, so the Diggers would go dumpster diving and brought the food to All Saints Parish Church (where we find ourselves standing) and would make a pot of Hippie Stew which they would bring to Panhandle Park (where our tour began, named for the shape, not for handouts), to distribute for free. (The church still gives away food weekly.).

One day, The Diggers gave away free food on the steps of City Hall, which enraged San Francisco’s mayor. “’We are not a charity,’ the Diggers declared,” Wes tells us. “’We are an anarchist organization doing what government should do’.” (a philosophy that is reemergent with the anti-Trump activism) It was the act of it, in contrast to the liberals at Berkeley, the intellectual kids, who were theorizing.

“The Diggers said, ‘Just do it, don’t theorize.’ The Diggers started putting ‘free’ in front of everything: free food, free concerts, free health care.”

San Francisco’s famous Haight-Ashbury district has resurrected the psychedelic look and feel of its mid-1960s heyday © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wes traces the actual beginning of the Hippie Movement that led up to the Summer of Love to “The Death of Money” March the Diggers put on. The Diggers, he says, were the activist branch of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a political satire and theater group.

Hundreds came out wearing dark clothing and carrying a coffin filled with cash and coins – “50 years before the Occupy Wall Street movement and Bitcoin.”

They opened a free store, stocked with contributions from shopkeepers and what they could scavenge. Tie-dye? That gender-bending fashion innovation developed, Wes says, because the Diggers would get contributions of white shirts and would die them.

Interestingly, Wes points out, there was a revolution within the Diggers because the men were writing the manifestos but the women were actually doing the work.

Ultimately, he relates, “the structure of the Diggers – who eschewed “leadership” (they were anarchists) – falls apart.” But they will be forever remembered for coining the famous phrase: “Today marks the first day of the rest of your life.” And for providing the template for social innovations that followed.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, still beloved in Haight-Ashbury, immortalized in a mural © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By now, we are standing in front of the most famous house in Haight-Ashbury: the “crash pad” for the Grateful Dead, the most beloved group in San Francisco, “hallowed ground for Haight-Ashbury.”

As Wes is talking, a 60ish man in long white beard, long flowing hair, wearing a tie-dye shirt and bright colored vest comes out of his bright colored house and into his red car, looking every bit the part.

Wes regales us with stories about Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, the Hells Angels, Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin as we visit their houses and important landmarks.

The Hippie Movement had its “greatest moment” not in the Summer of Love, but in January 1967, with a Human “Be-In” in Golden Gate Park. It was supposed to attract a few hundred people. Instead, some 20,000 turned out. The Diggers provided free food; the Hells Angels provided child care, Wes says. (Photos of the event are on view at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, which this season has a special “Summer of Love Experience” exhibit.)

Kids 12 to 14 years old were running away from home to join the Haight-Ashbury scene, and they were overdosing on the ubiquitous drugs.

“Wild Wes” of Wild San Francisco Tours relates the history of Haight-Asbury’s free clinic during his musical walking tour of the district © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dr. David Smith, who was then a 28-year old medical intern (he still lives here), decided to do something and opened a free medical clinic in June 1967, which despite Mayor Jack Shelley’s efforts to shut it down, actually still exists (as we discover that we are standing in front of it) and has served as the model for some 2,000 free clinics since.

As the Summer of Love event approached, the city was freaking out at what would likely be an invasion of some 50,000 (the museum says 100,000 came). Mayor Shelley shut down the clinic and the police, hoping people would be turned off from coming.

Instead, the locals who occupied those Victorian houses turned over their keys to The Diggers, so that the visitors would have some place to sleep, and left town themselves. The Diggers opened “The Switchboard” putting visitors in touch with apartments (sounds like a forerunner of Air BnB), with jobs, and provided a central place for parents to send messages to their runaway kids.

The “success” of the Summer of Love was actually the undoing of the movement, which unraveled after that, Wes explains.

