Early morning — 7:30 a.m.-ish — view from our apartment on the east side of the Hudson River. That gentle pink is the sun’s rays.
I started writing this post as I rocketed north toward Canada on an Amtrak train, its tracks right alongside the Hudson River. On the opposite side, I could see cargo trains heading south.
I’ve been living on eastern side of the river now for decades, and love it deeply.
If you’ve never been to New York or to the Hudson Valley, it’s really one of the nation’s prettiest places and I feel lucky to have landed there.
The newly-completed Tappan Zee Bridge
We live in an (owned) apartment whose every window faces the river, and I’ve witnessed its changing moods — fog so thick the world disappears, rainstorms sliding down the water like a Hokusai print, heat lighting flashing for miles.
Our little town has a lighthouse and, as you head north up the Hudson, it narrows dramatically, with steep, jagged rock cliffs encircled by bald eagles and red-tailed hawks.
On the west bank sits a collection of buildings, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions — West Point Military Academy. In the winter, you sometimes see its students getting on the train in New York at Grand Central, their thick gray cloaks giving them an 18th-century elegance.
The Palisades, south of us where the river narrows
The Hudson is a working river, filled with enormous barges being pushed or towed by small but extremely powerful tugboats.
You can sail, canoe and kayak on the Hudson and even swim off of some its beaches.
There are even (!) oyster beds near our town, which were carefully removed for a few years while they built the new and beautiful bridge between the eastern and western shores.
I’ve lived in cities with a river before — Montreal, on the St. Lawrence, Paris, with the Seine — but never paid as close attention to them as I do to the Hudson.
In winter, it’s equally amazing, with huge blocks of ice shuffling up against one another.
This last image is where the top of the Harlem River — and the beginning of the island of Manhattan — meets the Hudson, one of our regular views from the Metro-North commuter train, and a sight I never tire of.
The station stop where I snapped this image from the train is Spuyten Duyvil, in a fancy part of the Bronx — and in Dutch means Spouting Devil; as you may know, this was once New Amsterdam and many places around New York still bear Dutch names. (The Bronx derives from Jacob Bronck, who claimed the land in 1639.)
I started traveling young — when my parents removed the back seat of our family car and drove from Vancouver, my birthplace, to Mexico, a country I’ve since visited many times. I was two.
So constant motion and long-distance travel just feel normal to me!
In the next few weeks, we’ll be in Pennsylvania, near New Hope; in D.C. and suburban Maryland and on the Delaware River, each time visiting with friends who live there. I love getting away, even for a few days.
In December, Jose and I fly to Paris for Christmas, where we’ve been loaned an apartment. I then have five days in London alone visiting another friend, then another week alone there to do….I have no idea!
Which is my definition of bliss.
Berlin? Amsterdam? Antwerp? A quick flight to my new friend in Bahrain?
Nothing in the world makes me happier than a travel adventure.
Here, in no special order, are some of my favorite places around the world:
The West Village and East Village of Manhattan
Having lived in a suburb of New York City for more than 20 years, I never tire of wandering these two quieter and residential edges of the city: battered 19th-century doors and weathered stone steps, enormous 18th-cenury churches, cobblestoned, tree-lined streets and elegant brownstone houses with their ornate black metal railings and tall, narrow windowed doors. The area’s many cafes, restaurants and small shops include Porto Rico for coffee and tea, Bosie’s or Tea and Sympathy for a seated afternoon tea and Morandi for spaghetti carbonara. The best perfume shop in the city is on Christopher Street, Aedes de Venustas.
I’ve been visiting this chic spot since my childhood in Toronto. The Papery sells lovely stationery; the Craft Ontario shop offers terrific and affordable pottery, jewelry and Eskimo art a new store, Ca Va de Soi, recently opened there, selling the loveliest women’s sweaters. (Queen Street West gets all the attention. I like it a lot, but Yorkville is easier to manage, cleaner and safer.)
Such an elegant city! Spectacular views, great sailing, that bridge, the beaches and Marin County, a landscape of staggering beauty. I ate here, at the Presidio Social Club, in 2012 and loved every minute of it — a former military barracks set in a park. Sacramento Street has dozens of small, gorgeous shops.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Watching the sun rise, filling every valley in the Andes as it came towards us, remains one of the highlights of my life.
I spent five amazing days here, alone, traveling the north of this island by mo-ped, with a top speed of about 45 mph. It was July and the heated maquis, the scrubby fragrant underbrush, smelled like very good pipe tobacco. Craggy mountains, deep valleys, steep oceanside cliffs. Great food, welcoming people. I wept so hard when the plane took off for Nice the poor flight attendant thought I was injured or dying. Few places have touched me as deeply.
