Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Museum Mile Festival in NYC, aka the Sport of Waiting In (I mean, On) Line!

June 10, 2015
New York, NY

The Met after dark
In NYC, summer is the season of festivals, and many of them are free for the taking.  Last night was the annual - and free - Museum Mile Festival, a block party of sorts that takes place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan right on 5th Avenue, covering the blocks where such famous museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim reside, in addition to several lesser known museums.  I had read somewhere that this is quite a popular festival, and being New Yorkers as we now are, we thought we had better go and check it out and be part of the fabric of NYC on a Tuesday evening.

For the festival, from 6 - 9 pm, 5th Avenue is blocked off to car traffic and apparently, people - adults and children alike - are encouraged to write and draw all over the street with sidewalk chalk that is handed out.  There was a live band playing in front of the Guggenheim and a clown doing a street performance of some kind was on hand.  But this was all in the background of the real attraction.  On this one night a year, the museums on this mile-long stretch of tony 5th Avenue open their doors to the public, completely free of charge!  

At about 7:30, we got off the subway at 86th St., just a few blocks from the Guggenheim, our initial target, and began to make our way towards 5th Ave.  Before long, we spied a line.  A very, very long line. A line to get into the Guggenheim. Sigh.  After walking around the block for at least 5 minutes, we eventually located the end of it and jumped on while we decided what to do.  The line went all the way around the block and ended very near the beginning of it, right in front of the famed Frank Lloyd Wright-designed museum.  

I was ready to call it a day.  I'm not much for crowds and had begun to seriously wonder what on earth I was thinking even showing up at such an event.  But Scott wanted to be a New Yorker and wait.  As a local friend so aptly pointed out on her blog recently, it's what New Yorkers do. We wait on line (not in line, mind you, like the rest of the country).  For everything and anything.  So we waited, moving slowly, but moving nonetheless.  It actually passed reasonable quickly and afforded great people watching.  We were especially amused by all the people who approached the line when we were already near the front of it and exclaimed at how crazy the line was.  If they only knew how long it really was!  Ha ha ha!  

We're almost to the front of the line!
After waiting for about 30 - 40 minutes, we reached the front of the line and after a cursory check of my small bag, hurrah, we were in!  The line continued as we entered the museum but dissipated quickly as museum-goers splintered off in different directions and began moving at varied paces.  

For some reason that we never ascertained, Pinocchio was face-down in the pool
By the time we were half way up the spiraled floors to the top, it was almost pleasant and we could view the exhibits at our leisure.  Before long, we had had our fill of the modern art and the crowds. (To be honest, I was probably more interested in the crowds than the art, or at least equally so.) 

As the night sky began to fall, we wandered down the street, along with the thinning crowds, right in the center of 5th Avenue (it was worth the trip just for the novelty of walking down the middle of a usually-busy NYC street!).  It was too late to get into any more museums and we stopped at one of the numerous halal carts that are always in front of the Met for a dinner of chicken kabob and Italian sausage. 

Outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Sitting on the edge of the fountain off to the side of the  grand, floodlit steps of the museum, eating our street food, we enjoyed the feeling of the still-warm night air on our skin and of being a part of this great, vibrant, sometimes-overwhelming city we now call home.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Upstate New York Roadtrip: Part 3 - the Catskills

May 26 - 31, 2015
Tannersville and surrounding areas, NY

Giant Ledge
After several busy days of sightseeing (and a lackluster shopping trip to the local outlet mall), based out of our characterless Hilton Garden Inn south of Poughkeepsie, it was time to relocate to the Catskills!  

First though, on our drive to the mountain lodge we booked in Tannersville, we stopped off in New Paltz to check out the Historic Huguenot Street, settled by Huguenots from France and Belgium who were fleeing religious persecution back in the late 1600s.  The street consists of a reconstructed Huguenot church, churchyard and seven very old stone houses, thought to have been constructed by the Huguenots in the early 18th century. Unfortunately, we missed the last tour of the day, but we also just missed a rain-shower and were happy to be able to stroll the historic churchyard and small village sans umbrellas.

One of the 18th century homes on Historic Huguenot Street
Excepting camping and vacation home rentals, there tends to be two types of accommodations in the Catskills: fussy (and very expensive) Victorian/antique-themed B&Bs and basic-bordering-on-rustic motels and/or cabins.  But in my extensive research, I came across a real gem of an inn. The Hotel Mountain Brook was styled as an updated mountain lodge. It consisted of a pair of shingled mountain cabin-style buildings and the Main Lodge was complimented by a gracious covered porch. 

Hotel Mountain Brook in Tannersville, NY
We booked a room in the East Lodge which was separate from the Main Lodge and had a small front deck with a rustic log railing, shared by 2 rooms. However, as there were few guests that early in the season the deck was basically private for us.  

