New York City has been incredibly hot. And humid. We just emerged from a heat wave with temperatures over 100F. So what’s a New Yorker to do when the heat amplified by the concrete melts their soul? Head up north, in the mountains.
Whether taking the I-87 or the Palisades Interstate (the latter being significantly more scenic), one can get into the Catskill region in about 3 hours. As I was driving along Route 28, I couldn’t help but notice many Eastern European street names: Matyas Road, Spisak Way, Wettje Road. Apparently in the mid 20th century many Jewish resorts flourished in the region gaining the nickname of “Borscht Belt”. For Dirty Dancing lovers, the action of the movie takes place in the a Catskill resort (even though the movie was actually filmed in Virginia). Henry Hudson took notice of the beauty of the region during his expedition in 1609 on the … Hudson River. The Woodstock Festival took place in the Catskills as well.
Mornings in the mountains are great. In Pine Hill, on the green slope where our rental cabin was situated, mornings mustered with activity – bees collected pollen from the flowers carefully cared for by the Dutch cabin supervisor, birds – robins, blue jays, cardinals, doves, and a few other ones I am unable to name – sang or looked around for seeds, squirrels and chipmunks competed for the nuts served by the dutch man’s wife on the window seals. I went jogging, a nice and healthy activity. Some stupid unleashed dogs started chasing me down Main Street, barking ferociously, and my jogging became sprint, I think I broke my own record. The beasts were unused to urban joggers bringing their city habits in quaint mountain hamlets.
After a hearty breakfast and refreshing coffee slurped on the porch, I set off chasing waterfalls on route 28. The road was winding through green hills, passed rocky walls that were abruptly ending in a foamy creek. Modest but charming houses were unveiling the economical status of the locals – definitely not an affluent group. However, I could not slightly envy the beauty of the scenery to which they woke up every morning. I am sure that some of them would envy me for the concrete walls I wake up to every morning in New York City.
Parked in a small lot off Route 23A. Started the trek towards the highest two-drop waterfall in NY state. Hikers of all ages made their way towards the falls – the path was winding through pretty decent terrain, in the cool shadows of the forest. One very pregnant lady, dressed elegantly, was on her way back – you’re almost there, she said, it’s worth it! Taking her word, I kept going and indeed, Katerskill Waterfalls is an enchanting view, no wonder they inspired so much 18 century painters that they switched from gloomy portraits to beautiful scenery and started the Hudson River School movement.
I climbed where the more daring went – up on the second level of the falls. I was standing on a (slippery) balcony with a magnificent view of the valley. Behind me, the river furiously jumped off a 55 m (180 feet) cliff forming a lake with cold refreshing water in which of course I entered.
Next stop – town of Catskill, on the Husdon River.
The town has a long history, being purchased from the natives in the late 1600s for pretty much nothing. Catskill, at the confluence of the Catskill Creek and Hudson River, just a few hours upstream from NYC, was a very important trading point for years. Merchandise from the ports of New York City was making its way upstate via this small thriving town. It is also situated in a beautiful mountain scenery, with thick forests, steep hills and tall waterfalls that inspired many 19 century painters. Until 1980s Catskill was a thriving town, with shops, hotels, restaurants, lots of businesses. Then the malls were built, which pretty much killed all Catskill business. It is today a village of 11,000, with charming buildings and an almost non existent economy.
Drove to the end of Main Street and arrived at Catskill Point, the place where Catskill Creek flows into Hudson River. Spectacular view.
Made it back into the center of the town. Although it was a Saturday afternoon, there were very few people on the street. The town was quiet, deserted, with a sort of post-neutron bomb feel to it. Main Street was bordered by beautiful brick town houses with colorful shops on the ground floor. It was very East Village-y, but it totally lacked the life and buzz. I stopped and chatted to the only person on the street, a man selling Haagen Dasz ice cream (to whom, it is still a mystery as there was no one on the street). He told me about a new wave of migrants – mostly New Yorkers – that are slowly pumping life into this charming (but still too sleepy) town.
One innovative way Catskillians thought to attract tourists in their sleepy town was via the Cats of Catskill. And it is successful so far.
Meet the Cats of Catskill. Plaster figurines representing … cats. Local artists paint the cats in very creative ways (http://www.cat-n-around.com/artists09.html), representing straightforward things like doctors and soldiers, purely ornamental, or more abstract images like wine (the yellow fellow on the right). The cats are displayed along Main Street for a few months.
According to the Haagen-Dasz man, whose wife painted a few cats herself, Catskill Cats are even featured in Japanese guides. And a Discovery Channel crew just left the town after filming the cats for a documentary. Every autumn the cats are auctioned, and the money is used for different community projects in the town.
Situated across an arched bridge on brim of Catskill river forming a very European setting, it looked strangely familiar because of its name and a small Lady Liberty overseeing the place.
I am a big ice cream fan, but unfortunately I am spoiled with some of the most delicious ice creams in the City. So, naively me, I kind of expected something similar from Cone-y Island. Here is what I got: my very own Vanilla Ice cream topped with blueberries. Well, I think they forgot to mentioned that the blueberries are actually a coating, more blue than any blueberry will ever be. Ice cream in hand, I looked like another Lady Liberty until the heat melt the ice cream, leaving me with a whole bunch of white liquid trickling our of this atomic blue coating.