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Three Day Trip Delights

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3 Day Trip Delights

 

Saratoga, the Berkshires, the Poconos. None are far away — and
all offer treats aplenty. Some you know about, but we bet others will come as a pleasant surprise

 

By David Levine & Reed Sparling

 

Berkshires

 

The Obvious Reason: Tanglewood, perhaps the prettiest arts center in the nation, and summer home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. (Nathaniel Hawthorne once lived on the grounds; a reconstruction of his house serves as a musician’s practice studio.) The music sounds better in the Shed (the open-air pavilion that hardly resembles a shed), but the real fun is out on the lawn. Prepare yourself for Picnic Envy, however. Unless you bring your cut crystal, Wedgwood china, silver candelabra, and embroidered tablecloth, you’re just a bumpkin.

 

Even if you don’t have tickets to the symphony or perennial acts like local boy James Taylor, find some time to stroll the  grounds. “The Berkshires seem dreamlike,” Taylor sings, and frosted or not, here you can experience the dream firsthand.

 

Tanglewood, 297 West St., Lenox, Massachusetts. For information about concerts, log onto www.bso.org. To purchase tickets, use the Web site or call 888-266-1200.

 

The Big, Important Museum: Art critics can debate its importance, but it is inarguably big. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art — Mass MoCA to you and me — is the nation’s largest center for contemporary art. Its 25 buildings once housed the Sprague Electric Company. Six of the factories now comprise more than 250,000 square feet of galleries, studios, performance space, theaters, cafés, and shops. One gallery is 40 feet high and another is as long as a football field. Like we said: big.

Mass MoCA, Marshall St. (Route 8), North Adams. 413-662-2111 or www.massmoca.org

 

The Less Big, Less Important, but More Bizarre Museum: You’re loaded into the Sensory Integrator. You try to ignore the loud buzzing and whirring as a hood lowers over your head, until you see only through the small, mail slot–like opening. The Integrator pivots and begins moving down the track. It gets dark. Music starts. You can see only what the Integrator lets you see. You can only surrender.

 

An odd shape appears. Just as you focus on it, the Integrator pivots again. Nothing. Then another object. It’s coming right at you. Then it’s gone. Light shifts. You shift, forward, backward, sideways. You’re in another space. The shapes appear and retreat. The Integrator moves and spins on its own.

 

Now you’re…where are you? You can see people, but they can’t see you. It’s light now. It’s dark again. More objects appear — are they “art”? You have no control over what you look at — is this an “art gallery”?

 

Well, sort of, if by “art” and “gallery” you mean some secret collaboration involving Walt Disney, George Lucas, and Mad Sculptor Guy. This, you see, is the Dark Ride Project.

 

North Adams has become a center for contemporary art, and just down the road from Mass MoCA, in another of the city’s lovingly rehabbed 19th-century factories, is the oddest art experience you are ever likely to encounter. The brochure describes it all:

“A Future for Art. Ride the ‘Sensory Integrator’ into creative space! An unforgettable Art Adventure. Be a voyager through the introcave, mini-theater…and gateway station. Experience the 10-minute Sensory Integrator ride, Space Sculpture Garden, Purity Vacuum and Artifacts Gallery.”

 

Eric Rudd is the artist, futurist, and impresario behind this and other gonzo art experiences in North Adams. He’s been exploring the relationship between art, architecture, space, and movement since the late 1960s. A fascination with theme parks entered his consciousness in the ’70s. He hooked up with General Electric and began making big, abstract sculptures out of industrial plastics in the ’80s, which brought him to North Adams from Washington, D.C. Here he found the big, empty, and inexpensive spaces — abandoned mills — he needed to realize his vision, in 1995, with the Dark Ride Project. A year later, it opened to the public.

 

“I want you to see my art the way I want it to be seen,” he explains. “I don’t like being at the mercy of a curator. Here I control the environment. I am my own curator.”

Rudd, who describes North Adams as slowly transforming into a “cultural theme park,” views the Dark Ride as a departure from traditional art. “It’s not the Clark Museum,” he says, noting the more traditional Impressionist-heavy institution in nearby Williamstown.

 

“If you want flowers and still-lifes, this is not your cup of tea. But if you come with an open mind, you’ll learn something.”

 

The Dark Ride Project, Rte. 8N, North Adams. 413-664-9550 or www.darkrideproject.org

 

Zen and Now: Andrew Carnegie must be rolling in his competitive, capitalist grave knowing his former estate is now Kripalu, the nation’s largest yoga and holistic health center. If the stress of Berkshire concerts, parties, wining, and dining gets to you, stop by for some “healing arts”: a yoga class, massage, whirlpool, sauna, or a walk in the gardens.

