Friday, August 24, 2012

The Boomer's Guide to the Culinary Institute of America

Before we leave the Hyde Park area, I wanted to share with you our experiences with the Culinary Institute of America ("CIA"). Located just a few miles down Route 9 from the Roosevelt homes and the Vanderbilt mansion, the CIA is well worth a visit. Founded it in 1946 originally in New Haven, Connecticut, it bills itself as the "World's Premier Culinary College.", The school was moved to a campus along the Hudson in 1972.

 The school offers two and four year programs in all aspects of the food service business for buddingchefs, maitre'ds and restaurant managers.  Every few months a new class enters and is given intensivehands on training.  All of the students work in the five restaurants on site as servers as well as kitchen  personnel.  They are then graded on their performance by their professors .
We were able to dine in two of the restaurants, Ristoranate Caterina de'Medici and American Bounty Restaurant. Caterina is an Italian restaurant of the highest order.  Although we had no reservation, we were seated immediately.  The highlight of our dinner was the raviolini.  It was superb, with a melt in the mouth consistency.  We had a reservation at the American Bounty and were very impressed with the mussels and frites appetizer among other fine dishes.  The service in both restaurants was impeccable and of the sort you would find in the best New York restaurants.
If you are in the vicinity, by all means stop in at the CIA for dinner.  You will not be disappointed.
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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Boomer's Guide to West Point

The United States Military Academy is the training ground for our Army commissioned officer corps. Founded by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802, it sits on the site of a Revolutionary War fortress that was taken by the Americans on January 27, 1778 It has a commanding presence over the Hudson River Valley and its strategic importance is immediately apparent.

West Point is located 50 miles north of New York City on Route 9W.  It is available for private tours. Those tours begin at the visitors center located just outside the main gate.  Photo ID is required to purchase a ticket and upon boarding the shuttle bus.

Our tour guide on our one hour tour (two hour tours are also available) was a very knowledgeable teacher from a nearby school district.  As luck would have it, the guide's son, who will be a third year cadet at the Academy was also on the bus. We learned that third year cadets are called "cows"; first year cadets are plebes, second year cadets are yearlings and fourth year cadets are called "firsties."

The initial fortifications at West Point during the Revolutionary War were developed by a Polish engineer, Thaddeus Kosciuszko. A monument to Kosciuszko is located near Clinton Field. It was his defensive strategy for West Point that the infamous traitor, Benedict Arnold, had offered to provide to the British because Arnold felt he had not been given adequate credit for his role during the battle of Saratoga. Arnold escaped to England and his British contact, Major Andre, was hanged.

Architecturally, one of the most impressive buildings on campus is the non-denominational Protestant chapel. (There are also Catholic and Jewish chapels on campus).  The chapel is in the Gothic style and can seat some 1500 people.  In addition it is said to have the world's largest pipe organ in a religious setting. According to our tour guide, some 100 weddings are held there each year. Cadets are not permitted to be married while at the Academy so there is a rash of weddings immediately after graduation.

"Duty, Honor, Country".  Those were the words spoken by General Douglas MacArthur, a 1903 graduate of the Academy, upon his acceptance of the Sylvanus Thayer Award.  Those words basically sum up the philosophy instilled in the cadets at West Point. One other word characterizes those cadets, men and women, who pass through this hallowed campus and it is craved on a bench over looking the Hudson Valley:

As our tour bus was leaving  the campus, our tour guide pointed to a building and said that was the building where intelligence experts had reviewed some of the documents taken from Osama Bin Laden's compound when he was killed. 

At the completion of our tour, we stopped in at the Thayer Hotel, just inside the main gate.  The hotel is named for Sylvanus Thayer, one of early superintendents of the Academy, who was responsible for  the engineering emphasis of the curriculum.  We had an excellent buffet lunch in MacArthur's, a restaurant in the lower level of the hotel with outdoor space overlooking the campus and the Hudson Valley.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Boomer's Guide to the Vanderbilt Mansion

Although Hyde Park is most closely associated with the Roosevelt family, just down the road from FDR's Springwood on Route 9 is the Vanderbilt Mansion. The mansion was built as a seasonal vacation home in the late 19th century for Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt of the Vanderbilt family that owned the New York Central Railroad.   It was designed by the famed architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White. Stanford White, who helped with the furnishing of the interior of the mansion, was later murdered by Harry K. Thaw in 1906 because he was having an affair with Thaw's wife, actress Evelyn Nesbit. The subsequent trial was known as "The Trial of the Century" and resulted in Thaw being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The mansion was designed in the beaux art style and is said to be a perfect example of the gilded age mansions built by the robber barons. Less grand than the Vanderbilt mansion in Asheville, North Carolina, the Biltmore, it is located directly on the Hudson River and offers magnificent views of the river and the distant Catskill mountains.

