Travel stories of mine have appeared in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, Frequent Flyer, McCall's, Get Up and Go!, and Interludes, among others.
The Urban Traveler's Day Trip: Beacon, New York
For asphalt-bound New Yorkers who don't own a car (as well as those who do), here is an inexpensive summer excursion that will take you 60 miles north of Manhattan into the Hudson Valley's most surprising center for contemporary art, Beacon, New York. I've taken this trip via Metro North with a bunch of women friends and it was one of the highlights of our summer. (To get wonderful views of the Hudson River, sit on the left side of the train when you go upstate, and on the right side when you head back to the city).
Dia: Beacon, Riggio Galleries, is the "country" wing of Dia: Chelsea which, in 1987, pioneered the stampede of galleries from Soho to the meat packing district when it opened a four-story converted warehouse on West 22nd Street into an exhibition space for its post-1960s art collection.
Fifteen years later, seeking more room, Dia converted an abandoned Nabisco printing plant into 240,000 square feet of space for its museum-quality permanent collection, and by doing so, transformed a sleepy Hudson River town into a thriving arts community.
Dia: Beacon, perched on thirty-one acres along the eastern bank of the Hudson River, and only a five-minute uphill walk from the Metro-North train station, opened to the public in May 2003. It was an instant success, and has attracted visitors from around the world. (The site is also adjacent to 90 acres of riverfront parkland, including Beacon Landing, a 23-acre peninsula owned by Scenic Hudson, Inc.)
Everything about Dia: Beacon's renovation is stunning, especially the 34,000 square feet of skylights that flood the artwork with beautiful northern light. It's a pleasure, on a bright summer day, to step into the museum's vast, high-ceilinged interior space and experience the light as it illuminates the artwork. The collection includes such major artists as: Agnes Martin, Louise Bourgeois, Richard Serra (who MOMA is now honoring with a huge one-man show), Dan Flavin (who works in neon), and among my favorites, John Chamberlain (see the accompanying photo), who creates sculptures out of crushed automobile parts. Seeing the works of LeWitt, Beuys, Nauman, Warhol, Ryman and others in this stunning setting, made me appreciate their art even more. Don't miss Serra's signature "torqued ellipses" or Fred Sandback's unique sculptures, created with yarn and space.
Artist Robert Irwin designed the master plan, including its exterior setting, whose gardens and trees form an "outdoor gallery." His subtle style can be admired while you grab a bite at the café and bookshop, and think about your late afternoon choices.
You can return to the museum, head back to the city or take a tour of downtown Beacon, just a short stroll away. The village has attracted a vibrant new generation of artists and entrepreneurs who have renovated homes, opened galleries, boutiques, restaurants and shops, creating a mini-arts hub that has, in turn, sparked an area renaissance.
If you time your visit to coincide with "Second Saturday Beacon" (July 8, August 12, September 9 and October 14), downtown Beacon is more festive than usual. Galleries, restaurants and shops stay open until 9PM, so you can dine at one of Beacon's restaurants and take a later train back to the city. For more information on Second Saturday Beacon go to nyarts.com. Dia: Beacon, Summer Hours 11AM to 6PM, Thursday through Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday), Mid-April to Mid-October. Dia: Beacon is located at 3 Beekman Street, Beacon, NY (845-440-0100).
How To Get There
By Train. It is about 80 minutes from Manhattan's Grand Central Station via MTA/Metro-North Railroad. Trains run hourly. There is a "One-Day-Getaways" discounted rail and admissions package for Dia. For the current train schedule, call 212-532-4900. For more information go to www.mta.nyc.ny.us (Click on Metro North and then click on One Day Getaways, then click on Dia Beacon).
By Car. Located off Route 9D in Dutchess County, the museum is easily reached from the Palisades Parkway, the New York State Thruway, the Taconic State Parkway and Interstate 84. From New York City take the Upper Level of the George Washington Bridge, New Jersey bound, to the Palisades Parkway North. Take the Palisades Parkway North to the end, and continue on 6 East/202 across the Bear Mountain Bridge. Bear left onto Route 9D North and continue into the city of Beacon. Travel three miles through the city; at the fourth traffic light (just past Beacon City Hall) make a left turn onto Beekman Street. Continue past the train station and the overpass leading to the station's parking lot. Dia: Beacon's entrance is the first driveway on the right.
