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Trip Report: travels through the Northeast, Fall 2019

Trip Report: travels through the Northeast, Fall 2019

Old Dec 20th, 2019, 01:46 PM
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Trip Report: travels through the Northeast, Fall 2019

My cousin called when we came back from Europe and said that they were considering a trip to see the Fall colors in New England. I was thinking of a cross-country trip around the same time, so I suggested that we meet up for the New England colors. My wife would have rejoined me in Pittsburgh, which meant driving alone from California to Pennsylvania and then back by myself from wherever she would have taken the plane back to California. I did count on seeing friends and relatives along the way. I let that fester in my mind while I was working on the travel arrangements that included my cousins. When it came down to making various bookings, and figuring out the time it would take to cross the country, I decided that I would not do the drive; one way would have been possible, but the return trip would have taken up too much time and effort with little to show for it even if a different route had been taken. Over the years we have done a pretty good coverage of the area from the Rockies to the Pacific and from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. It turned out to be the right decision for another reason: my cousins had too much luggage to fit in the back of my Crosstrek.

The plans were then changed: we would go to Pittsburgh ($1088 RT), rent a car there, and return to California from Pittsburgh after going to Philadelphia, NYC, Cape Cod, Vermont, Quebec and Ontario (another trip report), Buffalo and back to Pittsburgh. Some of the readers may have already figured out some of the logic of this itinerary.

My wife was not too excited about some of the logistics of the common trip: Three nights in Ottawa but only two nights in Toronto? I deferred to my cousins on this issue, although I did manage to eliminate an extra night in Niagara Falls. On the other hand, my wife got to see quite a few Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, three sites near Pittsburgh and four in Buffalo. We also visited an old friend of hers in Philadelphia.

In Pittsburgh we stayed at a booking.com rental fro three nights ($222) just at the edge of the Highland Park Historic district. The claim that it is within the district, but in fact it is half a block from the district’s boundary. That makes a difference. Where we stayed had been a lower middle class neighborhood which had gone down and was coming back up. Cross the boundary street, and the houses are bigger, better built originally and currently in better shape. Walk two blocks to Negley Ave. and turn right and the walk to Shadyside is through a neighborhood with board houses and apartment complexes and one large abandoned domed synagogue, while turning left on the same avenue (its bus goes downtown) and the houses are even larger, well kept, it is the historic district proper.

The difference between booking.com and airbnb is one of clientele and therefore housing conditions, at least that has been my experience. This rental was essentially an upstairs room in a house that could contain three apartments. The host lived downstairs, the second floor had a living area with a full kitchen and a stocked refrigerators, with a large deck facing the back of the house. It has three bedrooms and one and a half bath. The host was very friendly and helpful telling us to simply consume what was in the refrigerator—orange juice, milk, eggs. She also got us day passes for the bus which we had to pick up at her work place.

What others might find too objectionable: The host’s sense of distance was way off, so that we had to walk at least 45 minutes to get to her work place to pick up the passes (and pay her for them). But more seriously, the accommodations were marginal for the following reasons: We stayed in a room with a queen size bed so high that my wife had to use a step stool to climb into bed. The space on her side of the bed was maybe 18 inches, and with the step stool in place it was impossible to open the closet door, which in any case could not have been fully opened. On my side of the bed I had to slide in sideways because the space between the bed and the wall was that narrow—I kept on hitting the Venetian blinds of the windows when sliding in. The bed had a high end, so sitting on the bed to put on socks was not possible. There was a desk and a book shelf on the opposite wall, but the room was so small that our suitcases, once opened took up all the floor space and it was impossible at that point to sit down in the chair provided with the desk to put on socks. The common room had a sitting area where we could do that. If only the host realized that her clientele—the others were only Europeans traveling on a shoe string—did not expect a queen size bed, the room would have been more useful. The other room with was larger and did not have the same problem. The room was clean.

