Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

History, Nature, Art & Good Food In The Hudson River Valley

In the second week of July my wife and I spent 5 days on vacation in the Hudson River Valley.   It is a place several friends and family members have visited and recommended and it is reachable from our home in Baltimore in a 4 – 5 hour drive.   Our primary interest was in visiting Franklin Roosevelt’s home, museum and library in Hyde Park, NY near Poughkeepsie but there are a broad range of attractions and accommodations on both sides of the River between Westchester County north of New York City and Albany.

We found very attractive accommodations on the west side of the river in Milton, NY at the Buttermilk Falls Inn and Spa.  The Inn is located on a 75 acre site overlooking the Hudson bisected by a stream with a small waterfall and several ponds with ducks, geese and swans.    Accommodations include a main house dating to 1764 with 10 rooms and a number of houses and cottages.   Breakfast is included and there is a very nice farm-to-table restaurant on (Henry’s), as well as event space, including a great outdoor wedding venue overlooking the Hudson.  A farm and animals provide food for the restaurant and another diversion for guests.   There is an exercise room, indoor pool and spa.   We stayed in the Sage Right room in the main house, which comes with a queen bed, gas fireplace, refrigerator, patio with views of the Hudson and bath with combination whirlpool tube and shower.    The room was attractively furnished with antiques but a bit cluttered with limited closet and drawer space.    There was no way to control the air-conditioning temperature in the room and we ended up having to run the gas fireplace to maintain the room temperature as a reasonable level – nothing environmentally conscious in that.

Buttermilk Falls Inn From Our Patio

We ate at Henry’s, the on-site farm to table restaurant, our first night and liked it so well that we ended up having light suppers two additional nights during our stay.   Both the food and the wait staff at the restaurant were excellent and the menu offers lots of appetizer/small plate options as well as substantial entrees and different white, red and rose sangria nightly.  The owners of Buttermilk Falls also own a bakery and cafe, called Frieda’s, a few miles from the Inn on Milton’s main street.   It provides the baked goods for the Inn and Henry’s and also offers good breakfast, lunch and take away/picnic options.

We maintained an active but measured pace during our trip, blending visits to historic, natural, and art attractions and the Culinary Institute of America with time at the Inn for afternoon tea, reading and relaxation.   We spent more than half a day on our first full day visiting Franklin Roosevelt’s home, Springwood https://www.nps.gov/hofr/index.htm, and the adjoining Presidential Library and Museum https://fdrlibrary.org.    The house is large but surprisingly modest and comfortable compared to other Gilded Age mansions.   The library and museum, the first Presidential library, were designed by Roosevelt himself and have excellent exhibits chronicling Roosevelt’s life as well as housing his personal study and being a repository for Presidential archives.   The museum exhibits are very well designed and many are interactive.

Springwood

Day two we parked on the western approach to Walkway Over The Hudson and crossed the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge spanning 1.28 miles over the Hudson River http://walkway.org/visit/.    The bridge is a converted rail span built in the nineteenth century. The walkway is free of charge and provides great views up and down river with the east end landing in Poughkeepsie, which offers some restaurant options.    You can enter and exit the walkway at-grade on both sides of the  River and there are also elevator and stair options on the Poughkeepsie side but the elevator to the Poughkeepsie waterfront wasn’t working the day we visited.   Information panels along the walkway acquaint visitors with the River and the history of the bridge and the area.

Mid Hudson Bridge From Walkway Over The Hudson

Day three we drove south to Storm King Art Center, a 500 acre sculpture park located in Cornwall, NY https://stormking.org/about/.   Storm King offers a vast array of monumental and smaller sculpture on an attractive rolling site.   We very much enjoyed and were impressed by the art but believe Storm King should offer more tram service options to help visitors get around.   A tram circulates through the site but only about once an hour. We walked more than two miles and by no means saw all of the sculpture.   More frequent tram circulation and shuttles between parking, dining, and shop/museum locations so you can concentrate your walking to see the art would make Storm King much more accessible to visitors.    There is a bike rental option that you may want to try but we did not discover it until we were on our way back to our car.   If you visit, be prepared to walk and bring water and sun protections with you.

Zhang Huan – Three Legged Budda

Ronald Bladen – Untitled

Alexander Lieberman – Adonai

Alexander Calder – The Arch

Day four we returned to Hyde Park to tour Val-Kill https://www.nps.gov/elro/index.htm, Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage home and we also visited Top Cottage, Franklin’s personal retreat https://www.nps.gov/hofr/planyourvisit/top-cottage.htm.  The Roosevelt home, Springwood, Val-Kill and Top Cottage are all administered by the National Park Service.   A visitor’s center and the Roosevelt Library and Museum adjoin Springwood but Val-Kill and Top Cottage are located on separate nearby sites.   You can drive yourself or take a shuttle bus to Val-KIll from the visitors center but Top Cottage is only reachable by a strenuous 1.5 mile hike from Val-KIll or by shuttle.  Val-KIll was acquired by the National Park Service at the time of the bicentennial and is dedicated to Eleanor Roosevelt personal accomplishments, not her role as First Lady.   Val-KIll offers attractive grounds, a small gift shop and welcome center, an orientation film about Eleanor’s life and a tour of several rooms in Val-Kill and the adjoining Stone Cottage, which also houses some exhibits.   We very much enjoyed our visit to Val-Kill but it’s offerings are much more modest than those of Springwood and the Roosevelt Library and Museum.

