Category Archives: Ithaca

Chautauqua/NY, Conneaut/Ohio cheap gas & dog park – drive back to Chicago from Ithaca

To my surprise we drove right into the Chautauqua Institution, the famous educational/ cultural retreat in the western NY town of, yes, Chautauqua, on our drive back to Chicago from Ithaca. Years ago we got as far as the firmly shut outer gate, when passing through the area during in the peak 9-week summer season for tourists and visitors. Back then, we had to pay to get through the gate and enter the enclave, so we didn’t. From the confusing information on various Chautauqua websites (the town tourism website ( was clearer than the institution’s website), a “Gate Pass/fee” ($30) is required to enter the grounds during the summer. Except Sundays when it’s free at least until 2 pm. In spring, fall and winter, all drive-in gates are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, no passes/fees required

Still almost everything was shut down …or felt shut down …on the crisp Fall day when we dropped by for about an hour. The sign on the post office said “Closed until June 2023.” Apparently some events are offered beyond during the summer season, and some residents live there year-round.

It was fun to be able to drive through and gawk at the pretty gingerbready cottages and stately buildings that host lectures, concerts and dance performances. We also found a table in the almost deserted village green that worked well for a picnic. (And yes, sadly, this is the place where author Salman Rushdie was stabbed by a madman last summer.)

Not Chautauqua….this is Lake George (Adirondacks)

Over the Pennsylvania border in Ohio, we found cheaper gas, as promised: $3.49 at the Love’s station in Conneaut, Ohio vs $3.89 in Chautauqua and $3.79 in Erie. Love’s also has a dog park.

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apple fest, cultish deli, quilts, $2.98 gas, by the lake – in and around Ithaca

Nut Ridge

Apple fest 2022 filled the Ithaca Commons with strollers eating apple crisp, tasting various apple varieties with assistance from Cornell pomologists and browsing at craft booths. We learned that the snap dragon apples we discovered last year didn’t make it this year…bad weather conditions but I did buy a few Shizuka apples with a Mutsu- like taste. I also found Cornell orchards apples at the P&C Fresh near the ag school but it had nowhere near the selection of varieties that used to be sold at Cornell’s pomology department when I was a student (class of 81.) Greenstar Market downtown had Mutsus, but P & C did not.

We walked into a new place on the commons during apple fest called the Yellow Deli that was (somewhat oddly) offering free samples of their delicious fare (Rueben sandwiches, chili, cheesecake drinks. But I happened to hear a woman who walked past us say “too bad they are an anti-Semitic cult.” We googled and could not find anything about anti-semitism but plenty about the cult. Apparently there are yellow delis across the US and in foreign counties and they’ve been labeled a cult. Bit of a bummer but good to know.

At Cornell’s arboretum (formerly the plantations)
Cascadilla Falls

Onto the next attraction, an exhibit of gorgeous quilts by local talents held at a local community college in nearby Cortland, Tompkins Cortland Community College, aka TC3.

I forgot to mention last night’s excitement.$2.98 a gallon gas in Homer NY. We thought our eyes were deceiving us. We haven’t seen prices like that in years. And in nearby Ithaca, the price is $3.69 to 3.79.

At Taughannock Falls with Myra and Millie


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Speculator and Lake George NY – Adirondack ps at last

Finally made it to the Adirondacks! They have beckoned from the nearby Finger Lakes of Central NY but we could never detach from Ithaca long enough to visit. They started in earnest about 3 hours northeast of Ithaca, about 2 hours after Syracuse and I’m still trying to pinpoint what makes this region feel so different than the Finger lakes. More rugged, dense woods, dark wood and log cabins, sparkling lakes with the beach at road level. Ithaca is more bucolic farms and pastures high surrounded by wooded hills, above the deep narrow finger lakes, old gingerbread farm houses made of brick or stone, tidy farmsteads.

We stopped briefly in the rugged resort Adirondacks town in Speculator (gotta love that name) where we found a gorgeous little public park beside a small lake, dotted with yes, heavy wood log Adirondacks chairs and benches. (The real deal, not plastic knockoffs.) the park was named after the boxer Gene Tunney who had a trading camp in town.

Lake George

We found a rustic mini mart with a long line for the one bathroom. I asked the bored looking clerk if there was another option and voila, we were at public bathrooms (line-free) a half block away. The leaves were far more colorful, with splashes of red and orange and purple. The roads we drive on to get to vermont were so backwoods that I checked my google maps to make sure it wasn’t set on “no highways.” There simply weren’t any or many.

Adirondacks beach (speculator, NY)
Bolton Landing, Lake George
Gene Tunney Park, Speculator, NY

On the way back to Ithaca, we drove backroads along the western shore of Lake George which was lovely and rustic…until we got to the resort town of Lake George, which was over touristed. Then we drove diagonally south east, stopping briefly in the pretty college town of Cazenovia. We met Myra and Mike at Salt Point Brewery which was having an October fest celebration, with outdoor dining, a band, beer, pizza, brats and an amazing sunset.