The Grateful Dead left, the Hippies moved to North Bay where they created a farming commune, the Diggers disbanded.

“The Last Hurrah was the ‘Death of Hippies’ march” paralleling the “Death of Money” march which initiated the movement. The Diggers, again wearing dark clothing, carried another coffin, this time with a Hippie inside, covered with flowers and incense.

The Hippie Movement, they said, “was killed off by fame,” adding, “If you care about this, take what you learned and radicalize it.”

Indeed, they did: the Hippies willingness to take on the Establishment unleashed the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, Gay Rights Movement and Peace Movement.

Amoeba Records, world’s largest independent record store, still has its psychedelic location at 1855 Haight Street © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

But Haight-Ashbury sunk further and further into decline, becoming an outright derelict and dangerous place, until the Dot.Com resurgence of San Francisco in the early 2000s, and tourism which has resurrected the colorfully decorated shops, including Earthsong, and Amoeba (which Wes says is the world’s largest independent record-album store).

Wild San Francisco’s other tours – such as “Radical SF”, a walking tour through the Mission and Castro districts – are focused on the people’s history and social movements (there is also a historical ghost tour for good measure).

Wild San Francisco’s co-founder Wes Leslie is a third-generation San Francisco Bay native (I admire his ring with the insignia of the Golden Gate Bridge and 3 diamonds, which he tells me was his grandfather’s, a transit driver for 3 decades). He makes “bedroom soul” music as Wes Leslie, the Bedroom Player (wesleslie.com) and fixes cocktails at Mrs. Jones on Market Street.

Contact Wild San Francisco Tours, 415-580-1849, http://wildsftours.com/, info@wildsftours.com

Special Tours Celebrate Summer of Love Anniversary 

2017, the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love, is being marked with a year-long celebration of San Francisco’s counter culture with a 1960s throwback including some 60 exhibitions, performances, literary events, tribute concerts and recognition of significant moments in time.

While the Summer of Love remains a key moment in history, the free love movement can be experienced through a number of geography specific tours, neighborhoods and performances throughout the year.  In addition to Wild San Francisco’s offerings, other tours include:

A variety of San Francisco tour companies are offering special Summer of Love programs through Haight-Ashbury district in 2017© 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Flower Power Walking Tours: Walk in the footsteps of Janice Joplin and the Grateful Dead on the Haight Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tours touching on the history of it all, from rock and roll to art, fashion and architecture. (www.haightashburytour.com/)

FOOT! Fun Walking Tours:  is presenting a special tour, Flashback: From the Summer of Love to the Winter of Discontent, from the highs of the summer of 1967 to the restlessness that followed. Follow in the footsteps of music legends like Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia with this walking tour in the iconic Haight Ashbury neighborhood.(www.foottours.com).

San Francisco City Guides Haight-Ashbury Tour: Explore streets, sidewalks, parks and vistas that tell the story of a Victorian era resort site subsequently developed by comfortable merchants, whose gingerbread homes still grace its streets. Offered most Sundays, see website for details.  Somewhat strenuous.    San Francisco City Guides offers free (donations welcome), volunteer-led tours of a variety of neighborhoods, landmarks and topics. To bring eight or more walkers to a regular tour, click here for information on private group tours. (www.sfcityguides.org, tours@sfcityguides.org.

Detour’s Walking Tour: Walk through the epicenter of the Summer of Love with Detour’s Walking Tour of the Haight, narrated by one of the activists who was at its center, Peter Coyote. (www.detour.com/san-francisco/haight-ashbury).

Avital Food Tours, Haight Ashbury: Did you know that local food co-ops were born out of this era? Delve into one of the world’s best food scenes to hear the stories of restaurant owners, chefs and industry experts for a culinary experience in San Francisco.  Walking tours are available in iconic neighborhoods across the city including Haight Ashbury (http://avitaltours.com/san-francisco/).

