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Trip Report WEST POINT ACADEMY GRADUATION via Catskills & mid-Hudson Valley

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TRIP BACKGROUND: Following a delightful trip to the Southern California coast in mid-April, where we met up with Mai Tai Tom & Tracy, we arrived home fully intending to do spring clean-up and flower planting in our yard and gardens, and enjoy summer in town, having get-togethers with local family and friends. The only travel plans on the horizon were for Italy in mid- September.

This all changed when we received an invitation from our cousins to attend their son's graduation from West Point Military Academy. Since they had only ten tickets, we felt quite complimented, and immediately began making plans to attend the graduation. We found out that it was more than just a graduation ceremony, but a weekend of events and festivities.

We made the decision to drive to New York from Cincinnati, leaving a few days early, and taking a circuitous route. We would go through the Catskill Mountains and take in attractions in the Hudson River Valley which we had missed on a previous trip.

Given the variety of events and clothing requirements for the West Point celebrations, driving made it much easier to pack: no luggage restrictions!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Off at 7:15 AM. A rainy day, with on and off heavy downpours, encountering long stretches of construction zones. Fortunately, being Sunday, work was not in progress.

Reaching upper Ohio (I-271 which diagonals away from Cleveland and toward Erie, Pa) the terrain became more attractive. The lushness of the hills and mountains as we drove through Pennsylvania and into New York was especially nice, even with overcast skies.

We traded off on the driving, with the joke of the trip becoming that when Margie drove, we encountered the heaviest rain with lane closures for construction.

I-86/St. Rt.17 was a long stretch without many exits for services. We saw signs indicating that we were in the area of the Finger Lakes. A highlight was a lucky stop at a Tourist Exit a bit off of the main highway. We had been driving past a large body of water and learned that it was Chautauqua Lake.

The visitor center there was a newish, attractively-landscaped area where “Steve” the volunteer filled us in on the core activity of the area. It was the first Chautauqua Center for families with educational, cultural, and fun activities during the summer. Over the years, many famous, wealthy people have built summer properties there. The view of the huge lake is impactful, even on this overcast day.

During the long stretches of highway, with hardly a McD's in sight, the audiotape of Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton helped pass the time. The radar detector was helpful, especially in one incident on our trek on I-86 (formerly State Route 17) which is being updated, with exits and entrances being constructed, to be entirely interstate. The police seemed to be out in force.

About 7:30 PM we reached the city Binghamton, NY where we had reservations at the Fairfield Inn. Binghamton is a good destination in that it is a crossroads of major interstates: I-86, I-81, and I-88, and is close to Hancock, a small city just outside the start of the Catskill Mountains.
We ended the travel day with a light meal at Applebee’s next door to the Fairfield Inn where a 10% discount for guests of this Marriott..

Monday, May 22, 2017

Up at 7, breakfast included…average…off by about 9 for a forty-five-minute drive to Hancock, the closest little town to the beginning of the Catskills. Hancock is a small burg where we filled up the SUV. The price advertised was $2.53 per gallon, but, as we would soon find out, that is for cash. The credit card price was $2.59. This type of advertising seems to be common in certain areas.

Interestingly, despite Hancock’s close proximity, none of the locals we asked seemed to have visited the Catskill Mountains, nor did they have any information about the area. We talked with a New Yorker, originally from Long Island, who was traveling to visit his family there. Although not from the immediate area, he knew more about the Catskill Mountains than any other people we had met. He assured us that we couldn’t go wrong as all the routes are beautiful.

We stayed on I-86/St. Rt.17 and headed east along the Delaware River to Livingston Manor (our gas consultant had mentioned how beautiful the area was). We found another one-horse village with two options for lunch: one, a Chinese place, which we would discover is one of many scattered throughout these small towns in the area, and a Café.

We chose the Café 43 which, from the exterior, looked like it would be place with a nice bar and quite a few tables. To our chagrin upon entering, we discovered a very small space with six tables max, no bar, and old 50’s chrome furniture, where “gramma” cooked the meals and old people gathered for their social fare of the day. They could be overheard listing the numerous ailments they and others endured.

