How exactly did the word vacation come about?
Have you ever thought about it? The word vacation actually comes from the Adirondacks. Why do Americans go on vacation, while the British go on holiday?
I must know more about it, and it seems to be an intriguing story. So I dive once again into the American past to the origin of the term holiday.
“Tell me, what do you do when the summer gets too hot in your hometown of Utrecht,” asks my guide Mitch?
“Then I go to the water, either the sea or a lake,” I stumble. He starts laughing.
Because that’s exactly the same as the wealthy of Boston and New York did more than a hundred years ago in the summer. Mitch: “To exchange the humid heat of the city for the fresh mountain air.”
They vacated the city, or they fled the city. And so came about the word “vacation.”
And there are other words we know. ‘To recreate’, or reinvent yourself. This is where the word recreation comes from. Another word meaning to ‘flee’.
Yes, a vacation is actually a flight, right? From everyday life. But, where do we flee to? The Adirondacks, a mountain range northwest of the two cities. Unknown to us, but in the United States an established name.
These are The Great Outdoors, or the playground of Mother Nature. Vast forests, hundreds of lakes and typical American architecture from centuries ago. I start fittingly in Boston; this trendy city is becoming increasingly popular for city breaks. The city is remarkably European.
I start at Boston Common, the oldest public park in America. A green oasis in the heart of the city with a rich past. Here I pick up the Freedom Trail, which takes you past all the historic sites. Boston was the birthplace of the American revolution against the British.
I stop at the Old Granary cemetery, where revolutionaries like Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere are buried. The most nostalgic stop yet is the Old South Meeting House, a church where people gathered in difficult times.
This is where the world famous Boston Tea Party occurred, as the early American settlers increasingly turned against the dominant British. Also of interest is the Old State House, where the British governor resided before the revolution. The past should not be described here, but you should come experience it yourself.
Oh yes, the route takes you past the famous pub from the television series Cheers. It’s Boston in a nutshell. Proud of the past, while embracing today. I end the day at an organic street market. With ecological pizzas, fresh cider beer and more tasty treats.
While I enjoy this great city, I also have a desire to explore more. Boston is nice, but there’s more than a city. I want to visit the Adirondacks. Unknown to many of us, but so very popular here in the US. In the autumn, when the leaves change color and the landscape resembles a colourful palette. I’m now also going to do it, vacate the city!
And I do it my way. Walking along meandering trails, kayaking on serene lakes, and also driving on endless roads. As it should, in a brand new Ford Mustang convertible…
Driving through The Great Outdoors
The wind in my hair, the sun on my head. The radio turned on, searching for some appropriate rock music. The first leaves fall around me, I see all kinds of colours. Indian Summer as the Americans call it; The annual colour change of the leaves.
Mother Nature is hard to tame. And the dates of this natural phenomenon change every year. So it’s a bit hard to plan exactly. Everything can still be green, or the trees can even be bare. You have about a month’s time to catch the best colours, somewhere between mid-September and mid-October.
Everything depends on the summer, was it hot or not? And how long was it hot? The colours also vary by altitude, so you usually can witness the various colours at different elevations.
Mother Nature makes a dignified farewell to the summer and autumn.
This is America, so every restaurant or bar has a TV. The annual fall foliage is even mentioned during the nightly news. With all sorts of colourful weather maps and lots of enthusiasm. ,, The peak is almost here. The coming days will be ‘awesome’. According to the weatherman. Good, then I’m lucky. Awesome ….
It is a well known image from the movies and many television series. An endless road that winds through the landscape. Over hills, through small villages, rivers and dozens of lakes. It is quiet, occasionally I come across an oncoming car. It’s early in the morning, the sun scatters its warm rays over me. This is pure enjoyment.
My journey begins in Boston, I drive through Vermont on Highway 89, and take the ferry across Lake Champlain, to the historic town of Essex. It is autumn, the trees fade slowly. The skipper peers over the unruffled water. This is the gateway to the Adirondacks.
Despite his more than twenty years of experience on the boat he still enjoys every minute. “It’s different every day. It is not overrun by tourists. And what could be better than being one with nature?” Yes, the people here do love the outdoors”. That creates a bond.