San Francisco Love Tours: Ride a VW hippie bus with San Francisco Love Tours and experience modern day San Francisco infused with the spirit of the 60’s (http://sanfranciscolovetours.com/).

Magic Bus Experience: This two-hour+ adventure, “Time Machine to the 60’s,” is a “mind-bending” combination of professional theater, film, music and sightseeing that allows tour goers to travel back in time to the summer of 1967.  The Magic Bus is an actual bus colorfully painted and filled with a sound system, micro projectors and screens that periodically lower over the windows making the bus into a moving movie theater (http://magicbussf.com).

To help visitors plan their “trip,” the San Francisco Travel Association has launched a special website, www.summeroflove2017.com, which provides an ever-expanding guide to the whole groovy scene, including events and itinerary ideas. (San Francisco Travel. 415-391‑2000, www.sftravel.com)

Next: Special Events, Exhibitions Planned for San Francisco’s 50th Anniversary Summer of Love

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

 

Born in a Silver Boom, Park City, Utah, Heritage Delights Diners, GalleryStrollers, FestivalGoers

Park City’s historic Main Street has a festive, welcoming ambiance especially with the free, old-timey trolley © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman & Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Like so many, we have come to Park City for its legendary powder snow and sprawling mountain peaks, home to two major ski resorts, Park City (which since Vail Resorts acquired and combined Park City and The Canyons has become the largest ski resort in the US), and the skiers-only, “retro” Deer Valley Resort.

And besides being one of the easiest world-class ski destinations to reach from every part of the country by air (I literally leave my home on Long Island in the morning and am skiing at Park City Mountain by the afternoon), it affords a perfectly delightful, charming historic town that rounds out the joyful experience.

Which is ideal because one of the major delights of a ski (or any outdoors) holiday is dining out. During our all-too brief stay in Park city, we get to sample the diverse venues.

Just a few blocks long, Park City’s historic Main Street really packs it in: one phenomenal gallery, boutique, superb restaurant after another. I visit on three evenings of our four-day stay and find new treasures to explore each time.

Park City was born in a silver mining boom of the 1880s. – today, it extracts a different kind of silver, from tourism – indeed, we are told that Park City has been ranked the most expensive small town in America (surpassing Aspen).

But the 19th century past is still very much on display – I love reading the historic markers outside some of the buildings which collectively tell the story of a town that survived explosions, flooded mineshafts, a town-wide fire in 1898 which burned 200 of the town’s 350 structures, snows heavy enough to collapse buildings, and a devastating downturn in silver prices that deflated the town’s economy in the mid-1900s, so that by 1951, it was officially named a ghost town. (There is quite a good Park City Museum, 528 Main Street, allocate about an hour.) Sixty-four of the Park City buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Meanwhile, there are more than 1,200 miles of tunnels that wind through the mountains (Park City Mountain Resort offers an on-mountain Historic Mountain Tour on skis that goes to some of the mine shafts.). There are other charming touches, like the free old-timey trolley, and the decorative lights that are strung across Main Street and around many of the buildings.

Park City retains its historic charm © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But out of a silver bust has come a new kind of cash boom: Park City today is considered the “most expensive small town” in America (actually surpassing Aspen) which you sense in the high-end galleries, shops and restaurants. Yet, the ambiance is not in the least snobby or elitist. We are struck by how very welcoming and friendly everybody is – from the shopkeepers to the visitors. The town is one perpetual smile.

There are a mind-boggling number of restaurants to choose from – nearly 150 in the area – from cozy bistros, casual eateries ideal for family gatherings, jazz and live-music venues, and fine dining establishments worthy of Michelin stars.

During our all-too brief stay, we get to sample Park City’s diverse dining options. After all, a ski holiday is one of the few times you can tell yourself, “I’m on vacation, AND I’ve spent the day outside burning up calories.”

The first place to replenish those calories is at Firewood on Main.

