Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Best of 2014

Fishing in the Pacific, photo courtesy of D. Greninger

            In 2014, fishing continued to be a delight.  Unlike prior years, I fished in saltwater over five times.  On my birthday, I fished beneath Montauk Lighthouse in a swim suit and flip-flops.  Of course the warm water likely kept the striped bass away. 

            Later in November, I fished in the Pacific Ocean; my friend Carl organized a saltwater fly fishing trip to a beach just west of LAX.  It was a great but fishless day and the practice may land a fish in the future.           

            Dorothy, Lily, Dennis, Seymour and I had great bonding moments during my ill-conceived project to reverse the orientation of a salt water fly fishing reel.  In my haste to switch the line from a right-handed to left-handed set-up, I tangled the fly line, running line and backing.  Almost everything but a stubborn knot of backing got untangled.  Seymour led a valiant effort to fix the reel drag; when I fix a small detail, everything will be wonderful for the upcoming fishing season!

            This past 2014, many favorite experiences were food-related.  Dr. Freud probably would have had something to say about that, but, to paraphrase what he said about cigars, sometimes a good meal is just a good meal.

            Here is my list of 2014 favorites:

1.      Pizza: My favorite meal continues to be good pizza - - or ok pizza with family and friends.  Readers felt the same way, too; a post on New York City pizza got the most hits of all the 2014 blog posts.

2014 started with Steve and me sharing a deep-dish pizza at Ralph’s Tavern in Colonie, New York.  Later in the year, it was back to Tom Cavallo’s in New Hartford, New York for sausage and pepper pizza.

If you are in the Rochester area, Mark’s Pizza, which is cheesy with a thicker crust and good sauce, is worth a stop.  Mark’s has expanded east and now has a restaurant in Auburn, New York in the Finger Lakes region.

On Long Island, Prima Stella, in Manorville (631-281-0003) continues to delight with its crispy, thin crust pizza and excellent service.  Branchinelli’s (631-474-1200), a pizzeria from Port Jefferson, opened a branch in Miller Place and offers a delicious thin-crust pizza.
2.      The Cheesecake Factory: Yes, it’s a chain - - but it’s a chain with class.  The menu includes large, fresh salads with unusual - - but delightful - - flavor combinations.  The staff is attentive, capable and welcoming without being a pest.  Restaurant d├ęcor suggests a movie set from Hollywood’s golden days; that suggests a warmer place than the Capital Region has been this week.

3.      The Barnsider Restaurant: This steakhouse has been going strong in suburban Albany for almost 40 years.  In addition to beef cooked exactly right, the restaurant offers a salad bar loaded with selections, great seafood and an incomparable martini.

4.      The Gateway Diner: Barry Levinson didn’t realize it, but when he decided to make his movie Diner he was thinking about the Gateway.  While the place is no longer open 24/7, it still has an appealing busyness and offers an epic variety of food.  Our family gives high marks to the Reuben, the large salads and the generous servings of rice pudding.

5.      The Lost Dog: This restaurant in Binghamton, New York has an eclectic menu and great service.  If you are lucky, they will be playing opera arias while you dine.

6.      The Grateful Dawg: In Scotia, New York is a comfortable storefront restaurant with a Grateful Dead motif.  The main item on the Dawg’s menu is a quartet of small hotdogs with meat sauce and onions but they also have cheese steak sliders and pulled pork sandwiches.  The onion rings are also delightful.

7.      Guilderland Community Garden: All the gardening and nearly all the vegetables described in the blog this year happened at the Guilderland Community Garden.  In addition to providing great vegetables in season, the Garden delighted this year with a late harvest.  After the snow, a late holiday trip to the Garden yielded nearly two dozen carrots, some Swiss chard and broccoli. 

8.      Pitchfork: This year’s birthday gifts included a pitchfork.  Along with a torch, a pitchfork is useful for angry villagers in a Frankenstein movie.  But more importantly, it is exactly the right tool for turning over and stirring up a compost pile!

9.      Brown Trout Samoyed Calendar: Rose the Dog was a Samoyed who graced our lives for nearly 15 years.  During this time, Brown Trout Publishers included a Samoyed calendar in their offerings.  Sadly, Rose died but Brown Trout has continued to publish the calendar.  It reminds us of all the wonderful times we had with the greatest dog who ever lived.