Driving in America. It’s a hobby of mine. As with many of the Dutch, according to the Annual Holiday Survey. Touring of national parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Death Valley in the western US are immensely popular. In the east, this happens much less. What is truly a sin, I quickly learn.
Whichever route you take, there is water everywhere. In many boggy swamps I look for life. Such as moose, black bears, beavers and more. These swamps often turn further into crystal clear lakes. With beautiful names such as Schroon Lake, Indian Lake, Long Lake and Tupper Lake. Along the way I drive past several seaplanes on the water. Yes, that is also a good way to get around.
Just to the north of the Adirondacks is the Canadian city of Montreal, just a bit more than two hours away, but this is the state of New York. Yes, to which the city belongs to, all you have to do is drive five hours south. I stand at the origin of the Hudson River, which ends in New York and is named after the discoverer of the city.
A mandatory stop is Saranac Lake. The splendid colour is unprecedented. All shades of red, yellow, orange, and green. A palette that changes daily. And per kilometer. And per lake. Or per swamp. Per bend even. You almost do not know where to look next.
It is amazingly beautiful. I am speechless. Mother Nature makes a dignified farewell to the summer and autumn. And embraces the upcoming winter. I do as well, in appropriate silence.
Video: This is the Indian Summer
A video tells more than photos. I made this video in the late afternoon. And this is what driving a convertible in autumn looks like:
Lake Placid: The ideal starting point
A small but cozy mountain village. Lake Placid we know from the Winter Olympics in 1980, today it is the base for all kinds of outdoor activities.
,,This is the heart of the Adirondacks.” The bearded guy with flashy sunglasses outdoor sports salesman knows for sure. He laughs and looks at me intently. Of course he has a mountain bike for me. And a kayak. And a quad. “Just say the word and I got it! What do you want to do?”
Hmm, that’s a tricky question. The Adirondacks are a living playground for outdoor people. For adventurers, hikers, the very active, etc. The main street of Lake Placid has many shops selling all kinds of rental equipment, outdoor apparel and a variety of restaurants and bars.
The first snow falls. Fittingly, as I see in many places memories of the Winter Olympics. From small stickers on a window, to mega-sized objects, such as the ski jumping towers above the forest. The residents are very proud that their town not once, but twice having had the privilege to organise the Winter Games.
But even on wheels, you should have nerves of steel.
Strangely enough, the biggest winter events in the world made no lasting impression on me. The elderly might remember 1932, but there was no question of Dutch success. I better refresh my memory.
In the Olympic Museum in town I see lots of memorabilia. Posters, flags and lots of clothing that was worn. Oh and the mascot; a raccoon named Roni. I go in and start searching. In particular for skates, because us Dutch are so good at that, right?
But it turns out that in 1980 the Dutch (I am Dutch) were extremely unsuccessful. For the men it was because of Eric Heiden, the American who grabbed all five gold medals for speed skating. For the women, Annie Borckink won gold in the 1500 meters. That was the highlight for Netherlands. Oh, well.
“Purely on willpower they came from behind in the third period with a 3-2 deficit, turning it into a 4-3 win. While the crowd counted down the final seconds, the commentator called it the “Miracle On Ice”. The best hockey game ever! According to the Americans. But in Russia, they definitely have another opinion.
The match can still be seen on an old television, just like the one in the eighties. I’m going to sit and watch the funny scenes. Several men are pointing to their wives, though they have more of an interest in the shirts of the players that are hanging there.
Around the town there are more relics of the past. I should go check on the Olympic bobsleigh run. This is a sport that has always intrigued me. Suddenly there is noise and someone comes whizzing by. So fast, I did not even see it. Serious practice by young new talent.
Lake Placid is a lively town in the middle of the Adirondacks. It has it’s own atmosphere and is the perfect starting point for your own adventures. And, of course, to dive into the Olympic history of the town itself.
The town is easily accessible. It’s about a two hours drive from Montreal in Canada and about five hours from New York and Boston.
More information: LakePlacid.com
Tourists can also go down in a bobsleigh. However, with a guide, because it is quite dangerous to go alone. In winter on real ice, in the summer in a bobsled on wheels. But even on wheels, you should have nerves of steel. The speed is unprecedented. Yes, as the adrenaline runs through your body…
Whiteface Mountain, I’m right in front of it. According to the experts the best ski area in New York State. In name anyway I think it’s wonderful. Today it is mainly a hiking area. For couples in love holding hands, groups of runners and avid photographers. I have to come back here again in the winter, that’s obvious.
