Clermont State Park, New York: When The Scenery Changes

The traffic of New York City is behind me now. The trees to each side are becoming increasingly taller; the sky is growing darker. We’re heading up to a friend’s house in a small town upstate called Germantown. He moved out of Queens and up there a few years ago with his girlfriend in an effort to find some peace and quiet away from the city but still within arm’s reach. As a working writer, my friend still comes to the city regularly for meetings and whatnot, but his main workspace is now situated on a farm surrounded by fields. The hazy blue outline of the Catskill Mountains sits at his yard’s horizon. I’m driving up to spend the weekend in his house with some mutual friends, my husband and my two dogs. My husband is going to go skiing for the first time this winter at a place called Catamount, which is just across the New York/Massachusetts border. I am probably not going to go skiing. My husband is much better at it than I am and I don’t want to hold him down, nor do I want to ski alone. Also, the idea of skiing without health insurance makes me a little bit nervous. I’ve only skied once and I don’t trust that my legs have enough muscle memory to take the falls that are aimed for my neck.

%Gallery-187733%When we finally make enough left turns off of the highway that we are winding our way down the country road that leads to my friend’s house, it’s already dark. I’m grateful when we arrive intact without having hit any deer on the way. Actually, I’ve never hit a deer before, but the threat always seems sharply present, perhaps because I grew up in the country. We let our dogs meet my friend’s well-trained and affectionate German Shepherd. They romp around in the dark of the night, rolling in the snow and chasing each other around the pond. Their shadowy silhouettes appear every now and then, assuring me that they’re still close. We dine, we drink, we converse and I finally crash on the living room floor. Suddenly, it’s morning and I’m still finishing my coffee when those who are skiing head off toward the slopes and we who remain reach a consensus: we should take the dogs to Clermont State Park.

The park is only a few miles away and, apparently, it is a good spot to let the dogs run off-leash – a luxury they don’t always get within the concrete bowels of New York City. The word “Clermont” comes from the French phrase, “clair montagne,” which can be translated as “clear mountain.” The park’s name was purportedly derived from this phrase and inspired by that same hazy blue view of the mountains in the distance. The Catskills stand erect just beyond the hills that are just beyond the Hudson River, all of which is viewable from the Clermont State Park entrance. The park was originally an estate belonging to Robert Livingston and it was established in during the first half of the 1700s. Robert Livingston was the son of the first Lord of Livingston Manor, Robert Livingston the Elder. Almost 50 years after the estate was established, Major General John Vaughan and his men raided the land and burned the Livingston home in 1777 because of the Livingston ties to and prominent role in the American Revolution. Over the next few years, the family home was rebuilt. New walls were built and new ideas were conceived. Robert’s eldest son, Robert Livingston Junior, was the most notable member of the family. Also known as “The Chancellor,” he is one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Now acting as a New York State Historic Site and a United States National Historic Landmark, Clermont State Park is a good place for hiking, walking, photographing, dog-entertaining and learning. Charred remains of a second house that was on the original property during the British raid still stand on the grounds as a reminder of the past while the main home on the estate is now kept in pristine condition; it’s a massive white house situated on the river’s edge and symbolic of the success of the Livingston family.

When we find ourselves fully immersed in the forest and don’t see any other people around, we unleash the dogs. One of my dogs is part Whippet and she bolts off after the release of her leash as if she had been training to race and the shotgun signaling the start just fired. She weaves her way in and out of the trees and up and down the hills, leaping over the creek and fallen, mossy trunks. It’s cold. We are all wearing the snow gear we would’ve worn had we decided to go skiing. The ground is covered with snow, slush and ice, but the hike is helping to keep us warm. Cold fresh air feels especially nice in my lungs, so I deeply inhale and follow that with a long exhale. The air is just air indeed, but somehow every primitive part of my body deems it to be cleaner and better than what I’m used to. This feels necessary.