10.  Family and Friends: Thanks to all my family and friends for all the great times in 2014.  The places and events chronicled in this blog are possibly mostly because of you!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

December Full Moon: 2014

This morning, December 7th, I awoke early.  There was a bright light in the corner of the living room and I thought that a light was left on overnight.  After crossing the living room, I looked around, then looked out the window and discovered the “light” was the full moon.

Although the moon was on the way to setting for the night, it was amazingly bright.

It’s cold in upstate New York and yesterday was gray and rainy.  Perhaps the ease of seeing the full moon, the relative lack of clouds, means it will be sunny today.  At least there is no wind - - and no wind chill factor.

Some years ago, Joe Bruchac, a Saratoga County author, wrote a children’s book called Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back.  Joe described the names that American Indians gave the moon in each month. 

Our copy of the book is mislaid, so I went to the Internet and found the following information about the December full moon on Moon Connection.

December: The Cold Moon
Winter takes a firm hold and temperatures plummet at this time. Sometimes this moon is also called the Long Night Moon as the winter nights lengthen and the moon spends more time above the horizon opposite a low sun. The full moon name often used by Christian settlers is the "Moon before Yule".

Yes, the weather is cold and no, all of us cannot be lucky enough to live somewhere warm.  My friend Mick Harking, in Ireland, observes, "Hibernation is yer only man."

But there is always something gone on in nature -  - regardless of the season.  For the next few months, bundling up and dealing with the shorter days will be unwelcome extra steps.  But as these photos show, there can be beauty even in the cold.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Late Season Fishing

Just as Ahab was fixated on finding the white whale, I am fixated on winter’s arrival.

Buffalo, New York was clobbered with snow.  Dorothy has a photo of a dusting of snow in our front yard and my Hoosier friends Bill and Mark have winter photos on their Facebook pages.

However, if you are an angler who likes to fish moving water, the fishing is not yet over.

On the East Coast, Russ Drumm suggests, in his weekly outdoors column in The East Hampton Star, that the striped bass migration has not reached Long Island, it is somewhere near Cape Cod.  On the “North Coast,” steelhead and salmon are fair games as they ascend Great Lakes tributaries.

On the West Coast, a bouillabaisse of fish species are within casting distance of the beach.  The fish include surf perch, corbina, halibut, sharks and even stripers. 

This past Saturday, I joined the Pasadena Casting Club for saltwater fly fishing at Dockweiler State Beach, just west of Los Angeles International Airport. 

With a string of informative and congenial e-mails, Carl Crawford, the trip organizer persuaded over 20 anglers to show up - - despite the dark and an early morning start time.

Waves and undertow add challenges to saltwater fly fishing.  Jacob Gorman and Nick Vargas, avid anglers and sales managers at Orvis Pasadena, fished with us and offered good advice, often using examples that related freshwater fishing to the maelstrom of surf in front of us.

Jacob and Nick taught us how to read the progression of waves to find the right time to cast: too soon and there is bare sand; too late and the wave is sweeping away the fly.  Compared to a trout stream, surf looks featureless.  But Jacob and Nick taught us how to see places where fish might shelter from the current and pounding waves.  For example, if you keep seeing a low spot in a line of breakers, the low spot suggests a deeper spot that might hold fish.

It’s a good idea to fish the surf with a shooting head sink-tip fly line.  The first 30 feet, the shooting head, pulls a light, strong running line off the reel.  The combination of lines allows a longer cast than is possible with a fly line alone.

A casting basket is essential.  It keeps the line from falling into the surf and tangling.  The deeper the basket you can find, the better.  The Santa Cruz Fly Fishers sell a casting basket for a donation of $20 plus shipping; their design or something similar will save much frustration.

In four hours, the expedition caught a single fish.  While we climbed the salt water fly fishing learning curve, a quiet young man with a spinning rod and Mepp’s spinner caught four surf perch.

Yet, all were delighted by the trip.  We learned how to time our casts with the waves. We practiced how to rapidly retrieve, or strip, the fly line to animate the fly and most had surprisingly few times when the fly line tangled up.  Carl, Jacob, Nick and angling friends new and old: it was a great trip.  Let’s go again!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fall Foliage: It's not too Late!

