Mon. July 13, 2015:
New York to Massachusetts
Breakfast at the hotel was not completely tragic. They had Swiss Miss hot chocolate on offer, and to complement it they had a canister of marshmallows so I tossed a few in my coffee. It was also nice to eat something mildly healthy, strawberry yogurt. We were scheduled for a 9:30am tour of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s house, however there was no rush as our hotel was across the street. We had tickets for the first tour of the day and an amazing tour guide. He was a volunteer who had a genuine interest in FDR. He catered the tour to our interests, rather than repeating boring stale facts from memory. First he took us on a tour of the grounds, then onto the main tour: FDR’s house. In the foyer there was a giant glass cabinet full of taxidermied birds, I was not pleased.
Once inside the house he had us split into two groups, one went into the library where he gave a spiel about the house, while the other half looked at the other rooms on the main floor and then we swapped places. It was a good way to give a tour, we were free to wander the floor and look at stuff while he talked. I spent a considerable amount of time drooling over his personal library study (different than the presidential library). I barely noticed one of his wheelchairs in the room, I was so entranced by the beautifully bound books. The tour time flew by and before we knew it the tour was over. Afterwards we were free to roam the grounds and to check out the presidential library.
Our tour guide had mentioned that FDR was an avid stamp collector, you would think in the library and archives they would have on display even just one page of stamps? Nope, there was not a stamp to be seen. Nor did they have any original documents on display. It was really just a bunch of info panels, and a chance to see the museum storage collection. The only cool thing was FDR’s modified car.
We drove to the Culinary Institute of America for lunch, and to hide from the noon hour sun. I was instantly in love with the campus. The crosswalk signs featured a walking figure wearing a chef’s hat. I could not stop laughing at it. The campus overlooked the Hudson River, and it had a small plaza out front of the main building with an ornate fountain.
We went to the Apple Pie Bakery because it was the only place open for lunch time (apparently only two of the campus restaurants are open on Mondays). We were originally going to have breakfast here and lunch elsewhere but it did not work out, however we soon realized it would have been too much food. Even still, we went overboard with ordering food. It just all looked so damn good! To go with our lunch we ordered a bunch of baked goods for dessert: salted caramel brioche donut, heath coffee macaron, chocolate mudslide cookie and a chocolate croissant. That was our ranking of them too. Other than the croissant, which was only average, everything else was amazing. It was easily the best donut I have ever had in my life. I wish I could have ordered more macarons, but I was so full by the end of lunch. The desserts had arrived first and we devoured them in no time. To drink I had a Nutella latte, which was actually quite subtle and not overly sweet. Even still, it did not exactly go with the crab cake I had ordered for my main. I had not read the menu, I just saw crab cake and got excited. If I had read it, the dastardly salad surrounding my crab cake would not have been such an awful surprise. I tried eating it, but it was horrible. Not because it was horribly made, but because veggies are horrible. I messed it up and moved it around my plate so it would look like I had eaten more than I had. Brent’s sandwich came with a side of fries, which had the option to be upgraded to truffle fries. And sweet mother of god were those fries amazing. They had everything, they were salty, greasy, umami, crunchy and soft and all sorts of delicious in so many ways. And then it got to be too much, they very quickly dipped into overwhelming. We were so impressed with our lunch that we took the time to fill out a comments card. I ended up using a lot of exclamation marks and hearts when writing about the donut.
After lunch we wandered around the main building. We passed a class that was happening in the fanciest lecture hall I had ever seen: it had a gold-gilded domed ceiling. We also passed some giant windows looking into the prep area for the Apple Pie Bakery, it kind of felt like going to an aquarium but busier. On our way out we stopped in at the gift shop. I was tempted to buy the CIA (the other CIA, as in Culinary Institute of America) cookbook, however it would be a pain to lug around for the rest of the trip. We walked by the restaurant where we had dinner reservations so we would not be lost that evening. We stopped at the car for a sunscreen pit stop and then headed down to the waterfront. On the way we kept seeing gophers. Brent scared one as I was taking a picture and I wound up with my very own danger gopher.