I want to go out again. Clouds hang between the mountains. It’s early in the morning. This is Heart Lake (What’s in a name). It is situated in the wilderness, but I’m just outside of Lake Placid. This is America, as I often say. Or Canada, just a stone’s throw away.
Canadian geese make themselves heard on their way south. Otherwise, it is silent. The kayak floats on the calm water. My paddling disturbs the peace, or so it feels. I explore with great ease any of the hundreds of lakes here. Peace and quiet, rough and rustic.
Hiking in The Great Outdoors
You have to feel the Adirondacks. In your lungs, your legs, actually through all of your senses. So I’m going to walk, or rather ‘hike’ as it is called here. More of a mix between walking and mountain climbing.
Americans give everything a catchy name. So you can cycle on the Lake Champlain Bike Ways. I choose the walking trails: the Champlain Area Trails. The wind rustles through the trees, leaves falling everywhere.
My eyes wander over Lake Champlain, which is southeast of the Adirondacks. It is immense: 1130 square kilometers, 180 kilometers long and 19 kilometers wide.
Fortunately, I’m not the only one who struggles here.
From all sides I hear that I need to be on the look out, because this is home to a mysterious aquatic animal. Today he is seen only sporadically. Well, except for t-shirts, coffee cups and other souvenirs.
During my trip I’ve slept in bed & breakfasts, hotels and cabins. They were very diverse, but a good indication of what this area can offer. I can surely recommend these places to stay the night.
Edgemont Bed and Breakfast
Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort
The Lake Champlain Inn B&B
The mythical creature is affectionately called Champ. It’s like the Loch Ness monster in Scotland; you must believe in it. As much as I look, I see nothing. Except water. Lots of water.
Many of the trails here lead to a vantage point, and sometimes several. Such as the one at Mount Severance. A wonderful point to take a break. And enjoy the postcard views before my eyes. At least that’s what we called it in the past, nowadays we call it wallpaper.
Huh? Suddenly my brains rattle. Do I hear a rattlesnake? It appears to be a chipmunk. A mischievous little animal that makes noise to let me know that he has seen me. And I, now him. He skips merrily ahead, with both thick cheeks full of acorns. Everything is preparing itself for the long, cold winter ahead.
And I’m getting ready. For Algonquin, the second highest mountain in the Adirondacks. It lies just outside the town of Lake Placid. At 1559 meters, Algonquin does not seem that high, but because of its northern location, the top does have an alpine climate.
The ‘hike’ in the book is categorised as challenging. The main reason; a large part of the path follows a stream. Correction; it is the stream. At least at the place where rain water whooshes down. Whooshes yes, because it is incredibly steep. Now the stream is relatively dry, though there is enough mud to play in. Climbing and clambering, I make my way to the top.
Strikingly, there are many owners with their dogs. I count no fewer than 47, it seems like a national pass time to go up with your pet. Occasionally the dogs need to be lifted up because of the massive boulders. Fortunately, I’m not the only one who struggles here.
I finally look beyond the trees. To be honest, I am getting a bit tired of all the trees. The top of the mountain is a rocky plateau. With a 360 degree view. And strong winds. It is remarkable to see that some mountain valleys are full of colourful trees and others have not yet turned. It depends on the height, the wind and the water.
A woman looks at me. “I don’t want to see any more mud,” she sighs. Well, I feel the same about the boulders that I encounter. Millions of them, or so it seems. But the euphoric feeling overcomes my fatigue. Although my muscles absolutely disagree.
The four seasons
The Adirondacks are a typical mountain preserve where every season is different. You can always visit. Actually, you really must visit. Here is a quick overview:
You know them from American movies and television series. The wooden cabins in a forest, idyllically situated on a lake. That’s my sense of The Great Outdoors, or real outdoor living.
And here in the Adirondacks there are plenty of opportunities. I must try it myself. Like a hundred years ago, as the wealthy people did, when they invented the vacation.
Or camping in a tent. In the middle of the wilderness. It really appeals to me, camping with a campfire and hunting for your own food. I probably make this all more idyllic than it is.