The Vanderbilt Mansion was donated to the United States in 1940 and is designated as a National Historic site.  Because it is run by the National Park Service, your Senior Pass will allow you free admission to the Mansion. The grounds themselves are open to the public without any tickets or passes. It is a must see if you are in the area.

This completes our series on Hyde Park.  Next up is our visit to West Point.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Boomer's Guide to the Roosevelt Homes: Val-Kil

Located about two miles from the Roosevelt estate, Springwood, is the fieldstone retreat of Eleanor Roosevelt, Val-Kil.  Loosely translated, Val-Kil means waterfall stream. FDR had the cottage built in 1924 for Eleanor and her two friends, Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman.  Val-Kil is a National Historic Site run by the National Park Service. Unlike FDR's retreat, Top Cottage, Val-Kil is accessible by private automobile or the Roosevelt Ride shuttle. As a National Historic Site, you may use your Senior Pass.

Tours of Val-Kil are offered on the hour.  Before the tour begins, be sure to see the short, 15 minute video shown in one of the adjacent buildings. It provides an interesting and informative background for the woman known as the "First Lady of the World."

Although it was a retreat for Mrs. Roosevelt and her female friends, FDR frequently visited as well. Often he would drive his specially outfitted Ford convertible up the dirt road known as the Roosevelt Farm Lane to Val-Kil. 

In addition to being a restful retreat for Mrs. Roosevelt, Val-Kil was also the site of a business operated by Mrs. Roosevelt and her friends known as Val-Kil Industries.  Craftsmen were hired to make small furniture and other decorative items. Today, some of them are reputed to be quite valuable.

Val-Kil was simply decorated and much of the original furniture is in place, particularly in the modest dining room.

If you are interested in more information about Val-Kil, Springwood, Top Cottage or Hyde Park, visit or phone 1-800-FDR-VISIT.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Boomer's Guide to the Roosevelt Homes: Top Cottage

In addition to his Springwood estate in Hyde Park, just a few short miles away, was Franklin Roosevelt's retreat known as Top Cottage. FDR spent many days in this idyllic spot on a hill with the Hudson River Valley visible through the trees in the distance from his back porch. He had intended to use it as a place to write and think after his presidency but made many visits to it between 1939 and his death in 1945. It was specially designed to accommodate his wheelchair long before the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although he never spent the night there, he would often entertain guests including King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth (the "Queen Mum") in a famous visit that included a picnic lunch on the back porch which included hot dogs!

Top Cottage is now operated by the National Parks Service and is available for tours only three times a day via shuttle bus from the Henry Wallace center located at the Roosevelt Library and Museum near Springwood.  The tour guide we had the day we visited was named Charlotte and was quite knowledgeable and charming. She had us all sit on chairs on the back porch and contemplate the lovely environment.  It was a mindfulness moment,

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Boomer's Guide to the Roosevelt Homes in Hyde Park

Franklin D. Roosevelt,  or "FDR" as he was affectionately known, was born in Hyde Park, New York and spent a good part of his life there.  Stricken with polio when he was just 39, he went on to become the 32nd President of the United States of America. He led the nation out of the Great Depression in the 1930s and led the country to victory in World War II.  FDR was elected president four times before dying in the first year of his fourth term in 1945.Although he died before most boomers were born, he remains a fascinating figure for boomers as well as those who were alive during his presidency.  We are fortunate to be able to visit the home he grew up in and often returned to during his life, Springwood, the cottage he used as a retreat, Top Cottage and the house used by his wife, Eleanor, as her own separate retreat, Val-Kil. All are located within a few miles of each other in Hyde Park, New York.

FDR's boyhood home, Springwood, is located on a 1500 acre tract on Route 9 in Hyde Park. It has been designated as a National Historic Site and is operated by the National Park Service. Because of that, all of the Roosevelt sites, Springwood, Top Cottage and Val Kil, are free to those with a senior National Park Service Pass. Up to four guests are also free. There is a charge, however, for the Presidential Museum and Library (which was under renovation when we visited).  Free shuttle service is offered between Springwood and Top Cottage and Val-Kil on The Roosevelt Ride, which is available at the Henry Wallace Center.  Wallace had been FDR's vice president.


Springwood is available for tours conducted by very knowledgeable volunteers who take you through the house. Photography is allowed inside the house. The house itself is a mixture of Victorian furniture (his mother, Sara Delano was a major figure in FDR's life and was of that era) and political accessories. One whole wall of the entrance way is covered with political cartoons. Springwood has basically been kept the way that it was when FDR was president. His den and bedroom are particularly interesting.

