Gone for 24 Hours: In Search of Snow and Ice ~ Lake Placid, NY

I had planned to road-trip it to Lake Placid for two reasons: I wanted to see snow again (yes, I know, the Aussie was in search of this year’s hard-to-come-by snow…), and since The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival wasn’t in my immediate sights, I was looking forward to seeing those of the nearby Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.

A winter getaway to Lake Placid deserves more than the 24 hours I was able to dedicate to it, yet the break is well worth the drive. Blanketed in snow and with a thermostat reading of way below 32F/0C, the town delivers an abundance of sweeping vistas from the get-go. Located deep in the Adirondacks, along the edges of Mirror Lake and those of its namesake, and set against Whiteface Mountain – Lake Placid makes for a particularly picturesque village scene. Blue skies and birches, evergreens alongside bare deciduous trees, a warm sun splaying over a cute Main Street ~ the temps may not be as cold as those of previous years, though being able to participate safely and somewhat comfortably in outdoor activities is a bonus.

Though I had traveled with two things in mind, I came back to NYC feeling refreshed for completely different reasons: for breathing in the Olympic pride so honoured by the town; for appreciating the nature-inspired interiors so influenced by their surroundings; for taking pleasure in such simple activities as reclining in a hot spa, and warming up by a fireplace; for inhaling fresh mountain air; and, for meeting lovely people all along the way.

Here’s a blueprint to enjoying Lake Placid and its surrounds in a 24-hour period.

Day One

10am – 4pm: The Drive

It’s a pretty straightforward drive from NYC to Lake Placid. Travel a few hours along an evergreen lined Interstate 87 and the icy-rock-faced High Peaks Scenic Route 73, and you’re pretty much there. Enjoy as a brilliant sun sets slowly behind tall Adirondack Mountain peaks.

4.30pm: Lights, Cameras, Antlers

Be prepared to take a multitude of photos whilst checking-in at The Whiteface Lodge, located at the corner of Saranac Ave/NY-86W and Whiteface Inn Lane. Handcrafted antler chandeliers and cast iron pine cone light fixtures outfitted with rawhide lampshades illuminate the lobby, where a hefty George Jacques-built tabletop with a gnarled tree trunk base makes for a bold statement. Rustic-inspired floral arrangements add a touch of lightness.

The Whiteface Lodge was developed by Joe Barile, a former Olympic luger, and built in 2005. After three years of planning, the evidence is in the lodge’s details: from the wood paneled walls of its corridors, to the stairways’ log balustrades. The property employs a local artist, who is responsible for all the custom wooden accents throughout the Lodge. Dark leather couches and decorative Persian rugs exude an old-fashioned richness within the Adirondack-style lodge based on the Grand Camps of the wealthy in the 1800’s.

5pm: The Suite Life

There’s no choice at The Whiteface Lodge but to stay in a suite ~ which means a jet spa bath as well as a room with a view. Here, huge chocolate chip cookies at the bedside are the new chocolate on the pillow.

7pm: Icy Aliens

Before the temps get to a barely tolerable freeze, drive a few minutes along NY State Route 86 in the direction of the village of Saranac Lake to view its winter festival; the Alien Invasion themed ice castle and sculptures were built by community volunteers and placed along the Lake Flower’s shoreline (Lower Saranac Lake is actually located a ½ mile west of the village).

The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, Feb. 3-12, 2012 is the longest-running event of its kind in the eastern U.S. …the Carnival began as a one-day event to break the monotony of the long Adirondack winter and has grown into a 10-day festival that includes sports, dances, performances, two parades and two sets of spectacular fireworks above the world-famous Ice Palace.*

The festival has run for 115 years, and whilst previous years may have exhibited larger constructions (the warmer temps have not been kind this year), you’ll appreciate the effort behind such an installation. Lake harvested ice-bricked palatial walls and aliens carved out of frozen blocks are illuminated by neon lights in greens, blues, purples and reds. Allocate about thirty minutes here: any longer and your fingers may become beyond-numb, and your feet – somewhat of the frozen variety.