In this photograph, the leaves are just starting to turn on Storm King Mountain
in New York's Hudson Highlands
This is a great time to enjoy fall foliage and fall weather.  On the East Coast and along the Great Lakes, the “North Coast” of this blog, leaves are at or approaching peak colors.  In the eastern Sierras, aspen leaves are turning from green to gold.
What's more iconic than fall in Vermont?
Stowe, Vermont photographed by CJ Hamblin
On the way to Stowe, by CJ Hamblin

We enjoy the bright colors of autumn leaves thanks to the shorter days and the tree’s response to those shorter days.  The beauty of the changing leaves offer some compensation for those of us who get up early and are finding that is night still while getting ready for work.

Maple Tree in Rensselaer County, NY.
Photograph by SJ Edelman
In October, hotels in foliage country fill with tourists driving through to see the leaves.  If you do not have time to get out of town overnight, you can enjoy the leaves walking in the neighborhood or a nearby park.  Even an hour’s drive will take a person into the country, where the changing leaves spread across hills and woods like a brightly colored quilt.

The view south from an overlook on Route 6, on the way to
the Bear Mountain Bridge
Fall foliage in Niskayuna, NY
from a new viewpoint, black and white,  JJ Faulkner

When in pursuit of leafy vistas, there are other pastimes to enjoy along the way.  Fresh and saltwater fishing gets livelier in the fall as fish migrate, spawn or start eating in preparation for winter.
There are lots of fun stores along the way.  In Bennington, our friends John and Sue told us about Shaffe’s Men’s Shop, 475 Main St, Bennington, VT 05201
(802) 442-2521. Shaffe’s is the kind of place that is becoming too rare in this age of malls and big box stores.  The store sells and rents tuxedoes, including tuxedoes with camouflage trim.  It sells dress and casual clothes and what may be the world’s greatest sock. 
Made in Vermont, the Darn Tough Sock has an unconditional lifetime guarantee and is made of a durable blend of merino wool and nylon.  The socks come in all thicknesses and sizes. They even have a line of dress socks that could be worn to work. 

First or second pumpkin of the season
Photograph by E. Rowen

Pumpkins, apples and apple cider are front and center at farm stores and roadside stands.  However, corn, tomatoes and other late summer produce are still around.

Along with apples and apple orchards, fall is the time of the cider donut.  If you have one or two of these smallish, sweet delights mid-morning, you may very well have no room left for lunch!

Foliage in northern Rensselaer County by David Brickman

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tricoastal Maritime Superstitions

The clipper ship Flying Cloud, courtesy of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum

On a recent Hudson River fishing trip, my friend Jack Brennan brought a bag of snacks.  When he took out a banana, the guide became agitated, saying, “You can’t bring bananas on board, they’re bad luck!”

My friend Allen has a friend, Neil, who fishes the Hudson.  When Allen asked Neil about bananas, Neil explained that when ships brought bananas in large bunches from South America to the United States, sailors disliked this cargo.  Snakes or spiders hid in the bananas and bit/stung sailors.

Bob Frisbie, Executive Director of the Ashtabula(Ohio) Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum, on Lake Erie, understands the banana superstition.  “I used to work with produce at A&P, which received bananas in metal cases.”  “Whenever I worked with these cases, I was always petrified; I knew big spiders could come out of them; I once saw a spider the size of a silver dollar.” 

Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum 

Chris Gilchrist, Executive Director of the National Museumof the Great Lakes, explained the line in Gordon Lightfoot’s Edmund Fitzgerald, about “the gales in November” is true.  Chris said a researcher proved this legend is fact by reviewing Great Lakes shipping records from 1913 to 1948.  During November in these years, marine insurance rates and crew salaries increased; more gales are found in weather records.

Chris noted that when Mrs. Fitzgerald tried to christen the Edmund Fitzgerald at launch, it took three swings before the bottle broke.  Then, an onlooker died of a heart attack during the launch; it’s always considered bad luck if a person dies at a launching.

A diagram of the S. S. Edmund Fitzgerald from the Coast Guard inquiry into its sinking

Liz Ruth-Abramian, Librarian at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, suggested I read Sea Classics magazine for superstitions.   In the May, 1972 Sea Classics, Doris Kloss offered christening comic relief, to offset that sad story about the Edmund Fitzgerald. 

Eleanor Roosevelt was going to christen the USS Yorktown in 1943 but the carrier started moving down the ways before the christening program was over.  “Jumping to her feet,” Kloss wrote, “Mrs. Roosevelt barely managed to crack the bottle of champagne” against the Yorktown’s bow before the ship got away. 

