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Ithaca - A travel report by Xeres
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Ithaca,  United States - flag United States -  New York
2579 readers

orlen's travel reports

The Perfect Mix

  8 votes
I should have known it was going to be a long trip. But getting stuck for three hours at the Canada-U.S. border was not what I expected. Despite that unpleasantness I have only one regret about my choice for weekend escape: I wish I’d stayed longer.

Cornell University
Cornell University
To be honest, what originally drew my attention to the Finger Lakes was a waterfall. Taughannock Falls, highest waterfall least of the Mississippi. Being some of a waterfall buff I started to look into a weekend trip to the Finger Lakes Region. What I found is incredible, the Finger Lakes have the perfect mix of things to do. In a most literal sense, there is something for everyone.

You want nature? Tons of hiking trails and waterfalls! History? Beautiful historic towns and mansions aplenty! Culture? Art galleries and theatres abound. Cuisine? Its one of North America’s premier wine regions. Desire to learn? One of the famed “Ivy League” universities is located here.

Of course, everyplace has its downsides; it’s a sad fact of life. The homeless are commonly seen in the nice part of Syracuse (not technically part of the Finger Lakes, but who’s counting?). A lot of the homeless here can be quite bold in their demands for money, a little unnerving, especially when you think that this part of the world is supposed to be civilized and rich.

The other curse of the civilized and rich: trash is also apparent here.

An unrelated curse was the weather: it drizzled incessantly the entire time I was here, and was unnaturally cold. Some places seemed to revel in this weather, turning it into an opportunity, not a day ruiner. Watkins Glen, an effort by both man and nature to make a beautiful park, was highlighted in the moody gloom. The play of the small cracks of sunshine on the gorge walls, made it all the more special.

Favourite spots:
Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen
In the 19th century, some entrepreneur recognized the potential of the Watkins Glen gorge, and built wooden brides across said gorge to help people view the natural beauty. In the 1910s, these bridges were replaced with ones made of stone, and today the park could practically trademark the word “picturesque”.
A river goes on a roller coaster through a narrow gorge, over waterfalls, down rapids, carving out intriguing rock formations. The trail provides a front row seat, skirting the edge, and crossing over the river at points on cobblestone bridges. As you walk, you realize just how high the gorge is, and just how perfectly grey, the stone walls of the gorge are.
Even rain only adds to the beauty, dripping off the rocky overhangs and slickening the rock until the whole thing appear to b a waterslide
It was crowded near the entrance, but by the time I reached the end of the trail, there were only a few people left. Their bad call. Going to the end is very worthwhile.

What's really great:
Modern Art at Cornell
Modern Art at Cornell
Cornell University is one of those places whose atmosphere completely changes depending on the weather. When I arrived, the dark sky and drizzle made the old buildings appear to be right out of a mystery novel. No one was there, and the eyes of Goldwin Smith’s statue seemed to follow my every move. I took refuge in the art museum, an excellent choice. The admission was free, and there was a large collection of historical art from all corners of the world. After an hour of browsing through Ecuadorian clay figures and Indian statues, I went back outside. The church bells rang, and the sun came out. With the sun came a flood of people, filling up the grassy lawn, changing the feel completely. It was now more reminiscent of a lazy summer day among, the old stately buildings of Cornell. A much more pleasant atmosphere to wander around and soak up the architecture, to crane my neck at the McGraw tower, and to puzzle over some the modern art on the grounds.

Ithaca and region is full of sights.
Taking a winery tour around the lake is very pleasant, past rolling vineyards and views down to the placid water.
For a spot of nature, I travelled to Taughannock Falls, which drops two hundred feet to the base of a wide canyon. The hike took me through pine and deciduous forest, and I saw some white tailed deer.
The historic town of Canandaigua has a massive domed courthouse which will leave with the impression that it’s a little too large for the town.
Canandaigua also contains a Victorian estate, Sonnenburg, with gardens that may be gorgeous in summer, but in May were all bare. Built as a summer home, the inside of Sonnenburg has some of the weirdest decorations I’ve ever seen.
Syracuse has a nice historic area, especially around Clinton Square. The Armory Square Heritage District deserves mention as well.