Clearly the unit was modified without a permit. The third room had bunk beds, with a ceiling fan that partially whirled over the top bunk bed; there was central AC for the entire unit. The bathroom did not have the light switch by the door, but nicely centered between the mirror and the sink, while the electrical plugs were between the sink and the bathtub shower. The shower was not on a sliding rod, and I had to extended myself fully to take it off its holder, a necessity because otherwise, given that the connectors were loose, there was no guarantee that the water would be going in the right direction. My wife could not reach the shower hand hold it. There was a water and dryer sticking out a little by the doorway because it was an old top loading washer with its mated dryer rather than a newer and smaller one, perhaps even stacked that would not have taken up as much space. In other words, everything was done on the cheap. I am going on at length because I suspect that I will tolerate housing that others would find unacceptable, and this one was marginal for me because of the lack of space in the room and the problematic shower. I did not consider its distance from the center of town a problem, others might prefer to be closer.

We had two evening meals in Pittsburgh. One was in an Asian type mainly vegetarian cafeteria in the university area. Not expensive, palatable food. The other was in Highland Park proper, about a 15 minute walk from our accommodations. Smiling Banana Leaf was the name of this Thai restaurant. The food was good, service was uneven, not expensive (as I recall). We had a picnic lunch one day in the park at the tip of the triangle with sandwiches purchased from the Smallman Gallery in the Strip District. On the first day we ate in the café on the grounds of the Frick mansion.

What we saw in Pittsburgh.

We visited the Frick mansion, which is less grand than expected. It was their starter home that was subsequently expanded. It is opulent but not comparable to the Rockefeller or Vanderbilt mansions in upstate New York, or what is now the Frick museum in New York City. From there we sent to the Phipps Conservatory, which is near the university area. On the way we came across the Pittsburgh main library, a Carnegie library but not the first one ever built. My wife was particularly interested in it because she had researched all the public libraries in SF which includes a number of Carnegie funded libraries. We got a one hour improvised grand tour of the library, including the old stacks which contained a water fountain on every floor. From there we walked to the Conservatory which had an exhibition of installations inspired by van Gogh paintings. Not too successful, although the “painting” in the lobby did work:

But the enclosed area is very large and worthwhile and would be even without the special exhibit scattered in different areas.

On the second day we went to the Strip. Came across on a side street an Italian bakery/coffee shop that had excellent products in both categories (possibly La Prima Espresso Company). Wandered around, found a gift for our neighbors in an artists’ cooperative which was being kicked out of the Strip District Terminal being renovated as mall. I suspect that those shops will be more standardized and probably more expensive. We picked up a take out lunch from the Smallman Gallery and went to our next destination which was a free (tip accepted) tour of downtown Pittsburgh. We had lunch on a park bench before meeting the group in front of the Fort Pitt blockhouse. The tour was interesting, giving an introduction to the historical development of the core of the city—not too much about the steel mills although the guide talked about the Carnegie-Frick partnership and various anecdotes related to it. Then we went home and walked to a restaurant in the Highland Park area for our evening meal.

Our purpose for using Pittsburgh as our starting point was to visit Falling Water and other Frank Lloyd Wright sites. We picked up a car at the Pittsburgh airport, using public transportation to get there, and drove to Confluence where we had reserved an Airbnb ($122 for two nights). This was one of our best Airbnb stays ever. Nothing fancy, but welcoming and a pleasure to have real conversations with the hosts who had decided to give up their West Coast living (he had worked for Burning Man for 20 years) for this remote corner of Pennsylvania. They purchased a large building whose ground floor was either a car dealership or could have been a firehouse; they had just moved in. Upstairs was a large layout with two guest bedrooms in the back, a great kitchen, pantry and dining room area in front and a renovated bathroom (their bedroom must have been somewhere in the front), There also was large covered veranda, maybe 20x20 feet, facing the back. The front faced the railroad tracks, and the one problem, clearly marked by the hosts, is that coal trains still come by in the middle of the night, with their loud air horns (no train whistles on these diesels) heard for miles and the train taking a long time to rumble by. Given the length of the trains, I wondered how big the marshaling yards were. The changes in the living arrangements were personal, and defied magazine descriptions or layouts. We were not in an Ikea world as many rentals are, or in an English-style Talbot world, as was the case in a B&B in Seattle, or a mis-cast Romance novel world as was the case in a North Vancouver B&B.