Liz also suggested reading Cedric Windas’ Traditions of the Navy.  According to Windas, the term “Raising the Wind,” slang for raising funds for a specific purpose, “dates back to early days when a shipmaster would go to a witch or fortune-teller and pay big money for the .  . . assurance that good winds” would grace the trip and bring everyone safely home.

Windas explains the term “whistling for the wind” comes from old Norse times.  Vikings believed if they whistled loudly, Thor “would whistle in answer, creating a breeze” that would enable sailors to stop rowing and raise the sail.

In 1975, my father and I enjoyed visiting a maritime state park in San Francisco.  The park is now the San Francisco Maritime National Park.  Gina Bardi, the Park’s Librarian, found superstitions in the Park’s research collection. 

In Horace Beck's Folklore and the Sea, Beck writes, sailors believed that piercing one ear would improve a “sailor’s eyesight in the opposite eye. . . sailors would have both ears pierced to improve their usefulness on watch, and the skipper pieced the ear on the side opposite to the eye used for telescopes.”

In Superstitions of the Sea: A Digest of Beliefs, Customs and Mystery, author James Clary
explained "some sailors wore a tattoo for protection.  A tattoo of a pig on the instep or knee was considered a guard against drowning; pig and chicken tattoos gave one the assurance of never being without ‘ham and eggs’; a star between the finger and thumb was believed to help bring a sailor safely home . .  . a wide and handsome display of tattoos was thought to be an effective guard against venereal disease."

Fletcher S. Bassett observes, in Legends and Superstitions of the Sea and Sailors In all lands at all times, that "A writer in the Shipping Gazette in 1869 says, ' it is a well-authenticated fact that rats have often been known to leave ships in harbor previous to their being lost at sea.'"

Of sailors’ dreams, Bassett writes, "To see a dolphin . . . portends the loss of your lady love and to dream of drowning was a sign of good luck." To dream of an anchor, the sin of hope, was always an esteemed happy omen. A dream of fish indicated rain, while one of wading or bathing in the sea was indicative of future bliss"

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Late Summer Fishing and Gardening

Accabonac Harbor, in the Springs on eastern Long Island
This is a wonderful time of the year to enjoy the harvest from land and water.

On the East Coast, snappers, baby bluefish, are starting to crowd bays and harbors.  Snappers, which are also known as “choppers” in some parts of New England, will take all sorts of shiny spoons or jigs.  Years ago, my sister and I discovered that an Acme Kastmaster, in smaller sizes, was a perfect snapper lure.

Snapper caught on a plug/stainless steel hook rig
Around the time my daughter was born, someone invented a plug-based snapper lure.  The rig starts with a Styrofoam plug that is bright orange and white, at the head of the rig.  Then, the rig has about 30 inches of thick monofilament.  At the end of the rig is a long-shank, stainless steel hook, that looks to be a number 6 in a 3X long size, that has a piece of surgical tubing on it.

As this rig is retrieved, the plug ruffles the water and the hook sways back and forth during the retrieve.  The snappers come up and make splashing strikes as they pursue the lure.  On most every retrieve, a fish is caught.  Whatever lure is used, snapper fishing is fast, fun and action packed - - no matter how old the angler is.

When snapper fishing, please take along a hemostat or needle nosed pliers.  Snappers have sharp spines in their fins and needle-like teeth.  If fishing with the plug and hook rig, take some time to practice, as the length of the leader between the hook and plug requires a side cast, unlike a lure which could be cast overhand.

Things can be doing well in the garden, too.  On the West Coast, backyard gardeners are starting to enjoy fresh rosemary and tomatoes.  These treats are ripening thanks to gardeners who are carefully conserving water in the frustrating drought.

On the East Coast, string bean harvests may be winding down.  Corn, eggplant, tomatoes and Swiss chard are coming in.  There’s even a change for a second planting of beets and peas!

Pumpkins are starting to ripen.  But that’s a story for later!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

First Harvest

Tuesday evening  July 22, 2014, at dusk

With Dorothy's help, I finally got the weeding under control.

The results are above - - and the corn has gotten taller since this past Tuesday.

Below is the first harvest.  It's not enough for a crudite plate - - but it's great to get food from the ground.

From mid-left: Swiss Chard, three carrots, string beans and stawberries
from the ever-bearing bushes my friend Keith gave me.

Some of my friends and blog readers are out catching trout - - even in the water-starved Sierras!