The guys return from skiing shortly after we return from our hike. They are excited and have stories to share. One of my friends animatedly informs me that my husband took a fall that landed him in the trees. The physical evidence is right before me in his busted toe. On the other hand, our trek through the park has no gripping climax. Rather, it was smooth, meditative and yet transitional. Although we entered the park peacefully and exited the same way, something now seems different. Maybe it was just the endorphins mixed with the feeling of filling my lungs with that chilly Mountain-River air or maybe it was the reminder of the brave men and women who helped found this country. Whatever it was, I feel more prepared to face the week ahead of me than I have felt in months. We didn’t do anything extravagant, but I feel recharged. Winter’s desiccation now seems like a distant memory left behind with the arrival of my early spring. Nothing monumental took place, but I sense a new perspective blanketing my brain and informing my synapses as they fire. And really, that’s the core reason why so many of us travel in the first place: because when the scenery changes, so does our view.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Roadside America: Hudson Valley, New York

For many New Yorkers, it’s a fall rite of passage. Rent car. Book bed-n-breakfast. Drive somewhere with trees. Indulge in pastoral pleasures like hay rides, apple-picking, hiking, canoeing, etc. Return, wondering faintly if you should ditch city life to renovate a colonial home and take up beekeeping.

But often, planning a New York City getaway is a bit more complicated than that. First, there’s the cost of getting out of the city; a weekly car rental from Manhattan can often cost more than a flight to Europe. Then there’s figuring out where to go. The Adirondacks? The Catskills? Pennsylvania? Maine? And once you finally arrive at your destination, there’s the long process of disconnecting from city life. By the time you’re no longer checking your phone every half hour, it’s time to go home.

Thankfully, there is one getaway that is relatively easy to plan: a trip to the Hudson Valley, a region of upstate New York about two to three hours from Manhattan.The main town of Hudson is accessible either by car, which is more expensive but offers greater flexibility, or by Amtrak train. If you do decide to go with a car rental, try taking the PATH train from Manhattan to Hoboken, New Jersey. An Enterprise Rent-a-Car is walking distance from the train station, and rates are about 50 percent cheaper than in the city.

Accommodation-wise, Hudson is overflowing with charming bed-and-breakfasts. For cheaper accommodations with more privacy, try booking a homestay in a nearby town. I recently found a lovely two-bedroom townhouse in nearby Athens for just $125 per night, which is comparable to the cost for a single room in the region.

Apart from the stunning scenery, river views and fresh air, the town of Hudson offers a number of charming cafes, galleries, antiques shops and historic sights, which can easily be explored by foot. The food options are also top-notch. Head to Olde Hudson Specialty Food to peruse the selection of regional artisanal foodstuffs, like fresh eggs, cheeses and charcuterie. A few doors down, Hudson Wine Merchants offers a wide array of wines and liquors, including locally distilled whiskeys and spirits. The staff is familiar with the selection at Olde Hudson and can provide excellent pairing suggestions. Protip: the Hudson Red with the Chilean shiraz is pure bliss.

Cap off your artisanal picnic basket with a baguette from Café Le Perche, which also has an incredible French Roast coffee. And if you have a car, don’t miss a trip to Black Horse Farms in Athens, which sells fresh seasonal produce and gourmet grocery items from nearby producers.

Indulge carefully, though. You may never leave.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user eleephotographay]

Undiscovered New York: 10 unique NYC sights

It’s been exactly 10 months since our very first feature here at Undiscovered New York. Given the occasion, it’s the perfect time to look back at some of our “greatest hits.” When we first started the Undiscovered New York series, our intention was to provide an insider’s look at the hidden places, history and overlooked spots in this huge city, the very spots many visitors don’t have a chance to visit.

Along the way we’ve taken you through all five boroughs of the city, from the far reaches of The Bronx, to the the rich cultural tapestry of Queens, to the quiet waterways of Staten Island. We’ve revisited some familiar sights with a fresh look and discovered hidden gems begging for exploration.