 

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Rte. 183 (across from Tanglewood), Lenox. 800-741-7353 or www.kripalu.org

 

Teach Your Kids How Good They Have It: The Shakers, those 18th-century anti-party animals, established a village near Pittsfield known as “the City of Peace.” Now a beautifully restored living museum set on 1,200 acres of farm and field, Hancock Shaker Village features exhibits of Shaker furniture and household items in 20 historic buildings, including a round stone barn that the masters of simplicity called the Round Stone Barn.

All together now: “ ’Tis the gift to be simple…”

 

Hancock Shaker Village, Rte. 20, Pittsfield. 800-817-1137 or www.hancockshakervillage.org

 

Tchotchkes R Us: By law, everyone in Great Barrington must sell antiques. Or so it seems as you drive through this central Berkshire County town. If you find that perfect china tea set, fill it up at Helsinki Tea Company. This little bit of Finland-in-the-Berkshires offers European charm and Old World food to complement its extensive tea selection.

 

Helsinki Tea Company, Main St., Great Barrington. 413-528-3394.

Good Eats:

 

Red Lion Inn, 30 Main St., Stockbridge: Fine dining upstairs, good pub food downstairs, Colonial charm throughout the Berkshire’s most famous inn, built in 1773.

 

Bistro Zinc, 56 Church St., Lenox: The bar really is made of zinc, and the food really is true French bistro.

 

Wheatleigh Hotel, Hawthorne Rd., Lenox: An Italian palazzo dropped into the Berkshire woods. The setting is grand and the food is, too.

 

John Andrews, Rte. 23, South Egremont: Off the beaten path, but well worth the drive. One of the Berkshire’s best, according to both Wine Spectator and Zagat.

 

Saratoga

 

The Obvious Reasons: SPAC and the track. The bucolic splendor of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. (Never mind the, um, recent unfortunate events.) The Victorian charm of the racetrack. (Never mind the money you’ll leave at the betting window.)

Whether your tastes run to Dvorak or Dave Matthews, SPAC is one of the loveliest outdoor concert settings in America. New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra are in summer residence, and the big-name pop acts all stop here. Before you go, though, two words of advice: insect repellent.

 

The Saratoga Race Course will disabuse you of the notion that all horse racing looks like OTB, or even Belmont Park. They’ve been playing the ponies in Saratoga since the Civil War. The Travers Stakes, which some call the fourth leg of the Triple Crown, is the oldest stakes race in the country. We’re talking history here. And if nothing else, the people-watching can’t be beat.

 

 

American Horsetory: What’s the big deal about horse racing, you ask? The short answer is, more than you can imagine. For a more complete answer, check out that pretty building across the street from the racetrack, the one with the big statue of Seabiscuit on the lawn. It’s the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Go inside. Pay your $7. You’ll learn more about the fascinating and colorful history of horse racing in America than you ever imagined.

 

Sure, horse racing has been, and often still is, a seedy business with disreputable characters. But what’s more American than that? “The history of Thoroughbred racing is directly intertwined with the social, political, and cultural history of America,” says Curator Lori Fisher. Indeed, the museum’s collection dates to pre-Colonial days. Horse racing is a favorite with kings and queens, and royalty, whether European or American, has cloaked this sport in some remarkably glamorous and downright beautiful trappings.

Lavishly updated in 1988 and expanded in 2000, the museum is as modern, airy, and interactive as any, with touch-screen computers, motion-activated recordings, and cool horsey stuff for the kids to touch.

 

You start, naturally, by walking through a starting gate, complete with the sounds of a real race — “They’re off!” You follow the museum’s track around a lovely courtyard featuring a statue of Secretariat. On the way you learn racing’s story in America. George Washington appears. So do Andrew Jackson and Winston Churchill’s mother. (Now you’re intrigued.) You also learn, among many other things, how a pari-mutuel tote board works, how jockeys have been weighed over the decades, what goes on in the backstretch, how a horse is built for speed, the names of the three foundation stallions from which all Thoroughbreds are descended (talk about inbreeding), and even why a race’s “purse” is called a purse.

 

Be sure to see the museum’s continuously running short film, Race America. It’s a stunning, heart-pounding, and yes, unabashedly patriotic thrill ride that puts Aaron Copland’s music to its best possible use.

 

Still not convinced? Then never mind the horses and consider the museum for its wonderful collection of European and American fine art, sculpture, and decorative objects — silver, textiles — dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. “Even if you’re not interested in racing, you’ll still get a lot out of the museum,” says Fisher. She should know. With an American history background but no particular horse sense, she came to the job open-minded and has since grown fascinated with “the stories these objects can tell.”