In Syracuse a few weeks ago, I fished a beautiful stream.  There were no fish but I was finally getting the fly to land where I wanted it to.

Have a great last week of July, everyone!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dream Gardens

Moonrise at the Guilderland Community Garden

This is a great time for gardening - - and dream gardening.

The only downsides to gardening are weeds, insects and hungry animals.  Every entry in my garden journal opens with some phrase with the word “weed” or “weeding” in it.  A sextet of cabbage plants may be doing the gardening variation of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians.  The plants went in this past Sunday and something ate one of them.

In the Northeast, we have had a late start.  At the Guilderland Community Garden, we had cold soil, rain and other annoyances.

But things are finally starting to catch up.  My friend Allen reports his pumpkin vines are growing up to a foot a day.  One morning, he put a rock by the end of the vine and its shot way past the rock by dinner time.

GQ may not be calling about those knees, but the corn was "knee high by Fourth of July!"
Tomato plants are short but have flowers and golf ball-sized green tomatoes.  And the two varieties of sweet corn were “knee high by Fourth of July.”

We had a hedge by the backdoor that experienced big time die-back.  Dorothy masterminded a mix of ferns and flowers to replace the hedge.  It's growing along and we are looking forward to flowers, including zinnia!

In southern California, my friend Dennis decided to grow tomatoes in pots this year.  With a head start from an April planting, his tomatoes will be ripe soon.

A few miles to the east, my daughter weeded a corner of her backyard.  She is going for the Mediterranean approach: cacti and rosemary.  It will be appealing to smell the rosemary while going about garden work.

While gardening is great, don’t forget the wild treats.  This morning, I was inwardly whining about having no more store-bought raspberries.  

But a quick walk outside to the shaded berry patch yielded a cup of relatively large black raspberries.
How about some cereal with those berries?

On some nights, so many lightning bugs drift through the back yard that it looks like Times Square.

My daughter gave me Blue Lake green bean seeds for Father’s Day.  When I woke up Tuesday morning, I recalled dreaming of harvesting these beans.  The dream was realistic down to the morning dew on the beans.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Fishing Is Back

After a long winter, we are finally in the midst of good - - if challenging - - fishing.

In mid and late May, my trout fishing included short strikes and fish getting off the line.  But on the last trip, I finally got it together and hooked and landed a nice, if small, wild rainbow trout.

Wild rainbow from a recent fishing trip
My East Coast friends, Carl and Nick, both caught big trout in small ponds.  Of his experience, Nick observed, “The pond has some absolutely huge rainbows and I managed one the size of a grilse.

Allen and I put in a long day on a local lake.  Nothing happened until just before the trip ended.  We each caught a fish at the same time, Allen a rock bass, me a bluegill.  The fish had a lot of fight, but were too small for fillets and we threw them back.

On the West Coast, my other friend named Carl has caught some nice bass and sunfish.  Dennis, Jim and Harold were in the eastern Sierras this past weekend.  They caught trout but Dennis’s description of the days suggested all made a lot of casts between fish.

Fishing in the eastern Sierras can be productive with hard work, but lower water levels are worrying
The main factor in success and failure over the last few weeks is water - - or the lack of it.  In New York, we have had big thunderstorms and those have required a two to three day wait before the streams are fishable again.  In the eastern Sierras, Dennis reports most of the streams are unsettling low for this early in the season. 

Beyond the importance of water conditions, success has come with different methods.  Carl found his large rainbow in a small suburban pond.  I could not determine if caddis or may fly patterns were the best choice on the streams I fished, although the hits came more often on caddis.  Allen and I caught our two fish on lures; mine was a spinner and his was a crank bait.

In California, Carl hooked his fish on an olive-colored Flashabugger, a showy fly of the size and proportion of the Woolly Bugger.  The fly is so flashy that one wit described it as “actually a Woolly Bugger with one of Liberace's jackets on!”  Dennis hooked his fish on one of those tiny emergers that he ties so well.

I look forward to more fishing in between the storms.  Hope you enjoy your time on the water!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Bluefish and Fishing Dogs

The bluefish are back in northern waters.

Bluefish have voracious appetites and travel in schools or packs, where the fish are about the same size.  The bluefish that are reachable in spring for anglers casting from the beach are typically “cocktail blues,” about one to three pounds.  Occasionally, a spring surfcaster will take a larger fish, 15 plus pounds, which are nicknamed “gorillas.”

