Today is the first day we’ve actually had some time to sit and write, and that’s simply because we’re hunkered down in a state campground that has no cell reception or wifi, waiting for a big storm to roll in. It’s been almost two weeks since we started our van-living adventure and in both wonderful and frustrating ways, it feels much longer. The past two weeks have been chalk-full of exploration and bucket-list experiences, but they have also had their fair share of challenges that comes with forming a new routine and, ultimately, a lifestyle. We’re learning we have to slow down and that it’s not necessary (or possible) to see everything. We’re learning we need to be adaptable and flexible in our planning and that spontaneity can make for some of the most memorable side trips. We’re hoping that the next two weeks will give us the chance to streamline this new way of living and give us more time to establish a balance between blogging, adventuring and our new nomadic life. But in the meantime, here are the highlights and a couple of the frustrations we’ve encountered along the way so far.
Crossing the U.S Border into Buffalo, NY
Letchworth State Park, Castile, NY
Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, NY
The Woodstock Site & Museum, Bethel, NY
Family Visit, New Milford, CT
Stone Barn, Tarrytown, NY
Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
Letchworth State Park:
This gorgeous spot is not far from the border and we had no idea it existed. Everywhere you go in this park you’ll be surrounded by beauty, but the main canyon is beyond stunning. They call Letchworth the ‘Grand Canyon of the East’ making us doubly excited to see the real thing. This park has it all – waterfalls, hiking trails, a trestle bridge, incredible views, a café and lovely picnic spots. We’re so glad we discovered this spot and now understand why it’s been voted New York’s favourite state park.
Storm King Art Center:
This is one of our favourite places to visit in New York State. Our first trip here was seven years ago and we’ve been excited to return. Located in New Windsor, Storm King is a massive outdoor modern art museum. There are over a hundred different installations from a huge variety of artists, ranging from small sculptures to immense steel girder works erected in the middle of an open field. Besides being both a beautiful and serene spot, the art at Storm King is completely fascinating and just plain fun. You can spend hours just wandering and getting lost on the grounds, but be sure to pack plenty of water, sunscreen and comfy shoes.
The Woodstock Site and Museum:
Not actually in Woodstock, the Woodstock Festival actually took place in the tiny town of Bethel, NY. We made a last minute decision to reroute our trip that day to fit this in and we’re so incredibly glad we did. As music and history lovers, this place is incredible in so many ways. The museum gives you an in depth look at the time – the generation, the politics and the events that precipitated the need for a festival like Woodstock and gives you an idea of how it became probably the most famous festival in the last century. The exhibit also provides numerous detailed recollections from the lucky (or unlucky – depending on your opinion) people who were actually there. Everyone from attendees, organizers, volunteers and medical help recount their experiences, and even many of the tour guides have first-hand stories to share. The site itself is also pretty amazing. You can still see the footprint of where the stage was setup! It’s absolutely bewildering to imagine 400,000 people descending on this field that was selected with only 100,000 in mind.
We had been looking forward to visiting our family in Connecticut long before we hit the road. This was going to be the first chance to meet our new little niece who is too cute for words and spend more time with our handsome little nephew who just gets cuter each time we see him. We spent our days catching up, exploring some great sites and towns and watching our nephew try to befriend little Gizmo (our tiny, timid Papillion). It was a wonderful break and bit of much appreciated stability in the middle of a chaotic couple of weeks.
Stone Barn Center:
This was a happy place for Graeme! Stone Barn is an agricultural center on a formerly Rockefeller-owned property that focuses on farming research and emphasizes the concept of farm-to-table cooking and food preparation. It also just happens to have an incredible restaurant onsite called Blue Hill, run by chef Dan Barber. Graeme knew of this place from reading his book, ‘The Third Plate’, but we also learned a lot about Stone Barn from the Netflix series ‘Chef’s Table’ featuring Barber in one of the first season episodes. All of the restaurants utilize produce, grains and flowers grown on the premises in either the fields or many green houses. After Graeme drooled over the setup of the Blue Hill kitchen, we wandered around the property and got to overhear part of the daily tour explaining some of methods they were using for cultivation, crop rotation and seed saving. The Blue Hill restaurant was a little pricey for our current nomadic budget, but we did stop in at one of the cafes and picked up an artisan baguette made from grains milled onsite and enjoyed one of the nicest soy lattes we’d ever had.
Tanglewood Music Center:
This stop was right off of Graeme’s bucket list. As a classically trained musician, he’d followed the performances and goings on at Tanglewood since he was a teen, but had never had the chance to visit. If you’ve never heard of this place (I had absolutely no clue), it’s the summer home for the Boston Symphony. When their regular symphony season ends in the city, they continue performing a few concerts in the summer at Tanglewood, located in Lenox, Massachusetts. One of the really fun performances they do is show a film (usually one with a John Williams soundtrack – this was a tradition that began with him) and the orchestra plays the score to the movie live. For us, it was Jaws, a quintessential New England classic! Besides who doesn’t love Richard Dreyfuss? The musicians and conductor are so phenomenally skilled that you almost forget they’re live and just get wrapped up in the movie. Now if only we could find a way to get back in August for their screening and live score for E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.
The Joy-Rides (the good stuff)
Crossing the Border into Buffalo:
We were incredibly apprehensive approaching our first border-crossing into the United States with the campervan. We had researched and read all sorts of horror stories of RVs getting searched and ripped apart, animals put into quarantine and travelers getting questioned. We made sure we were prepared for everything and had a binder organized with every piece of information we could possibly provide – animal vaccine records, itinerary, budgets, booked campgrounds and receipts for any of our recently purchased electronics. When we pulled up to the border agent we were greeted with an almost friendly ‘Hello’ which was followed with the expected questions ‘Where are you going? Why? For how long? Anything to declare?’ We answered, the dogs barked, she smiled and waved us through. From getting in the line to entering Buffalo took all of two minutes. We were lucky this go-around, but still know it’s only a matter of time before we have a crazy border story all our own.
The Speed Bumps (the challenges)
An Unexpected Heat Wave:
This wouldn’t be a huge issue if it was just the two of us, but it definitely complicates things when you travel with pets. There have been some experiences and attractions we’ve had to skip completely (The Normal Rockwell Museum) and others where we explored separately (Storm King) so one of us could stay with the dogs in the van to ensure they stayed cool and hydrated.
The ticks almost everywhere we’ve gone (especially NY and CT) have been insane. We’ve removed more off of the critters than we can count. Thankfully our vets set them up with their protective medications before we left which is doing exactly what is supposed to, but ‘tick checking’ for both them and us has become a necessary part of our daily routine.
The Stuff that’s Keeping Us Sane or Things We’re Enjoying:
Woodstock Live Recordings –we felt the need to upgrade our driving music after our visit to Bethel.
S-Town Podcast – We’ve finished 5 of the 7 episodes and are completely hooked and have no idea how this will end. It’s an awesome podcast from the creators of Serial and This American Life.
Dogfish Head Brewery – Beer To Drink Music To 17 (Tropical Blonde) – This a tasty, summer beer that’s been brewed with hibiscus and kiwi juice. Sounds a bit odd, tastes great!