If you ever wanted a chance to check out the “undiscovered” side of New York, this week you’re in luck. We’re counting down the top 10 unique New York City sights, reviewing our favorite unexplored and lesser-known Big Apple experiences. You may find spots you know and love and a plenty more you’ve never heard of. Ready to go exploring? Let’s take a look.

  • Number 10: Staten Island’s Snug Harbor – New York visitors need not go far from Manhattan to get a unexpected look at this huge city. In fact, just a 25 minute ferry ride away is Staten Island, home to Snug Harbor, a former complex for elderly sailors. In addition to some wildly beautiful harbor views this quirky compound has modern art and a botanic garden complete with its own hedge maze.
  • Number 9: Secret Eating + Drinking – A city the size of New York is bound to have some hidden spaces. In fact, as we discovered, it’s filled with Prohibition-style speakeasies, secret burger joints and unassuming taco spots ready for some clandestine enjoyment. Places secret enough, in fact, that we got a few people angry for giving away their hidden favorites. See what we uncovered.
  • Number 8: East Village + Japan – New York’s East Village is a neighborhood best known for St. Mark’s Place and the youthful rebellion of Punk. But in 2009, the East Village is less the home of mohawked-rockers than ground zero for some first rate Japanese food, shopping and culture. Find out how to experience Tokyo without ever leaving the Big Apple.
  • Number 7: Best NYC Pizza – New York is a pizza-lover’s dream. Nothing better embodies the city’s frantic energy and high culinary standards than the simple New York slice. We investigated some of the best slices from here to Brooklyn and Staten Island (and back again) to crown New York’s pizza champions. See who came out on top.
  • Number 6: Graffiti Culture & 5 Pointz – the 1970’s and 80’s presented New York with a unique confluence of events: as the city fell apart due to massive budget problems, a golden era of hip-hop and street art came of age. We investigated New York’s wild graffiti history, even pointing a spot in Queens where you can see some awesome street art on a massive scale.
  • Number 5: Bronx Little Italy – many New York City visitors know about Manhattan’s Little Italy. But not very many are familiar with Arthur Avenue, a second Little Italy in The Bronx, site for some of the city’s most authentic Italian meats, cheeses and pastries. Italian food lovers will want to check this little-known spot out.
  • Number 4: Staten Island Graveyards – Staten Island is frequently regarded as New York’s “forgotten” Borough, an island that provides a shocking variety of unexpected attractions and great food. We investigated the ghostly boat graveyards just off Staten Island’s coast and then stopped off to visit another more human burial ground dating back to the Revolutionary War.
  • Number 3: Hudson River Valley – there’s a lot more to New York than its bustling metropolis. In fact, just north of the city that never sleeps lies one of the United States’ hidden treasures: the Hudson River Valley. Along the shores of this majestic waterway lie stunning views, contemporary art and regal Presidential mansions.
  • Number 2: Corona Park, Queens – Corona Park, located just South of Citi Field and LaGuardia Airport is quite possibly New York’s most outrageous hidden attraction, albeit one hidden in plain sight. Site of not one but two World’s Fair, Corona Park boast huge deserted stadiums, a 140-foot-tall globe, the temporary home of the United Nations and some of the best Lemon Ice ever.
  • Number 1: 7 Train to Latin America – New York is home to a huge range of immigrants, representing every corner of the globe. Nowhere is this more true than in Queens, a Borough home to a wildly diverse range of cultures, foods and attractions. Along Roosevelt Avenue you’ll find a rich mixture of authentic culture from around South and Central America boasting Mexican taco stands, Cuban food, Ecuadorean street carts and Argentine bakeries. It’s the equivalent of backpacking south of the border for 3 months, all less than an hour from Manhattan by subway.