On Memorial Day, I was on an eastern Long Island beach, at day break.  There was no wind - - and no bugs!  A few other people were fishing but everyone was intent and giving each other enough room.

When you fish in waters with bluefish, the first rule is to always have a steel leader.  If you forget this rule, the bluefish will remind you and break off a lure with their teeth that are as sharp as Hoffritz or Sabatier cutlery.

The cost of forgetting this Memorial Day was a small Kastmaster lure, a silver spoon with a treble hook.  I was happy to hook a fish and then aggravated when it broke itself off.

Next to me, a gentleman reeled in three cocktail blues.  His friend down the beach also caught a few fish. 

One of the three cocktail blues ~ Cheers!

One of the main reasons I was on the beach was that I read an article in The East Hampton Star by Russell Drumm.  The article started with snapping turtles and ended with people catching stripers and blues.  When I am on the eastern end of Long Island, from the Shinnecock Canal, east to Montauk, whenever I read Russell Drumm before fishing, I always have something exciting happen. 

Before closing, I wish to digress to dogs in the field.  Two weeks ago, I met Ray Coppinger, a serious canine scientist who just wrote fishing dogs, a book filled with high concept humor about fishing dogs.  In person, Ray is one of the great raconteurs and conversationalists of the age.

When I was on the beach, one of the anglers had a dog.  Most of the time, the dog sat and watched.  But when someone landed a fish, the dog started running around, barking and getting ready to get tangled up in the fish, line and hooks.  After witnessing this behavior, I realized Ray has done readers and anglers a great service.  He has created a world where none of the dogs make a racket or a nuisance of themselves.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Trillium and Violets

From coast to coast, spring wildflowers are gracing yards and wild places.

My most spectacular wildflower sighting of this season was last week, along the New York State Thruway.  From Rochester, to east of Utica, on the south side of the highway, are large patches of drooping trillium - - with white and pink petals.

It was a delight to see so many rare wildflowers on public display, but my favorite spring wildflowers are violets.  When we were growing up in southern Indiana, my mother used to take my sister and me for rides on the back roads to look at the violets.  We would get out of the car and roam the roadside.  One of the best places for violets was next to a limestone wall surrounding an old cemetery.

Years later, after returning to New York, we moved to a rural home.  My wife Dorothy and daughter Lily enjoyed picking and arranging spring wildflower bouquets.  Then as now, the variety of violets they chose from was considerable.  For a few weeks, round-leaved yellow violets grow along two forest paths. 

Although this species has stopped blooming, we have plenty of common violets.  They come in all colors: many different shades of violet, white flowers and white flowers streaked with violet. 

Mountain violet from California
Photograph courtesy of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and Betty (Potts) Randall
According to Steve Windhager, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, “there are 24 species of violets native to California.”  While we New Yorkers would love to see our West Coast neighbors for a spring visit, they need not fly cross country just for a spring wildflower fix.

In addition to being varied and beautiful, violets are hardy.  After the flowers fall off, I have dug up the plants and spread mulch.  By the following spring, the mulch is depleted and tired looking but the violets are back, bright in all their many colors.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Delightful Binghamton

The river in the city: the River Walk is on the upper right; the river is the Chenango

Downtown Binghamton, New York, in New York’s Southern Tier, is at the cross roads on Interstate 81, a north/south expressway and New York 17, the Southern Tier Expressway, which runs from the New York metropolitan area to the Pennsylvania border.
            If you want to dine or stay overnight while traveling either of these expressways, there are unique and enjoyable hotels and restaurants in downtown Binghamton.  These attractions are actually near the highway and could save you from the homogenous eateries and lodgings off the expressways.
            The Grand Royal Hotel started life at the turn of the 20th Century as the Binghamton City Hall.  In the 1970’s, New York State, Broome County and the City consolidated offices in a new government center, a stone’s throw from the old City Hall.  The building was then converted into a historic hotel.
            The last two times I stayed in the Grand Royal, five years ago, rooms were large and comfortable.  The hotel offered a continental breakfast.  I am not sure what the place is like today but it is still open and getting good reviews online.
            Also in downtown Binghamton is a Holiday Inn and a Doubletree Suites. I have not stayed in the Holiday Inn but the Doubletree is a new makeover of an older hotel.  The hotel has comfortable rooms, capable and friendly staff and excellent coffee in the room. 
            Next to the Doubletree is the Binghamton River Walk, a pathway along the Chenango River.  On the river side of the River Walk is a flood wall, painted in welcoming colors.  On the other side of the Walk are plaques commemorating pioneers in the civil rights movement.  At one point in the River Walk, there is a metal stair case that allows walkers to go over the flood wall and walk down to the river’s edge. 