Val-Kill Stream and Pond

Top Cottage was designed by Franklin Roosevelt to be his retreat after completion of his second term and only saw limited use as he went on to serve a third and a portion of a fourth term as President.    It has almost no original furnishings and the volunteer docent who we toured with had only limited information to offer on the property.    Top Cottage is only open limited hours and should not be a high priority for a visit.    We got there by hiking a somewhat steep and rocky trail from Val-Kill but arrived in time to catch a tour and were able to return to Val-KIll on the shuttle.

Top Cottage – Rear Porch

Two nights during our visit to the Hudson River Valley we dined at restaurants operated on campus by the Culinary Institute  of America (CIA).   Advanced reservation, best made exactly 30 days in advance, are a must and can be done on OpenTable.com.   The CIA operates five restaurants, four of which are open for dinner – American Bounty with a focus on the seasons and products of the Hudson Valley, Bocuse a French restaurant named for the most famous chef in France, Paul Bocuse, Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici and Al Forno Trattoria offering authentic regional Italian cuisine and Post Road Brew House http://www.ciarestaurantgroup.com/new-york-restaurants/.    We tried both American Bounty and Bocuse but preferred Bocuse, which is a bit more upscale and where we had a table next to the glass enclosed kitchen.   A signature item at Bocuse is lavender ice cream made fresh at your table using liquid nitrogen to deliver hand-churned ice cream in only about five minutes.

Desserts Accompanying Ice Cream At Bocuse

Making Lavender Ice Cream at Bocuse

Pike At American Bounty

Duck at American Bounty

Dessert At American Bounty

There is a lot more to see and do in the Hudson River Valley including wineries, local farms, cute small towns, cruising the river and West Point but we intentionally did not try and squeeze too much in so we had time to relax and enjoy the picturesque setting as well as tour some sites.

 

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My wife and I visited Costa Rica from January 6 – 15, 2018.   It is a remarkable country both politically and naturally.   A stable democracy surrounded by countries that have gone through political upheaval, dictatorship and civil war, Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948 and put the money into education and healthcare.   Only slightly above the equator, with long shorelines along the Caribbean and the Pacific and  with diverse typography, Costa has a remarkable diversity of climates, habitats, flora and fauna, with more species of birds in this tiny country than in all of North America.    After clearing much of its rainforests for grazing land and agriculture, Costa Rica began to restore it natural environment decades ago and is now a prime location for eco tourism, with much of the country designated as nature preserves.

Costa Rica also offers a very nice lifestyle and very friendly people, almost all of whom speak English.   The universal phrase is “Pura Vida”, which means pure life in Spanish but is the way Ticos live. Costa Rica has been named one of the happiest countries in the world, mostly because its inhabitants don’t stress about things the way most foreigners do. Ticos have a very relaxed, simple way of life.  The phrase “Pura Vida can be used as a response to “How are you?” but also as hello, goodbye and great.

Our goals for the trip were to experience Costa Rica’s diverse ecology and have time for rest and relaxation.   We planned the trip through our travel agent, Louise Kemper of Travel Experts, who worked with local tour company, Rico Tours.   Based on our travel agent’s advice, we split our roughly 10 day trip between two locations, one near the Arenal Volcano, in the north central part of Costa Rica in the rainforest, and Guanacaste on the Pacific Coast.   Average temperatures in January are in mid-70s in the rainforests near Arenal, with almost daily chances for a little rain, and in the mid-80s on the Pacific coast with little chance of rain.

Logistics – We were able to fly from Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) airport directly to San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, via Southwest and returned from Liberia in the northwest of the country to BWI via Houston, TX on Southwest.    Our tour company arranged private drivers and vans to get us from the San Jose airport to our resort new Arenal, Nayara Springs, from Nayara Springs to our second resort on the Pacific Coast, the J.W. Marriott Guanacaste, and from the J.W. to the airport in Liberia.  The drive from San Jose to Arenal takes you over the continental divide and through cloud forests and rain forests and is quite a scenic trip.

We considered some in-country air options for the trip from Arenal to the Pacific coast but were glad we elected to use vans because a charter flight crashed in Costa Rica the week before we arrived.   Costa Rican roads are a mixed bag but probably better than remembered by visitors who have been there a number of years ago.  Most roads are well-paved, well maintained two lane highways and not very crowded outside population centers.   We traveled on one stretch of new four-lane divided limited access highway near Liberia and hopefully there is more of this to come.    Side roads, however, can be heavily pot holed and partially washed out, making for a slow and very bumpy ride.   We were warned about bad roads and the need for motion sickness medicine for the car from others who had visited but only encountered relatively short stretches of really bad roads, and we survived without motion sickness medication.    It might be a bit worse if you were traveling on a big bus instead of a private van that is able to maneuver around some of the pot holes.