Firewood on Main should be a Park City institution. Though it only opened in December 2016, its chef/owner is John Murcko who is responsible for developing many of the fine dining restaurants throughout Park City (The Farm, in the Canyons village and was named one of “Utah’s 25 Best Restaurants” in 2015, is one) and Sun Valley. This is his first restaurant of his own, and you get the feeling it just gives him the freedom to express his passion for culinary creativity. What we love about it is that although the selections and taste combinations are as sophisticated as you might find in the major capital cities of the world, it still is absolutely true, in ingredients and selections (not to mention décor) to its local surroundings. So there are taste sensations that evoke South America (particularly Argentina’s penchant for grilling) and Asia, but that still feel right at home in Utah.

Firewood on Main provides windows into the kitchen © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chef Murcko has done some interesting things: like creating the Chef’s Library – a literal tiny, private and separated room connected to the kitchen with a pass-through for the dishes – where you get to create a menu in collaboration with the chef.  There is also a second private dining room, and the Nickel Bar on the basement floor (named for the nickels that fill the bar tabletop) which is appropriately dark and woody.

The main dining room features a set of windows that let you see through to the sprawling kitchen (I like that better than when the kitchen is just open to the dining room). You get to see the activity, as well as marvel at the room-length long open grill, that was custom-built, “the Mazzerati of grills,” our server, Sean, notes.

Just about everything is grilled or seared or fired or smoked in some fashion – even the lemon garnish on the cocktail, to enhance its flavor (more about that in a bit).

I love the décor, which I dub “Mountain Moderne.” It has a quasi-agricultural/industrial heritage motif – clean lines but woodsy – that  summons Utah heritage with windmill fans that are used as ceiling fans and black-and-white photos that decorate the room. Chef Murcko even crafted the tables himself.

We start off with a batch of appetizers that we share:

Grilled Oysters, a popular appetizer at Firewood on Main © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Grilled Oysters with spinach, wood roasted bacon and beet pickled shallot – the oysters are palm-sized huge and are brought in from Washington and Applewood Smoked Burrata with ash roasted beets and herbed pesto; pork belly (for which Firewood is known) prepared with honey wine apple vinegar, red pear and frisee; and fire-braised seasonal wild mushrooms (wood beech, royal trumpets, chanterelles) served with grilled bread. Delectable.

For our mains, we savor Port Short Rib, so succulent and perfectly prepared over creamy polenta, warm dried stone fruit chutney, and heirloom carrots fired on the grill; Rack of Lamb, with black lentil ragu, cipollini onion, eggplant and red chimichurri, had some wonderful Argentinian influences and it too was prepared and presented to perfection; and American Kobe New York (the best of both cultures!) showed off Murcko’s penchant for grilling, was sensational, served with rosemary pave, baby shiitakes and duxelle jus.

Watching chefs create at Firewood on Main © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

That being said, the menu (which basically touches all cylinders of offerings) shifts nightly to incorporate the freshest seasonal ingredients, locally sourced wherever possible. But the one constant is that everything is cooked over a wood fire. “Chef John Murcko’s vision blends the most primitive of cooking methods—open wood flame—with an innovative menu.” (Firewood On Main, 306 Main Street, Park City UT 84060, 435-252-9900, firewoodonmain.com).

High West Saloon and Distillery

One of the most popular places to be in Park City is High West Saloon and Distillery. It has the look of being around a century but was opened in 2006 by David Perkins and his wife, Jane. David, a former biochemist, was inspired to open his own distillery after seeing the parallels between the fermentation and distilling process and his own work in biochemistry during a trip to the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. The old-timey look comes from the fact that Perkins opened with just a small, 250-gallon still and Saloon in an historic livery stable and garage.

High West Saloon & Distillery is set in an historic livery stable and garage © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Saloon features alpine-inspired western fare alongside the original still (you can see it) and the Nelson Cottage offering whiskey-paired dinners. It’s  lots of fun and draws huge crowds willing to wait 2 ½ hours for a table (they don’t mind sampling the product in the meantime and looking at the traditional 1,600 gallon copper pot still, or perusing the small “general store”. Notably, High West was named 2016 Distiller of the Year by Whisky Advocate.