 

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, 191 Union Ave. 518-584-0400 or  www.racingmuseum.org

 

The Perfect Picnic Spot: The Saratoga Spa State Park is big and beautiful, but there’s another lovely gem in town. Congress Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is a wonderful example of that 19th-century ideal, the urban oasis. The Canfield Casino, a working casino back in the Spa City’s glory days and now a museum, anchors the site, surrounded by rose gardens and other perennials, flowering trees, bubbling waterfalls, decorative fountains (don’t miss Spit and Spat, two cherubs spewing at one another), and, for the kids, a working carousel and lots of ducks to chase.

 

A warning: “the waters,” the naturally flowing spring water that gives Saratoga its name and much of its historical significance, stink. They taste awful. But you’ll probably try them anyway, so you might as well do it at one of the many taps you’ll find throughout town.

 

Congress Park is located on Broadway in downtown Saratoga.

 

Shuffle Off to Buffalo: Two miles south of downtown on Route 9, indulge your inner baby boomer at PJ’s Bar-B-Q. PJ and his family, Buffalo natives, run this seasonal roadside joint as a shrine to both their hometown football team and the 1950s. Park your T-bird in a “Reserved for Buffalo Bills Fans” spot. Order up a beef on weck, curly fries with homemade gravy, and PJ’s Loganberry. Groove to Elvis, Fats, and the Everly Brothers. Check out the vintage cars and chopped hogs in the parking lot on Friday nights. If the Saratoga Scene gets a bit too precious, this is the place to return to earth.

PJ’s Bar-B-Q, South Broadway. 518- 583-RIBS or www.pjsbarbq.com

 

More Eats:

Hattie’s, 45 Phila St.: Hattie Gray of St. Francisville, Louisiana, established this Saratoga institution — she called it Hattie’s Chicken Shack — in 1938. She’s gone, but her authentic Southern-style food lives on. Fried chicken like you’ve never had.

 

The Parting Glass, 40-42 Lake Ave.: An Irish pub that deserves the title. A bowl of lamb stew, a properly poured Guinness, some live music, and you’re back on the Olde Sod. Bring your darts.

 

Chez Sophie, Rte. 9 (just south of town): Haute cuisine — and tres haute prices — in, of all places, a beautifully converted railroad dining car. Arguably the best restaurant between Manhattan and Montreal. Really.

 

Breakfast at the Track: Every morning before the races, you can enjoy a buffet breakfast trackside, watch the horses and riders work out, hear lively commentary, and maybe pick up a betting tip or two.

 

Poconos

 

The Obvious: Tired of Valley scenery? For a change, drive through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which encompasses more than 70,000 acres on both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania sides of the Delaware River. It’s especially pretty in Pennsylvania, where Route 209 snakes through the bucolic park for more than 30 miles. On the river side, you can often catch glimpses of the water, glimmering beyond pretty farmland. Across the road, you’ll marvel at towering cliffs whose smooth, rocky contours resemble black sheets billowing in the wind. (A word to the wise: if you really want to see something, stop at one of the frequent pull-offs or risk the ire of speedier drivers.) All along, there are dirt roads and footpaths that beckon you to leave your car and hoof it for a spell.

 

The Unexpected: Grey Towers sounds like the setting of a novel by one of the Brontë sisters. Actually, it’s a 44-room mansion located in the Pocono Mountains above Milford, Pennsylvania. It’s not only magnificent to look at, inside and out, but has quite a past as well.

 

The home was completed in 1886 from designs by Richard Morris Hunt — architect of many of Newport’s grand “cottages” — as a summer home for James Pinchot, a local boy who went off to New York and made a fortune in the wallpaper business. At age 44, he retired and thereafter devoted himself to good works, including the patronage of numerous artists of the Hudson River School. Emblematic of Pinchot’s French heritage, Hunt created a château that would be at home on the banks of the Loire were it not constructed entirely of local stone. True to its name, it features three round towers capped with conical roofs.

 

In part because of his family’s interests in the logging industry, which had denuded area woodlands, Pinchot developed a passion for conservation, which he passed on to his son, Gifford (named after the artist, and family friend, Sanford Robinson Gifford). He encouraged the young man to enter a career in forestry. There were no forestry schools in America, so after graduating from Yale, Gifford went to France to learn the trade.

Back in America, Gifford Pinchot became one of the country’s leading conservationists.

 

In 1898, he was appointed head of the federal Division of Forestry. Seven years later, President Theodore Roosevelt named him chief forester of the newly created U.S. Forest Service. During his government tenure, the number of national forests increased from 32 to 149. Roosevelt, who considered conservation one of his greatest legacies, said that Pinchot “stood first” among civil servants in his administration. Later, Pinchot was twice elected governor of Pennsylvania; throughout his terms, Grey Towers was his legal residence.