            When traveling, I like to start my day with a walk or swim.  The River Walk was one of the nicest places I have been in the last few months for morning exercise.

Chris' Diner serves a great breakfast in Binghamton!

            Chris’s Diner on State Street serves reasonably priced, appetizing breakfasts.  The place has an agreeable hustle and bustle.  The servers are friendly and efficient; breakfast arrives at almost the speed of light.
            For lunch and dinner, I enjoy the Lost Dog Cafe, 222 Water Street, across the street from the Doubletree.  The Lost Dog has an appealing mix of standard dishes and new ideas.  They offer tapas from 3 to 6 PM.
            One night in the Lost Dog, someone decided they had to hear Andrea Bocelli’s Con Te Partiro.  They liked it so much that they played it four more times.  Since there is no such thing to me as too much melodic opera or opera-like music, the restaurant has remained a favorite ever since that night.  Sadly, I have not heard the song since.
            There’s even more to do in Binghamton that I have not yet experienced.  For example, the city has a New York Mets farm team.  If you are staying over and are tired of watching cable TV in the hotel room, this might be a great alternative.

            As you drive through Binghamton, the Southern Tier and nearby Pennsylvania, tune into WSQX FM, 91.5.  This public radio station devotes a large chunk of time to jazz, something that is hard to find in the world of Top 40, robotic FM stations.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Italian Ways: Back - - In Paperback!

In August, 2013, I wrote a short review of Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails From Milan to Palermo, an excellent book on train travel by Tim Parks, a British expatriate in Italy.

If you missed the chance to enjoy Mr. Parks in Italian Ways in hardcover, fear not.

W.W. Norton and Company, Parks' publisher, has released Italian Ways in paperback.  In fact, if you are traveling this spring or summer and need a great plane, train or bus read, the smaller format paperback might be an improvement on the hardcover.  I was going to say "a great plane, train, bus or car read," but if you were barreling down the Interstate reading Italian Ways, that might not end well for all - - unless this is available as a book on tape.

The redesign for paperback has kept the delights of the hardcover.  The vivid cover is the same as in the hardcover edition and the whimsical, yet accurate drawings by David Atkinson.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

East Side, West Side, Pizza All Around Town

In New York City, we often come in on the West Side of town and soon end up on the East Side.

The quality and quantity of pizza in each neighborhood varies.  Here’s the latest information. . .
            When we travel on Mega Bus, the bus presently stops near the Fashion Institute of Technology, at 28th Street and 7th Avenue.  This is in the heart of the Garment District and just to the south of Penn Station.  So, there are a lot of places to eat, to restore the strength after the ride from upstate.  For example, if you want a reliable brand, there is a Panera’s in the block between 28th and 29th Streets.
            For pizza in this neighborhood, the best place I know so far is Rosa’s on the Long Island Railroad side of Penn Station.  A person coming off the bus would walk north on 7th Avenue and head down the stairs or escalator to Penn Station.  The slices at Rosa’s are large and not greasy.
            If you are going up to Times Square, the Sbarro Pizzerias are reliable, but they are a chain.  If you have the time, it’s worth heading the Le Mirage, on 43rd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.

            On the East Side, I discovered a new pizza place, Royal Pizza, at Third Avenue and 39th Street.  Royal Pizza offers a two-fer.  In addition to having great pizza at a reasonable price - - they have seating in the back - - they are in an appealing older building, which appears to date to the mid-nineteenth century.  It is eerie to be sitting in this pizzeria in a classic building, while just to the north almost every block has been transformed by the construction of sleek office towers.
Royal Pizzeria is in this block of older buildings, just south of the skyscrapers of Midtown

If you travel on the Hampton Jitney and like pizza, Royal is a great location to keep in mind.  It’s only a block or two south of the Jitney stop on 40th Street.  Presently, the restaurant on the corner by the Jitney is closed, which makes knowing about Royal an added benefit for hungry travelers.
            On our last few trips, we have left New York City on Mega Bus.  All Mega Bus trips now depart from 34th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues - - across the Street from the Javitts Convention Center.
            Compared to Midtown or the East Side, this part of town has few food choices.  The McDonalds on the corner of 34th and 10th Street, has a capable staff, lots of room and will get your food out quickly, if you are close to the deadline for lining up for the Mega Bus.
The B&W Deli, two blocks east, at 373 West 34th Street, serves a good slice and has a few chairs for eating in. 
There is an appealing looking restaurant/deli called the Market Place, a block west of B&W.  If I had not already grabbed two slices at B&W and was not pressed for time, I would have stopped in. 

