FEBRUARY: Hudson, NY
You don't always have to venture far
Three years ago, I did a really moronic, idiotic, stupid thing. I fell in love. Don’t worry, it wasn’t stupid because of the guy (well not entirely anyway), it’s simply because we lived, and still live, two and half hours away from one another. For Joe and me, having a long distance relationship means we stuff our days together with activities, we visit new places and constantly run around.
So, this year for Valentine’s Day I told Joe not to get me a gift, but to take me somewhere new. Somewhere close, but that we’d never been to before. We set out early from his apartment in Albany. It was 2°F, one of the coldest days of our fairly mild winter. We headed South for a while, finally crossing over the Hudson River, rounding onto a winding road past a cottage and line of trees to the end where Olana, the Hudson River School painter, Fredric Church, and his family’s historic home stood.
Our necks craned to admire the big Persian, no Moroccan, hmm Victorian home? Together, with architect Calvert Vaux, Fredric Church dreamed up Olana with its massive towers, arched windows, and a mix of Middle-Eastern and European design. But Olana isn’t just a house or a mansion, it’s a 250-acre estate with the house sitting on top of Long Hill dotingly watching the Hudson River Valley. Church painstakingly cared for and designed the grounds, he spent years acquiring and developing the landscape to reveal nearby mountains and landforms like Mount Merino, Blue Hill, Becraft Mountain, and the Hudson River Valley with its sunrises and sunsets that inspired Church and many other Hudson River School artists.
Inside, a subdued tour guide led us hushed voice from room to room, pointing out the paintings that hung everywhere. Some were Church’s, some were done by friends or his teacher Thomas Cole, each had a story. As we crept along creaky floors we learned how much Church loved his children, and I imagined what it must have been like growing up in this big house full of books and life. The children must have never taken ginger steps the way we as a group walked, whispering and holding our breath.
Beyond the architecture and paintings, I was most impressed with the intricate stencil work. The tiny geometric details marked doorways, walls, ceilings, furniture, even the exterior cornices. Each was its own little hand-painted masterpiece, but together they were like ivy crawling up and down every surface, sprawling out from every corner. We toured the house and then went around front, shivering and watching our breath unfold over the frozen horizon.
Once we were done touring Olana we headed into town to have a beer in the Spotty Dog Books & Ale. This bookstore is any beer swigging bibliophile’s dream come true. The bar offers mostly local, lesser-known, delicious brewers on tap, in addition to wine, bar snacks, and tea, because the only thing that goes better with a book than an ice cold beer is a nice warm cup of tea. From the bookstore we shuffled shivering and numb up and down Warren Street where a fleet of antique stores and galleries stand side-by-side offering hours of browsing entertainment.
I’d suggest visiting Hudson when it’s a little warmer, we retreated into a French café called Patisserie Lenox. With a very Parisian design and atmosphere, it felt as if we’d teleported across the world. Joe had a French press coffee and raspberry tart that he enjoyed. However, I was disappointed with how bitter and watered down the hot chocolate was. (Yes, I am a large child that drinks hot chocolate at any chance I get).
Luckily, this disappointment led us to discover the Verdigris Tea & Chocolate Bar, further down Warren Street. THIS is the place to get hot chocolate in Hudson, NY. With a full chocolate bar boasting at least 10 different hot, and cold chocolate drinks, an array of assorted chocolate candies, and a list of loose teas a mile long. I got the Hudson Hot Chocolate which the menu described as, “A rich ganache of melted dark chocolate, blended with milk, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings.” Yes, I had two hot chocolates in one day. And yes, this second one may very well have been the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, so no judgment. For dinner, we stepped into Vico Restaurant & Bar and sat next to the fireplace. This Italian restaurant served up traditional Tuscan meals, including homemade pasta, freshly baked focaccia bread, and Cioccolato Sciolto, a warm molten chocolate cake, served with whipped cream. (Shush, it was a very chocolate day).
Hudson, NY isn’t large or bustling, but there are more than enough restaurants, historic homes, antique stores, and bars to keep you entertained. And if all else fails, simply visit for the hot chocolate. Sometimes it isn’t the far-off places that impress you the most, but the ones 45 minutes down the road.