But we were hungry, and didn’t want to hurt the lady’s feelings by leaving. Besides, there wasn’t much around there. Actually, the roast beef sandwich and chili were very good. While we ate, the lady told us about living in the area: only small stores with the need to travel a distance to a Walmart or Sam’s; the numerous and troublesome black bears in the area. When asked why so few people were around (wondering how she could earn a living) she said that their season didn’t start until the end of June when it warmed up. Memorial Day week-end was not that popular in the Catskills.

Following lunch, we headed a bit north to Margaretville, a little town we had read about. A “department” store had just opened and amazingly Margie could find a belt to purchase (two to choose from) as we gathered travel ideas from the owner. Her tip led us a couple of buildings down in the rain to the Cheese Barrel for cappuccinos and a chocolate chip cookie.

We took Rt. 28 to Phoenicia, a town recommended by the shop owner, described as having shops and eateries. It again looked deserted and very small. But we did find we an ice cream/candy store before continuing on to Woodstock.

Although the famous concert of August, 1969 did not take place in the town of Woodstock as its organizers originally intended, the name stuck with it. Because of permit difficulties and crowd expectations, the concert was actually in Bethel, about a half-hour south of Woodstock. Unfortunately, it was later in the afternoon, and our time frame would not permit us to visit the museum in Bethel.

Woodstock struck us as a pretty town with a beautiful forested road approach to it. A nice discussion with the Chamber of Commerce girl gave us interesting information about the area and culture…Bob Dylan, David Bowie’s ashes here or in Bali, Indonesia: a mystery, etc. Contrary to what we had heard about Woodstock and some of the residents who remained from the ‘69-’70’s, we saw lovely shops and restaurants. The only possible remnants of the 70’s we detected were a couple of tatoo shops and a psychic reader. In fact, we liked Woodstock a lot and wished that we had been ready for dinner as there were a number of attractive-looking restaurants there. Other than walking around, with many stores closed at 5 PM, our only memento was a tee-shirt for Tom.

Drizzling rain told us that it was time to drive on past Kingston to the toll road I-87 southbound toward Poughkeepsie (75 cents) and over the mid-Hudson bridge to Poughkeepsie ($1.75).
Considering that it was rush hour, the traffic wasn’t too bad. We easily found our Courtyard Marriott in Poughkeepsie with the help of our Garmin.

Frank at the reception desk was cool and recommended the Eveready Diner which is 15 minutes north on Route 9 in Hyde Park. We recalled from our previous trip in 2014 that diners are very popular in the Hudson Valley area, and this one was notable because it had been featured on the Food Network, as well as other TV shows, magazines, and newspapers.

As described by Frank, the atmosphere is attractive, the wait staff uniforms are those of the 50’s, and the menu is quite varied. With drinks, their special chicken noodle soup, and a shared prime rib sandwich, we left quite satisfied. It met our needs for the evening.

But did we say our drive was only 15 minutes??? On our return to the hotel, we encountered a traffic incident which had Rt.9 south totally blocked about 3 miles from our hotel. Neither our Garmin nor our map showed any parallel road. What to do?

We drove close to an intersection from which we could identify our location and called the Marriott number, only to reach some out-of-town office who knew nothing about the area. Finally, that agent agreed to connect us with the local Courtyard. We talked to Frank who helped guide us back to the hotel through a series of twists and turns to eventually again enter Rt. 9. By now, it was 10 o’clock and we were relieved to again be in our hotel room.

So far in our trip, the rainy and foggy conditions have been an issue. Generally, it has been drizzling, not downpouring, but it was annoying. The scenery is still beautiful as we drove on winding roads throughout the Catskills. We learned that the area is partly private and partly federal and so the small towns that dot the landscape are located within this park.

