3 July 2013 by David Ward
It was with much anticipation that I boarded a Delta Airlines flight from London Heathrow to New York's JFK where I'd begin a short but action-packed journey through New York State. I'd been to Manhattan before as a teenager and have, like so many people, very fond memories and impressions of one of the world's most iconic cities.
This trip however would be a little different, as although we'd be landing at the airport that serves as the main gateway to New York City, the only glimpse we'd have of the Big Apple would be a during a brief transfer at Grand Central Station a couple of days later. I was here to see New York State and for me that meant a journey into the relative unknown. Over five days we'd visit Long Island, the Hudson Valley, Rochester, Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls and Buffalo, none of which I'd visited before, and none of which I knew much about.
The first stop on my tour through New York State was Long Island, renowned playground of New York City's rich and famous and home to the exclusive Hamptons and some of the largest and most opulent mansions in the United States that served as inspiration for the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby.
Heading out of JFK, through the suburb of Jamaica and towards Long Island, the iconic Manhattan skyline could still be seen in the rear-view mirror, but as it faded from view so thoughts began to turn to our first destination - the fascinating Cradle of Aviation. This beautifully thought out museum guides visitors through the history of aviation in the United States, from the first flight by the Wright Brothers, through both World Wars, the conflict in Vietnam and the advent of commercial airliners, right up to the NASA Space Programme and although I'm no plane enthusiast, the humour and passion that our guide delivered our admittedly condensed tour with, soon turned my scepticism around.
From the Cradle of Aviation we headed to Long Island's Gold Coast - home to a number of opulent estates - to visit the impressive Old Westbury Gardens, former home of Jogn Shaffer Phipps, heir to a U.S. steel fortune. The vast house and beautiful grounds have been open to the public for tours since 1959 and have also been used in several Hollywood films including American Gangster and the Manchurian Candidate.
After a walk through Old Westbury Gardens beautifully manicured grounds we headed to our hotel on Long Beach - the brand new and super-stylish Allegria, perched right on the beach with spectacular views across the Atlantic Ocean, where we enjoyed some superb cocktails followed by a sumptuous four-course dinner of scallops, clams, steak and a selection of delicious deserts, all served with locally made New York State wines.
The following morning, after breakfast at the hotel - a meal almost as impressive as the previous night's dinner - and a short walk under the newly constructed and as yet unfinished beach boardwalk, we departed Long Beach and headed to Oheka Castle, a sprawling estate in the style of a French chateau that provided the inspiration for The Great Gatsby. The estate, formerly the home of New York investment banker and philanthropist Otto Hermann Khan, is now a member of Historic Hotels of America and offers guests a taste of the lifestyle that characterised Long Island life in the 1920s.
From Oheka Castle we left Long Island behind and drove through the Queens Midtown Tunnel and into the streets of Manhattan to Grand Central Station, a highlight of the city in itself, where we'd catch a train north to the beautiful Hudson Valley.
Hudson Valley & Duchess County
One of my favourite ways to travel anywhere is by train - what can be better than sitting back in a comfortable (or sometimes uncomfortable) seat and letting the train do the work as you gaze wistfully out of the window - and emerging from the darkness of the spectacular Grand Central Station into north Manhattan was certainly one of the highlights of my trip
As our train made its way out of New York the scenery quickly changed from urban to rural as we chugged along the beautiful Hudson Valley to the town Poughkeepsie, on the banks of the Hudson River. After a brief stop at the nearby Culinary Institute of America - one of the world's leading culinary schools where you can see the students work and get a very nice meal, cooked and served by the students at the same time - we made our way to the Franklin D Roosevelt presidential home, library and museum, an absolute must for anyone visiting this part of the state whether you have a strong interest in American history or, like me, you're keen to learn more about one of the more remarkable US presidencies.
Our final stop of the day was at Madava Farms, a working maple syrup farm set in the beautiful rolling hills of Duchess County where we enjoyed a maple syrup tasting tour and a dinner that unitised plenty of this delectable ingredient, including a desert that was served as part of the banquet at Barack Obama's second term inauguration in January 2013.
Oneida County and Central New York State
The following morning we left the Hudson Valley behind and headed north to central New York State and Oneida County, stopping along the way at the Walkway Over the Hudson, a pedestrian bridge spanning the river and offering superb views across the Hudson River valley. From there we made our way to Herkimer County for a visit to Gems Along the Mohawk, a small company offering short tours on the Erie Canal, a manmade waterway that served as one of the Eastern United States' most important trade routes, linking the Hudson River with Lake Erie and providing a fully navigable waterway from the Atlantic Ocean to America's Great Lakes.
