I decided to take the long weekend from finishing East Harlem (that took about two weeks to finish on various days through some spooky territory) and head up to Ithaca, NY for our summer Alumni Reunion for Cornell University, Class of 2004 and 2010 PDP.
I decided before I left that I was going to take the long route and explore New York State. There were a few towns along the way I wanted to explore and a few restaurants that I wanted to try that I had read about in travel magazines. Who knew it would take four hours to get to my eventually destination of Bovina Center, where I would be spending my first night.
I unfortunately started the day late by cutting the lawn and helping a friend with a problem she was having and did not get on the road until 3:00pm. Even though it was a long trip up to Narrowsburg, it was a beautiful one that almost competed with the trip to Hana when I was on Maui years ago. It was a beautiful sunny day when I started the first part of this trip to Narrowsburg, NY to visit the Heron Restaurant and The Nest Hotel, two places that had been recommended on a tour guide of the area.
The first part of my day was exploring Sussex County, NJ and driving up Route 23, a highway I had not traveled since the 70’s when I went to visit Sterling Forest with my parents. Route 23 take you though towns that time forgot. These small little towns that have a unique character to them, with their home town stores and buildings from the turn of the last century. I was not able to spend much time in these towns but it will be fun to explore in the future.
The town of Sussex had a beautiful downtown with large grand hotel in its downtown that I want to revisit. It is such a elaborate building and impressive brunch menu. Plus I want to look around the downtown more. There were some interesting businesses and beautiful architecture to admire.
Leaving the town of Sussex, I traveled to the corner of the state to the highest peak in the State of New Jersey in the mountains of Stokes Forest, where the peak sits at 1803 feet above sea level and quite a view from the top. The roads twist and turn once you leave Colesville, NJ and make sure you buy gas before you leave Sussex because the gas gets more expensive once you get to the New York border.
I crossed Route 84 into New York State and the City of Port Jervis where there is not much to see and then started my trip up Route 97 to my first stop, Narrowsburg. I have taken many scenic trips before but this is an amazing and breathtaking view of both the Delaware River and the surrounding mountains.
Route 97 in this part of New York State hugs the Delaware River as it winds up the border of the state. For most of the trip up, I tried to take my time with an occasional car honking at me to get going. It is a road that you want to take your time to enjoy and look at the mountains as they pass by and the river below. On the way up you are on the mountain side of the road and the view down can be scary. Almost like the trip to Hana on the island of Maui, where you hug the mountain on the way there and then panic and drive slow with the guard rail next to you on the way back. Still it is a spectacular view on the way up.
Rolling hills, high mountains covered forest in full form and deep valleys where you can look down and see the river below. It was the beginning of the summer and everything was in full bloom. With the sun washed against it, it is the backdrop for a postcard. I was able to slow down and admire the river below. If you are traveling up Route 97, take your time but plan accordingly because it takes a lot longer than the map will lead you to believe. It took two and a half hours to get to Narrowsburg.
Narrowsburg, NY has become a refuge for people escaping the high costs of Brooklyn and other parts of the NYC. How residents of Brooklyn found this tiny town tucked up in the mountains on the banks of the Delaware River, I have no clue but it is becoming a trend in small towns along the Hudson River from Beacon to Hudson. These small towns are attracting artists, chefs, boutique owners, movie makers and bed & breakfast owners who are fixing up old homes and reclaiming downtowns upstate with new businesses catering to people in the city.
Narrowsburg was starting the evolve again but had businesses that still catered to locals with small drug stores, shops and a very nice post office. Here and there the town was starting to change. I had read online that little sleepy town was at the narrowest and deepest part of the Delaware River thus the name Narrowsburg created in 1840. The town was a sleepy hamlet where lumber and the local stone quarry were the main industries and in later years an escape to small room houses and bungalows for people from New York City escaping the heat. In its location on the river, it must have been a transport hub for New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania being so close to the crossroads for all three states.
By the time I got there at 5:30pm, most of the stores had closed for the night. The town has its usual drug stores and small restaurants but look closer and you will see the traces of Brooklyn that I kept reading about. You can walk the downtown in about a half hour but really look at the views. In the middle of the downtown, there is a gap between the store fronts and you have a little park that looks over the river and it is picturesque. What a beautiful view of the river valley below and the mountains in the background. I can see what inspires the artists to move up here. It reminded me of Woodstock with its boutique shops and small art galleries.