The original still is on view at High West Saloon & Distillery © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We had a fantastically fresh chicken noodle soup and amazing High West Burger 18, made with a bison and beef blend (wonderfully moist), “proprietary seasoning”, broiled aged gruyere, blue cheese, BBQ glazed sweet onion, crispy fried shallots, served with fries. The Distillery also offers tours, which you can book in advance.

Colorful atmosphere at High West Saloon © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The new High West Distillery and tasting room is located “high in the Wasatch-Uinta Mountains,” in Wanship, Utah, 25 minutes outside Park City and 40 minutes from Salt Lake City, and is open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm).

(High West Saloon and Distillery, 703 Park Ave Park City, UT 84060, 435-649-8300, www.highwest.com).

Silver Star Café

We also got to sample Silver Star Café, which is located at one of the bases to Park City Mountain, one of the venues that regularly features live music.

Here, we enjoyed live jazz by the John Flanders Jazz Trio in a most comfortable dining room that made you feel more like being in a living room than a restaurant, with long banquettes and loads of pillows that is clearly a favorite with regulars and locals.

The John Flanders Jazz Trio performing at the Silver Star Café, Park City Mountain © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We thoroughly enjoyed the freshness and flavor combinations of the appetizers and salad: General Tso’s Pork Belly Wrap prepared with Butter lettuce, pickled chilies, toasted peanuts; Warm Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad with pomegranate seeds, toasted hazelnuts, pickled onion, pomegranate-balsamic dressing; Winter Greens & Apple with radicchio, arugula, endive, candied pecans, grapefruit vinaigrette.

The mains offered wonderful choices:

Pork Osso Bucco (a house specialty), featured Niman Ranch pork shank, fresh tomatillo salsa, coconut creamed corn, Queso Fresco, pork jus; Boneless Buttermilk Fried Half Chicken is prepared in a distinctive way  and served with Red beans & rice, braised greens, Carolina BBQ; Seared Elk Burger, 8 oz. of our signature elk-bacon blend, fig-cherry mostarda, bacon burger sauce, served with hand-cut fries on a toasted Ciabatta bun.

Lost at Sea, the newly created cocktail by James Root, Silver Star Café’s manager and mixologist © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

James Root, the manager who is an award-winning mixologist, let’s us sample a cocktail he had only just devised: “Lost at Sea” contains Beehive Gin, Absinthe, lime and crème de violette with a cherry set at the base of the glass. It is built about Absinthe, a spirit with a colorful reputation of having been banned and therefore embraced by Parisian artists, bohemians and literati like Hemingway (it was falsely accused of having hallucinogenic properties). What I love about it is that it isn’t too sweet but has an air of intrigue. (Silver Star Cafe. 1825 Three Kings Drive Park City, UT 84060. 435-655-3456. info@thesilverstarcafe.com, www.thesilverstarcafe.com)

Galleries Galore

The art galleries are simply breathtaking. The last Friday of each month is a free Park City Gallery Stroll that lets visitors and locals alike the opportunity to enjoy light refreshments while discovering what’s on in the galleries; from 6-9 pm, members of the Park city Gallery Association offer a showcase highlighting artists, special exhibits and art events.

Jake Quarnberg, the hat shaper at Burns Cowboy Shop on historic Main Street, Park City, Utah. Family owned since 1876, one of oldest family owned western shops in US. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At Burns Cowboy Shop on historic Main Street, family owned since 1876, one of oldest family owned western shops in US (the boots just take your breath away),  I meet Jake Quarnberg, the hat shaper, who is steaming a hat and patiently explaining the process to two girls who listen completely enthralled. Quarnberg who used to be a cattle rancher in Utah, grew up with the 6th generation Burns.

