The brief was fairly simple, “let’s drive out of the city to someplace quiet and peaceful”. But finding that ‘someplace’ wasn’t quite as easy. There were just way to many options! Beach getaways – from the upscale Hamptons to the not-so-upscale Jersey Shore. Casinos – from overcrowded Atlantic City to out-of-the-way Foxwoods; and then there were the mountains – the Poconos in Pennsylvania, the Catskills in New York and the Berkshires in Massachusetts. We decided to go with the mountains eventually and I picked one from the home state 😉
The Catskill Mountains lie to the North-west of New York City and are a part of the much larger Appalachian Plateau. Originally settled in the 17th century by the Dutch, the name comes from the Dutch word ‘Kaatskil’. In the first half of the 20th century, large Jewish communities developed the area as a resort and soon enough the Catskills took on the somewhat politically incorrect nickname “Jewish Alps”! Today, a lot of the ownership has changed hands but it continues to be a popular get away for Jews living in and around NYC.
The highest point in the Catskills doesn’t rise to much more than 4000 ft but a two hour drive from the city is good enough to get you amidst the mid 2000s. The town of Livingston Manor in Sullivan County was our final destination and we would be staying at a bed and breakfast aptly named ‘The Guest House‘.
Far from being your run-of-the-mill B&B, this one was made up of individual cottages, spread over a beautiful sprawling estate. To get to our cottage, we would first have to park and then set out on foot, for a few hundred feet, using a suspension bridge to cross the Willowemoc River that lay in between!
On the other side of the bridge lay two cottages. The first, and more impressive of the two, was that of our hosts.
Our hosts could best be described as thoroughly intriguing – a Hungarian lady married to a Britisher, with an accent so classic, you’d be hard pressed to find even in Buckingham Palace!
A winding path led past their house to ‘Russia’ – one of six themed cottages on the property – and one that we would call home for two days.
After taking in our decidedly Leningrad inspired interiors, we headed out for a stroll around the property and beyond. Around the property, things went well – ‘beyond’ turned out to be a bit of a mistake! We walked down a path adjoining the property, which we hoped would lead us to the river. But the presence of these somewhat out-of-place signs suggested that all wasn’t quite well in these parts!
Before we could even consider turning around, four barking Rottweilers charged towards us. Right before they were within biting distance of us, a lady called out to the dogs, halting them in their tracks and then immediately rattled off a few warnings about how we shouldn’t be there!! Back in the safe confines of the B&B and still recovering from that shock, we heard the unwelcome sounds of an air gun being fired some distance away! If the verbal warning hadn’t been enough, this one certainly was!
On subsequent enquiry with our hosts, it turned out that they were, in our hostess’s words, “not someone you’d want to invite home for dinner”!! Admittedly, that was to be the only not-so-peaceful experience on our trip 😉
An extremely scenic twenty minute drive – from ‘The Guest House’ – on a winding undulating country road brings up Mongaup Pond – a massive camp ground situated around a 120 acre lake.
With 163 tent and trailer sites to its credit, camping is obviously the most desired activity at Mongaup. But there is a lot more one can indulge in while there. Swimming, fishing and kayaking on the lake, to name a few, and the choice of several hiking trails around – some of which serve as snowmobile trails in the winter! Needless to say, we reached Mongaup with only about 20 minutes to spare till its official closing time (for non campers)! But we were determined to return the next day..
Back on the road, we set forth to gather raw materials for a barbecue dinner! With a full sized grill and backyard at our disposal, it would have been a shame not to 🙂
Our first stop was the local grocer, a few miles away from Mongaup Pond. While we didn’t quite find our choice of meats there, we did chance upon a beautiful old covered bridge – a type peculiar to only seven states in the US northeast! There were five in Sullivan County and this particular one over the Willowemoc dated back to 1860.
Back at the B&B, our own little bridge had to be crossed – only this time, the Willowemoc and its surroundings looked more majestic than ever before.
While preparing for our feast, we realised soon enough, that the light illuminating the backyard had blown! Our hosts very graciously offered candles and torches in lieu of the same. So here we were, setting up our BBQ under candle light – deep in a jungle somewhere in the Catskills, darkness closing in, the mercury steadily dipping and the sound(s) of nocturnal beings for company! Couldn’t possibly have asked for anything more exciting than that!
Despite downing two bottles of wine and an insane amount of meat, the change in temperature finally began to tell on us. With no responsibility to clean up after (the hosts would take care of that the next morning!), we quickly turned in to our stately lodgings!
We awoke to a morning that was nippier than the night before, where the mist had still to lift from the forest it covered. For a brief moment, it evoked memories of the several hill stations I had visited in India..
The temperature, along with the misty setting, provided the perfect excuse to utilise the last of many great perks that came with our cottage – the hot tub!!
After being sufficiently dehydrated by that bit of indulgence, a lot of water was imbibed, a bath was had and a hearty breakfast consumed. And then, it was time to work off some of the excesses from the night before! What followed was an hour’s worth of kayaking in the tranquil environs of Mongaup Pond.
And before we knew it, the time had come to head back to the city..
We had, collectively – or at least I hoped – gotten our dose of peace and quiet. But maybe, just maybe, not enough of it!
Sights such as these would linger on in my mind and ensure that there was yet another reason to come calling again on these parts..