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]

How To Pack For Mountain Hiking

New York politician tangles with reporter at Sagamore Hotel upstate


You never know what you’re going to find when you’re on the road. I’ve spent seemingly countless nights in hotels and have run into some strange situations. One thing I haven’t seen, though, is a fight break out between politicians and the media. Well, this is exactly what happened at the Sagamore Hotel, on Lake George in upstate New York.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to head up to Lake George, New York and check out the newly renovated Sagamore Hotel, so I took a closer look at the local news this morning when I heard it mentioned. It turns out the upscale property was the site of a spat between controversial Republican New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino and NY Post reporter Fred Dicker.

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According to Fox 5 New York, Dicker asked Paladino about “evidence he had that his rival, Andrew Cuomo, had cheated on his then-wife, Kerry Kennedy, years ago.” Meanwhile, Paladino “accused Dicker of sending a photographer to take pictures of his 10-year-old daughter, whom he fathered during an affair .”

Salacious stuff for Lake George! Check out our past coverage of the Sagamore Hotel.

Adirondack escape updated, ready for guests

When summer arrives, New Yorkers tend to turn to the Hamptons or the Jersey shore – depending on tax bracket. Many forget that the Adirondacks are only a few hours away. When reminded of this, the usual response involves “family destination” … and maybe a sneer. It also involves a mistake. While this corner of “upstate” remains family-friendly, there are plenty of upscale accommodations and experiences, without the traffic and travel headaches that New Yorkers find to the east and south.

The Sagamore Hotel is in the midst of a $20 million renovation, a rarity in today’s constrained market. But, the benefits of this investment are evident upon arrival. Much of the property has been redesigned rebuilt to reinforce the luxury experience. The on-property spa has 13 treatment rooms, obviating the need to wait, and the indoor pool makes it possible to take a dip even in the meanest of northern New York winters.

While the regular guestrooms are perfectly serviceable, drop the extra cash, if possible, to upgrade to a suite. Spacious doesn’t begin to describe … the bathroom. The elbow room available in the living room and bedroom is even more profound. Even for an intimate getaway, you don’t want to be crammed together – that’s a choice you’d prefer to make on your own! The bed is the star of the guestroom experience. Again, the king-sized scale makes close quarters a choice rather than a necessity, and the mattress is soft without swallowing you. In fact, it’s probably the best “compromise” bed available. Both my wife and I were happy, and I prefer to sleep on a board, while she feels that beds should be comfortable.

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As you wander The Sagamore Hotel, you get the feeling that something is somehow different. But, it’s hard to put your finger on it. The menu is carefully crafted, and the guestrooms are large and inviting. The lobby is spacious with natural pockets for larger groups to sit and have a sense of being separated from others. While this is all advantageous, it’s similar to what you’d find in any ex-urban resort. The Sagamore succeeds, however, in making it all hang together. It just fits. The mystery behind this connectedness can be traced to the general manager.

Tom Guay, who runs the Sagamore, was previously the property’s executive chef. It’s a strange route to GM – which I was unafraid to tell him. Usually, the top dog comes out of the sales department. Chefs are crazy people that you hide from the guests for most of the day, only occasionally letting them appear tableside for brief periods of time. Then, they return to the familiar insanity of a busy kitchen. Guay did get a chuckle out of my reaction (and handled it well). Apparently, the number of chefs rising to the top is increasing, and he credits the ability to multitask under hectic conditions as the driver. The attention to detail for which successful chefs are famous, I realized, is what brings the Sagamore together.

The sense of cohesion extends beyond the core property to the “lodges,” which physically constitute a property-within-a-property at the Sagamore. This part of the resort is more economical, ensuring that the traditional Adirondack constituency – families on a budget – can continue to enjoy the quiet natural surroundings. The large guestrooms in this corner of the Sagamore come with living rooms that have pullout beds in the couches and in-suite kitchenettes.

Jeopardizing the continuity of the Sagamore is the fact that there is still plenty of construction across the property: the $20 million is still being spent. The outdoor pools are being built, and guestrooms are in their final stages. A new rooftop deck is underway. While some guests may find these efforts to be a bit of an eyesore, consider the works in progress to be similar to the last multi-course meal you ate. Did the entrée suck because it was being cooked while you ate your soup? Of course not. The ongoing construction only impedes the guest experience if you choose to let it. I sat outside both nights I was on property and worked (wireless internet access is available in the rooms and in outside seating areas) and had no problems at all.

If you’re looking for a quick dash out from New York City or Boston, the Sagamore is a great alternative. It’s about the same distance from both cities, and you won’t have to deal with the crowds that plague the Hamptons and Cape Cod. Get in early, and stake your space while the renovations are being finished: the crowds are already starting to pour in!

