“And some days, they last longer than others But this day by the lake went too fast And if you want me, you better speak up I won’t wait So you better move fast.” (Rilo Kiley)
Lest I forget to mention, it is the people and the lakes of the Finger Lakes which remain our biggest draw, especially since our dear pals have bought a cottage on Cayuga Lake, near where we used to vacation together with our young kids! On this trip, we visited new-to-me Finger Lakes to the West – Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua – all with their own charms. The shores of Seneca and Cayuga are particularly well-populated with wineries, cideries, breweries and more foodstuffs. None are more beautiful than my forever favorite lake: Cayuga.
We went to our first live music concert since the pandemic in Ithaca, where we saw the wonderful Dar Williams at Ithaca’s HangarTheater, an intimate space where Dar was singing in what felt like our living room. But we had to show proof of vaccination (fortunately I brought our cards) and ID plus wear masks. We self-social distanced by moving to seats not next to others. Dar Williams was as charming as ever, telling long rambling funny and/or poignant stories before her songs, and her voice was in great shape. It felt like fate that we were there when she invited the audience to sing along during her last song and we people did, belting out through our masks: Iowa…(One of our favorite songs as Iowans but we didn’t know it was so well known by others.)
The last time I was at Taughannock state park 2 1/2 years ago, walking the ground-level gorge trail, I saw a few people walking high above me. Who knew? This time, we walked 3 miles up the north rim trail and back along the south rim trail, seeing the falls like I’d never seen them before, from on high and above, birdseye, and from flat rocks leading to the astonishing drop of the falls. Gorgeous. I have been to taughannock many times but never knew about these trails!
At the bottom of the South rim trail, we passed through a wrought iron gate on a dirt path leading to the Inn at Taughannock Falls, a beautiful old gingerbread mansion where I used to go as a treat with my parents when we visited Cornell. The place has been gussied up with a new events space but looks as lovely as ever. We stopped at a little wooden stand in the woods for excellent fresh squeezed lemonade. Nice touch.
Dinner was unexpectedly on the side of a hilltop south of Ithaca at sunset with a bluegrass band playing under a gazebo and diners scattered in clusters of lawn chairs and picnic tables near apple orchards. We were at South Hill Cidery, which happened to have a fried chicken benefit supper for Hurricane Ida survivors. The chicken was slow to arrive, cooked by volunteers, but surprisingly delicious. And talk about chicken with a view.
A loyal reader of the blog asked how many waterfalls/gorges we visited this trip: seven – and all beautiful in their own way. Treman is my sentimental favorite, the one I visited as a child and associate with my parents. Buttermilk is in that category too – I have fond memories of swimming in the icy water of the pool at the bottom of the falls. Taughannock is the highest, I think, and perhaps most dramatic. Watkins Glen is very tight, winding and mysterious. Cascadilla leads to Cornell, my alma mater and Fall Creek Gorge, is on the Cornell campus, with several spectacular places to view it (the suspension bridge, Thurston Avenue bridge). Letchworth was a whole other beast, with a much larger volume of water crashing down its falls, Niagara-like.
Turns out all the cideries and apples I have been looking for in the Finger Lakes were all in one spot on the Ithaca Commons during a three-day event called Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival. It rained off and on but it was warm out so we were just fine traipsing though the intermittent rain. I had a nice chat with the young guy at The Cornell Orchards tent where I found Snap Dragons, my new favorite apple, and a Japanese variety (Shizuoka) that is akin to my old favorite, Mutsu (rebranded as Crispin.) No russet apples there but I found them later at The Ithaca Farmers Market and Green Star Co-op.
We had delicious apple crisp with vanilla ice cream although the line was longest at the cider donuts, a student favorite. The Commons looked healthy, with lots of storefronts occupied. There’s also a spanking new Collegetown Bagels, new building, same bagels and funky looking sandwich board describing old standbys. (The Collegetown bagels location in Collegetown also has new digs, hopping across the street.) Just off the Commons, I also stopped in at Sew Green to check out the used Eileen Fisher clothes. No great finds, unlike my last visit.
The Ithaca Farmers Market is unchanged, amen. Lots of alternative types playing the fiddle, fresh-faced farmers selling organic produce (and russet apples!), happy dogs.
As advertised, Letchworth State Park turned out to be part Grand Canyon, with water rushing way below huge chiseled rock canyon walls, and part Niagara Falls, with high wide falls, the water at full volume after several rains, crashing down into the canyon, kicking up mist that the sunshine turned into rainbows. We came in from the Mt. Morris entrance, which seemed the closest from 390 driving up the southern route from Ithaca (slightly longer than the northern route especially if you take I-90, which we didn’t on the way back, opting instead for scenic country backroads. We had to drive about 11 miles inside the park to get to the Upper Falls where we trekked up stone steps to the top and then walked a short gorge rim trail to the middle falls. We skipped the lower falls but did stop briefly at the lovely old Glen Iris Inn. As recommended by the guy at the entrance, we picnicked at Eddy’s Tea Table, the name of one of several overlooks into the canyon and also stopped briefly to admire the view from Inspiration Point. (Never skip an inspiration point,)
On the trip back we stopped at the remarkable Ardennes Taproom and Brewery outside Geneva near the west shore of Cayuga Lake, located at a former sheep barn that looked far too fancy for sheep, made of stone, brick, wood and stucco. We sat at a picnic table, one of several dotting a long emerald green lawn with shady trees and tried a flight of Belgian beer and delicious frites. The rest of the bites menus looked great – mussels, lamb sliders.