Considering the dearth of visitors, it was a bit of a challenge to discover what each village/hamlet/city was like and where the preferred restaurants were located. Many places of businesses were closed. We were told that their season is generally late June through the fall color of mid-October. It is then when the Woodstock film festival is held…and many celebrities come to town.
Before turning in, we turned on the TV, only to learn of the Manchester bomb blast at Ariana Grande concert. A sad ending to an otherwise pleasant day! RIP!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Up at 7 and, for breakfast, walked down the hall and one level of stairs to the lobby.. We found a nice U-shaped booth having a TV with our own remote. We purchased a croissant egg sandwich and split a large Starbuck’s coffee. Although the Courtyard Hotels don’t offer complimentary breakfast, the atmosphere is pleasant and quiet. More business people than families seem to stay in Courtyards.

Frank had pointed out that the Museum of Samuel B. Morse was just next door. We had a 12:45 reservation at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), so were happy to learn that the museum had a tour beginning at 10 o’clock.

Happy to have a day without rain, we made the very short drive to the Locust Grove which had been the property of Samuel Morse, the telegraph inventor who was born in 1795 and lived till 1872. We had not known about Samuel Morse’s earlier career as a portrait painter and a university professor.

On the tour, we visited the small museum displaying some of his portraits, and with a very knowledgeable guide, toured the mansion, containing 100’s of art pieces. We learned that when Samuel Morse bought the property, it had only a small “box-like” home. As Samuel Morse achieved some monetary success, he gradually had additions built.

Later, the Young family bought the property with the intention of making the place a museum for the public. The grounds are spacious, 180 acres of landscaped gardens and hiking trails, with views of the Hudson River. We enjoyed our conversations Gwen and Ethel, the store manager and our tour director.

To reach the CIA for our 12:45 reservation at the Italian restaurant, Caterina de Medici, we had only to drive north on Rt. 9.

On our 2014 trip, we had enjoyed a meal in the French Le Bocuse Restaurant. So, for this trip we chose the Italiano cuisine, partly as an precedent to our September trip to Italy.
The Caterina de Medici is in a separate, gorgeous building whose outside design and color calls out “Italiano”. Upon entering, everything from the exotic chandeliers, to the furnishings, to the décor with Italian pottery, feels elegant.

Our small oval table, backed with decorative tile, provided a nice view of the whole restaurant. The experience was again wonderful. After beginning with Valpolicella wine, and warm bread, we shared a pizzetta appetizer and a small pasta tasting plate. Each of us then enjoyed an entrée: Tom a steak and Margie a veal selection. We capped off our meal with a shared trio sorbet and cappuccinos. Every segment of the meal was tasty; however, we had thought that by sharing, our meal would be less filling. Upon leaving, we were more than satiated. The bill was $132.83, as they place a 17% service fee for the student scholarship fund.

This CIA in Hyde Park, NY is the first and oldest culinary college in the United States. Originally in New Haven, Connecticut, there was a need for more space, and the CIA was able to acquire this former Jesuit Seminary campus, built in 1903. Subsequently, two more culinary colleges have been opened, one in St. Helena, CA and the other in San Antonio, TX.

To walk off our meals, we traversed the halls of the Roth Building (the main old seminary building). Many classes were in session, with some active baking and food preparation able to be viewed through the windows. The original chapel, with its beautiful stained-glass windows, is now used as a hall for student meetings, study groups, etc. Certainly, an inspirational learning atmosphere.

Next to the CIA is Marist College, another beautiful campus on the banks of the Hudson River. We drove to their waterfront area where their competitive row boats are stored. We enjoyed the river view for quite a while, and moved on south to the Waterfront Area of the city of Poughkeepsie.

There we found a nice bench along the river where we watched the rowing teams paddling in harmony. It was so relaxing that each of us fell asleep. As the sun got lower in the sky, we donned jackets and sat outdoors at the Ice House Restaurant right along the water. After nursing drinks for a while, we ordered onion soup for Tom and a salad for Margie, considering that as a more than ample dinner. From our seats, we could eye the Poughkeepsie Pedestrian Walking Bridge, and discussed taking advantage of it the following day, hoping for more good weather.

A short drive and we were back to our Courtyard by 8 PM.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Up at 7 and decided to split a croissant and coffee at our favorite semi-circle booth with the TV. This morning we are heading north toward Rhinebeck, a small city north on Rt. 9. (Everything is situated on Rt. 9!)