There are sure to be more trips to the City, so stay tuned for more new food discoveries!  If you are traveling through the City and find a good place, please send a post.  It's always great to hear from readers!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Looking Outward and Inward

George Bellows: Men of the Docks,
Courtesy of the National Gallery, London, England

            Whatever the era, the traveler is always pulled between looking outward and in.

            Until recently, the printed page pulled people inward: commuters read the paper on the 8 AM from Scarsdale or people on ocean liners sat in steamer chairs and read novels.
            The latest pull inward is what Southwest’s flight attendants call “portable electronic devices,” phones, computers, tablets and game consoles.  At first these were regulated or tolerated.  But now, transportation companies cater to technology users.  Mega Bus has free wi-fi and for an allegedly small fee, Southwest and other airlines will let you surf the web at 30,000 feet. 
            Sometime soon, travelers may be pulled even more inward, if airlines allow in-flight phone calls.  After sitting behind someone on a transcontinental flight in the 1980’s, who had more credit card points than sense and had to call everyone and say nothing, I am as eager for in-flight cell calls as I am for a rectal exam.
            Sleeping and reading are the two things that most often pull me away from watching the journey.
            On a recent bus trip from Albany to eastern Long Island, after waking up from a short nap, I decided to spend more time watching the trip.  The height of a bus offers a better view of the roadside than a car.  On the way home from Long Island, I got to see a beautiful old house on Long Island.  Driving by the same place in the car, the view was obscured by a hedge.
            During the Megabus leg of the trip from Albany to Manhattan, streams, rivers and ponds along the Thruway were locked in ice.  At other times of the years, these waters are open or moving, from the current or wind.  But nothing says winter like white and cold-blue ice.
            Later, thoughts of Doctor Zhivago gave way to a moment from Larry McMurtry and The Last Picture Show.  On the north side of Interstate 80, in Bogota, New Jersey, just west of the New Jersey Turnpike interchange, I saw a faded sign, painted on the side of a large building, announcing the “Queen Anne Theater.”  The building was the right shape for a movie theater but no marquee was visible from the expressway.  The building houses a dry cleaner; perhaps this business is enriched by spirits of romance and adventure from when black and white movies were shown, instead of starched shirts are boxed up.
            The Queen Anne theater observation shows something important about looking outward.  The best view of building and sign are from the eastbound lane.  If you are going west, the roadway is so low that the sign is not visible and it’s hard to see the outline of the theater.
            The main bus entrance to Manhattan is the Lincoln Tunnel.  The highway comes over the top of the Palisades, an ancient volcanic ridge.  As the bus comes through a cut in the Palisades, travelers can see a delightful panorama of midtown Manhattan and New York Harbor.  From here, the Empire State Building looks skinny, as if it had competed in one of those events where people walk or run in stairwells to the Building’s observation deck.
            If you do not look fast enough, you miss the view as the bus spirals down and into the tunnel entrance.
            Before plunging into the tunnel this trip, I saw how Manhattan and the Harbor have remained constant in an ever-changing metropolis.
            Shipping and docks in Hoboken have been replaced by waterfront apartments.  On the West Side of Manhattan, a new generation of skyscrapers will soon join the Freedom Tower.
            At the turn of the century and in the 1940’s, the painter George Bellows and photographer Andreas Feininger captured white steam rising from steam locomotives, power plants, cargo ships and ocean liners.  Working in oils and black-and-white, Bellows and Feininger each perfectly captured the hard, sharp quality of winter light and the simple, stripped down colors in the landscape.

Midtown Manhattan, 1946 by Andreas Feininger, courtesy of
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

            Most of the things that generated the steams in Bellows’ and Feininger’s times are gone, replaced by other, more modern things. 

            If Bellows and Feininger came back to the edge of the Palisades today, they might mourn the departure of trains, cargo ships and ocean liners.  But they would be happy to see that the City remain vital - - under the same hard, sharp light they saw.