I first arrived in Trumansburg blindfolded, about 43 years ago. It was my 19th birthday and new friends in my freshman dorm at Cornell kidnapped me for a celebration. They blindfolded me in my dorm room, walked me into a car and we drove for about a half hour. The blindfold came off inside The Rongovian Embassy, an atmospheric bar in the small village of Trumansburg on Cayuga Lake’s western shore. The Rongo is gone but not forgotten. The name is etched into a stone plaque embedded in the pavement at the entrance to what is now Garrett’sBrewing, where we duly had a beer.
Before that we shopped, people-watched and listened to a folk band play inside a gazebo at The Trumansburg farmers market (Wednesday nights). Dinner was fantastic at Hazelnut Kitchen. We had an 8 p.m. reservation, thankfully or we would not have gotten in. Low-key atmosphere with mismatched plates and napkins, hardwood floor and very ambitious food. No room for dessert after sharing a hearty appetizer with crispy fried polenta w/ chicken confit, roasted shiitakes, moochego and entrees (steak with frites, apple cider-braised pork shoulder with spaetzle.) We contemplated getting the “Let the Kitchen Decide” entree but chickened out.
I also managed to find a dress to wear for a NYC bar mitzvah at Sundrees, a gift shop with a few well chosen clothing items and work by local artists. Next door is The Gemm Store, resale and vintage stuff (not gems) that was worth a wander.
Busy day, exploring Ithaca and Cornell. I forgot how easy it is to entertain yourself here when the weather is half way decent. (Today it was cloudy but no rain and oddly warm, in the low 70s.)
This morning we met an old friend from Des Moines (who now lives here part-time) at the Gimme Coffee near the foot of Cascadilla Gorge (There are now so many gimme locations that our friend initially went to another one). We walked up and down the gorge, which was full of water thanks to recent rains. A strenuous and very scenic hike. Nets are now strategically placed underneath the bridges high above the gorges to prevent jumpers. I also was pleased to see some repaired steps which makes the trip slightly less nerve wracking. As a student I walked up and down those slippery wet, leaf-strewn rugged stone steps without a care. Not so much now having broken two arms and my foot on occasion.
Collegetown Bagels is relocated across the street from its old location but still has the same alternative vibe and good sandwiches. There are almost no old buildings left in Collegetown, all of them replaced by bland modern buildings, several housing Asian restaurants of one sort or another. Are there any bars left? Not that I care.
We went over to the suspension bridge across Fall Creek Gorge, which was closed last time I was here two years ago. I forgot how much higher that gorge is than Cascadilla and can’t remember how we managed to get down in it sunbathe on the flat rocks as students. But I did see there is now an informational sign with some suggested hikes along the gorge. Next trip.
Next stop, Forest Home, one of my favorite tiny neighborhoods with narrow winding streets and a one-lane bridge. We ended up across the road at what used to be called the Cornell Plantations but that’s not PC these days so it was rebranded as Cornell Botanic Gardens. It’s huge and lovely. We drove around a bit and then wandered on foot among the wildflowers and herbs by the visitors center. And who could resist Cornell ice cream, located nearby at the Cornell Dairy Barn, also a new glass building completely changed from what I vaguely remembered from my years here as a kid. The ice cream was still excellent. I recommend Chocolate Gorges, chocolate cream with fudge swirl and bits of Oreos.
We explored the northern route for the Finger Lakes west of Cayuga today, primarily on Seneca, Keuka and Canandaigua Lakes. In Geneva, I got some helpful suggestions of where to stop from a woman at the N Y Visitor Center and duly went onto visit Red Jacket Juice along Route 20/5 west of Geneva, a city with a remarkable nimbler of grand and well-preserved mansions along the west shore of the lake and a one-block groovy section downtown on Linden Street, including most notably FLX Provisons, a wellknown restaurant. (FLX Fry Bird, which serves fried chicken is less pricey and easier to get a reservation. Actually I don’t know if it takes reserved.)
In Canandaigua, we had lunch outdoors overlooking the water at the swanky Lake House of Canandaigua, recently named best hotel/resort or some such in the Northeast by Travel and Leisure. We had a salad and sandwich in “Rose Tavern” and watched people swimming in a pool near the spa. Yes, it was warm enough for that. The popular Sand Bar restaurant on the resort wasn’t opened nor was NY Kitchen,a culinary center and restaurant. Stately Sonnenberg Gardens also wasn’t open on a Tuesday.