In addition to the house itself, there are stables which contain riding gear and which still smell of horses.  There is a large rose garden on the property that also contains FDR's tomb.

Our next post will discuss the presidential retreat, Top cottage and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt's personal retreat and cottage industry located in Val-Kil a few miles away.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Boomer's Guide to Vassar College

Vassar college is located in Poughkeepsie, New York in the beautiful Hudson Valley, 75 miles north of New York City.  It was founded in 1861 as a women's college. .  Vassar was the first of the Seven Sisters which were sister institutions to the Ivy League all male schools.  Vassar became co-educational in 1969 Before he became President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who lived in nearby Hyde Park, was a trustee.
The main campus is located on a beautiful 1000 acres off of Richmond Avenue, 3 miles from the city's center.  There are a number of historic  buildings located on campus including two which are National Historic landmarks, the main building (above) and the observatory.The Main Building had at one time housed the entire college.

The campus consists of a mixture of both old brick buildings and contemporary structures.  The student cooperative,Ferry House was designed by the famed architect, Marcel Breuer.  The Finnish-American architect, Eero Saarinen, designed Noyes House.  The Lehman Loeb Art Center was designed by American architect C├ęsar Pelli.
The beautiful chapel (above) is Gothic in style.

One of the most impressive of the buildings on campus is the library.
If you are in Poughkeepsie, the Vassar campus is well worth a stop.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Boomer's Guide to Travel Sites in Hyde Park

Evver since I was young I have been fascinated by two places that I wanted to see. First, was the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the longest serving President of the United States, in Hyde Park, New York.  Second, waas The United States Military Academy or as it is more commonly refered to, West Point.  This summer, we were privileged to have the opportunity to tour both places.

Hyde Park, New York, is located about  an hour and a half from New York City. and three hours from Philadelphia  Train service is available on Amtrak and the Metro-North Railroad with stops in nearby Poughkeepsie. That is where our touring began.

We arrived at our hotel in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Not  knowing what to expect in Poughkeepsie, my wife grabbed a stack of brochures from the hotel's front desk. We studied them in our room and saw that there were at least two places in Poughkeepsie we should see, Vassar College and Locust Grove, the former home of Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph and a well-known portrait and landscape painter of the Hudson River Valley School.

Locust Grove is located at 2683 South Road on Route 9 or the Albany-Post Road as it has been called for hundreds of years. It is a 40 room Italianate mansion which is available for guided tours only. Because the Morse family had sold it near the turn of the last century, most of the furniture and paintings in the house are from the subsequent owners, the Youngs. It is an interesting mix of Victorian and older antiques and paintings. The views from the estate's gardens are of the Hudson River Valley and are fantastic..

There is a small museum on the grounds which houses some of the artwork of Samuel Morse as well as some of his telegraphic inventions.  It is well worth a visit.  There is also a small gift shop. One of the staff members recommended we try the Shadows on the Hudson for dinner that night.

Just a few short blocks away, Shadows on the Hudson has magnificent views of the Hudson River Valley. The food matches the view.  I had the Lobster bake and it was excellent, with a one and a quarter pound lobster, andoiuille sausage, redskin potatoes and corn on the cob. You felt like you were right on the beach., 176 Rinaldi Blvd., Poughkeepsie, NY.

The next day we visited Vassar College in Poughkeepsie.  More about that in our next post.

The Baby Boomer's Guide to the Best Places to Visit and Things to Do in America

I have not written in a while because---what else---we were traveling. This time we were visiting Hyde Park, New York and Spring Lake, New Jersey.  Before I discuss those trips in later posts, I just wanted to acknowledge my gratitude to Patricia Schultz, the author of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.. The book is a rich source of information concerning places to visit not only in the United States but also throughout the world.  In reading the book, it occurred to me that my wife and I had already visited a number of the places she has written about.  As an example, my most recent post dealt with Shipshewana, the Amish community in Northern Indiana. Although we had been there many times over the last decade, it was interesting to see it listed in the 1,000 Places book.

This got me thinking:  why not see how many of the 1000 places can we visit and also write about. So, that we are going to try to do.  We may not cover them all and we will write about some places not on her list, but we will try to give you baby boomers a guide to what we think are the best and most fun places to visit and things to do.  While the book is a starting point in some instances, the opinions expressed are our own and the observations are ours also.

I hope you will enjoy our Baby Boomer's Guide to the Best Places to Visit and Things to Do!