Urban Getaway: Kykuit and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
THE ROCKEFELLER ESTATE (KYKUIT)
A unique day trip for those who love touring historic houses, magnificent gardens and modern art. Fall is an ideal time to take a train ride up the Hudson via Metro North to Kykuit (rhymes with 'pie-cut'), the hilltop home built by John D. Rockefeller in 1909, last inhabited by Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his family, and now a National Trust Historic site. You have a choice of six tours.
House and Inner Garden Tour, (2 hours) offered throughout the day, most popular with first-time visitors, includes main floor of house, art galleries, gardens close to house, golf room and coach barn.
The Grand Tour, (3 hours) daily at 9:45 and 1:45, adds a visit to the 2nd floor of Kykuit, with it balcony
Modern Art Tour, (2 hours) Saturdays at 12:45, highlights Nelson Rockefeller's art and sculpture collection, plus a tour of the Union Church of Pocantico Hills, withstained-glass windows by Chagall and Matisse.
Timesaver Tour, (1 hour) weekdays at 2:35 pm, includes the house, inner garden, west terrace but not the art galleries and coach barn.
Selected Highlights Tour, (2 hours) weekdays at 1 pm, includes the house and most of the gardens.
I've taken the House and inner Garden Tour, and was struck, in this day of McMansions, by the relative modesty of the house, especially compared to the vast sweep of its gardens and estate. The rooms are fairly small and there is no ballroom, for example, because the Rockefellers, strict Baptists, did not allow dancing or drinking in the house. But they wisely purchased thousands of acres, including the Palisades on the opposite bank of the Hudson, to preserve their knockout view.
Kykuit is worth several trips, one for the house and one for the gardens. I suggest rising early, catching the train at Grand Central Station where you take the Hudson Line to Tarrytown, and then a taxi to the Visitors Center at Philipsburg Manor. (Sit on the left side of the train going up and the right going down for the best Hudson River views.) The train ride and taxi should take about 45 minutes.
BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS: THREE-STAR RESTAURANT
Blue Hill at Stone Barns sits down the road from Kykuit on a manicured 80-acre Rockefeller farm whose Norman-style stone barns, silos and courtyard have been elegantly transformed into a Center for Food and Agriculture. The outstanding, three-star restaurant is the crown jewel of this farm-and-educational complex. It offers new American cuisine at its finest, in the tradition of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse. Its mantra is fresh farm-to-table organic produce, beautifully prepared, recipes based on the bounty of the season. Chef-owner Dan Barber also operates Blue Hill in Greenwich Village, one of Manhattan's top restaurants, with a Zagat food rating of 26. The restaurant's stone-and-wood decor is a visual experience that can best be described as country-Soho-stunning. Even the stone coffee pots from France are a visual treat. Spending several hours eating in the airy, quiet, high-ceilinged dining room (whose steel beams are painted brown to resemble wood beams), gazing out at the rolling countryside or across a large room dominated by a mural-sized meadow-and-trees photograph, is a rare pleasure. Perhaps because the atmosphere is so different from New York's loud, crowded restaurants, the experience feels special, a bit like dining at a great restaurant in Provence or the Napa Valley.
But it's the food, either grown at Stone Barns or by local Hudson Valley farmers, that is worth the trip. Menus change according to season and if, like me, you happen upon "pea season" in early summer, consider yourself blessed. I've enjoyed two "lunches" (so filling, forget about dinner), and can attest to the kitchen's sublime pea soup, ethereal "meatloaf," a tone poem to organic beef, its baby vegetables, eggplant puree, an assortment of breads (including a killer chocolate challah), and fantastic desserts. This is not a traditional Sunday brunch. It is a $45 prix-fix, three-course meal of serious food; as The Guide Michelin would say, definitely worth a detour. The waiters enjoy recounting how each dish is prepared. The wine list is reasonable and each course is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat.
Blue Hill attracts a mix of country-club suburbanites, New York foodies and celebrities of all stripes. Last Easter, friends spotted Hillary, Bill and Chelsea Clinton enjoying Sunday lunch. They ate undisturbed. It's that kind of place. Which is why, unfortunately, reservations must be made one month in advance. (Lunch is served from 11:30 am to 2 pm.)