Undiscovered New York – Going Dutch

2009 marks the 400th anniversary of New York’s “discovery” by a Dutch expedition led by explorer Henry Hudson. Way back in 1609, Hudson (who was actually British) and a small crew of Dutch sailors steered their vessel through the small gap between Staten Island and Long Island and into New York Harbor.

Before them laid a vast wilderness, thick with old-growth forests and teeming with wildlife like beaver, oysters and bears – just the spot to found a new colony that would come to be known as New Amsterdam. From 1625 until 1674, when the colony was turned over to the English, the Dutch ruled over the harbor and islands that would one day become the great city of New York.

More than 400 years later, little evidence of this once thriving Dutch presence remains. You would expect at least a few windmills or some tulips, right? Yet if you know where to look, the signs of New York’s historic Dutch presence are all around you. Whether you’re hanging out at the swanky Gansevoort Hotel, meeting up with a friend near Stuyvesant Town, or dunking a doughnut in your morning coffee, Dutch influence on American history is stronger than you might expect.

Ever wanted to discover the secrets of New York’s surprisingly rich Dutch history? And what about visiting The Netherlands today? We’ll get a “taste of Amsterdam” without ever leaving New York City. This week at Undiscovered New York, we’re going Dutch. Click below to see why.
The New Amsterdam Trail

Just in time for the 400th Anniversary of Hudson’s famous voyage, The National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy has released a self-guided walking tour documenting the history of Dutch New Amsterdam. Using a free map and downloaded audio, visitors can experience the legacy of personalities and places that define New York’s Dutch legacy.

Starting at Battery Park, visitors make their way north stopping to learn about the (in)famous Dutch purchase of Manhattan from the Native Americans, Dutch architecture and the defensive fortifications that gave Wall Street its name. Starting this July, a guided tour will also be led by National Park Rangers.

Dutch Food
Though it may seem that Dutch influence over New York vanished in the 17th Century, it remains very much alive in New York to this day. This is particularly true of our favorite foods like cookies and doughnuts, which are strongly influenced by the cooking techniques of early Dutch settlers. If you’re looking to get taste of contemporary Dutch cuisine, check out Manhattan’s Danku restaurant. The eatery serves a variety of Dutch specialties including Kroket pastries as well a variety of specialties like Nasi Goreng from Indonesia, another former Dutch colony. For a slightly more authentic taste of Netherlands-style Indonesian cuisine, check out Java Indonesian Rijsttafel in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.

Dutch Arts & Culture

Not only can you take a tour of Dutch History in New York, you can also experience it firsthand through the city’s wide range of Dutch-themed art exhibits, events and cultural celebrations. Art lovers in particular have a wealth of options. The Museum of the City of New York is offering a range of Dutch exhibitions this summer, including a show of contemporary Dutch photography and a closer look at the life of explorer Henry Hudson. Visitors hungry for more Dutch art should head to The Met to check out their vast collections of European Paintings including those by Dutch experts like Van Gogh and Vermeer.

Dutch culture doesn’t stop at New York City – further upstate in New York is Kingston, among the earliest Dutch settlements in the state. The city is celebrating this year’s 400th Anniversary with a range of activities, including expert lectures on Dutch gardening and displays of historic Dutch weapons. If you need further motivation to head upstate, check out Undiscovered New York’s tour of the Hudson River Valley from last year.

Literary Hudson Valley

When I took a sweet, long drive up the Hudson River
valley last fall, I remarked to my wife how deep the literary history of the place seemed to be. From Washington Irving
to Gore Vidal and Edna St. Vincent Millay, the voices of some of our great literary heroes still echo in the woods and
over the cold tombstones of this well-known, but not oft celebrated region. So it was nice to see the Sunday Times of London takes a look at the
Hudson River Valley and to do so with a decidedly literary bent. We
experience the valley through a woman named Sarah Anderson, who ran the Travel Bookshop in west London for 25 years.
From the favorite haunts of literary heroes to bookstores that remind you why people used to shop for books off-line,
the article here is a nice little dose of history and art.