Salt point brewery, Lansing NY

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Sew Green, Taughannock hike with dog, Aurora Brewing Co. — in and around Ithaca

Rain prompted us to visit the Ithaca Commons where we discovered that Sew Green, which sells gently used Eileen Fisher clothing, has moved about a block east into a smaller space on Greene Street. There is a smaller but still good selection. We had a little snack nearby of savory hand-baked pies at Mama Said, then onto Taughannock Falls state park where there was no problem taking Millie, our dog, on a hike along the north and south rim trails.

Small savory pies
Millie at Taughannock

Tonight we had a dinner of sandwiches and beer flights at Aurora Brewing Company, sitting outside on a chilly grey early evening so Millie could join us. We had a fabulous view looking across a green pasture and vineyards at Cayuga Lake in the distance and the hills rising up beyond.

Aurora Brewery

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Ithaca with a dog (and friends) – Treman Park, Watkins Glen, FingerLakes Cider House, Ithaca farmers market

This is our sweet pup Millie’s first trip to Ithaca and we assumed it was a dog friendly place. Generally it has been…with some surprises. No dogs allowed inside The Ithaca Farmers Market’s open air pavilion, although that didn’t deter the occasional Ithaca iconoclast. I get that it can get too crowded. And dogs can hang out outside the pavilion, for what that’s worth. Still, really?

Millie NOT on the gorge trail at Watkins Glen

At our favorite gorge-ous park, Treman, no problem bringing a dog although it can get a little tricky navigating the steps and narrow stone ledges overlooking the deep gorge and waterfalls with a four-legged friend (on a leash, of course.) We did our usual trick and parked one car at lower Treman and drove up to upper Treman and parked the second car, then hiked one way, the easy way, down from upper to lower.

Millie at “upper Treman”

The very popular Watkins Glen Park was packed with visitors (far more than our little secret, Treman) and we learned from the ranger at the entrance booth that dogs can’t go on the gorge trail…only the rim trail high above the gorge in the woods, which was disappointing but actually wise since the gorge trail is so narrow and busy. Even on a Tuesday midday in late September, there were many visitors including many foreign tourists. A nice Israeli family from Tel Aviv lavished Millie with petting.

Millie at “lower Treman.”
Millie at the Cider House.

On to Finger Lakes Cider House, near Trumansburg, with its spectacular on-high views of Cayuga Lake. No dogs allowed inside the rustic-chic bar-restaurant-shop or on the deck but no problem having dogs in the huge open air tent full of picnic tables (perfect during a rain storm, we discovered) next to a huge field of u pick’em dahlias and zinnias. We duly enjoyed our flights of cider, grilled cheese, homemade tomato soup, garlic cumin black beans and crunchy cornbread.

Humans at Treman (Myra and Hope!)


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Nichols BBQ/Millie “dog of the day” in Corning, NY and Porchfest 2022 in Ithaca

Back to my happy place, upstate NY! Specifically the area around Ithaca. We managed to drive here in one day, albeit long day, from Chicago. About 11.5 hours with a few stops primarily for Millie the dog. The scenery was blah through Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania until a few seconds after we crossed into western NY on Interstate 86. Like clockwork came the wooded hills, the emerald green fields dotted with red barns and white farmhouses, the shimmering lakes and rivers. And the sky! A drama show with dark clouds or fluffy white clouds in the distance, moving across a blue sky, sun blaring through.

In Corning, we stopped for a quick dinner at Nichols BBQ for an excellent Brisket sandwich and an excellent pulled pork sandwich which we ate at an outside table so Millie could join us. People were so sweet to Millie including a nice guy who asked if he could take a photo of Millie as his “dog of the day.” Turns out he and another guy with him were on a 47-day bike ride across the US from Portland to Portland, run by Trek, the bike maker.

On Sunday, we went on our always fun obligatory trip to the Ithaca Farmers Market where I had excellent Cambodian food and bought Ithaca gear for the grandkids. With the weather improving, we decided to walk around Cascadilla falls in one of my favorite neighborhoods, Fall creek, we spotted a band playing on a porch, with a small crowd. Interesting.

Then another band on a porch and then another. Turns out it was Porchfest 2022, an annual event where local musicians of all kinds play on porch’s throughout the neighborhood … jug and banjos, electric guitars, a soul singer with a sound machine, a family with little kids. Too much fun! One volunteer told me Ithaca’s was the first Porchfest. And it went on hiatus during the height of the pandemic.

Apparently other cities have them too, including Des Moines. The sun came out after a thunderstorm and lit the neighborhood. Then a half hour later, as we were listening to a crazy band, with kids dancing frenetically, the sky got dark and it poured again. No one cared.

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And the best part of Ithaca…lakeside with our friends at their cottage

“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.

in the garden at Ithaca Beer

Nut ridge


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Taughannock Park rim trails, South Hill Cider, Hangar Theatre/Dar Williams – Ithaca

We went to our first live music concert since the pandemic in Ithaca, where we saw the wonderful Dar Williams at Ithaca’s Hangar Theater, 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.

Picnic at Taughannock on Cayuga Lake
South Hill cider

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Apple Fest, Sew Green, Ithaca Farmers Market, Collegetown Bagels downtown – Ithaca, NY (Finger Lakes)

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.

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Letchworth State Park/Mt. Morris, Ardennes Brewery/Geneva NY

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,)

At Upper Falls

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.

Not your everyday Sheepbarn


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