On our way to the public library (we had time to kill before our next tour) we stopped in at a liquor store. The traffic was so bad that when leaving we turned right instead and backtracked to the site of Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage. There was not much to see, but we did find a trail to FDR’s cottage. I thought it would be a leisurely walk and that I’d be ok in sandals. Oh how wrong I was, I ended up stubbing my toe on a log. The whole time we were followed by a cloud of little flies. When I looked down and saw a giant spider running across the path I was filled with dread: what if a spider ran across my foot? I was deeply regretting wearing sandals. We were about ready to give up after about 20 minutes, we said another 5 minutes and we would be turning around. Just then we finally got to his cottage. The park ranger there was actually surprised to see us, I guess not a lot of people actually hike up as there is a road that takes the tour attendees up there. Because the next tour was in 20 minutes, he allowed us into the cottage to look around. Unfortunately the hike had been longer than we had expected so we barely had any time to look around. There was not much to see anyways, and most of the furniture was replicas.
We had a 4pm tour of a Vanderbilt mansion to get to, so we had no time to rest after the hike up. The tour guide at the house was amazing, she was not afraid to criticize how expensive it was to maintain the estate or how this was one of the less extravagant Vanderbilt mansions. She did not focus solely on the house, but also talked about the Gilded age and the customs of the era such as women’s fashions etc. About halfway through the tour things took a turn. I expected some annoyances on the tour, there were children. However they were not the problem. There was one woman who would ask questions that had literally just been answered. And they were not even interesting questions, she wanted to know why the windows had UV filtration on them or why there was no air conditioning. The tour made me want to watch Downton Abbey. After the tour we walked to the front to look down into the valley and see the river view. The view of the front of the house was marred by restoration work and the gardens were not much to look at as everything had already bloomed and was now dried up. As we were leaving, the annoying lady was still bothering the tour guide. I was so sweaty and dehydrated.
Our dinner reservation was not until 6:30pm and it was only 5pm. We drove to CVS to grab some sodas and a snack. This time I redeemed myself and actually got the Mega M&Ms, even though I was not in the mood for them, it was too hot for candy. We drove to a nearby public library to bask in the air-conditioning and relax. While there we also changed into our fancy clothes, it must have looked hilarious to the people there. It was nice to sit back and just read my book, if even in my dress. On our way out I noticed a trolley of books marked free. I found a first edition, hard cover nicely bound book. I did not care for the subject, something biblical, I was more interested in using it in a future project. However it did not feel right to take it for free, so I donated a dollar. The woman seemed mildly confused.
We had dinner at Caterina de’ Medici on the CIA campus. Once again, we were very overdressed. Everyone else was casually dressed. I at least felt better about not wearing any makeup (there were no mirrors in the library bathroom). We decided to split the charcuterie board appetizer. Thankfully we had not eaten all the bread, and had enough for the meats. The stand-out at dinner was the chicken I had ordered. It was unbelievable how good it was: something as boring as chicken made into a delicious dish. We were having dinner at a CIA restaurant, there was no way I wouldn’t at least glance at the dessert menu. Big mistake, as soon as I saw that they had tiramisu my mind was made up. Leading up to dessert we were served a plate of mini-desserts. I have never seen a chocolate chip cookie so small. The tiramisu was ok, it got much better once you got some of the cream from the bottom. However there was a bit too much cocoa powder on top and it was making me choke.
The service was amazing, I am guessing it is because these were culinary students, they actually wanted to be here. The maitre d’ and two waiters all looked very similar, I had thought they were one person until I looked around and saw all three. In looking around I noticed some people who had been on the Vanderbilt tour with us. It completed the day, as earlier at Apple Pie Bakery café we had seen people from the FDR tour. There was a sign on the way out of the CIA parking lot that said “eat your veggies.” It was not as entertaining as the crosswalk signs.
A deer ran across the road in front of the car ahead of us, I wrote down that it was an adrenaline-junkie deer. Pretty soon it was just us on the road, no one else around for miles. Soon we passed another deer, this one was eating grass on a hill in the median of the road. Right after that we saw another one on the right side of the road, just off the shoulder. This was a record number of deer sightings. We had seen more deer in two days than in all previous days combined. As has become tradition, once we passed the Massachusetts sign we raised our arms and cheered and screamed MASSACHUSETS!!! Then we passed maybe one of the most terrifying road signs I have ever seen: Caution, low-flying planes.
The internet in our hotel sucked. I tried to read my book but I soon gave up. By 10pm I was in bed. This was not the worst plan, seeing as we would be waking up early the next day anyways.