This was a planned stay. The next day we went early in the morning for an in-depth tour of Falling Water . We may have seen more than the ordinary tour, but more importantly, we were allowed to photograph the interior. The tour was also more expensive than the ordinary ones ($220 for Falling Water and Polymath Park). We had lunch in the area and also purchased an EZ Pass transponder in anticipation of tolls during our travels on the East Coast. In the afternoon we visited another Frank Lloyd Wright house called Kentuck Knob ($50). It is not as fancy as Falling Water (few can compare to that house), but nonetheless interesting and worth a visit. The next day, on our way to Philadelphia we visited Polymath Park (near Donegal) where there are three houses, two by Frank Lloyd Wright and two by a student of his. One is a Usonian house and can be rented for an overnight stay. Speculating on livability, the Duncan Usonian house is the one I would choose as opposed to Falling Water which was designed with hired help in mind. I often heard the comment that Frank Lloyd Wright did not know how to design kitchens, and the one in Falling Water looks small and lacking in work space, and others have funny angles and access to dining areas, often clever but lacking in practicality. The Duncan house is the exception to the rule, with a very open kitchen, breakfast area and access to the dining area/living room. To sum up I think that we managed the most efficient way to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright sites in that area. A word to the wise: add half an hour to any potential traveling time. We got lost going from Confluence to Falling Water, and from Falling Water to Union City, and we also had to ask for directions and help to get to Polymath Park. Polymath Park has a good restaurant with a large deck for dining in nice weather.

We drove to Philadelphia and stayed with a friend for two nights. It was a get-together and we did little tourism, visiting only the Museum of the American Revolution which is interesting but not overwhelming; probably more oriented toward school age children.

These are the pictures of our trip combined with previous Philadelphia (Pennsylvania album) pictures: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjEHieme

We drove to NYC and stayed with our children. We arrived on a Thursday and had the day to ourselves on Friday and Saturday, allowing us to visit the World Trade Center area, but did not go to its museum, the High-line, and the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt museum and the Guggenheim museum.

The High-line turned out to be disappointing: the promenade plantée in Paris and the new Salesforce park in San Francisco are much more successful because there’s room around them. The High-line is also a victim of its own success. It is no more than an elevated train double track over a street with so many visitors that it is hardly better than walking on a crowded downtown street. It was constructed when the buildings around it were low. Anyone familiar with the elevated lines in NYC can see, particularly on the One Broadway and the Four Pelham Parkway lines in the Bronx that the elevated lines overshadow nearby buildings that often are barely as high as the line itself; usually storefronts with a couple stories above them, or the elevated is lined with inter-war 6 story apartment buildings that are no more than a sidewalks width away from the trains. What happened to the High-line is that these low buildings have for the most part disappeared, particularly in its uptown half, to be replaced by modern often signature architecture where one can practically spit on the adjoining balconies. The Salesforce garden in SF is wider and has an alley on either side to give some distance to the nearby high-rises, while the promenade plantée has the avenue Daumesnil on one side which gives it breathing room. The Cooper-Hewitt Museum in a former mansion and the Guggenheim are almost next to each other and make for a nice day’s visit with a break for lunch to relax the feet. The menu choices at the Cooper-Hewitt are limited and there is a garden area with tables, but for those seeking better choices, a walk back to Madison Ave. would be in order. When in the World Trade Center area a good take-out lunch can be found at Eataly, and this one is better for take-out than the same establishment’s other store near Madison Square Park.

These are my combined pictures of NYC: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjpf9yHx

The family took advantage of the fact that we had a car and we drove for a day to visit the Storm King Art Center near the Bear Mountain State Park (https://stormking.org/visit/). It is better to cross into New Jersey and take the Palisades Interstate Parkway which is more scenic than the New York Thruway. We chose to wander around by aiming to see two structures that could only be outdoors: Maya Lin’s undulating field:

an Andy Goldsworthy’s stone fence:

These two structures are at the far end of the center, accessible with a shuttle, and then we wandered back from there to see other art works carefully placed in various locations. Food choices at the art center are limited. It is best to bring your own picnic.

