The Catskills: A Heap of Old-Fashioned Fun, Only Two Hours From New York City
In the borscht belt, organic greens are beginning to trump Shecky Greenes. But if you skip the summer classics--like hiking and tubing--the joke's on you
Day 1: New York City to Woodstock
There's this glorious moment at the end of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Traffic magically thins as the massive stress knot of New York City starts to soften. My fiance Steve and I are desperately in need of a getaway when we set off for the Catskills. Our wedding is a month away, and we're up to our eyeballs in ridiculous family drama.
Tell people you're going to the Catskills and chances are at least one person will envision Jackie Mason trading one-liners with Jerry Stiller over bowls of borscht. Yes, in the '40s and '50s there were plenty of Jewish bungalow colonies. And sure, the Mel Brookses of the comedy world got their start in the region. But the Catskills have evolved since then. There may still be borscht, but it's all about the locally grown beets.
Steve and I head first to the one place we've both already visited, the legendary hippie town of Woodstock. Tinker Street, the main drag, is still the cliche we remember--tourist traps, tie-dye, and patchouli. "Is this Woodstock?" one guy shouts out his car window as he drives by. We nod. "Is this all there is to do around here?" Another nod.
We spend the night at theTwin Gables Guest Home, a Woodstock fixture. Our street-level room is comfortably nondescript, but we're surprised to find rigid instructions everywhere. At the door, a bold sign instructs us to only ring once. Where's that hippie love when you want it?
- Twin Gables Guest Home73 Tinker St., Woodstock, 845/679-9479, twingableswoodstockny.com, from $89
Day 2: Woodstock to Saugerties
Five minutes outside of Woodstock, the Overlook Mountain Trail is a popular five-mile hike leading to the concrete ruins of an old hotel. (The scenic Rock City Road, which turns into Meads Mt. Road, winds up to the trailhead and is worth the trip by itself.) The beginning is relatively steep, but we're doing just fine. It doesn't take long, however, until we're humbled; walkers 30 years younger--and 30 years older--are breathing less heavily.
Woodstock tends to attract spiritual types, and Steve and I can get into that kind of thing. We seek a moment of introspection atKarma Triyana Dharmachakra, a Tibetan Buddhist temple that's open to the public. A massive golden Buddha is planted happily in the front of a big room. We grab cushions and meditate for what feels like at least 30 minutes, but in reality is all of 67 seconds. Enlightenment will have to wait.
On our way to the town of Phoenicia, we see a sign for theWorld's Largest Kaleidoscope, which turns out to be in a converted silo. We're the only people there, and we're instructed to lie flat, facing up. A rah-rah-America show, complete with what appear to be a thousand Abe Lincolns, spins psychedelically over our heads. It's a bizarre and entrancing spectacle, and somehow not a surprise that we're the only people there.
Phoenicia, meanwhile, is hopping. 'Tis the season for tubing! There are two tubing acts in town: Town Tinker andF-S Tube Rental. It's a sunny day, so we don't spend long studying the difference and just opt for the latter, which has been around for over 30 years. Richie Bedner, F-S Tube's self-described Tube King, welcomes us enthusiastically. He tells us not to worry about any DANGER AHEAD signs, and he assures us that a significant three-foot drop along the way is the best part of the ride. Steve wipes out and nearly loses a tooth, but I finish without a scratch and become one of tubing's biggest boosters. Trust me, it's way more fun than it sounds.
We have a reservation to stay the night at the still-functioningSaugerties Lighthouse, overlooking the Hudson River about 25 miles from Phoenicia. There are two rooms for guests, and they're a bit of a splurge. Given the price, we thought it would be best to compromise by having a picnic dinner on-site. To get to the lighthouse, visitors have to walk 10 minutes along a muddy footpath that's occasionally submerged by the incoming tide. There's a tide table on the lighthouse's website that we didn't pay quite enough attention to when we booked. At 7 P.M., we just barely make it.
Patrick Landewe, the lighthouse keeper, greets us at the door. Part L.L. Bean model, part enigmatic loner, he began his tenure only a few weeks earlier. The previous lighthouse keeper left after he married a guest, and apparently love connections are fairly common out here. Considering that the Hudson freezes over in the winter, Patrick's clock is ticking. There are only a couple more months for Cupid to strike. He shouldn't have a hard time, I tell my insanely jealous fiance.
Steve and I change into our bathing suits, jump into the Hudson, and watch the setting sun reflect sparkling amber tones in the warm water. If there's anything more romantic than throwing on towels and eating a low-key dinner on the deck of the Saugerties Lighthouse, I simply don't know what it could be.
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