I actually didn’t stay in Ithaca, but rather in Syracuse; located 30 minute drive away. I stayed at the Parkview Hotel. The rooms where what you would expect from a North American hotel; medium sized and comfortable, with cable television, and very nice bathrooms. It was all done with tasteful decorations that tried to be homely, but ended up being more of a jumble of modern and rustic. The food at the hotel was nothing special, so luckily it was located right in downtown Syracuse, within walking distance to all the major attractions, and many restaurants. It was in a leafy neighborhood, trees lining the streets, and the towers of Syracuse’s University with in sight of my room.

Ithaca is a university town, full of university students, so it follows that there certainly must be nightlife, and there is. Just outside Cornell, there is a “university ghetto” so to speak, a section that tailors to the students with bars, pizza places, cheap shopping and the like. At night, there is no problem finding a drink, though once the students go off on break, I assume the strip gets lower key.

In the main part of Ithaca, there where also plenty of bars, and probably some nightclubs, but the weather was rather dismal, and cold at night.

In Syracuse, there is activity right into twelve o clock and possibly longer (I wouldn’t know).

In some of the smaller towns around the lakes, such as Skaneateles, you’ll be hard pressed to find nightlife. I saw one bar in the whole of Skaneateles, and it didn’t seem very busy.

Ithaca Commons
Ithaca Commons
Ithaca is a town of hangouts. The pedestrian mall, known as the Ithaca commons is a great place to hangout. It’s lined with restaurants and cafes, containing some of the best food in Ithaca. Amusing street art sits in the middle of street, right next to leafy trees which offered welcome respite from the drizzle. Historic 19th century buildings stand in rows, elegant and well kept up.

Another great hangout is Cornell University. Plenty of great open green spaces to relax, and students to watch. If it’s raining, one can head to the second floor of the art museum which contains a covered, plantless, sculpture garden and benches to observe the towers of Cornell.

At one entrance to Cornell, the back way, is a bridge which spans a gorge. At least 100 feet above the river, and with a view over the surrounding country side as well as a small waterfall, this is a great place to hangout for those with no vertigo (such as yours truly).

Many genres of food can be found in Ithaca, for Italian to Japanese to Indian. Restaurants are scattered around town, but there is a concentration of cheap ones in the “student ghetto”.
I noticed that Ithaca has abnormally good pizza in its many pizza parlours. A large variety of flavours, including some really creative ones (replace tomato sauce with barbeque sauce), and it’s all very good.
The most pleasant place for restaurants is the Ithaca commons, but on a cold drizzly day, it may be better to look somewhere else.
In the region, some of the wineries have restaurants, but there quite expensive. Snacks, though, can be picked up at most wineries and these are comparatively cheaper.
A final note: portion sizes in the U.S. are bigger then almost anywhere else: beware.

Other recommendations:
Grape Growing Landscape
Grape Growing Landscape
It’s a good idea to find out about the university scheduled before coming to Ithaca. If there is an event going on, the place can get quite crowded. The streets get thronged with cars, and the sidewalks get overrun by people, and don’t even think of going to Cornell in those circumstances.
Rain really isn’t an issue when coming to Ithaca, its great in any weather.
These two factors combine to make spring the best season to visit Ithaca. The summer crowds don’t yet exist, and the many waterfalls in the area are at full height and strength.
Driving a car is the best way to get around the region, it gives you much flexibility to visit places not serviced by public transit (and there are a lot of places not serviced) and is much cheaper then a taxi.
If you have time, Canandaigua, (maybe an hour away) has a disproportionate amount of monumental buildings for a town its size, and a very nice lake to relax at.

Published on Monday January 12th, 2009

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Mon, Jan 12 2009 - 12:55 PM rating by pesu

Xeres, funny and informative report. Nice to follow you hiking throug forests and gorges, taking refuge in art museums and watching students. ;-)

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