I have yet to try dinner, but the Tasting Menus range from $65 to $95 per person (for three to five courses, plus two desserts), and look irresistible. A typical Fall Tasting Menu includes: Mushroom Tart with Fingerling Potatoes & Microgreens; Hot Smoked Trout, Squash Broth, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds; Loin of Grass Fed baby Beef, Cannelloni of Braised Beef with Fall Vegetables & Horseradish Broth; Warm Pear Soup; Wedding Cake (Hazelnut Praline & Chocolate Ganache); and Petit Fours.
Dinner reservations are even harder to come by and must be made two months in advance. The restaurant is open Friday and Saturday evenings from 5 PM - 11 PM; Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5 PM - 10 PM. There is also a handsome bar and bar menu. For reservations call 914-366-9600.
A less-expensive option for visitors to Kykuit, is first to tour Blue Hill's grounds (including the Visitor Center for a self-guiding map, the silos, stone barns, organic greenhouse, herb garden, free-range sheep, turkey and hens), and then to grab a bite and spread out at the long outdoor picnic table outside The Café at Stone Barns. The Café offers light snacks made with ingredients from the same organic farm—salads, sandwiches, fresh fruit, fresh eggs, cookies—at reasonable prices.
For more information on Blue Hill's menus, mission, history and staff, go to: www.bluehillstonebarns.com. There is a link on their site to Metro North's railroad schedule.
For more information on trains from Grand Central Station go to: www.mta.nyc.ny.us (click on Metro North, then click on One Day Getaways, then click on The Rockefeller Estate, Kykuit). Also visit: www.hudsonvalley.org
Although taxis are always available at the Tarrytown Station, for those wishing to set up their own itinerary, especially if they plan to dine at night, the recommended taxi service is Knapp McCarthy, 914-631-TAXI. For those who want to ride in style, try Dominick's Limousine Service in Sleepy Hollow, 914-366-0929 or 877-436-6546.
ELEANOR FOA DIENSTAG www.eleanorfoa.com, journalist and author, writes frequently about travel and food.
THE CULTURE VULTURE
Let 1,000 Murals Bloom
Talk about turning lemons into lemonade! Jules Demchick, founder and president of the ID Carlisle Development Corporation, deserves kudos for transforming a graffiti-covered, five-story walk-up on East 83rd Street into an exquisite work of art. It is an inspired take on "improving the neighborhood." And last year I watched the transformation take place.
I walk up and down York Avenue three or four times a week. I know every nook and cranny of that stretch of real estate, so imagine my surprise when one day I spied something so startling that, like a hound-dog poised with one foot off the ground, I froze and stared in a state of hyper-alertness. There, on the wall of a nondescript tenement across from the rising 28-story condo, the Cielo, at York Avenue and 83rd Street, was an-honest-to-god trompe l'oeil (fool the eye) mural whose three-dimensional perspective was so deftly done that I jay-walked across the street to make sure the façade wasn't a real face lift.
It turns out that Demchick, who built the Cielo, is a serious art connoisseur. Perhaps because, except for himself, everyone in his family—wife, Barbara Nessin, and their daughters—is an artist. So, when faced with a graffiti-covered 77-foot wall directly across the street from his high-priced condo, he negotiated with the walk-up's owner and commissioned an architectural mural by Richard Hass, one of New York's great realist painters, to run the length of the wall.
In the spirit of a mini-Medici, Demchick has also provided the building's tenants with a one-year membership to the Whitney Museum, hired an Art Concierge, commissioned paintings by Betsy Eby for the lobby, and included artwork by local elementary school students in the condo's communal playroom. But it is the Haas mural—a sophisticated and whimsical nod to the Yorkville of yore—that is a real gift to the community.
To begin with, rising on the northeast corner of the wall is a startling four-story clock, painted to resemble major timepieces found in European cities. Graced with such details as open-faced gears, Roman numerals, astrological signs, and two New York City mounted policemen who appear to be moving around the clock, it is nothing short of awesome.
Below the clock, running the length of the wall, are gargoyles with faces and images representing humble occupations once associated with the neighborhood: a sewing machine, dress dummy, mortar and pestle and—an Escher-like touch—a stairway to nowhere. Best of all, enhancing the existing architecture, Haas has transformed three ordinary tenement windows into what appear to be curved, copper-clad bay windows. They are remarkably beautiful.
I say, let New York citizens—and all developers—take notice and be similarly inspired. Let 1,000 trompe l'oeil murals bloom! And in the meantime, come take a look at this glorious piece of public art. It's definitely worth a special visit.