Enjoying our private deck outside our room at the Hotel Mountain Brook
Our charming room had a birch bark-accented gas fireplace and birch log coat rack, in addition to antler accents (lamps and toilet paper holder) and (my favorite!) a moose-themed quilt with matching pillow shams.

Room #12 at the Hotel Mountain Brook - who doesn't love moose-themed bedding?!
The place had only been open for about two years so everything was in pristine condition.  It was mountain-y. It was modern.  It was perfect for us.  And we loved it!   

Like at most of the B&Bs and small inns in the area, a full, home-cooked breakfast was included in our (not insubstantial) room rate at the Mountain Brook.  On our first morning there, after enjoying a hearty (to say the least) breakfast of coffee cake to start followed by thick-cut bacon, eggs and home fried potatoes (for Caroline) and completely decadent slabs of French toast (for Scott), we set off to hike to Kaaterskill Falls.  Our chatty innkeeper, 
Terrence, who doubled as the chef and server, was most forthcoming with maps and information about the reaching the trailhead.  Kaaterskill Falls seems to be the most popular attraction in the region and indeed it played a role in our decision of where to base ourselves in the Catskills.

Kaaterskill Falls, during our visit at the end of a dry spell
Terrence mentioned that the trail sort of ends at one point and a sign indicates that people have fallen and died.  But, he assured us, he has done the trail with his small children and there is really nothing to worry about.

We found the trailhead with ease and enjoyed a lovely hike from the top to the bottom of the falls on a peaceful, wooded trail.

Mountain wildflowers on the Kaaterskills Falls trail
It had been very dry recently and so the falls were not exactly rushing but it was highly scenic all the same, with falls and pools at various levels.

The hike from the top of Kaaterskill Falls
At the bottom of the falls, after we'd had our fill of admiring the natural beauty before us, we began our ascent back to the parking lot.

Kaaterskill Falls
But wait. Just where is the trail anyway???  It simply disappeared.  Before long, we found ourselves climbing through increasingly thick brush. Up the side of a mountain.  This wasn't the way we came!  And it surely was no longer fun!  It was steep and it was scary!  We were lost.

The hike back up: um, I am pretty sure this is not the trail...
At the height of my "oh my God, where are we???" feeling of alarm, we ran into Ann and Bernard, a hearty, 70-something, British couple whom we had already encountered a couple of times at the Mountain Brook as well as at the waterfall.  They were lost as well.  Together, we attempted to orienteer our way back to the parking lot.  Eventually we found ourselves on the steep waterfall-side of the substantial  "trail ends, danger, keep out" log fence (oops!) and managed our way back to the car.

Oops! Somehow, we ended up on the wrong side of the "danger, keep out" fence...
Thank  goodness for Scott and Bernard, or Ann and I would still be out there, wandering and lost in the woods, as I type this!  Bottom line: 1) I can't believe Terrence took his small kids on this hike and 2) even though the lack of trail was highly challenging, overall it was a beautiful hike and well worth braving the trouble spots.

The extreme humidity in the air over the past few days was indication that the rain would come sooner or later and sure enough, the moisture-laden clouds finally burst in a big way shortly after our hike to the falls.  But just prior to the cloudburst we managed to make the short 'hike' to take in the view from the site of the former grand old Catskill Mountain House hotel.  Sadly it was a bust and definitely not worth the $10 entrance fee, as it was so hazy we could see very little of the Hudson River Valley below.  On the bright side, at least the rain waited for us to get back to the car.  In the torrential downpour, we returned to the hotel to enjoy our grocery store deli counter picnic on the covered porch at the Main Lodge while watching our innkeepers lay sod in the rain.

The following day, after pancakes and pork belly, we chose another hike slightly further from our hotel.  The trail guide book back at the lodge described it as moderate, but you are probably already guessing that that is not how I would describe it.  We climbed up a very steep hill covered with large rocks through the warm, humid woods.

Negotiating the unpleasantly steep Giant Ledge trail, looking suspiciously like the non-trail from yesterday's hike...
It was lovely but after yesterday's hike I wasn't really loving it.  The hike was called "Giant Ledge," so named for the series of lookout points at the top.  "Yeah, whatever," I grumpily thought to myself, as I huffed and puffed up the trail.  Well, after a grueling trek up the side of yet another mountain, we finally got to the top and walked a very short way off the trail to the first lookout ledge.  "Gasp!" Yes, I gasped, literally gasped, at what I saw before me.  Below me, the valley floor lay spread out for miles and miles, in various shades of lush green foliage and the sunlight was just right to be casting gorgeous shadows across the valley. It was truly breathtaking.  

