Pandemic in the Poconos
We just returned from the Poconos Mountains in western PA at the peak of fall foliage here in the Northeast! For my one week vacation I originally had plans to either go back to China, visit LA with C, or travel to another far fetched place but as international travel continues to be halted due to covid and cases are continuing to rise to peak levels not seen since April 2020 (or ever), we were forced to take a trip closer to home. My sister is currently in graduate school in Philly so we picked her up and made a weekend family trip of it.
We left from my parent's house in Maryland to go to Philadelphia, which took about 2.5 hours. We took a break for lunch and enjoyed falafels in the bustling Rittenhouse Square, a nice area in downtown Philadelphia. Luckily the weather was on our side that weekend with perfectly crisp fall weather. It took another 1.5 hours to reach our house in the woods in the Poconos and we got to enjoy this drive with gorgeous classic fall foliage as we entered the Lehigh Valley.
The Poconos area is not quite as famous Vermont, or upstate New York like the Catskills or the Adirondacks but we really did get lucky with the peak for the area. While social media can paint a rosy portrait most of the time, even making "leaf peeping" a thing, I really don't think I have ever seen such beautiful fall foliage in my life. I think the variety of trees Pennsylvania and the Northeast have is greater than in my native Maryland (and now Virginia) which really makes for a brilliant show. The entire area was magical to drive through. I tried to shoot multiple videos trying to capture the scenery but it really is just unparalled to see in person.
I rented an Airbnb that was located about 10-15 minutes inside a gated community (slightly annoying as we had to show ID to a guard every time we entered the community) but was nestled on a densely tree lined, golden street in the midst of all these yellow leaves. My parents made the drive separately with Charlie (now geriatric 😢) and we arrived within minutes of each other. We quickly sanitized the Airbnb and tried to start the massive wood burning fireplace. My sister and C probably spent hours trying to start this fireplace! And still didn't succeed.
We wanted to go out an explore before sunset that night so we went to a nearby lake in the gated community. The area that we were in had patches of peak fall foliage and other areas of trees that seemed to be slightly past peak, so we quickly snapped a few photos and booked it to a bigger lake outside of the community.
Unfortunately many of the lakes in the Poconos area are private property (used by homes or hotels on the lake) and do not have public access. We drove to Lake Naomi via google (which doesn't show you which are public or private) and ended up having to park at a lot adjacent to a local restaurant and cutting down a path to the side of the restaurants to get this view (there were plenty of other people there too). We got to catch a glimpse of the lake and even see a wedding happening at the restaurant! But then it got dark and cold quickly.
Homemade bao zi by my mom for night #1
The next morning we were greeted again by gorgeous fall weather and we headed off to the nearby town of Jim Thorpe. The Poconos is comprised of a few small towns nestled in a giant forest area (the Poconos mountains) and Jim Thorpe is the best known town in the area. It has an adorable downtown area and is nicknamed the "Switzerland of America." We took a ride on the historic Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway to kick off the day and get an introduction to the area. I had heard that this could get really busy, so we got there for the first train of the day. We were able to get seats but the open air cabins (the recommended option) were already filled up so we had to settle for the closed cabins. During the peak days and on weekends, the train only travels for about 45 minutes whereas in off-peak times the ride if about 75 minutes. There is a parking lot nearby that is $10 and accepts cash only. The train leads you through gorgeous and scenic gorges and we got to glimpse the very peak of fall foliage, but it probably would not have been worth the $17-$20 ticket fare if it was not fall foliage, as it just went along a river and through some mountains and seemed like a short ride for the price.
Well behaved dogs like Charlie ride free! He was strutting like a supermodel down the aisles.
After we deboarded the train, we took a walk up and down main street in Jim Thorpe and admired the quant, scenic little shops and restaurants. It oozed quintessential American charm, like the fictional Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls.
As we were making our way back to our cars, we discovered a passage down to the Lehigh River from the parking lot and lo and behold, the best views we had seen that morning.
