Road Trip, Reimagined

Sunset at 1000 Islands Harbor House, on the St. Lawrence River

My spring and summer were supposed to be quite busy. San Francisco, Scotland, Seattle and Portugal, with filler weekend getaways here and there. Many trips were by plane. For anything over a four hour drive, I generally opt to fly.

Then, Covid-19. And the offer to take a lo-o-o-n-g road trip to upstate New York.

It was fantastic.

Covid-19 Precautions

At the fabulous National Comedy Center, in Jamestown, interactive elements were still safe, with a personal stylus and headphones.

No flying under the radar on this trip. At the museums we visited, and many of the restaurants, we had to provide our names, addresses and phone numbers. We had our temperature taken (why wasn’t that temperature gun around when I was little?). And we wore masks everywhere.

Downstate vs. Upstate

As a NYC city resident (downstater) I would now sooner leave my house without a phone and keys than I would a mask. And for the most part, people in my Brooklyn neighborhood wear masks. Not so upstate, where we saw people glaring inside stores, next to signs require cloth face coverings, with no mask. At one restaurant, the cook wasn’t even wearing a mask! We sought sustenance elsewhere. On the other hand, on empty hiking trails and waterfront paths, we could walk or run without a face covering, which was lovely.

About that Food

Had to take this delicious Reese’s pie to go, which meant I could eat it on my balcony.

Probably the last time I was inside a Burger King, Ronald Reagan was president. But when the small local restaurant seemed unsafe (see mask-less chef, above) my husband suggested we try the Impossible Whopper at Burger King. It was actually quite tasty, though I forgot the whopper comes with mayo. Gross. I mean, I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 15, so I didn’t remember all the ingredients.

Another surprise: the Burger King was actually very clean. Every other table was taped off and one person was circling, spraying disinfectant and wiping all surfaces. Not the most atmospheric, but it felt safe.

Another day, our only option was Starbucks, so we had the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich. No vegan option; the sausage patty comes with an egg and cheese. Delicious. And you can get a little packed of Sriracha.

Plenty of well spaced patio tables at our hotels were perfect for outdoor dining. Since I always want to eat outside in summer, it was a win-win.

What to Drive

Very meta: the Ford Escape infotainment system

Since we were traveling so far, I wanted to drive a fuel efficient car. The 2020 Ford Escape Titanium Hybrid we drove got over 40 miles per gallon.

The Ford Escape, which has AWD, made me feel very secure on the road. At least four times while I was driving, storms moved in so quickly that roads were flooded and visibility was near zero. But the lights automatically came on, the rain sensing wipers activated and the rear wiper and defrost helped me see traffic behind me.

Once the rain stopped, we could open up panoramic sun roof. And the car has dual temperature controls, so we could make it warmer or cooler in our own bubbles.

Car for Covid-19

Because the Ford Escape got such great gas mileage, we didn’t have to make many stops on the road. And when we did get gas in New Jersey, where full service is the only option, I truly appreciated the capless fuel filler. The attendant didn’t have to touch a cap that I might touch at a self-service station.

Once my daughter took all her winter stuff out of the Escape, we had an empty trunk.

The car also had plenty of room. We had planned, a long time ago, to fly to Cleveland in August to bring our daughter all her winter stuff. And the things she forgot before moving to Cleveland in June. Instead, we just packed it all in the giant trunk. She drove two hours and 20 minutes to Chautauqua, our first stop, so we could visit with her and she could get all her things.

Hotel Changes

Comfy king bed, similar to the others on our Empire State Road Trip, at Chautauqua Harbor House

We stayed at three hotels, each for two nights. We were told in advance that for stays under four nights, rooms would not be serviced. This actually made me happy. Whenever I stay in a hotel that says if you put this card on the bed, sheets won’t be changed, or if you hang up your towels, they won’t be replaced, the sheets and towels are always swapped.

I like having my bed made, and a chocolate left on my pillow, but the environmental trade-off is so much better if linens aren’t changed on a daily basis. Who changes sheets every day at home?

Check in desks were shielded by clear plastic barriers, masks were required and hand sanitizer was abundant. Fitness centers are still idled, so we used the grass to exercise and went for runs.

My only sticking point was the elevators. We tried to only ride alone; if someone asked to get on with us, we offered them to ride first and we’d wait for an empty elevator. But one time, a group of six, without asking, got on together on a lower floor. It felt uncomfortably close, but luckily we only had one floor to go.

Where to Stay

A nod to Watkins Glen’s racing history; crosswalks downtown.

Three hotels hosted us on this road trip: the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel; Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel and 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel. The hotels, all owned by the same company, have similar design layouts, and even the same menu. But the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel has both indoor and outdoor pools (you have to reserve a spot during Covid-19) and Watkins Glen has a vegan menu (that you have to ask about it). 1000 Islands, in Clayton has the cutest setting, on the St. Lawrence River and walking distance to the small downtown. And it also had a couple of ‘secret’ vegan dishes.

What to do

Besides the fantastic National Comedy Center and Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum in Jamestown, we explored the Antique Boat Museum and Boldt Castle in the 1000 Islands, visited a few wineries, breweries and distilleries, and went hiking.

Clayton has a brewery and distillery that you can walk to, and several cute restaurants and cafes.

The Watkins Glen hotel, in the Finger Lakes, is walking distance to the Watkins Glen Gorge and biking distance to several wineries. We used all the extra room in the Ford to stock up on gin, wine and beer for home.

We took a boat ride on the St. Lawrence seaway, courtesy of the Antique Boat Museum (this is an extra charge).

The interactive National Comedy Center did an incredible job for Covid-19 safety. Instead of pressing buttons, you have a stylus. And every visitor completes a comedy profile. Instead of wearing a bracelet to identify yourself, you put the bracelet on  piece of cardboard, and use that to activate comedy bits throughout the museum. We also got personal headphones, and there was constant cleaning.

Note: I was a guest of Thousand Islands, Watkins Glen and Chautauqua on the Empire State Road Trip. Ford loaned me the Escape. Opinions expressed are my own.




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