But, we do not really know this in the Netherlands. And that is unfortunate, because I would love it.
You can visit the Adirondacks the whole year round.
It’s one of the questions you ask yourself when planning a trip. When should I go? Of course it depends on your own situation, family and work. But also the number of holidays, the prices of airline tickets, etc.
And, as in an area like the Adirondacks, what do you want to do? I talked during my trip with various people and incorporated their tips below.
Spring is the time to hike here, though you can also bike and kayak (or canoe), for example. The numerous trees and shrubs sprout while there are strikingly colourful flowers appearing. And the animals come to life, with many young animals being born. For example beavers, moose and even black bears are spotted more often in their quest for food.
The summer temperature is often a major factor in determining the ‘best’ time. The weather is often sunny. Temperatures average over twenty degrees Celcius, but can extend to over thirty degrees. The days are long and everything is green.
The water temperature is very pleasant (around 20 degrees), so swimming in the many (clean) lakes is a great option. This is also the time of many festivals, concerts, and summer theatre – often bringing Broadway talent from New York City up to the Adirondacks.
I was there in the fall, actually one of my favourite seasons. Particularly around the Indian summer, when the leaves fall, you’ll see a unique range of color combinations. There are also far fewer tourists. Note that some attractions have limited opening hours or may be closed.
The Winter Games were held here no less than twice. Winter is a playground for active travelers. You can ski on several mountains, including the most famous: Whiteface Mountain with 35 km of well groomed slopes.
But there is more: From dogsleds in the snow to snowmobiles. Additionally, you can cross country ski, but also backcountry ski. That’s in the wilderness with a guide. For that reason alone, I want to come back … Also unique is the Saranac Winter Carnival, where an ice castle is built on the middle of the frozen lake.
I began AmazingPlaces.com six years ago after having worked for many years for newspapers and magazines. For this trip I tried some new initiatives. Like WoW Air, the first transatlantic low-cost carrier from Europe to the US. You fly to Boston (via Iceland), for example, for just 320 euros (return). You have no inflight entertainment and you have to pay for your food and drink.
More information: WOW Air
I also wanted to try Airbnb, though I regularly sleep in people’s homes. It’s ideal for an expensive city like Boston. Which works wonderfully. From the house, I have views over the city skyline. Within 20 minutes I’m standing in the middle of the city. Stay (including breakfast) for 59 euro per night, which is really a pittance in this area.
More information: AirBnB
The Best Attractions
Apart from the mountains and many lakes, the Adirondacks have even more attractions. A selection of interesting excursions. For a fun day out, if you have some spare time, if the weather is bad or if you simply want to know more …
The Wild Center with the Wild Walk
This museum in Tupper Lake provides a lot of information on this vast area and its residents. You will be met by otters, but also by the various types of salmon that swim here. And there is much to discover about the remarkable history here.
Specifically, the Wild Walk, where you walk at the height of the tree tops. With exceptional views over the trees, including detailed explanation. Please note the feeder at the start of the Wildlife Walk , where squirrels as well as chipmunks love to grab a bite.
Address: at Tupper Lake
More information: WildCenter
The Adirondack Museum
The Adirondack Museum’s mission is to preserve the history of this unique area. And also convey this history to the current residents and visitors. You will find many exhibitions of the first settlers and you can learn all about their tough lifestyle.
Especially the many historical photos (more than 70,000) are intriguing and the reconstructed buildings including a schoolhouse and a blacksmith. Don’t forget to look at the lake in the background when visiting the restaurant – breathtaking views.
Address: Blue Mountain Lake
More information: Adirondack Museum
The town of Essex
In the book “The 100 most beautiful towns in America” author Norman Crampton acquaints us with the historic town of Essex. I visited this town with local historian David Hislop. Many homes date from the early and late 19th century. Including Hislop’s house, where he receives us. Pretty much everything is still authentic. A walk through the village offers a unique look into the wealth of the people who came from New York and Boston to have their summer house built here. The town has nearly 700 residents. A visit here is a like a piece of the past.
Address: On the edge of Lake Champlain
More information: Essex
Fort Ticonderoga is located on Lake Champlain and has a rich history. This 18th-century fortress, where as many as four battles were fought during the French-American War and especially during the Revolutionary War. The name ‘Ticonderoga’ originates from the Indians. The Iroquois word tekontaró:ken meaning the “merging of two waterways”.