Charlie found the river
Unfortunately water levels were very low, leaving much of the bank exposed
As my parents and Charlie headed off to nap, we set off on an afternoon hike. One of C's photographer friends Chrissy is actually a nature and landscape photographer in the area (she actually grew up in Jim Thorpe) so we met up to hit up the Tank Hollow trail. Tank Hollow was an easy 3 mile hike out and back to one of the most stunning viewpoints ever. There are a number of parking lots situated on the trail and so if you had older/younger people in your group you could drive right past the trailhead and park at the last parking lot and hike to the viewpoint about a mile away. We didn't realize this, so we parked at the largest, first parking lot. At first you walk along a gravel road but then you enter the forest, hike through the changing trees and forest, and you come out to the most beautiful view of the Lehigh gorge and valley.
These pictures don't even do it justice!
The serious photog finally agreeing to be in a photo with me
C and Chrissy brought all of their photography equipment with them and set up shop to capture the sunset for the day. It was my first time traveling with C on a photography expedition, plus Chrissy is a professional photographer, so it was fascinating to see all of their equipment and watch them set up for the shot. They take so long to set it up but then they literally just wait, sometimes hours, for the sunset, snap a few photos, and that's it. I can really see how they get really close from all their photography trips because they have nothing to do except talk and catchup, and C agreed to let me come on one of their photography trips in the future ;)
Meanwhile back at the house my parents had whipped up some delicious Chinese food for us.
Homemade dinner night #2 with spareribs and kung pao chicken
The next morning, C left early in the morning to meet up with Chrissy and another photographer friend an hour away at Rickett's Glen, a famous park nearby that boasted 24 waterfalls. Meanwhile, I wanted to spend the last morning with my family so my sister and mom hiked the nearby Hawk's falls, which was also a short but stunning hike to a small waterfall.
Then it was time to say goodbye to my family as they had already taken an extra day to hang out with us. Me and C set off about 40 minutes away to where I rented another cabin in the woods to get a more authentic "cabin" experience.
The second house was very peaceful and serene. You could not see the cabin from the road so it had a very secluded feel even though it was just up a steep driveway. It was so quiet that there would be frequent deer visitors who would come within feet of us. They were so still I questioned whether they were real at first!
We opted to skip the famous Bushkill falls (which charged an admission fee and was touted to be overrated) and headed to Raymondskill Falls instead, which was free but somewhat underwhelming. I think the water levels were low which did not make for an impressive waterfall. This was also a very short, almost handicap accessible hike that was mainly on boardwalks (you do have to hike down from the parking lot though).
C is always talking about taking me camping with him, but I'm more of a glamping girl. So I booked us a cabin so I could pretend to go camping 😂 While the cabin was very cute and recently renovated to have all the modern amenities, we soon discovered a big problem in the morning--the septic tank! We learned that small cabins like that have a very temperamental septic tank and you can't overuse the water (i.e. washing the dishes or running the bathroom sink and flushing the toilet at the same time). The Airbnb host helped unclog the toilet but didn't have a plumber scheduled to come out until the next day. Needless to say we were strategic about our bathroom usage from then on and I was really glad I had only booked one more night in the cabin. Thankfully we had a full day planned so we could get out of the house. We planned to do the 5-mile hike to Mount Minsi which was famous for being right on the Delaware Water Gap on the Pennsylvania side.
Starting off the Mt. Minsi trail. We did it on a Monday and it was not too crowded but I could see how it would be crowded on a weekend and there are only two tiny parking lots.
After a short walk past a pond, you can take either the left-hand path or the right hand-path. I would recommend taking the left sided path that hugs the river as it is more challenging. Plus you'll want an easier descent. We walked through a rocky area and soon encountered some nice riverside views.
Make sure you stop here as this will be your last viewpoint until the summit
After this viewpoint, the trail will take you up a very steep incline through the forest, so no more views. We passed some older people who were struggling, and then C even lost his glasses briefly, but the steep incline was definitely challenging. You'll finally come up to the Mt. Minsi famous viewpoint which a few people were picnicing on, so we opted to pass them and hike up further to reach the peak of the mountain.