These are the combined Hudson Valley pictures: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjsqN921

On our way up and coming back we used the Battery tunnel. We had a transponder and I find it difficult to believe that we did not use it proper by sticking it up against the window. Nonetheless, while all other tolls before or after were paid automatically this one was not; which meant that we paid a higher toll fee plus the servicing cost of the rental agency even though the transponder was registered to me and had my credit card on file. Since the transponder was purchased in Pennsylvania, the New York authority will not try to find the registered owner of the transponder driving a rental car but will simply bill the rental agency which then billed me $49 for two missed tolls. Perhaps we would not have had the problem if I had attached the transponder to the windshield. Still, it is worthwhile to purchase a transponder if touring the Northeast, especially since some toll crossings do not accept any cash—the booths have been eliminated. The cost of the device is minimal, whereas the rental agency will charge $20 per day if memory serves me right for their transponder, or will charge $15 for every toll referred to it. This includes all charges incurred on toll roads, bridges, and tunnels in the Northeast. I believe that it can be purchased on line.

We left New York and met my cousins who came from Berlin via the Azores at the end of the line in Braintree. From there we drove to Cape Cod.

Our first stop was at the car rental agency to add my cousin as a driver because he and his wife thought that they would like the option of taking off on their own somewhere along the trip. It occurred once and he drove the car about four times. Our original rental cost with Dollar Car Rental through Expedia was $786.72 for a month’s rental of a Ford Escape or equivalent; we were given a Hyundai Tucson. Adding a driver for 20 days increased the cost to $1101.62, with two days’ rental cost, but not its tax, subsequently deducted because I was able to prove that my cousin was not with us for the last two days of the rental. Except for trips with long hours of driving; where alternating drivers might be desirable, adding a driver to a rental is a luxury.

We stayed in Dennis, which was chosen because its location appeared to be well centered and the rental was cheaper ($480 for four nights) than rentals farther east toward Provincetown. It was a small two bedroom cottage with a full kitchen and breakfast nook. But it was farther from the bay than we thought—a 30 minute walk—so that someone staying there in the summer would need a bicycle as I think that parking was very limited and definitely banned off the parking lots—no street parking available. We hoped to take a long walk on a boardwalk over the marsh but it had been destroyed by a storm and its replacement was much shorter, maybe a couple hundred yards. Just south of where we stayed there is a large shopping center half way between the bay and the ocean side. That’s where we did our shopping for home cooking. Prices of seafood—local mussels and scallops—were very reasonable, whereas prices at tourist locales tend to be on the high side for lobster rolls, clam chowder and other “must” items when by the sea.

One day we dropped off my cousins at a bicycle rental shop and drove off to visit the national seashore as well as Wellfleet where we picnicked facing the sound. We also walked around on the other side of the Cape in the national seashore area. Did some more the next day, and on our final day went to Provincetown for the afternoon and evening meal. A highlight of Provincetown is the town library in a former church with an amazing half size model of a fishing boat on the second floor: The evening meal was in one of the big seafood establishments facing the harbor.

The Cape Cod stay was too short, and we probably will plan to go back.

From Cape Cod we drove to Vermont via Old Sturbridge Village. The layout of the village is idealized and more spread out than active villages. The architecture is not particularly interesting in that it represents typical historical New England housing seen in many villages. But the furnishings in the houses and the representation of the trades of the period makes a visit worthwhile. We stayed there through lunch—not very good—and then drove to Chester Vermont where we stayed in a friend’s house.