En route, we planned a stop just south of that city at a mansion called Wilderstein, where we had incorrectly been told was the site of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding a few of years ago. The mansion happened to be closed, much to our chagrin. We got a few pics of this attractive mansion and its scenic views overlooking the Hudson River.

Following that stop, we traveled a little farther north to the little city of Rhinebeck. Entering the town, we were impressed with a large white building, the Tavern at Beekman Arms Inn, fronted with flags and a neatly manicured lawn and gardens. We had initially been looking for a local restaurant named Fosters which we passed, and saw that it was being painted. Being a bit early for lunch, we parked and walked around the charming town for a few minutes, stopping in the Tavern at Beekman Arms Inn. We had a discussion with the hostess, and were invited to look around the restaurant, even pick out the table we wanted and reserve it for our lunch a little while later.

We liked the city of Rhinebeck as it is quaint and has an older, historic feel to it. About noon, we returned to Inn and were seated at the FDR table in the bar, so named by us as there was a portrait of him on the wall above our table.

Our meal at the historic old Tavern was excellent. In our discussions, we learned that it is the oldest continuously running inn in America. The hostess clarified that Chelsea’s wedding was not at Wilderstein, but at a nearby prestigious place, Astor Courts. Bill and Hillary Clinton had eaten at the Tavern a few years ago and the newspaper article mounted on an interior wall describes it. For Chelsea’s wedding, the Talbot hosted a reception for those guests not invited to the banquet at Astor Courts.

Phil was a fun waiter who recommended the Dutch Chicken Pot Pie to Tom. Margie chose the summer fruit/romaine salad. Both were delicious. With drinks: ($57). Phil recommended a place north in Red Hook for the best ice cream, so following our meal we walked around the town for a while before determining to get dessert.

The owner of a gallery encountered us on the street, and seemed like the town Chamber representative. From him we learned much of the history of the area and the interesting detail that Astor Courts no longer is available for events. This man had earlier traveled all over the USA, even knowing of the developments in Cincinnati in the Over-the-Rhine area.

Since Phil the waiter had recommended the Holy Cow Ice Cream location in Red Hook (3 miles north of Rhinebeck), we sought it out, but were disappointed. It was more of a roadside take-out with strange looking 25-year-olds hanging around on picnic tables in the parking lot. Not remarkable.

We drove back to Poughkeepsie, hoping to take advantage of this rare sunny day to walk across the Hudson Pedestrian Bridge, a former 1880’s railroad bridge, 200 ft. above the Hudson River. We returned from Rhinebeck to the Ice House/Water Street/Waterfront parking area to utilize the 21-story, 1 ½ minute elevator ride to the “walk on top of the Hudson”.

The whole loop of the walking and the mid-Hudson driving bridge, going a full 360 degrees, is about 4 ½ miles long. We walked half-way across the bridge to the flag marking the center, and back again, pausing often to take in the views. We couldn’t have ordered a more perfect day to enjoy this experience.

About 3 PM we arrived back at the Ice House for a waterfront drink before returning to the Courtyard about 5 PM. We were aware of it being our last night in Poughkeepsie, requiring packing for our transition to Ft. Montgomery near West Point the following day.

We wanted to have dinner close by, and had heard that there was a diner about five-minutes’ drive south from our hotel. The Table Talk Diner, apparently the same ownership as the Everready Diner in Hyde Park, which we had really enjoyed on our first evening in the area. It met our needs for a convenient location, but a step-down in size, atmosphere, and menu.

Our three nights at the Poughkeepsie Courtyard Marriott were perfect for this trip. We liked its convenient location, as it is very available to so many attractions. It was an easy drive north on State Route 9 which ties together so many attractions: Marist College, Locust Grove, CIA, Vanderbilt Estate, FDR Library, etc. Tomorrow we would move on to the last phase of our vacation, West Point and the Graduation, our original excuse for coming to this area which we like so much.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Following our breakfast pattern at the Courtyard Marriott, the niche booth complete with its own TV, we were packed and off on another rainy day to head for Ft. Montgomery, the location of our hotel for the week-end.

Having had a series of busy days of exploration of the Catskills and the Hudson River Valley, today was the start of the celebratory events of our cousins’ son’s graduation from West Point Military Academy, our reason for traveling to this area.