Fun fact: Beginning in 1936, Albert Einstein had a summer home in Saranac Lake that he rented from a local architect.**

8pm: S’mores Break

Gooey marshmallow and melted chocolate sandwiched between two Graham crackers ~ need I say more? The Whiteface Lodge offers this Made-in-America treat every evening until 9:30 PM inside their Clubhouse Terrace. Though if you’d prefer to warm up with a pre-dinner aperitif of the alcoholic variety, head to the plush leather and wooded interiors of the Kanu Lounge.

9pm: Surf n Turf by the Fireplace

Grand opulence. The hotel’s Kanu restaurant takes size to another dimension. Its expanse is defined by a high wood-beamed ceiling, accentuated with an enormous cast iron chandelier. The dining room is watched over by a number of mounted moose heads.

The Modern American menu follows the farm-to-table trend. Indulge. Order the crab cakes – two robust patties made of jumbo lump crab meat accompanied by mash; and the braised pork cheeks – so tender, served atop a bed of root vegetables. Don’t let the healthy course sizes deter you from dessert. Recommended finale: Crème Brulee accompanied by a glass of prosecco.

10.30pm: Nightcap

If you can fit it in – well, that’s up to you. The lounge is open until 11pm and the cocktails are good.

Day Two

9am: Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

That’s how you’ll feel when waking up to a snow covered view. You’ll be itching to get outside; to feel the crunch of snow underneath your boots. Fill up on a big breakfast – coffee, omelet & toast, granola – whilst gazing at the view of Whiteface Mountain.

11am: Snow capped vistas

One of the best views of Whiteface Mountain is at the end of Whiteface Inn Lane, along the fringes of Lake Placid. At the end of the road (it’s a few minutes drive) you’ll come to the Lake Placid Inn. Descend the stairs to enjoy a panoramic view of the frozen lake and that snow capped mountain. Serene beauty – this is winter’s decadent offering. From this vantage point, images of Japan’s Mount Fuji come to mind.

12pm: Jumper-time

The town of Lake Placid is probably best known for its connections to the Winter Olympics; the town hosted the Games twice, in 1932 and 1980, and their legacy lives on. Many activities centre on those Olympic facilities, and make sure to take advantage of them. (Time may be a factor in having the ability to visit them all).

One of the coolest spots to experience pure adrenalin is atop the 26-storey, 120 foot high ski jump at The Olympic Jumping Complex. Located about 15 minutes from the centre of the town, prepare to be exasperated by the sheer velocity of it all. A chair lift ride and elevator ascent later, you’ll be standing on an open air viewing platform looking down the steepest incline ever…  A fear of heights gives way to shock & awe as you put yourself in the skis of those brave athletes; this is the site of their launch before veering off into the air, spanning the length of a football field! You’ll be able to take some overhead shots of the town and Adirondack Mountains from here.

These days, the site hosts year-round international ski jumping and aerial freestyle skiing competitions.

2pm: Snack time

Head back to the center’s Main Street, lined with boutiques, a cinema, library and mom ‘n’ pop shops. No fear, there’s a GAP outlet too. After you’ve dropped into the resident Starbucks or local café for a large hot chocolate and sweet snack, stroll to the water’s edge and watch life as it happens along a frozen Mirror Lake, noticing dog walkers and sledders. There are some great vantage points from which to take photographs, as noted to me by the passers-by, who were only happy to show their top spots.

NB: it’s all paid street parking here though spots are not hard to come by.

Apparently a good spot from which to take a photo

3.30pm: Miracle on Ice

A few minutes walk away from the retail strip is the Olympic Center. This is where the triumphant hockey game of 1980 happened between the less seasoned US team and their mighty Soviet rivals; Team USA went on to win gold, against Finland. The USA-USSR game went down as one of the finest in American sports history; it was a stunning win for the country and an inspiration for sport-enthusiasts all over. The movie Miracle, starring Kurt Russell, was released in 2004 to further cement this moment. These days, the indoor rink is grazed and razored by the US/CAN hockey teams, and pirouetted over during figure skating championships. Sit and enjoy the ambience… don’t mind its sweaty locker room smell. It’s part of the charm.