Two businesses that I had wanted to visit were the Nest Hotel, a small boutique hotel I want to visit and the Heron Restaurant, which was getting rave reviews online on all the review sites. Both of the them are what I was expecting. The Heron, a farm to table concept with local purveyors, has a simple and interesting menu. The brunch menu was being featured when I visited and the small dining room is well designed. Because of time and a reservation in Bovina Center, I skipped this and kept walking. I visited the Nest, a small local hotel and got to see the small store attached. It is supposed to be well-appointed and service excellent. For another time.
I got to pass most of the small boutiques and art galleries and then walked around the corner to see a very busy Chinese restaurant in full swing and a local theater closing for the evening. The area was surrounded by beautiful woods and streams. You can visit the whole town in about an hour but this is a place to relax and reflect and the 45 minutes I spent here just wasn’t enough.
I left Narrowsburg and continued on my journey up Route 97 to the connection to Route 17, which I had travelled up years earlier to my interview in Ithaca for graduate school. I travelled up Route 17, a sleepy highway that was once the main through fare for this part of the state until Route 81 was built. Then I got off at local Route 30, which is a winding road through the mountains. Having a 7:30pm reservation, I did not have much time to really look as I drove past small towns and through wooded areas. I had passed most of these towns during the holidays on my trip to Woodstock when I explored the area.
The beauty of Route 30 is the winding road through the small towns with views of the mountains and through the valley gaps. Passing the Pepacton Reservoir is a gorgeous site, with its small islands full of trees, wooded hills and the bridge you have to cross and the views of the lake. With the sun being in the perfect position, the a spectacular gleam on the lake and if you have time, stop at one of the rest stops along the way and really look at it. Its quite a view.
Somehow I got lost in the turnoff on Route 28 on the way to Andes, a small growing artist town on the way to Bovina Center. I had to double back up Route 28, remembering most of these farms six months earlier when driving through on Christmas Day. Bovina Center is located on sleepy Country Route 6, on a turnoff that is easy to miss. I got to the Brushland Eating House 1927 Country Road 6, Bovina Center, NY, (See TripAdvisor reviews) my destination at 7:30pm on the dot.
The Brushland Eating House had opened the same time as my first trip to Woodstock , NY at Christmas of 2014 and had been on my ‘bucket list’ since to visit after reading an article on it in Hudson River magazine. The accommodations were supposed to be wonderful and the food in the restaurants rated excellent by all reviews I had read online. The overnight stay exceeded my expectations. I have never decompressed like this before.
I arrived in Bovina Center three and half hours later than I expected and one of my hosts, Sara, could not have been more gracious. She could tell I was tired and asked if I wanted to check in first and then come down for dinner in the restaurant. I took her up on that. I just wanted to settled in a bit. Thank God that the restaurant was rather quiet that night.
I can not say enough good things about the Brushland Eating House. My ‘room’ was a two floor loft that was decorated with local art work and vintage décor like a record player, board games and locally made art and furniture. It looked like a loft in a major city in some trendy neighborhood. The room could have entertained 6 people sleeping there and no one would have gotten in each others way. The first floor had a large living room/dining room, a nice size kitchen over looking the yard and a bedroom overlooking the hills, valleys and a farm behind downtown Bovina Center.
The second floor had another bathroom, a second bedroom with the same but larger view of the surrounding community and a large dressing area. The beds had brand new mattresses with a soft comforter. I just sank in for a bit and then unpacked. I went to dinner around 8:00pm. That was a treat.
The Brushland Eating House Restaurant is on the ground level of the building and had gotten excellent review both online and in local magazines. The restaurant’s décor used the plan of the old post office, which this one served the community as in the past and local artisans built the bar and added to the shelving. The restaurant is painted in deep colors and has a rustic feel to it.
The menu items are locally sourced ingredients from the surrounding farms and it shows in the limited menu that Chef Sohail prepares each night. I liked their use of New York State wines on the menu and enjoyed them with the meal. The meal was incredible (See TripAdvisor & Airbnb). Not being to stop for any lunch because of the time it took to go to Narrowsburg, I ate a full meal. I started with the mixed greens salad that had a light dressing, the pork schnitzel and the olive oil cake that was covered with a powered sugar icing. Everything was excellent. The greens were so fresh I swear that they were just picked, the pork schnitzel was pounded thin and fried to perfection and the meat had so much flavor and the olive oil cake was a real treat. I had never had it before. It had a savory/sweetness to it with the thick icing and studded with fresh blackberries.
The New York State wines really were good. They had a nice body and flavor and worked well with the meal. The service was flawless. The waiter and I got along famously and she told me her stories about commuting into the city. We laughed at each others stories. It was also such a nicely paced meal as the restaurant was half full for a Thursday night. After the meal, I talked with my hosts Sohail and Sara for a bit before they started to clean up. If there was ever an ideal business that I would want to own and operate, this would be the one. I can tell by the outside that the place still needs a lot of work but they really know what they are doing and could not have been more gracious hosts.