We were thankful for the sunny day yesterday, and didn’t mind rain for an easy-going transfer day. We had only to travel the half-hour or so south, then cross the Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson, to check into our Holiday Inn Xpress Hotel in Ft. Montgomery by about 1 PM.

With the exception of the elegant Thayer Hotel at the entrance gate of West Point, there is a dearth of hotels near West Point. In view of the situation, we were glad to be staying at this mid-level but over-priced Holiday Inn Xpress, especially after learning of the basic accommodations of our relatives “on campus” at what is called an Army Hotel.

The Barnstormers Bar-b-que Restaurant next door to our hotel where was a good find where we had a relaxing and tasty lunch. Following lunch, it was time to make the ten-minute drive to the West Point Visitors’ Center to present our “government-picture ID” and obtain our Pass for the week-end graduation events. Again, it was raining hard.

Upon reaching the Visitors’ Center, we learned that for Graduation Week-end, a Visitors’ Pass wasn’t required, just proper documents to be checked at two points upon entering the grounds. That accomplished, followed by a stop in the West Point Gift Shop to purchase needed ponchos for the morning parade, we had time to return to our hotel, relax a bit, and dress for the evening dinner.

The plan was to meet our relatives at 6:30 PM in the lobby of the Thayer Hotel to have a casual dinner in the lower level there. Since we had sufficient time, we arrived early to explore the interior of the Hotel Thayer and enjoy drinks in the General Patton Tavern, lucky to score a window-side table. Although the skies were still overcast, the rain had subsided, allowing for a beautiful view of the gardens and the Hudson.

When we met our cousins, we were happy that Eric, who is the West Point graduate, was able to join us for the meal. We learned that the flights of three of our relatives had been cancelled, or delayed, causing them to miss the evening’s event. We were happy that we had chosen not to fly.

At the meal, we were appreciative of the offer of traveling travel back and forth to the West Point Campus in one of the other guest's’ mini-vans.

Upon leaving the Thayer Hotel, the valet brought our car to the front door, as it was again raining. We returned to the hotel by about 9:30 or so.

Friday, May 26, 2017 Parade Day; Lunch & Building Tour; Evening Reception and Banquet

Friday was the Parade Day, and, again, it was pouring down rain! We arose early, dressed in layers, had the hotel’s complimentary breakfast, and met friends Gary and Carol at 7 AM. Although the parade didn’t begin until 9:00, we were encouraged to arrive early to obtain good seats.

As we made our way to the Plain where the parade would be held, even the ponchos and umbrellas did not seem to keep us dry. The aluminum bleachers were slippery, with narrow walking strips, and the seats were wet. At this point, things didn't bode well for an enjoyable parade!

It was in these uncomfortable conditions that we greeted some of the family whom we had not seen the evening previous. As we waited for the start of the parade, we tried to converse and hoped for the cessation of the rain.

As the 9:00 hour arrived, oh happy days! The rain subsided as the West Point Band began and 4000 cadets marched out onto the field with precision. Fascinating observations: 1st year cadets carrying rifles; others carrying swords; marching in regiments. As the parade progressed, there was a clear narration of each part. Our seats in the stands allowed us to have an unobstructed view of Eric as he marched with his regiment, as well as the main buildings of the West Point campus. As the parade progressed, the skies gradually cleared, allowing some sunshine on the event.

Following the parade, we joined the other guests to greet the cadets on the field. Of course, cameras were continually clicking.

It was about lunch time, so we walked to the nearby West Point Club where a buffet-style meal was available. Our cousin was able to secure a large table which could accommodate our whole group

Following lunch, we toured a couple of buildings. As we walked on the campus and among the buildings, the motto “Duty, Honor, Country” was prominent all around. One of the more impressive buildings was the Jefferson Library. We were allowed entrance because our cousin had a special “Parent Pass”. While visiting the outside terrace, we observed the Secretary of the Army. whom we recognized because he was accompanied by Secret Service.

By this time, most of the group seemed tired, wanting to return to the hotel for a brief break. We would need to dress up for the evening’s events.