Nayara Springs Resort – The Nayara Springs Resort is an exclusive boutique hotel with only about 60 individual villas, each featuring a large bedroom, living room, two dressing areas, a large indoor and an outdoor shower and a patio with queen size lounge, hammock and 6 ft x 10 ft private soaking pool fed from a natural hot spring.   Daily laundry, twice daily maid service, a private concierge and option of breakfast in room are all included.    There are three restaurants, a coffee bar, fitness center with yoga sessions daily and a spa on site, as well as additional restaurants and a wine bar on an adjoining property operated by the same company.   The resort offers once daily shuttle service into La Fortuna and now offers its own private tours to nearby attractions.  We found the private tours offered by the hotel to be only modestly more expensive than group tours offered by others and Nayara Springs’ tours included a wonderful picnic lunch with wine and beer.   Nayara Springs is one of the nicest resorts in which we have ever stayed and the lush grounds and on-site nature trails give you the opportunity to experience Costa Rica’s beauty without even leaving the hotel.

Nayara Springs Villas

Bedroom Nayara Springs

Soaking Pool Nayara Springs Fed By Hot Spring

Arenal Volcano – We did two excursions near the Arenal Volcano, one was to the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park and the other to the lava flow from the 1969 eruption.   Mistico Hanging Bridges Park offers a hike along well tended mostly-paved trails over a series of fixed and hanging bridges through the rain forest.   With an attentive eye and the help of a good guide you can see an amazing diversity of plants and animals in a wonderful environment in the canopy of the rain forest.   There are some steep patches on the Hanging Bridges Park trail and you have to be comfortable crossing  hanging bridges, some at pretty good heights above the ground, but on the whole the hike is not too rigorous.   Much better seeing animals and birds with a private guide, hopefully carrying a spotting scope, than with a group.  The lava walk is interesting but with much younger (post 1969 eruption) vegetation, a less scenic natural setting and more strenuous hiking conditions.

Hanging Bridges Park

Arenal Volcano

Mukmuk in Hanging Bridges

Coatimundi

Sloth In Hanging Bridges

There are a number of other areas for touring from hotels in the Arenal volcano area but we choose to avoid those with multi-hour van rides and full day itineraries so we could enjoy some R&R at our hotel.  Both our hotel and our tour company, Rico Tours, offered lots of touring options that you can review before you go.

J.W. Marriott Guanacaste – The J.W. Marriott is a much larger property than Nayara Springs with good-size but traditional hotel rooms, five restaurants, an oceanfront bar and a large pool complex and beach.  It is located within a large private golf and beach community know as Hacienda Pinillia on the Guanacaste peninsula south of Tamarindo.   Both the community and the J.W. Marriott Resort were very nice, but not as nice as the Nayara Springs Resort in terms of accommodations, amenities or service.   The large pool complex, with plentiful lounge chairs and pool side drink and food service, is the best feature of the J.W. Marriott.  The biggest negative to the J.W. Marriott is that it is somewhat isolated and the road between the highway and Hacienda Pinillia is a couple of miles of potholes.  We ate all our meals at the J.W. Marriott.  The food was good and there was enough variety among the restaurants for our four night stay.  Our room came with a buffet breakfast and our favorite restaurants were the pool and beachside Azul Grill for lunch and the Sabanero Steak House for dinner.   Portions were very large and we shared entrees, salads and sandwiches for most meals.

J.W. Marriott Pool From Room

J.W. Marriott Pool

J.W. Marriott Beach

Howler Monkey at Hacienda Pinillia

Coast Near Tamarindo – We did two outings to coastal areas near Tamarindo and the J.W. Marriott.  One was a boat tour of a mangrove forest along Estero de Playa Grande where it meets Tamarindo Bay and the other on the beach near Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas.    On the mangrove forest tour we saw a crocodile and many different birds and on the beach we saw sea turtles laying their eggs.   According to guides the crocodiles do occasionally pick off surfers who chose to swim across the relatively narrow Estero de Playa Grande that separates two beaches on Tamarindo Bay despite warning signs and numerous shuttle boats.   Our tours to the coast near Tamarindo were group tours with multiple-hotel pickups in small vans but featured good guides and attentive staff.  We arranged these tours through Swiss Travel, which has an office at the J.W. Marriott.   The walk to and from the beach at night to see the sea turtles was fairly rigorous and requires you to traverse the beach in total darkness.

Crocodile Near Tamarindo Bay

Heron On Mangrove Tour

Blackback Turtle Laying Eggs

Costa Rica As A Retirement Option – On many lists, Costa Rica is ranked among the top overseas locations for Americas looking for an affordable retirement location.   While we did not inspect retirement housing options during our vacation in Costa Rica, I can see its appeal, particularly for those living in the West and Southwest for whom it is a relatively short trip.   What makes Costa Rica stand out is its stable democracy, good healthcare system and diverse and pleasant climate.  Everyone readily accepts dollars and almost everyone speaks English, making it a particularly easy place for Americans to live.  Our sense is that U.S. retirees favor the Pacific coast where communities appealing to such people abound.

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