After dinner, I walked around the small downtown that is Bovina Center. It is literally in the middle of nowhere and that’s what I liked about it. You could see the stars and since there was not much in the way of street lights, you could hear the babbling brook in the darkness.
The room was so quiet and relaxing that I wished I could have stayed longer. I slept like a log and it was fun in the morning to just sleep in and relax. There was no TV in the room and I just read and wrote in my journals and books that whole morning. I was inspired by all the quiet. It was also nice to just look out the window on a misty morning and look at the rolling hills and farms that lay before me. It is such a rural environment but I found out later on as I walked down the street to Russell’s General Store, a lot of people here are transplants from other places.
Russell’s General Store, 1962 Country Road 6, Bovina Center, is a step back in time to when the pace was slower and everyone knows everyone. I met with Bea, the owner, who ironically is from Los Angeles near where my brother lives, and she could not have been nicer. She greeted me so warmly I thought she was a long lost friend. She knew everyone who walked in the door, greeted them by name and even let them go around the counter to get coffee. It was fun watching her deal with her vendors. The bread guy walked in with his daily order and put it onto a old fashioned scale.
I had read online about her breakfast sandwich and it is mind blowing (See review on TripAdvisor). She cooks either homemade bacon or pork sausage out, cracks two organic fresh eggs and fries them out and puts fresh homemade cheddar on a freshly baked Chibata roll. The pork sausage is freshly made too and perfectly spiced. When you bite into it, all the flavors combine and it is a gooey and delicious mess. I had not had a breakfast sandwich this good since I ate at Miss Lucy’s Restaurant in Saugerties, NY three years earlier.
Not only was the breakfast sandwich excellent but for dessert (yes, dessert) I had a piece of locally baked apple pie with fresh whipped cream. The combination of fresh apples with fresh farm honey in it will take you away Bea explained that she had a woman locally who owns a farm that she makes the pies on the side. Do not miss this! I never thought anyone could compete with my mom in pie baking but this woman is neck and neck. The whole meal was enjoyable. It was fun to look at all the knick-knacks along the shelves and the penny candy and other items from stands I used to visit in the 70’s.
I walked back to the loft and just collapsed for the next three hours until I had to check out and then said my goodbyes to Sohail. He was walking with his dog in the back of the building in a garden he had planted. I told him how lucky he was to have nice business like his that he and Sara could build on so close to the city but far enough away to enjoy a good quality of life. He looked happy.
I left Bovina Center and drove down Route 28 to Andes to check out the town and work off breakfast and lunch. I ended up staying for over three and a half hours and having lunch here. Andes, like Bovina Center, Narrowsburg and many small towns in this part of upstate New York are being settled by people from NYC and they are waking up these sleepy towns with new businesses, art galleries, cottage food businesses, antique shops and fixing up Victorian homes and added life to towns that even ten years ago were dying out.
I walked along the main street a couple of times, wandering through shops and galleries, talking to all the owners and looking at their wares. No wonder why so many of them come to the farmers markets in the city. There is so much wonderful pottery items and food stuffs that people would love to buy in the city. There was a pottery store where the dishes were reasonable and very nicely made. I loved the small parks and the stream that ran through the town. I liked the slow pace of the town and the beautiful views of the woods and old houses. The place is out of a postcard.
I had a quick lunch as I knew it would take about three hours to get to Cortland, where I would be staying for the night. I had lunch at Two Old Tarts, 22 Lee Lane, Andes, NY. The food and service are excellent. Its a beautiful, airy restaurant that was once upon a time the restaurant that now is the Brushland Eating House, so that was a good sign. I ordered a grilled cheese, which was cooked with fresh cheddar, green apples, tomato on a sour dough bread. The flavors combined well and the sandwich just worked. Their mac salad is one of the best I have ever eaten at a restaurant and everything was a nice sized portion. The couple who run it are really nice and the service is friendly.
Andes is a nice little town to just walk around and relax and enjoy the experience of a small artsy town. It is a nice day trip when you are in the area. It kind of reminds me of Phoenicia outside of Woodstock, just a nice town for a afternoon trip.
After I left Andes, it was off to Cortland for the Alumni reunion. I always stay in Cortland because its fifteen miles from Ithaca and the fact that Ithaca charges double for their hotels for alumni events. The trip up there was anything but fun.
Do you ever think to yourself when you travel, ‘but it looked so much closer on the map’. That’s what I experienced when I travelled from Andes to Cortland. It just looked so much closer on the map. That and there was a major accident on Route 17 North.