4pm: Amassed memorabilia

The Olympic Museum is a large room filled floor to ceiling with any association to the Winter Olympics of 1932 and 1980. Vintage posters; old New Yorker covers; team jerseys; newspaper cutouts; a wall outfitted with Olympic torches from every Winter hosting city; medals of various sizes, proportions and metal colours. History was made in this town and continues on within these walls, where the front desk staff is only too happy to chat even further.

5pm: Night driving

Surprisingly, you may find that the road home is slightly quicker than the drive in. There’s less gawking when it is pitch black outside, though you’ll be too exhausted and rested from the fresh air to even care.

(Read: I wasn’t the driver on this trip.)

OPTION: feel free to substitute all of the above afternoon activities with a long relaxing soak in the hotel’s hot tub.

For more photos, see my previous post: Into the Wild: Lake Placid, Upstate New York

****

In my preliminary research on Lake Placid, I came across this piece of information:

In 2010, U.S. News & World Report rated Lake Placid as one of the “6 Forgotten Vacation Spots” in North America.**

What are you waiting for – get out to Lake Placid and create some memories! Meanwhile, I’m planning to report on it again in spring/summer!

****

Getting There

If driving isn’t an option, Amtrak stops at Westport Depot – located approx. 40 minutes from the centre of Lake Placid. You may arrange for shuttle transportation if the hotel doesn’t provide it.

*http://www.saranaclakewintercarnival.com/

**Wikipedia

Chinatown’s Underbelly @ The Manhattan Bridge

My family’s heritage is Russian and from an early age I was learning Russian, speaking Russian, eating Russian dishes. Both of my parents were not, however, born in Russia. My mum was born in Harbin, China; my dad was born in Lindau, Germany; my siblings and I were born in Sydney, Australia. Alongside the Russian influences, I also learnt German in high school and enjoyed a lot of great Chinese food.

Chinese Lanterns

As a kid, I remember frequenting our favourite restaurant in Sydney’s Chinatown, BBQ King. The jolly round owner would greet us upon arrival with open arms and ensure we were seated straight away.  By no means a fancy dining spot, furnished in plastic and imitation wood paneling, we loved the food there and would order dishes without needing to glance at the menu: fried salt & pepper squid, sweet & sour pork, stuffed bean curd, Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, Singapore noodles, roast duck (that was my choice).

Sometimes we’d cave and take a peek at the ‘Chef’s Suggestions’, perhaps ordering a plate of sizzling Mongolian beef or salt & pepper pork. It really depended on how hungry we were and whether we were accompanied by friends, who’d bestow their favourites on the food order.

Hanging Roast Ducks

When not dining out, mum would make sure we had staples from the local Asian supermarket to enjoy at home. She’d make a weekly shopping trip and bring home a selection of goods: packs of steamed pork buns, jars of preserved radish in chilli soy sauce, fresh tofu that she’d later fry up with bok choy, and/or a sponge cake that we’d enjoy for dessert. I also fondly recall eating Haw flakes. I’d peel away the pink paper wrapper from around the stout roll, separate each flake, then pop them – one by one – into my mouth. They tasted like raisins or some other kind of dried fruit and I just loved them.

Steamed Buns

Fast forward a number of years and based in New York, I have indulged in a great deal of Chinese food, however it has never measured up to the standard of those BBQ King dishes. Perhaps it is because I associate them with a feeling of nostalgia, or maybe it is simply down to the dishes being prepared differently in Sydney. Whatever the reason, I am always happy to enjoy a good Chinese meal and living in a city where it is de rigueur to order take-out and have it delivered, I enjoy an occasional visit to Manhattan’s Chinatown to simply wander the food stalls and be part of the market buzz.

Abundant Produce

Chinatown (City Hall in background)

Now, I am definitely not referring to dodging the tourists on Canal Street, in search of fake Gucci this, and faux Burberry that. Nor am I referring to taking a stroll along the stretch of Bowery, a haven for traffic jams, and home to kitschy storefronts selling all sorts of random paraphernalia. I am talking about the calmer part of Chinatown that is centered around and under the Manhattan Bridge, running along and off of East Broadway in the Lower East Side.