Eleanor Dienstag (www. eleanorfoa. corn), journalist and author, writes frequently about culture and the arts.
The Best Thing About Niagara, Travel & Leisure
"Travel snobs who wouldn't be caught dead planning a trip to Niagara Falls should, instead, pack their bags for two man-made splendors a few miles away: Niagara-on-the-Lake, home of Canada's Shaw Festival, and Artpark, New York State's radical experiment in cultural recreation. Perched on opposite banks of the historic Niagara River, they offer an ideal combination of pleasure for a late summer or fall mini-vacation—topnotch performing and visual arts as well as splendid restaurants, all in a country setting."
Sunday Travel Section: The New York Times
At Club Med, Two Variations On A Theme
"My first clue that things had changed subtly but significantly at Club Med came when my companion and I entered our room at Turkoise, on the island of Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos. Compared to the dark and somewhat grim quarters that had greeted me at Club Med's Caravelle village on Guadeloupe three years before, the modern, third-floor room bearing the appellation "Swell" on a terra cotta plaque outside the door was just that. Indeed, by Club Med standards, the tile floor, blond wood furniture, extra-large twin beds and well-lighted shower and sink area (with a separate room for the toilet) verged on the luxurious. And by any standard, our view of manicured lawn, beach and truly turquoise waters was picture-book perfect...."
Sunday Travel Section: The New York Times
Minarets in Mexico: Mexico's Riviera-Style Resort
"It is said that Las Hadas, the luxurious resort on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, was conceived by the late Bolivian tin magnate Antenor Patino as a hideaway for himself and his international friends.
Mr. Patino's chalk-white 15-acre complex cost $33 million to build and took eight years to blast out of the jungle. When it was done, in 1974, he threw open its doors with a legendary gala-in-white party for the "beautiful people" who landed their jets at the new Manzanillo-Colima Airport built by the Mexican Government with the help of a $5 million contribution from Mr. Patino. Rumor has it that Las Hadas never quite caught the fancy of the international set...
As recently as five years ago...it still presided over the green slopes of the Santiago Peninsula in relative isolation. But, as so often happens, what started out as a remote Shangri-La today more closely resembles a crowded Riviera hillside, with Las Hadas wedged between a second hotel and a huge condominium complex...At present, Las Hadas is more middle class than jet set, and seems to attract affluent, athletic couples of all ages."
Have Bike, Will Travel, McCall's Magazine
"Of all the travel brochures I read while planning a vacation, I was most intrigued by the one that described an eight-day bicycle trip through the Dordogne River Valley in France. True, I hadn't been on a bike in ten years. True, I was not one of those women who squeezed in aerobics between my job and housework. But I was active and healthy, with a youthful appetite for life....The good news was that from the moment we pedaled through the picture-book village of Argentat and headed into the lush, rolling hills of the Bas Limousin plateau, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the countryside....The bad news was that the Dordogne is hilly country—and I was having trouble biking up the hills."
Letter From Toronto: Where the American Dream is Alive and Well, Frequent Flyer Magazine
"In the '50s, New York lived in the shadow of Paris and London; today's Toronto lives in the shadow of New York. Torontonians' compulsion to compare their splendid city, rising dramatically along the north shore of Lake Ontario, to New York, reflects Canada's compulsion to define itself in relation to its neighbor and largest trading partner, The United States."
Celestial Communications, Frequent Flyer Magazine
"To avid watchers of Pope John Paul II, it probably came as no surprise that on his trip to the United States the busy pontiff chose to address his flock while cruising from San Antonio to Phoenix at 35,000 feet aboard a TWA 747. But as devout Catholics listened to the pope's message—a sermon delivered in Spanish and downloaded to a radio station in New Mexico—for trend watchers, the medium was the message. And guess what? The pope was not using AT&T to reach out and touch the faithful, but GTE's Airfone."
Big Sky in the Big Apple, Interludes Magazine
"I grew up in Manhattan without a backyard or a car, but didn't miss them. I had Central Park, where I roller-skated, biked, necked, fell in love and, later, brought my children to play. Today, this glorious 2.5 mile stretch of urban parkland is still my backyard/country home, especially on weekends when it's car-free.
When 'sky hunger' attacks, I jump out of bed and head for the Reservoir, which stretches the width of Central Park. So strap on a belly pack, chow down a New York breakfast of coffee, juice and bagel with a schmear (cream cheese) and join me as I share my favorite Park vistas."
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