After lunch we continued our journey through Central New York State, stopping at the Saranac Brewery in the small town of Utica to try some of New York's renowned ales before heading to Fort Stanwix National Monument in Rome, a fascinating preserved historical site, built by the British, which served as an important military fort during the American Revolutionary War.
A brief stop at the charming village of Sylvan Beach on the eastern shore of Oneida lake, where we enjoyed a glass of wine and gorgeous panoramic views as the sun began to set was followed by a short drive to the town of Verona, our base for the night.
The following morning saw us continue our journey north to the spectacular Finger Lakes region, it's name coming from a series of eleven long, thin glacial lakes that, from above, look like fingers indented into the landscape. This region is famed for its wine and, despite our short stay, we had the chance to visit two vineyards during our visit - Glenora Winery and Dr Konstantin Franks, which produce award winning Riesling among a host of other white, red and sparkling varieties. The scenery here is beautiful with vineyards sprawling along the hillsides above the lakes and mile-upon-mile of rolling farmland and forests. To be honest a day here is not nearly long enough and it would have been wonderful to spend more time exploring different lakes and wineries and enjoying some of the region's many walking trails.
Lunch today was taken at the Corning Museum of Glass, where visitors can enjoy live glass blowing demonstrations and browse a selection of fascinating artefacts that chart the history of glass and glass making through the ages. From there we headed to Hammondsport, a sort of living museum at the southern tip of picturesque Keuka Lake where antiques shops, local craft stores and a vintage ice cream parlour line the pristine streets of this picture-perfect and thoroughly charming village.
Leaving the Finger Lakes behind we headed to Rochester, the third largest city in New York State, located on the banks of the Genesee River. After checking into our hotel, perfectly located in the heart of the city, we headed out for dinner at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a Rochester institution famed for its live blues music and huge portions of ribs, pulled pork, brisket and incredible deserts - a true all-American dining experience.
Rochester to Niagara Falls
A surprise breakfast at the home of a Rochester resident made for a delightful way to begin our morning in the city before we made our way, stomachs full to bursting, to the International Museum of Photography and Film at George Eastman House. For those like myself who are interested in photography and indeed learning more about the history of photography in America - George Eastman was the founder of the Eastman Kodak Company - and seeing work by some of the great American photographers, this museum may prove to be a bit of a disappointment, being more about the private life of George Eastman and his opulent lifestyle than his undoubted influence on the photography industry in the United States.
From there we made our way across town to the Eastman School of Music, one of the world's leading music colleges where visitors can enjoy performances by some of the country's up and coming young musicians.
In the afternoon we left Rochester behind and journeyed towards the Canadian border with much anticipation as our next stop on this action packed, whirlwind tour was the iconic Niagara Falls. As we were still in the early throes of spring we were unsure whether the boat ride - the famous Maid of the Mist - would be running. As is turned out we were delighted to discover on our arrival at the falls that the boat began operating that very day and so, despite the cold, we donned our ponchos and boarded and began the short journey upstream to the foot of the falls for an up-close-and-personal inspection of the icy torrents and a thoroughly good soaking.
After drying off we headed the short distance east to the city of Buffalo on the shores of Lake Erie, the fourth largest of the five Great Lakes of North America. That evening, after checking into our hotel in the centre of town we headed for a farewell dinner at Salvatore's Italian Gardens on the outskirts of town.
The final stop on our whirlwind tour through New York State turned out, unexpectedly, to be one of highlights. The city of Buffalo offers a genuine cosmopolitan feel with some superb shopping, great restaurants and a beautiful setting on the shores of Lake Erie. For those looking to visit the falls, Buffalo provides a wonderful real-city alternative to the theme-park feel of Niagara itself and offers up a few surprises along the way. The ponderously named Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin Martin House is a shining example of Frank Lloyd Wright's groundbreaking architecture that includes most famously the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, while the wonderful Albright-Knox Art Gallery exhibits an outstanding collection of modern and contemporary pieces by world-famous names including Matisse, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol among others.
Along with its cultural highlights Buffalo is also known for its food and a Buffalo Bites walking tour through Elmwood Village proved to be a great way to discover one of the city's most vibrant neighbourhoods while enjoying local cuisine from handmade chocolate to olive oil and locally brewed beers as well as plateful of delicious Buffalo chicken wings.