Windows 2007

No, this is not a review of Microsoft’s latest product release. Instead, it is about 2 particularly pleasant journeys I made in the latter half of last year. There were two things common to both of them – 1) they were easily accessible from New York and 2) both offered window seats with great views!

To the end of a very ‘long island’

The Long Island Rail Road or LIRR is one of 3 commuter railroads that serves the NY Metro area. It is also the busiest commuter railroad in the US. Montauk is the furthest point East the LIRR will take you and like it or not, it is also the very end of Long Island. But given that it is 3 hours and over 100 miles away from Penn Station (including a transfer at Jamaica), it seems unjust to apply the ‘commuter’ tag to Montauk. Fact is, almost no one commutes daily between there and Manhattan – the furthest commuting point East being Babylon.

But the stretch between Babylon and Montauk serves the trendiest part of Long Island – the Hamptons. Best known for its palatial summer homes, private beaches and golf courses, the Hamptons is a summer favourite not only for the rich and famous but also for vacationers seeking a quick get away from the city. And the LIRR gets you there in style.. For a 29 USD return, it also gives you the best bang for your buck!

The journey from Penn Station to Jamaica is about 20 mins long and offers nothing interesting out the window save for Jamaica’s rail yard which of course would only please the ardent rail fan. A little east of Jamaica marks the end of Queens and also the city limits for NYC. Nassau is the westernmost County in Long Island and from there to Babylon are a string of townships quintessential of suburban America. A few stops east of Babylon and you are finally in the land of the wealthy.

John McEnroe, Steven Spielberg, Calvin Klein – just a small sprinkling of the names who own real estate here. But leaving aside celebrities, the Hamptons have long been the preserve of old money and that which is invariably accompanied by good taste.

A Porsche here and a Yacht there – par for the course when it comes to enjoying the outdoors on a typical summer weekend in the Hamptons.

And talking of golf courses, here’s one that didn’t feature on any of the local maps. But of course it wouldn’t – its private ‘ol chap! 😉

Long Island Wines don’t go back to long in time but have seen phenomenal growth from a fairly humble start in the 70’s to over 60 vineyards today. And like most other features on the island, some of these are within easy photographable distance from the train!

The last stretch of the journey reminded me of home. Thickly wooded, almost tropical like forests with that characteristic green, enveloping us on both sides. It also struck me then how varied and rich the topography of Long Island really is. Just short of Montauk however, the forests give way to great vistas of Long Island Sound.

There is a local bus service from the train station at Montauk through the town centre to the tip of the island. It is far from frequent though and so we chose the more expensive taxi option to and fro. A mental note for next time – it’s a lot smarter to take your bike on the train and ride out the last few miles to the island’s end on a beautifully undulating highway.

Dating back to the 18th century, Montauk Point Lighthouse is the oldest in New York State. Today, it boasts a full fledged visitor centre and an accompanying steep entry fee. For about the same price, we decided to get some decent sea food instead. The nearby Light House Cafe has a lovely open air deck overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and if you squint hard enough, the shore line of Rhode Island and Connecticut can be seen in the distance.

Last on our list was a walk along Montauk’s beach. Pebbles and stones abound here so it’s not exactly walker’s paradise but at the very least, seems to be a popular spot for fishing.

Of Bridges & Waterways

A shorter journey in comparison – 43 mins to Croton Harmon and if you really stretch it, 104 mins to Poughkeepsie – the one along the Hudson River is nothing short of a treat! Operated by Metro North Railroad, all journeys start at Grand Central and you remain underground till Manhattan’s 125th street station.

The prime views are all on your left as you head north and the action picks up soon after you cross over the Harlem River into the Bronx. The alignment parallels the river in most parts and the bridges over the river – which are passed at frequent intervals – vary in size, use and type. Each one an engineering delight. The last of these can be seen at the very scenic station of Spuyten Duyvil where the Harlem River joins the Hudson.

The bridge you see in the distance is of the ‘swing’ type and carries the Amtrak line to upstate NY – sharing the ‘right of way’ with Metro North trains till Poughkeepsie. Soon after joining up with the Amtrak line, looking back (or south) one can easily see the very impressive George Washington Bridge which connects upper Manhattan to New Jersey.

It is the first bridge across the Hudson as you head north and we would be passing two more on our journey along the river. Meanwhile the very imposing and steep cliffs of the Jersey Palisades kept us company for almost 15 miles along our route. Ranging from 350 to 550 feet in an almost vertical rise from the river’s edge, they are known to be the most dramatic geologic feature close to the Big Apple. That said, it is almost impossible to tire of them. The constant river traffic was an added bonus, of course!

Railway platforms aren’t exactly everyone’s choice of hangout but even non rail fans wouldn’t have reason to complain – what with scenic lookouts like these!

The Tappan Zee Bridge spans the Hudson at its widest point and although it is the least impressive to look at, you can’t help but marvel at the effort of constructing a 3 mile long bridge. And only to be fair to it, the cantilever section in the middle does lend it some charm.

In one of my earlier blog posts, ‘Bear Essentials‘, I had written about an outing to Bear Mountain. We were now close to that very spot, except, on the other side of the river. As if on cue, a freight train showed up on the opposite bank and at that distance, looked nothing more than a model train!

Within minutes of its passing, the last of 3 bridges, the Bear Mt. Suspension Bridge, came into view. Cameras were obviously, on the ready!

Our journey north would end a little short of Cold Spring. The last point of interest along the way being the controversial Indian Point Energy Centre – a 3 unit Nuclear Power Plant! Because of the large 20 million population that lives within a 50 mile radius of this plant, there have been efforts to close it down recently.

After having clicked about 80 photographs on the journey up, one would imagine that was more than enough to cover the line in its entirety. But the journey back, undertaken with a lot of restraint, still warranted a few more.

I would Photoshop the wires out if I had to but then this would be to good to be true. Besides, let’s not forget, this is just another commuter line! 🙂

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