The view from the first ledge at Giant Ledge is worth every step
After the treacherous hike back down the mountain, we passed the remainder of the afternoon simply driving the small country roads, admiring the verdant hills, valleys, creeks and road-side waterfalls that make the Catskills the idyllic place that it is.

On Friday morning, it was time to check out of the Hotel Mountain Brook.  At the start of our trip we just weren't sure how or where we would feel like passing the final weekend of our nine-day vacation, so we left it open, not making a hotel reservation anywhere.  Big mistake. We had decided we wanted to stay in a creek-side cabin and sit in Adirondack chairs admiring the lovely Esopus Creek (or similar) for the remainder of our time. Long story short, that did not happen.  Instead, we ended up at an expensive, yet lackluster, motel in front of a dried up creek with a plastic-lined pool in partly cloudy, humid and rainy weather.

Scott surveys the sad, dried up creek behind the Catskills Mountain Lodge
We did manage to salvage our final weekend with a relaxing kayak trip on the creek to the charming Saugerties Lighthouse and then to a waterfall.

The Saugerties Lighthouse actually is a little house!  And now B&B, if you want to stay out on a very windy point!
The grand finale of our trip was a romantic al fresco dinner overlooking said waterfall from the top rather than the bottom of it this time, while dining amidst the horsey set, still in their jodhpurs, and admiring the prom-goers enjoying a far swankier prom than any I ever had the pleasure of attending!  Sadly, we failed to take any photos of this beautiful evening.

All in all, it was a fun and rewarding trip, allowing us to get the lay of the land north of the city and giving us an idea of what we'd like to see on future ventures out of the city. The downfall of such an action packed trip, of course, is that it wasn't nearly as relaxing as we would have liked. We're thinking our next major trip will likely be more Caribbean in nature. 

More photos:
Strolling the historic Huguenot churchyard
The gravestones were too old and worn to read
Historic Huguenot church and graveyard
Stone houses on Historic Huguenot Street
The unique fireplace in Room #12 at Hotel Mountain Brook
Cozy Room #12 at Hotel Mountain Brook
Scott felt sorry for the poor creature whose antlers ended up as a toilet paper holder
Life is good at the Hotel Mountain Brook!
Tree-canopied trail at Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill Falls
Enjoying the view from the top of the falls
Kaaterskill Falls
The "trail" at Kaaterskill Falls dropped of precipitously in spots
The bottom of Kaaterskill Falls
The view of the bottom Kaaterskill Falls - also the view from the road
The winding mountain road that passes by - and over - Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill Falls
Double waterfalls at Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill Falls trail
At the bottom of the top falls at Kaaterskill Falls
The light was eerie - super bright - at the bottom of the top waterfall
A cyclist cooling off in the falls pool
Lost, but still looking good-natured about it all...
View of the top waterfall from the non-trail - finally not so lost anymore!
Relaxing before dinner in the Main Lodge at the Hotel Mountain Brook
Caroline loves her Lime in the Coconut cocktail at the recently opened Hunter Mountain Brewery
Just a few of the specialty cocktails on offer at Hunter Mountain Brewery
Scott admires his pulled pork sandwich at Hunter Mountain Brewery
After the rain - the deck at Hunter Mountain Brewery
The drive through the Catskills to the Giant Ledge trailhead
The challenging trail at Giant Ledge
Sun-dappled leaves on the Giant Ledge trail
Taking a rest and desperately trying to catch my breath, turned photo op 
The view form Giant Ledge
Light and shadows on Giant Ledge
Wildflowers on Giant Ledge
More wildflowers on the Giant Ledge trail
Million-dollar views at Giant Ledge
This carpet of twigs on the Giant Ledge Trail had a bit of a mosaic quality to it
Wishing for a moment that I had lugged the DSL-R up the side of a mountain to capture this gorgeous specimen.  But only for a moment...
In the bar at Peekamoose Restaurant, recommended to us by a foodie friend
The bread at Peekamoose was so good, we devoured two loves and just barely got this shot
The town library in Woodstock, NY
Woodstock is a charming little town and still retains a noticeable hippie vibe from the old days
Woodstock politics, loud and clear
Shopping for provisions at Big Lots! near Saugerties, NY
Easily the best feature at the Catskill Mountain Lodge
The no-glass, no alcohol rule at the Catskill Mountain Lodge pool required a little discretion...
Kayaking on the creek
We moored the kayak and walked down a sandy path to the lighthouse
The Saugerties Lighthouse also functions as a B&B, complete with artisan-designed picnicking tables and chairs
Taking a load off at the lighthouse before the kayak trip back
Unfortunately, it was a bit windy at the lighthouse to enjoy spending too much time there  
Away from the chop near the lighthouse, where the creek meets the Hudson River, it was an easy-going day on the water
We paddled by a pair of turtles on our way back to the dock

The painted cats of Catskill, NY