Following my welcome center guide’s suggestion, we drove on Highway 364 south along Canandaigua lake to Penn Yan, passing Star cidery. Penn Yan was not as charming as envisioned. More a worn New York State Toen, but we stopped at the nicest shop, the Starving artist Woodworks. Driving on highway 54, we passed the recommended Spotted duck creamery (closed) and up along Seneca Lake’s western shore on Highway 14, Brewery Ardennes Taproom and kitchen (closed but looked amazing), Bellhurst Castle, and in Geneva, Kindred Fare – a well- regarded Restaurant. We also didn’t make it to the Seneca Falls National Women’s Hall of Fame, but visited years ago.
Rainy weather and a thumbs up from my Cornell friend John got us to go to the Corning Museum of Glass and I am sooo glad we did! The new contemporary wing, a high-ceilinged white glass box, is stunning, both the architecture and the contemporary glass artwork. What a perfect place to go, especially on a gloomy day. I recognized several artists whose work is at The Des Moines Art Center (Fred Wilson, Judith Schaechter) and the omnipresent Chiluly. But there is so much more going on in the glass art world beyond Chiluly, I learned.
We also went to the exhibit tracing the history of glass, which was fascinating and to a glassblowing demonstration. The latest clever pandemic-induced accommodation: instead of blowing the glass, the glass artist used some sort of foot-peddled contraption so he could keep his mask on. Whatever works. The weather cleared enough for us to eat lunch outside on the cafe patio. (Good southwest salad, tuna sandwich). We also spent a lot of time in the huge gift shop and I found a wonderful glass jewelry maker from Bridgeport Connecticut, conveniently located near Myra, who also liked his work.
We spent 3 1/2 hours at the museum and could have stayed longer but we wanted to check out downtown. Glad we did. Corning is a very well -heeled town with a healthy historic district with massive two-story elegant brick storefronts filled with galleries, restaurants, antique shops (including an outpost of FLX Provisions, the well-regarded restaurant in Geneva).
It was a veritable Cornell reunion on the trail hiking down spectacular Enfield Glen gorge from upper to Lower Treman Park in Ithaca. We kept bumping into my old college friends who were attending the same wedding we were later in the day. All of us up early to get in a hike. So Glad we did. Watkins Glen is lovely but I still think Treman’s gorges and waterfalls are more spectacular, with more water cascading down high rocky cliffs and barreling through channels cut into the rock, opening into deep pools of water before yet another waterfall. (We did the two-car trick where we parked Noah’s car at the bottom of the falls and ours at the top so we could walk one way, down the falls, hop into Noah’s car at the end and drive back up to pick up our car at the top. Saved time and exertion.)
Next stop Ithaca Beer, conveniently located very close to Treman and our Airbnb on Route 13A/Floral avenue. It has a great outdoor eating area carved into farmland overlooking cornfields and a big vegetable garden. The beer and food was good too (fried chicken sandwich with a kick, grilled cheese). perfect still-pandemic dining.
Dan and Elizabeth’s wedding was held high above Seneca’s waters st the Wagner Winery on the east shore of the lake. Fortunately the weather completely cooperated with dry weather and a spectacular sunset. The guests were all bused out from Ithaca to the winery, which was very thoughtful of the hosts and saved us having to drive in the dark on winding country roads for 40 minutes at midnight. Good good, fun band, lots of dancing, great people and a lovely married couple.
I have always wanted to explore more of the Finger Lakes west of Cayuga Lake, which is my Go-to Lake and so we did on another spectacular Fall day. We drove on scenic backroads about 30 Miles west to Watkins Glen State ParK, an old favorite where we did the course hiking, stopping first at a great outfitters store Famous Brands, with a sale (I needed a warmer sweater, which I got for $13).
On we went to Reisingers Apple orchard where we got Snap Dragon apples, which I’d never heard over. Snap is the perfect word for this hard, crisp, sweet/tart, juicy apple concocted by Cornell. Next stop two maker outposts in the countryside near Interlaken on the west side of Cayuga Lake north of Trumanburg. Both a dream! At Lively Run Dairy and Creamery, we got a cheese sampler plate of the cheese made there, eight samples, four goat cheese, four cows milk cheese. A nice young guy, masked, explained what we were eating through a pandemic-friendly plexiglass barrier. We ended up buying several: The creamy goat cheese, the Blue Yonder and Finger Lakes Gold Reserve.
Next stop: Finger Lakes Cidery, a stylish place with lots of people (but not too many) where we had a half flight of ciders, sampling four. (Honeyoye was our favorite) and fantastic food – a killer grilled cheese sandwich with fresh greens, the best tomato soup I’ve ever tasted (not campbells), grilled cornbread with two flavors of fresh whipped butter (jalapeño, and we think strawberries from the farm.) We sat outside on the deck, with the farmland rolling out to the narrow finger of Cayuga lake and the wooded banks on the other side. Heaven. From there we drove over to the eastern shore of Seneca Lake and down along a scenic road high above the lake lined with wineries and cideries. amazing the number. Then onto Hammpondsport which turned out to be a sweet little village that reminded us of a summer lake town in Northern Michigan or Door County Wisconsin. Very quiet and peaceful with a pretty lakefront park and village green lined with a few antique shops.
The wedding of Dan and Elizabeth was spectacularly situated overlooking Seneca Lake at Wagner Winery, with a very dramatic sunset and the sun breaking through the clouds as the festivities began.