Half way up Route 17, we hit a major traffic jam and we backed up for almost a half an hour. Most of the cars were rerouted up the local Route 7 to Interstate 88, which would take us to Binghamton. I followed up the longer Route 8 and passed a series of farms on the way up.
I stopped at Penguin Ice Cream, a small local dairy stand for a cone. I had the most unusual tasting Peach Ice Cream and it was soft serve which is unusual for this flavor. Its a nice stop with friendly service but not the greatest ice cream I have ever tasted. It took about another 45 minutes to Interstate 88 and then reaching Interstate 81 another 45 minutes to get to the exit for the Route 81 turnoff. Once on that, up I went to Cortland.
Cortland , New York I have written about in the past. I have stayed here a lot in the last few years. First for my uncle’s memorial service, then the Homecoming game last year against Yale. It just makes it easier. I checked into the Cortland Quality Inn, , 188 Clinton Avenue and then headed over to the cemetery to pay my respects to my uncle and my cousin who are interned there. It is a very pretty cemetery and they are buried in an area that overlooks the campus of SUNY Cortland, where my uncle worked years earlier.
It was a quiet afternoon and I was able to spend some time there and pay my respects. That has been hard but the purpose of this project is to pay my respects to my dad as well. That had been a rough summer for all of us losing my uncle, my father’s older brother, six months after my dad passed away.
The rest of the evening I spent walking around the downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. You could tell by the many Victorian homes off the downtown this must have once been a very wealthy area. It really is a pretty city when you walk around. The downtown has some good restaurants and the older buildings in any other town closer to the city would be lofts and artist studios. There is so much more that can be done in this city. I was still so stuffed from lunch that I went back to the hotel to relax.
The next day it was off to Ithaca for the Alumni Reunion. The breakfast at the hotel could have used some work. The eggs tasted like plastic. It did not make much of a difference as we would be having brunch at the hotel school later that morning.
It is a quick trip to Ithaca from Cortland and a very scenic one as well as you pass all the farms and mountains covered with forest on the way between the two cities. Along the way down Route 13 you pass many depressed towns and villages reminding you that the economy is not so great up here. You can see it in downtown Cortland where if it were not for the college, the town would be in serious trouble.
All of this does not matter once you get to Ithaca and reach the Cornell University campus. Cornell has one of the most beautiful campuses in the country rivaling the Michigan State University campus by the Red Cedar River. Both are just so beautifully laid out but what makes Cornell so beautiful is all the gorges, lakes and rivers that flow through campus. Driving into the southern part of the campus, old campus, is breath taking especially when you look over the bluff into the city where you have a view below of Ithaca and Lake Cayuga. In the summer when everything is in bloom, there is no view like it. It is one of the most popular places on campus to take family pictures.
First off, the campus was loaded with Alumni for Alumni Weekend. Most of the students had gone home for the summer and the Summer Programs had not started yet so the campus was pretty much ours. When I got to Statler Hall, the home of the School Of Hotel Management, where I am an Alumni, the place was mobbed.
The crazy part was that all the schools that ended in year seven were celebrating their reunions and I sat with a group of women from the Class of ’87. It really dawned on me that if I had gone there as an undergraduate instead of going to Michigan State University, these would have been my classmates. As a matter of fact, the two tables that surrounded us were Class of ’87. It really made me think of fate and what we choose in life (me, Class of ’04 and ’10).
Our breakfast was amazing but then anything the Hotel School does with food is amazing. We had a beautiful spread outside the main ballroom of the Statler Hotel and this was a breakfast that made the Quality Inn look like Burger King. We had from soup to nuts with pancakes, stuffed blinzes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, fresh fruit and pastries all so nicely displayed.
The topic our dean is always talking about is the merger with two other schools to form the new Johnson Business School which everyone of the Alumni are against. Everyone feels it will only benefit the other schools and weaken ours as we have most of the support and money coming in. Plus we have the strongest Alumni on and off campus. Everyone just grinned and bared through it. At least breakfast was nice.
We then took a tour of the building which had been renovated even since I went there and I left in 2010. It makes me feel proud of all the money that is poured into the college and how modern it all is and up to date. It reminds me of all the money being invested in the Culinary Institute of America when I go up there (also Alumni Class of ’98).
All the lecture halls and the library have all been renovated and update with all the latest equipment and the lucky part now is that Cornell has an agreement with the Culinary Institute that you can finish a two year at CIA and then finish with a BS at Cornell. That would have been nice when I was attending both schools. I could have saved some money. Even so our cooking labs are still impressive.