In the fort I walk quickly into the so called storytellers. Dressed in authentic period clothes they tell stories about the vast history. With a Dutch touch, because I see really old Dutch rifles (and guns) used here in the various wars. Yes, the Dutch have been traders for over four centuries, so it does not surprise me.
There are even more special events. I did the ‘Beyond Bullets and Blades Tour’, where you get information about historic weapons. And you can hold them, albeit with plastic gloves. Also, I went at the end of the day (with payment of an additional $2.50) with a guide up the adjacent Mount Defiance. From the mountain you have an unprecedented view of the fort, the river and the countryside. As the sun slowly sets …
Address: 30 Fort Ti Rd, Ticonderoga
More information: Fort Ticonderoga
Ausable Chasm and High Falls Gorge
The Adirondacks have countless waterfalls. Both Ausable Chasm and High Falls Gorge were two on my journey. Both are private (i.e. require an admission fee), but are very worthwhile.
Ausable Chasm is a limestone gorge, which was carved out by the Ausable River, by ice and rain. There are several waterfalls and rapids. You walk along the steep edge, but also on a path that hangs over the rocks. You follow several waterfalls and rapids. There is also an Adventure Trail, where you climb along the river.
More information: AusableChasm
High Falls Gorge is a gorge with several waterfalls, but this time from granite. Through a path and viewing platforms you get a good idea of this natural monument. Both areas are ideal for photos; in good weather, but even with dark clouds for example. And especially in the early morning and afternoon.
More information: HighFallsGorge
Sagamore Lodge is a wonderful place in the wilderness. There is even an outdoor bowling alley built over a century ago in the forest, which is still operational today. Like the “game room” with a pool table, piano and more. Everything radiates from the past. The fireplace and the many wooden features. The canoes are ready for use and the open fire in the evening is the place for stories. From anyone …
In this lodge you can stay overnight. But you have to be with a group. ,”But it’s nothing fancy,” he laughs. Well, ”authentic, even the beds are original,” Jeff our guide laughs, but if you ask him and he has space he finds a way to put you into a nice ‘group;.. To accommodate two so that you can experience the sunset and sunrise at the lake.
Address: Raquette Lake
More information: Sagamore
The Great Camps, these are the former summer homes of the rich and famous. Immense wooden houses in the most beautiful places in the Adirondacks. Located on one of the many lakes for example. Only a dozen have been preserved. A few are there to visit as a tourist, the rest are privately owned. Of particular interest is that all the buildings have been incorporated into the natural surroundings, making them barely noticeable.
Santanoni Preserve was believed to be the most beautiful of all. Today it is a National Historic Landmark and you can visit it as a tourist. But not, overnight. Remarkably, it is still only accessible on foot, bike, or horse and carriage.
Address: at Newcomb
More information: Santanoni
Little House on the Prairie
The television series Little House on the Prairie – I remember having seen it. It was originally a series of books, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In one of them, Farmer Boy, they told about Almanzo, who lived here with his parents. The Almanzo Wilder Farm consists of the farm, including the stables, dairy and outside toilets which are still there. This is also a step back in time. To see how life in people’s homes were nearly two centuries ago.
Address: near the town of Malone
More information: AlmanzoFarm
Saranac Laboratory Museum
That mountain air is healthy and well known. Centuries ago, TB patients came here to recover. In 1873, little was known about the disease, with the exception that many people died from it. Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau himself had TB and bought a house in Saranac to do research. This property is now open to visitors and shows how difficult the fight against TB was and remains.
Address: in Saranac Lake
More information: SaranacMuseum
Adirondack Public Observatory
Due to the limited light pollution in the Adirondacks, one can see the stars exceptionally well. If it is not cloudy of course. Co-founder Marc Staves: “This area is beautiful, but above it is even nicer.” On a computer he shows some highlights of the past year. As if you’re watching paintings.
He presses a button and the roof opens. The telescopes are pointing up towards the infinite universe. In the high season (summer) tourists can look at the stars via the observatory, usually on Friday nights and always free.
Address: Tupper Lake
More information: APObservatory
An impression of my road trip in the Adirondacks.