Year-Round Destination 

Park City is very much a year-round destination – after the snow melts, the mountain bikers and hikers take over.

Park City offers festivities and festivals year-round, the most famous being the Sundance Film Festival when as many as 40,000 come to town each January (remarkably, few actually ski so the slopes are relatively empty).  But the whole calendar is chock-a-block with special events: beginning in June, the Park silly Summer Market festival, each Sunday, showcasing local produce and artisan crafts; in July,  Independence Day parade, and Park City Food & Wine Festival; in September, Autumn Aloft hot air balloon festival; in October, the Howl-O-Ween dog parade, to list just a few that have built the town’s reputation as the “Festival City of the Rocky Mountains.”  There is also the Park City Institute’s concert series; performances at the picturesque Egyptian Theater (“Annie the Musical” was being performed during our visit).

The famous Egyptian Theater on historic Main Street in Park City © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are more than 100 lodging properties to choose, from on-mountain hotels, condos and full-service luxury hotels with ski-in/out convenience, to multi-family private homes, bed and breakfast inns, downtown properties (you can hop on the Town Lift to the Park City Mountain base).

Park City, Utah is arguably North America’s most accessible mountain recreation destination, just 35 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport with convenient service from everywhere. Park City – home to Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort and the Utah Olympic Park – affords more than 400 miles of public trails offering year-round outdoor recreation.

Excellent travel planning assistance is provided by the Park City Chamber of Commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-453-1360, www.visitparkcity.com.

See also:

Park City Mountain, Utah: Biggest Ski Area in US is One of Easiest to Reach

Deer Valley, Utah is Skiers’ Only Paradise with Retro, Refined Vibe

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

 

Enchanting Candlelight Evening at Old Bethpage Village Restoration Transports Back Through Centuries

Father Christmas himself, in the parlor of the Layton House, during Old Bethpage Village Restoration’s Candlelight Evenings © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

For a brief moment, you are transported back in time. You leave the visitor center, walk down a path. The electric lights disappear. There is only firelight along the path into the village.

This is the Candlelight Evening at Old Bethpage Village Restoration,  where for only four special evenings (Dec. 15, 16, 17, and 18, 5-9:30 pm), you get to experience traditional music performances, crafts (like making Christmas ornaments as they did in 1841) and for an all-to-brief moment, feel you have been transported back in time to the 19th century.

Meeting Father Christmas himself, during Old Bethpage Village Restoration’s Candlelight Evenings © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I enter the Layton Store & House, owned by shopkeeper John M. Layton, dating from 1866 in East Norwich, where I come upon Father Christmas himself, reading “The Night Before Christmas.” The adults who visit are more tickled, it seems, than the young girl who looks at him with awe.

A spinning wheel and a loom, 17th century technology, in the 1660 part of the 19th century inventor Peter Cooper’s house, originally in Hempstead. Cooper was famous for inventing the steam locomotive, Tom Thumb © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk in the inventor Peter Cooper’s House, originally in Hempstead, where part of the house, an addition from 1815, is as the inventor would have had it, but the original section, which dates to about 1660, has interpreters from that time showing  how women would have used  a loom and a spinning wheel  (rendered obsolete with the Industrial Revolution).  Cooper, an industrialist, philanthropist, founder of Cooper Union, candidate for President and the inventor of the first American steam locomotive (the Tom Thumb). Her discussion is so intriguing, I am pressed to look up more about Peter Cooper’s inspiring biography.

In the Lawrence House (only newly opened as an exhibit), and I find Max Rowland and a collection of musical instruments: a 120-year-old German button accordion, and a similarly antique concertina upon which he plays gorgeous music as would have been heard in the 19th century.