The school was meeting up with the other business colleges later that afternoon for a cocktail party, so it gave me a chance to walk the campus and surrounding areas. Even though the campus was busy, I thought it would be busier but I figured the other colleges would have their own events.
The Student Bookstore was mobbed with Alumni buying everything was not nailed down. I have not seen anything so busy since I went to MSU’s Bookstore after a game. You would never know that we were in the middle of a recession with the way people were buying. I have so much stuff from Homecoming Weekend that I did not need more.
I went off to explore the campus. College Town is always a place of extremes. A lot of the restaurants that I remembered when I was there have now closed. Collegetown Bagels is always mobbed and was mobbed that afternoon. You could not get a seat if you wanted to and Rulloff’s, which has now reopened was busy as well. The rest of Collegetown is either being rebuilt (Again) or the businesses have closed. I saw so many empty storefronts or they are going the revolving door of Asian restaurants that keep popping up. There are a few holdovers on the main drag but outside that, Collegetown looks so depressed. No wonder its being rebuilt again.
I walked down the hill from Collegetown to see the downtown Ithaca and the new ‘Commons’ that has since been rebuilt. All I have to say is that it looks so much better. The downtown was looking a little run down the last time I attended school there and the downtown was a revolving door of restaurants and shops. The Commons was totally rebuilt with new bricks and planters and new street furniture is all over the place. The Commons was an 80’s concept to bring back people to downtowns by bricking up sidewalks and adding planters. The key though is parking and good stores and restaurants and little crime. That is what didn’t work for most downtowns in the 80’s. No one wanted to go because of those reasons. Somehow Ithaca is making it work.
They have really spruced up the buildings and added better signage. I would have thought the area would have been more crowded with people but I don’t think anyone got the idea to get a shuttle bus from campus to the Commons for Alumni weekend. Plus most of us had meals with our colleges and I was not even hungry considering we had a cocktail party at 3:00pm.
I walked around Common’s looking at the new buildings that have gone up, new hotels and restaurants that have opened while looking at old favorites and trying to figure out which ones I went to each of the summers that I attended school here. Simeon’s reopened since the fire there and their food was always great. Taste of Thai is one of the best Thai restaurants I have ever eaten at and the waffle place is still there as well.
I walked around the square in downtown off the Commons and the houses that surround it still need some work. They were falling apart then and they still are now. This is the sad part of Cortland as well. All these beautiful and graceful Victorian and early American homes just neglected or falling apart. Unlike Andes, Ithaca and Cortland are farther from the city and that form of reverse gentrification has not hit these cities yet. There is one large Victorian home that faces the square and the church that I have admired for years and its still depressing to look at. If only the time and money.
The number of artists moving to Ithaca is becoming greater in numbers. There are several businesses that deal with local artists like Handicraft Cooperative (the Commons) and Made in Ithaca (Mooseville Mall) where you can find the unique. Take your time at the Made in Ithaca store as there is many creative items for sale at very reasonable prices and the sales people are great.
I was debating walking to the Farmers Market by the lake but then I was running out of time and would not be able to walk back to campus in time. So I took a deep breath and walked back up the hill. If any Cornell Alumni are reading this, you know what I am talking about when walking from the Commons back to campus through Collegetown. Just walking around Cornell’s campus is a workout.
Our cocktail party for the new Business School was very nice. Passed appetizers and small desserts along with drinks was the focus of the event while the various deans of the three colleges being merged were trying to assure annoyed alumni that their school identity was not being taken away. I thought the get-together would be busier but figured that people were on their way home by 3:00pm. It was more of the same speeches with the deans trying to convince us everything was great with the merger. there was a lot of eye-rolling that afternoon.
I just walked around campus and looked at the new Residence Halls that were being built when I was there and finally finished now. The school really put a lot of money in student living. Walking though the gorges and gardens all over campus brought back so many good memories of the seven summers I spent there and of dad’s visits to me on campus and the adventures we would have before our long trip home. I finally decided on a Chinese restaurant for lunch that I had eaten in years ago, Hai Hong, 602 West State Street, Ithaca, NY in Collegetown (See TripAdvisor review). The Dim Sum there is good but not great and stick with the steamed items and stay away from the fried ones. Their soup dumplings are delicious.
The trip home took about four hours and I reached the New Jersey border as it started to get dark. Thank God for Daylight Savings time.
Going to Ithaca brings back so many great memories and special times in my life and the side trip to Bovina Center made it fun to visit and explore this part of New York State. Take time out to visit these small towns in upstate New York. You will never know what you can find. Still going to Ithaca reminds me how I got there in the first place and I always thank my dad for that. His support and encourage meant a lot to me when I was there as a student.
Hail, all Hail Cornell!