Kenya and Tanzania
I saw both, on safari, in my 20s. The Maasai Mara in Kenya and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania are unforgettably beautiful, filled with wild animals. It’s expensive to get there, but worth every penny to see a landscape that reminds us we’re only one late-arriving species. (Once you see animals in the wild, zoos seem sad and pointless.)
Mae Hong Son, Ko Phi Phi, Bangkok, Thailand
I spent 21 days in Thailand in January 1994 and remember every detail. MHS is a tiny town in the far north; KPP is a sliver of an island two hours by boat from the southern town of Krabi and crowded, humid Bangkok feels like an out-take from Blade Runner. I loved everything about my time there: food, people, flowers, astounding landscapes. If only it wasn’t 19 hours’ flying time away!
Oddly, we went there in November, a time of year when the sun barely rises at 8:30 and is gone by 3:00 p.m. It was staggeringly expensive, but worth it. The colors! The light! I loved the Vasa Museum — a ship launched with great fanfare in 1628, and which promptly sank in the harbor. It’s amazing — you climb a scaffolding so you’re literally face to face with history. I loved everything about this city, especially its attention to design, detail and light. I’m eager to return, preferably in summer.
The Eastern Townships, Quebec
We return every two years to Manoir Hovey, a five-star inn on Lake Massawippi. The area itself is lovely in every season, dotted with small towns and a gently rolling landscape. There’s skiing, horseback riding, winding roads to cycle, a stunning monastery — and Montreal 90 minutes north. If you’re a fan of best-selling mystery writer Louise Penny, this region will feel familiar, as that’s where she lives, and sets her stories.
The Grand Canyon
If you make one journey in your lifetime, make it here. Seriously. And don’t just drive to the edge, snap a few pics and drive away…You must walk deep into it (twice as long to come back up! take plenty of water!) to best experience a place that so powerfully reminds us what a mere eye-blink in time our lives represent. The light, the silence, the hawks and foxes and fossils…Few places so richly reward sitting still for an hour just to watch the light shifting and the landscape changing every minute as it does.
I’ve been, (so far), four times; my father owned a house near Galway City for a few years. Hard to name anything I don’t love about this small, friendly, gorgeous country….not to mention my heritage! My great-grandfather was a schoolteacher in Rathmullan, Co. Donegal. Get out to the Aran Islands top see shaggy cows the exact color of Guinness, or wander the streets of Dublin. For a bit of craic, try the annual matchmakers festival in Lisdoonvarna, which I wrote about for the Washington Post. Lots of shy bachelor farmers!
The Hudson Valley, New York
Home! I moved here in 1989 and love its history, landscapes, the Palisades, the Hudson River. The river towns — Irvington, Tarrytown, Ossining — line the Hudson, with quiet parks and access to the water. Lots of great restaurants and cafes…ancient churches and graveyards…winding roads, fantastic views. Visit Olana to see a spectacular example of 19th century architecture and West Point to visit an American icon.
The true sign of summer at our home, a one-bedroom apartment with little closet space, is when we start living on our balcony, a space 12 feet wide by six feet. For such a small amount of real estate, it makes us feel like millionaires.
We’re on the top floor, the sixth floor, with uninterrupted views of the Hudson River, a few miles to the west. Every weekday (grrrrr) it’s the damn helicopter of David Rockefeller thudding to and from his enormous estate just up the road. Last night it was a police helicopter, its searchlight sweeping the horizon and capturing us in its beam. Every day, since flight paths were changed, we have a steady stream of private and commercial jets, some flying way too low for our comfort.
But it’s the birds that make it most interesting. I was deeply engrossed in a newspaper story a few years ago when I heard a “whoosh!”
Whoosh? A red-tailed hawk had swooped so close I heard the wind through its feathers. Same thing happened this morning as the sweetie read the paper and a turkey vulture overflew the roof. “Maybe I should move around a bit more,” he said nervously.
One of the sweetie’s specific talents is rescuing the tiny sparrows who fly into our windows and stun themselves. If we get to them quickly enough, a few drops of water and a little careful attention, and off they fly.
A few summer ago, a hawk landed on the balcony railing. I’d written a story about raptors, even having one perch on my arm, so I knew their eyesight is extraordinary. This one stared into my eyes for minutes. Neither of us moved. The sweetie, with quick reflexes, managed to find and focus his camera in time to capture its image.
Then it flew off, leaving only a few grains of sand from its talons as proof I hadn’t just hallucinated.
Last night I finally slept outdoors on the balcony. The night air was fresh and cool, a few stars visible, the dull rumble of bridge traffic only growing quiet around 2:00 a.m. The morning light streamed across the yellow and orange marigolds and strawflowers, now at my eye level.