by Debbie Tuma
I have traveled my whole life, but never during a Covid pandemic. I managed to work from home, take walks in nature, and seek out the least crowded beaches of the Hamptons during summer. I got into cooking at home, getting take-out, and eventually, eating a few times in only outdoor restaurants. I told numerous people to stay six feet apart from me, and I wore my mask to every grocery store, and where needed.
But after eight months of never leaving the Hamptons, when the cool air set in and the leaves began to change color, in October, I knew it was time to make my annual journey upstate. My boyfriend and I mapped out a few of the more scenic places along the NYS Thruway and the Taconic Parkway, and we packed our sweaters and jackets for our long weekend road trip. And this time, also sanitizer, Lysol spray, wipes, and extra masks.
One of my favorite places in Rockland County is Piermont, New York. Just a tiny town, somewhat like Sag Harbor, with a lot of history and fun places to eat and shop. We came up at night, and crossing the new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge over the Hudson River was a sight in itself—all lit up with blue and lavender lights—it was stunning to drive across. Surprisingly, there are not too many places to stay in Piermont, except B&B’s…and this time of the year they are crowded with leaf-peepers, so we decided to go just a few miles up to Orangeburg, where we stayed at the Holiday Inn. This 174-room hotel, on Route 303 South, is an older hotel with has lots of charm. There is a large lobby with a lovely staircase leading up to banquet rooms for special events, and there is a floor to ceiling waterfall panel. Brian McCabe at the front desk was friendly and helpful, as was Jeanne Emanuel, the hotel manager.
Unlike many hotels whose restaurants are closed during Covid, The Holiday Inn Orangeburg had a cozy restaurant and bar that was open until 9:30 pm, and saved us from having to go hunting. They have a casual menu of burgers, wings, sandwiches, quesadillas, and also some homemade specials, like the meatloaf stuffed with macaroni, on top of mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach—a delicious comfort food, which we all need now!!
Walking to our room, we noticed the many beautiful framed nature photographs lining the walls, and we found out our spacious junior suite had a view of the outdoor pool and courtyard. Being a little nervous about staying in a motel during the pandemic, I came prepared with my own cleaning products, But over breakfast the next morning, Jean, the manager, explained about The Holiday Inn’s special Covid cleaning procedures. They use a special cleaning spray in the rooms, which kills the Covid virus. Then they also lock them for 24 hours or more before they are used again.
This hotel had also abandoned their buffet breakfast for ordering off the menu, in line with Covid regulations. From their extensive breakfast menu of omelettes, pancakes, and more, we chose a delicious egg scramble of cheese and veggies.
The next day, we drove a few miles to Piermont, and although it was raining, we toured the scenic Main Street, with its many shops and restaurants, and stopped for coffee at The TWK Community Market. We walked by the Turning Point, Piermont’s famous tavern and music showplace for great musicians, like Tom Chapin, who plays there often and also lives in Piermont. We drove around the charming, curving streets and out past the most gorgeous waterfront mansions and Victorian homes, overlooking the canal. Next time we plan to visit the Riverview Organic Bed & Breakfast, which is housed in an old brick firehouse. Owner Corolla also has the Riverview Wellness Center, where she gives massages and wellness treatments. Since she only has a few guestrooms, it is wise to reserve ahead.
We headed up the Taconic Parkway, which is more scenic than the NYS Thruway, and the further north we went, the more the trees got bolder and brighter with oranges, reds and yellows. As we drove toward Albany, to visit old friends, we saw the foliage at its peak, and the mountain ranges started to appear in the background.
Once in Albany, we drove over to the Hilton Garden Inn, just opposite the SUNY Campus of Albany. The campus is large, modern and spread out, with state of the art buildings. The Hilton Garden Inn had a lovely receptionist, Hannah Rose, a lobby with comfy couches and seating areas, and an adjacent breakfast area. Due to Covid restrictions the restaurant is closed, but they offer “grab and go bags” with bagels and cream cheese, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, and fruit for only $5.00, on weekends, and other breakfast options during the week.
Our sixth floor room was clean and comfortable, with scenic views of the city. For other meals, the Hilton Garden Inn provides menus of nearby restaurants in the city. We liked the fact that Albany offers many ethnic restaurant options, including Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, and Italian. We tried the “Curry Leaf” authentic Indian cuisine, which was tasty and savory. Another night we tried the “Dragon City” Chinese take-out, which was plentiful and delicious.
This hotel has developed the “Hilton Cleanstay,” a global program introducing a new standard of hotel cleanliness and disinfection, with Lysol protection. They have the Hilton Cleanstay Room Seal on the door of each room, to indicate that guest rooms have not been accessed since they were cleaned. They also have increased focused disinfection of top high touch areas, like light switches and door handles, as well as public areas. Their manager, Jean D’Angelo, is attentive to all of this.
During this pandemic, people want to be outdoors, and one of the most popular places to go in the Albany area is John Boyd Thacher State Park, about a half hour away in Voorheesville, and up a scenic mountain. We joined our friends as we drove up winding roads with brilliant foliage, to a wide overlook area where we could park and walk around. The vistas from the top of this overlook were incredible, looking down across an escarpment to the tops of trees and the valley below. We hiked along the fenced rim of this overlook, into the woods on trails, and back to stop for a picnic lunch on one of the many picnic tables available in the park. This was a great escape from the Hamptons, and into the upstate peak foliage, in mid-October!