 

The mansion was donated to the Forest Service by Gifford’s son in 1963. Today, following a $14 million restoration, the first floor looks much as it did in the 1920s and ’30s, when Gifford Pinchot was governor and sought ways to keep in touch with his constituency. “He did it by welcoming people into his home,” says Lori McKean, Grey Towers’ public affairs officer. “We still try to make people feel they are guests.” (In an effort to continue the Pinchots’ conservation efforts, the second and third floors serve as elegant conference space for environmental groups.)

 

The living rooms are filled with several generations of family furnishings; heavy Italian chests purchased by James sit cheek by jowl with more delicate Oriental furniture favored by Gifford’s wife, Cornelia. As a result, the house has an appealing, lived-in feel. Most fascinating are Pinchot’s round office, still full of memorabilia from his travels, and a huge sitting room decorated with nautical paintings.

 

But Grey Towers’ piece de résistance is the “dining room.” Known as the Finger Bowl, it is actually an outdoor eating space that sits beneath a bower of wisteria. Guests sat around a raised, circular pool whose overhanging lip is large enough to hold plates and silverware. Food was placed in balsa containers and passed by floating them across the water. When children were in attendance, a squadron of sailboats navigated in the wake of the vegetables and mashed potatoes. (It’s said that a roast turkey once wound up in Davy Jones’ locker.)

 

The Finger Bowl and much of the rest of the surrounding grounds, including peaceful courtyard terraces and a delightful reflecting pool, were the work of Cornelia. “She really believed in melding her interior spaces with her landscape features,” says McKean while surveying the superb view from a bench. “This is her gem, her creativity.” It’s a place that’s sure hard to leave.

 

Grey Towers, 151 Grey Towers Drive, Milford, Pennsylvania. 570-296-9630.

Retail Heaven: The charming village of Milford is just 10 miles from Port Jervis (Orange) and an hour from Poughkeepsie. It’s full of pretty houses, with a vibrant downtown whose businesses are a far cry from the tacky gift shops omni­present elsewhere in the Poconos. In fact, there are nearly 30 antiques emporia, art galleries, crafts purveyors, and specialty stores. Some of the more interesting of these include Reigning Cats and Dogs, the perfect place to find a souvenir for your pampered pet; Blue Sky Red Earth Tribal Arts, featuring works by Native American artists; and the Milford Craft Show, where local artisans exhibit all kinds of goodies. (If you’ve been searching for a giant painted cow, it’s at the latter.)

 

Antiques lovers and architecture buffs will want to hit Forest Hall Antiques, on the second floor of — duh! — Forest Hall, which was built by James Pinchot as a classroom for Yale’s nascent Forestry School. The main space has a magnificent trussed ceiling, while other rooms feature interesting fireplace mantels and woodwork. The antiques, an enormous mix of Asian, Continental, and American treasures, are pretty nifty, too. The building is also home to four other stores, so it’s a great place for one-stop shopping.

 

Food With a View: If you like to people-watch while you eat, you’re in luck in Milford. Several restaurants on the main drag feature spacious front porches set up for dining. The Dimmick Inn (Harford & Broad Sts.) serves steaks and chops, while the Tom Quick Inn (411 Broad St.) is noted for beef, veal, and lamb dishes. Go inside the Dimmick long enough to have a drink in its 1800s taproom.

 

Laurel Villa Country Inn, Second & Ann Sts.: While you’re waiting for a table on the patio here, you can watch the koi in the garden pool. Chef Carl Muhl­hauser, a CIA grad, often travels to New York to reel in the seafood he prepares as daily specials.

 

The Muir House Inn & Restaurant, 102 Rte. 2001: Located in an 1820s farmhouse on the outskirts of town, this elegant eatery offers duck, wild game, and lots of seafood.

 

Drip, drip: You don’t have to worry about getting your shoes dirty on the trail that begins in the parking lot at the Delaware Water Gap’s Dingmans Falls Visitor Center. That’s because it traverses a boardwalk. Although it can hardly be called hiking, it’s worth making the .4-mile round trip to see two spectacular waterfalls. Silver Thread Falls shoots 70 feet straight down a narrow channel carved in the rock by the force of the water. It looks like, well, a silver thread. The channel is so perfectly carved that you’d swear it was man-made, but it’s Mother Nature one-upping us again. The trail ends at Dingmans Falls, a 75-foot gusher that first plunges dramatically off a ledge before cascading more gently over the rocks at the base of a small gorge. Standing here on a hot day, you’ll soon forget all about the heat.

 

The falls are located off Route 209, 14.4 miles south of Milford. Follow signs for the visitor center. ■

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