Here are the pictures of our Massachusetts portion of the trip: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmJieizS

We are somewhat familiar with Vermont, having gone there on and off since 1969 and as a child I spent two summers and a Christmas vacation near Jamaica. We also have stayed in Chester a couple times before this trip. So here’s a brief view:

We knew the Weston Vermont before the explosion of its country store. In those days it was a small building with relatively few tourist items: maple syrup and sugar, some maplewood items. It has now become a tourist attraption [sic], not worth a detour. Other villages are more attractive. Woodstock is a larger well-kept town, heavily tourist oriented, but without over-commercialization. That said, long lines for the eating establishments, and I suspect that the locals stay away from the core of the town. Architecturally one should not miss the interior of the town’s public library. Grafton has maintained its charm with just a few stores behind the hotel, one of which is now the store where Grafton cheese is sold. Previously the cheese was sold at the dairy itself. Chester has its charms and a monument to the Civil War that rivals the W.W.I French town monuments in its listing of losses. There are a couple of restaurants along the main street:

and a grocery store near the train depot. We took the leaf-peeper train ride from Chester to Ludlow and back, very pleasant, but this year was not a good year for color.

These are my combined Vermont pictures: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjoBzLBg

We drove north to the Lake Champlain islands to go to Buffalo via Canada (another trip report).

Originally we had planned to drive from Niagara Falls to Pittsburgh without giving Buffalo a thought. But thanks to garyt22 and subsequent conversations with friends we decided to visit Buffalo. As luck would have it, there is a grand tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright structures offered once or twice a year and fitted perfectly into our schedule. This all-day tour ($300 for two with lunch) included the Martin house, the boat house, a gas station in the Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum, the Graycliff house, and the Blue Sky mausoleum. The downside with the all-day tour is that one sees only the main house of the Martin compound and only the downstairs of the Graycliff house. Tours of single locations might yield greater depth.

We had left Niagara Falls quite early, so we had time to visit some of Buffalo on our arrival day. Aside from the fine arts museum which was due to close for renovation and had only a limited section open, we saw downtown Buffalo, with a splendid Art Deco city hall

its Electric Tower which looks like a minaret, but that is not how it is described, and a Louis H. Sullivan building restored to its original splendor.

We stayed within walking distance of Forest Lawn cemetery where the Frank Lloyd Wright tour was starting and ending. Found a two room (kitchen and large room with bed and living area) apartment on Airbnb for $166 for two nights. It is in a changing neighborhood, about 1 mile from a hopping local neighborhood where we ate our evening meals; a good Thai restaurant and so-so Greek restaurant for the other evening.

These are the Buffalo pictures: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmJiY4r2

We drove to Pittsburgh the morning after our tour, arrived at the airport in plenty of time. We had some anxious moments when it came to finding a gas station close to the airport, but there is one in the airport area and there are signs to get to it as one approaches the terminals, leading you back out to the edges of the airport.

Last edited by Michael; Dec 20th, 2019 at 01:49 PM.
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 11:09 AM
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Michael, really enjoy following along on your extensive journey. We've traveled around many of the same areas, but not all. Thanks for your detailed report, giving us ideas for future travel. Also, enjoy your photos!
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 11:04 PM
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If you have not seen Falling Water, plan a trip and include other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings if only for the sake of comparison.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2019, 05:06 AM
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Thanks for the trip report and pictures. My husband and I visited Falling Water during a short road trip with friends this fall and would like to go back to see the other FLW buildings in the area and to stay at one of the houses.
Although my husband grew up in eastern PA he has never spent much time in the western part of the state. He sampled a little of the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail last summer and would like to do the whole trail.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2019, 07:43 AM
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Although I spent the first 55 years of my life in PA, I have never been to Falling Water. I may plan a visit for my next trip back. For my trip back this spring, I took two trains to get from Portland Oregon to Erie PA.
I had plenty of time but I choose not to drive across the country again. I will fly but if I have the time to spare, I take trains.
The only FLW house that I know of in Oregon is in the Oregon Garden in Silverton. I visited a geocaching event at the Oregon Garden and discovered it. There is a nice geocache hidden about 60 yards from the house. The house was moved to the spot from somewhere else in Oregon.
Thanks for a great trip report with pictures.
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