Disclosure: The Sagamore Hotel picked up the tab for this jaunt, but the observations are all mine!

Band on the Run: Rockin’ Out in Buffalo’s Allentown

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life.

We drove over the border yesterday to a sunny early evening in Allentown, a Buffalo neighbourhood that was the location of our gig last night – a bar called “Nietzsche’s.”


Allentown
is cool. It’s got the vibe of a community of artists, preservationists, historians, antique-lovers, and good chefs. The latter was easy to peg via the smells of incredible cooking coming from several local restaurants and taunting our hungry selves when we really needed to be unloading equipment and setting up for sound check.

This district of Buffalo is one that we’ve been in many times. I always feel comfortable here. It’s an area of the city that borders the downtown and seems to embrace diversity. There are rainbow flags and biker bars, gourmet restaurants and late-night snack stands, funky modern galleries flanked by dusty bookstores.

One of the bookstores also sold music and had displays of their used cds and cassettes in old-fashioned kids’ wagons out on the sidewalk. Love it!

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Historically, I learned last night that Allentown was named after the original settler to this land, Louis Allen, who bought the land in 1822 (around 29 acres) and used it to farm cattle. It is said that this very street, Allen Street, was his original cow path for transferring his herds from one edge of his property to the other. In 1832, he sold his land to the encroaching city and it was developed into both residential and commercial structures. Now, the Allentown region stretches 36 blocks or a half a mile squared.

After the gear was hauled in (thanks to some friends and Kenny, the resident and helpful sound guy), I stood on the street and just looked left and right to take it all in. I imagined a bunch of cows in place of the pedestrians and cars. I wondered how they’d react now to the pavement, the bright colours, the sounds of a nightlife hub starting to come alive in the early evening. Maybe they’d just graze the leaves of low-hanging trees and ignore us all. Maybe they’d leave their paddies expertly deposited on the sidewalks in disgust and wander away to greener parklands.

I wandered a block or so to truly appreciate the paint job on the local bar called “Boddington’s.” (At least, I think this is the name of it, although I know that’s also the name for a beer. Does anyone know?) It’s painted purple and decked out in rising flames as though it were a motorcycle or hot rod. They’re beautifully painted – must have taken forever! – and the neon beer signs in the windows were like the feather in the artist’s cap.

When I came back in a few minutes later, the gear was already half set up and I had to hustle to catch up to everyone. I unpacked my guitars and pedals plugging everything in while simultaneously chatting with Kenny about his last six months or so since we’ve been there last. He asked me about China and I asked him about some good artists he’d mixed lately.

It’s always nice to come to a place and actually know the people there. I always feel welcomed at Nietzsche’s.

This venue is definitely a rock room. The old wooden stage and banisters have the faint stench of stale beer and cigarettes (although it’s now non-smoking in there.) Maybe its name has inspired proliferation, but the bathrooms are home to so much graffiti that it takes a long time to pee, I find. I can’t help but read peoples’ philosophical outpourings. (It’s all well-placed, I’d say!) There are also great installations of paper mache artwork hanging in the room from the ceiling and a wonderful busted and slightly crooked ceiling fan that hangs right in front of the stage. I always laugh inwardly at the notion that at least there will be one fan, crooked or not, that will be in front of the stage when we play.

Kenny also has a collection of small tinker toys and dinky cars that are permanently stationed at his soundboard. I asked him if he ever finds some have disappeared after the shows he has in there. They’re fairly visible and my pessimistic self figured there’d be some drunken theft here and there. He said, “Yeah, of course. But, they all just appeared anyway so it doesn’t really make a difference.” I smiled at that idea. I liked the image of these little toys just coming and going as they were meant to, not permanently attached to his sound board or to the decorative role they are temporarily playing. Sort of like a toy liberation movement. People as pawns.

After the show, we hung out for a while in the parking lot with friends before pulling away from Allen Street and staying just a few blocks away, still in Allentown. We rarely stay over in Buffalo since it’s often just a one-off show that enables us to return to friend’s places in Toronto after we play, but the tour rolls on today into more U.S. cities.

I woke up this morning having dreamed about cows and toys taking over the city when the people have all disappeared. Buildings crumbled, trees growing out from broken windows and grass taking back the asphalt.

I guess we’ll never know.

Until that day, Allentown‘s worth a visit. In fact, a spontaneous night out to Nietzsche’s will probably introduce you to a great band you’ve never heard of. They have music every night and sometimes even a late and an early show.

When was the last time you did that?
Ignore the listings. Just take a stab.

Arrive.
Order a drink.

See what happens.