East Broadway is also known as ‘Fuzhou’ Street

Shopping under the Manhattan Bridge

Many of the newer Chinese immigrants that have settled here hail from Fujian province (as opposed to the Cantonese) and East Broadway has been dubbed ‘Fuzhou Street’ after the province’s capital. There is the rare tourist to be found amongst many Chinese locals, buying produce from the dozens of outdoor stalls ladened with fresh fruits and vegetables – persimmons, Asian pears, Durian fruit, oranges, apples, fresh greens; fishmongers and butcher’s stores  interspersed between them.

Asian pears, persimmons, oranges

Fresh Greens

Live CrabsWhat I like about this part of Chinatown is that I feel it is as authentic to China as I am going to get in Manhattan. Never mind that I cannot read any of the characters plastered all over the stores and buildings, nor have I been in awe of any Chinese architecture (because there is none). It’s just that the streetscape feels like it could be set in another country altogether – and for a while I am transported out of the norm.

Character Decoration

Butcher’s Shop

Chinese Newspapers

DVD Store

 Side by side the fresh produce markets are DVD stores, dumpling houses, electronic game repair booths, hair salons, restaurants, herbal stores selling all sorts of dried stuffs, beauty suppliers, bubble tea cafes…. and surprisingly, a number of wedding dress stores. I read recently that:

 Luxury wedding ceremonies are traditional among the people of Fuzhou (capital of Fujian province). During Chinatown’s wedding season, which runs between late September and Chinese New Year, immigrants speaking the Fuzhou dialect host about 1,500 banquets and generate about $20 million dollars in restaurant business… In the late 1980’s there were no specialized bridal shops… By 2004, the number of bridal shops had increased to thirty-two, many owned by Fujianese. *

Dried Fish for Sale

Chinese Herbs

There is one food store that I always visit – ‘New York Supermarket Inc’. Located at #75 East Broadway, it sits right under one of the Bridge’s underside archways. The complex is always bustling, with the sound level further amplified by the subway rattle overhead – I like it for its commotion alone. That said, I always end up browsing the market’s aisles and leaving with a bag full of different Asian foods to try.

Entrance to New York Supermarket Inc (right)

Packets and packets of foods

I have tried the roll with greens – sauteed bok choy on a soft sesame bun.

Just like my mum, I love to buy steamed pork buns and sponge cakes. I do have a few of my own finds that I count on as well including (though not limited to): coconut creme that my husband churns into ice cream; Japanese mochi balls, made of glutinous rice, rolled into balls and filled with red bean, sesame, taro or peanut paste;vermicelli rice noodles; lychee gummi candy; and, roasted seaweed. Hardly adventurous, I know, as I do pass by the rows of canned quail eggs, jars of sliced sour bamboo shoots and packets of preserved duck eggs and think, “Should I?” But I always chicken out – partly from fear of trying them; partly because I have no clue as to what I would prepare with the ingredients. Unlike eating, cooking isn’t my forte.

Street Vendors at Forsyth Market

A little further up the road from the supermarket is the popular Forsyth Market, located under another of the Manhattan Bridge archways. Though I do not shop there myself, it is a busy part of the Chinatown scene where the vendors sell produce at exceptionally low prices. Employing a “low-margin, high-volume model”, many residents and local restaurants purchase produce here daily. If you want to be served, you have to get in line. Yes, it’s that busy sometimes.

Lines at the Market

Unfortunately the market vendors here are under continual speculation and subject to ticket sweeps by the city authorities and city regulators. Without going into too much detail about it, you may read more about it here. Street Vendor Project: Spoiled !.

Forsyth Market: Cheap Greens

Given this and coupled with the spike in rents that store owners have recently complained about in the area, it is no small wonder that there has been a steady relocation of business to the Chinatown’s situated in Flushing, Queens and Brooklyn.

Fuzhou Supermarket with Manhattan Bridge in distance

 No doubt, I’ll continue supporting this part of Manhattan’s Chinatown – not only because I like it for its vibe and food selection, but it is easily accessible over the Williamsburg Bridge by foot, which makes for a great day of food shopping.

My Japanese mochi treat

That said, I will need to make a trip to the other boroughs to experience their Chinatowns. I will post on those after I’ve visited them.

Beautiful Manhattan Bridge


*Quote from: “The New Chinese America: class, economy, and social hierarchy.” By Xiaojian Zhao