Max Rowland performs on banjo, a 120-year old German button accordion and a concertina in the Lawrence House © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most wonderful thing about the candlelight evenings at Old Bethpage Village Restoration on Long Island, is yes, the sense of stepping back into time, into a peacefulness such as finding yourself in a Christmas card. But what I love best are the serendipitous moments when you engage the reenactors in conversation.

So Max Rowland tells us about the musical instruments – how they were invented five years apart, in two different countries, but, interestingly, are based on the same principle. And how clever the concertina is – so compact and light, yet capable of such rich sound, that it was immediately embraced by sailors. Rowland can testify to it: this particular concertina has crossed the sea three times with Rowland, who lives on a boat.

Making 19th century Christmas tree ornaments in the Lawrence House © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While Rowland plays music, in another part of this unusually large house, they are making Christmas ornaments such as would have been made in the mid-1800s, when Christmas first began to be celebrated in the United States. They would cut up Christmas cards and turn them into ornaments.

Music was so important to the people of the mid-19th century, the period which Old Bethpage reconstructs. When you think about it, people could only appreciate music live, in the moment.

This year at Old Bethpage, there is a lot more music than ever before.

“The Dancing Man” at District No. 6 School, c 1845, originally from Manhasset © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I come into the one-room District No. 6 School House, dating from 1845, which was originally in Manhasset, where a trio performs on original instruments, as it has year after year for the Candlelight Evenings. One of them has been presenting music here for the past 35 years, and notes that the most requested tune is called “The Grouchy Old Man and the Grumbling Old Woman,” which he good-humoredly performs, followed by another favorite, “The Dancing Man,” which his wife maneuvers a fascinating puppet-like toy to dance along.

Hot cider and cookies for sale at the Noon Inn © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Schenck House, though, I come upon the most unexpected encounters. Here, the Huntington Militia re-create a Colonial Christmas in the 17th century. The Schenck House dates from 1765, owned by a Dutch farmer. Here, our presenters speak in the style of the time, and celebrate Christmas of 1775.

I encounter Ambrose Everyman (actually….) who tells me about his friend, the farmer Schenck, a Dutchman. North Hempstead had split from Hempstead over the issue of whether to support “The Cause” or stay loyal to Mother England. North Hempstead, which had a substantial Dutch population, wanted to break with England, while Hempstead, which was populated mainly by English colonists, wanted to stay. Mr. Everyman was upset with the upstarts in Massachusetts who caused so much trouble, who dared to pretend to be Indians and toss tea into the sea. He called them cowards for hiding behind their disguise. He said he knew war – had fought in the French and Indian War – but was too old to fight again. If there was a break with England, he says,, his business of building and repairing houses, would be destroyed.

Music of a Colonial Christmas in the Schenck House, dating from 1765 originally in Manhasset, performed by members of the Huntington Militia, at Old Bethpage Village Restoration

But he cannot express his feelings: the local Committee is strictly enforcing its ban on English tea and though it had no force of law, someone who broke faith would be shamed in the Gazetteer as “an Enemy of American Liberty,” would no longer get business, and ultimately be forced out of the community. So he keeps his views to himself. Taxes? What difference does it make to pay taxes to England or taxes to the Congress, he said. And doesn’t England deserve to get repayment for the expense of fighting for the colonies. How would those who would break from England confront the greatest army on earth? Would they get aid from foreign powers like France, when France would want to take over the colonies for itself?

Such an interesting debate. But it is closing in on 9:30 pm, closing time for this visit into Long Island’s past.

Old Bethpage Village Restoration, 1303 Round Swamp Road (Exit 48 of the Long Island Expressway), 516-572-8401; Adults/$10, children 5-12/$7 (under 5 are free); and $7 for seniors and volunteer firefighters.

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

Favorite Places to Spend the Winter Holidays

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

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victorian Cape May Christmas 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chattanooga Choo Choo 

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

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

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

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

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

Grand, Glorious & Historic Hotels

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Historic Hotels of America favorites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey Dude!

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

Gift of Travel 

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

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

See also:

Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel

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