Even though we made more than our usual number of advanced reservations for our trip east, we ended up with four or five weeks with no plans at all. We had an idea of places to go, but no set route or campgrounds. It turns out just that bit of flexibility worked really well for us.
Months ago I tried and failed to secure reservations in Watkins Glen, NY, in the Finger Lakes area. My go-to campground was the city park, Clute Memorial, but it was already booked up. It wasn't until we got to Niagara Falls that we tried one more time. Lo and behold, a spot had just opened for a week! Perfect! Without this site, I doubt we would have made it to this area so we are very glad it worked out!
Watkins Glen is a popular destination. It sits at the south end of the beautiful Seneca Lake, which is ringed with gorgeous wineries, breweries and appealing shops selling local goods. It's also home to Watkins Glen State Park, one of the most popular state parks in the country, according to a 2015 USA TODAY Readers Choice Poll.
The reason for that is the Gorge Trail. It's very accessible two-mile hike follows the glen's stream that descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs. In the early morning it is cool and shaded, winding its way past 19 waterfalls, some of which you walk behind and through. We didn't get too wet and the mist was refreshing. Once we reached the end, we had the option to turn around and retrace our steps or take a shuttle bus back to the parking lot. We chose the latter.
While the trail was certainly a highlight of our visit, the one thing I was looking most forward to was the Corning Museum of Glass, which is about a half hour away in, well, Corning. It was absolutely amazing. I was mesmerized from the moment I walked in and saw the giant Chihuly installation. We started in the contemporary gallery and made our way through the historical exhibitions. We ended up in the Hot Shop, where the artists demonstrate how decorative pieces are made.
There are thousands of exhibits in the museum but my favorite was the installation featuring row after row of Corning glasses. When I was a kid we would get these glasses from boxes of detergent, or a gas station. You know, the cheap kind often used as promotional giveaways. Our kitchen cabinet was full of them, although we never seemed to get a full set in the same color. They always seemed to be whatever color was popular at the time, which would match your countertops or fridge, like harvest gold. I thought it was a very contemporary display of childhood memories and it really appealed to me.
Years ago in Seattle, our local PBS station KCTS would hold annual fund drives featuring Dale Chihuly, arguably the best-known glass artist ever. At a certain level of giving, one of the items patrons would receive in return was a private tour of Chihuly's Hot Shop. We managed to snag those tickets on a couple of occasions, so having already been, Steven took our then 10 year old daughter, Zoe. At the time, it just so happened that PBS was shooting promos for future fundraisers and for the next few years during fundraising season, there was Steven and Zoe on television in the Chihuly Hot Shop looking like they were learning a lot about glass blowing. :)
While in Watson Lake, we made a few day trips, traveling around the lakes and visiting nearby towns. The Finger Lakes area is New York's largest wine producing region, with over 100 wineries and vineyards located around Seneca, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Keuka, Conesus, and Hemlock Lakes. The area reminded me of the farms around Flathead Lake in Montana. There are hundreds of cherry orchards there. I guess the whole lake effect is good for growing stuff and that is certainly the case around Finger Lakes.
We had planned to spend a couple of days in Ithaca, home of Cornell University and other notable sites. We did make it to the Saturday Farmers Market, which was great, but the whole town was so busy it was hard to get around.
We also ate some fabulous BBQ and visited a Wegmans grocery store. I had heard about Wegmans for years but never visited one until we were in Niagara Falls. I have to say I was disappointed, the isles were narrow and the place was just generally overcrowded. Nonetheless, I did find a prized item that I have not seen anywhere else: Parmesan rinds. When a store grates their own cheese, they have leftover rinds which probably got tossed in the trash until an enterprising chef decided to put them to good use and now they are suddenly in demand. I use them in soups and sauces and I love the flavor the rinds add. I now have a freezer full and that is my only love for Wegmans. :)
As our week in Watkins Glen came to an end, we had planned to head north to Burlington, Vermont, visiting Cooperstown along the way. But then someone asked if we’d be attending the induction ceremony. I thought she was talking about a ceremony at the Elks Lodge and frankly, I wasn’t planning on it. But then she clarified that she was talking about the induction ceremony in Cooperstown for baseball players, where tens of thousands of people would be gathering. Oh. I didn’t even know that was a thing. But, hell no.
Since we had no obligations or reservations in Burlington, we changed up our schedule to stick around Finger Lakes. With all those orchards, wineries breweries and farms, we decided it was time to finally try out Harvest Hosts. We'd been members for a couple of years, but until now, we've never used it. Finger Lakes seemed perfect and offered lots of options! This is why we don’t like making reservations, flexibility is true freedom!
NEXT UP: Harvest Hosts-apalooza!