At 5:30 was the pre-banquet reception at the Eisenhower Building, an opportunity for all the guests to enjoy drinks and appetizers with the cadets. This reception was followed by banquets in two locations: a formal dinner, with tux and long dresses required, with very limited tickets, where General Mark Milley appeared in person.

We attended the secondary banquet at the West Point Club where we learned that our menu was the same, but we heard General Milley via live streaming. The meal was excellent, and General Miley’s speech was impressive. He detailed a history of the past hundred years describing the challenges of the future, ending with emphasis on equality, freedom, and diversity which are important values of our military. Very inspiring!

We returned to the hotel about 10:00, needing to prepare clothing for the graduation Saturday and pack our car for our return drive home following the festivities. We turned in by midnight.

Saturday, May 27, 2017 Graduation; Commissioning Ceremony
With a long day ahead, we were up by 4:45 to dress for the day’s events, finish packing, do our hotel check-out, grab breakfast, and be ready to head for the West Point campus by 7:00 AM.

For the graduation in Michey Field, it was necessary to board shuttle buses from the parking lot to the entrance. High security was enforced. A security checkpoint was set up at the entry to the stadium where tickets were carefully checked and guests were wanded. No back packs, no bottles, no food, no large purses were permitted, and visitors were encouraged to place any small items in clear plastic bags in order to speed up the security line. Early arrival was necessary because of the long security lines.

We were grateful for a sunny day; however, our seats were not under cover. So the purchase of West Point caps really helped shade our faces. (And, gave Margie that “hat hair” which would enhance the many photos which would be shot throughout the day!)

About a half-hour before the ceremony began, the West Point Band helped provide a celebratory atmosphere. Promptly at 9:35 the cadets began their precision marching onto the field and filed into their respective places. At 10:00 the ceremony began.

The speaker for the event was General James Mattis, the current Secretary of Defense. His words were filled inspiration: upholding high moral standards; maintaining an army for protection, but with the goal of using it as sparingly as possible.

General Mattis presented the diplomas to the first group of graduates, but then shook the hand of each graduate as others called the names and handed the diplomas.

The finale of the ceremony was the famous tossing of the hats by the graduates. Each hat was filled by some $ provided by the cadets, and children in attendance could run onto the field to collect a hat.
As with the parade, following the graduation the visitors descended to the field to meet with the graduates and take multiple photos.

One of the less important things that we learned is that the West Point cadets have several uniforms, and are required to do quick changes between events. Following the graduation ceremony, Eric had to change outfits again to prepare for the Commissioning Ceremony which would be held at another location.

Following the graduation, we all met at the so-called Army Hotel before proceeding to the location of Eric’s Commissioning Ceremony, at a scenic area several miles from the main campus. It was the Skeet Shooting Club grounds where there was a picnic lunch at the clubhouse which was appreciated by all.

With nearly 1000 new cadet graduates requiring their swearing in and commissioning, each cadet requests a general or higher-ranking officer to administer the oath and present the pin indicating that he or she is now a Lt. 2nd Class. Eric and a couple of his friends chose this location. A general administered the oath and his parents placed the pin on his uniform.

This ceremony was the final official event of the activity-filled graduation weekend. After the event, we said our “Farewells” to everyone, knowing that we would see most of them for a party at Eric's home in Columbus.

We then returned to the hotel to get our car and head for home. By leaving the area about 5:30 PM, we could drive about four hours, overnight in Pennsylvania, and make the remainder eight-hour drive to Cincinnati by 5:00 PM Sunday for the 7th birthday celebration of our grandnephew.

Sunday, May 28

With an 8 hr + drive, we made it to a delightful birthday party.

Returning home after the party, it seemed that we had been gone longer than a week. Exploring the Catskill Mountain area, a bit more of the Hudson River Valley, and finally the experience for which the trip was initiated: the West Point Graduation of our cousin, had made for an activity-packed series of days. We were happy that we were invited to take part in the festivities of the Graduation, but glad to be home.

Our yard and garden cleanup awaited us, but those things could be accomplished while we cherished the memories of another stimulating week.

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