We reached the peak! This was the view of the Delaware river and the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides. Unfortunately it was a little hazy.
We then started the loonngg descent down. We took the fire road down instead of going back down the very steep and wet trail along the river, which was a good decision as it was much easier, but it also made it feel much longer. Plus, the fire road was entirely covered in rocks so I felt like I was walking on rocks the entire way down.
All in all, it was a challenging hike (it took us about 4 hours total to hike 5 miles with a 30 min break for lunch) but worth it for the fall foliage views. You'll see all the fall colors on your hike, yellow, red, green if you time it right which is uncommon in Virginia. But be prepared! The ascent is especially challenging. After the hike, we definitely deserved a snack so we drove about 45 minutes away to a well known local restaurant on Lake Wallenpaupak called the Boathouse. I would definitely recommend the restaurant for its ample outdoor seating and it basically sitting on the lake.
After a snack/lunner, we walked down to the lake shore and were treated to these gorgeous colors. I believe Lake Wallenpaupak is one of the few public lakes in the Poconos so it was definitely the most impressive lake I had seen on the trip (and there was an actual parking lot and trail). We spent a few hours walking along the shores and walking along the trail passing by dogs.
The next morning, we set off for NYC! We drove, to avoid exposure to public transportation, and miraculously did not have to pay for parking (my worst fear) due to booking a hotel with free parking and getting lucky with street parking. We visited one of my best friends J (frequently featured on the blog!) who had recently moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
New York definitely had a weird vibe this trip. To start off, NYC had an unusual fog that persisted the entire time we were there so everything was hazy. I was reassured multiple times it was not related to pollution, but it felt eerily similar to Beijing and its famous smog. Even though it was foggy, the temperature was balmy in the 70s, so it felt like a wet humid sauna. We prepared for sunny fall weather (like in the Poconos), so it was definitely an unpleasant surprise as I would go out after a shower and then immediately feel like my clothes would be sticky and uncomfortable. We did get some great weather when we first arrived to the city, so we grabbed arepas and walked around Williamsburg to get these shots of Manhattan from Martha P Johnson Park (where they usually host Smorgasbourg Brooklyn, sadly closed due to covid).
Our only plans this trip (other than to hang out with J and eat) were to meet up with some of C's colleagues who live in NYC. During happy hour at a middle-eastern place, I had sticker shock at the price of a drink ($17! no happy hour!) and then bar-hopped with C's colleagues as we were in search of cheaper Korean food in K-town.
Taking the public ferry from Brooklyn to Manhattan for the price of a subway ticket
The only photo I have from that night is the watermelon soju we had at our last stop in K town 🙊
Our second day in Brooklyn we met up with J for Taiwanese breakfast, took the subway into Manhattan to see Hudson yards, then get some takeout Korean and ate it in Central Park, where I have actually never been to before (but I feel like I have since I see it all the time in movies!) Do ya feel me Enchanted? Of course being the Asians that we are we couldn't leave without visiting Chinatown (it's like a honing device to us), where I finally got my boba fix at Yifang and C got some eclairs at Alimama.
In continuing with the Asian food theme, our last meal of the day was at Oh Taisho, an izakaya place in St. Mark's.
Note to self, do not get Korean food at a Japanese restaurant (but I was craving Korean so much this trip!!)
Then we headed back to J's place in Brooklyn for a nightcap. This was the view from his apartment's rooftop! Better than any other rooftop bar we could have gone to in Brooklyn.
The next day J left for a weekend trip to the Catskills so we stayed at his apartment. Since we had no plans, we just strolled around Brooklyn, walking around Prospect park (which was deceivingly far from Williamsburg), and then eating at Xi'an Famous Foods, a new obsession! I had had it before (with J many years ago) but it was C's first time and he is notoriously hard to please as a native Los Angelino.
Definitely get the dumplings too--any of them are good but the sour lamb ones are unique.
We then recovered from our food coma a bit and then prepared to meet up with C's friends again for our last dinner. We went to a divey udon place (I think it was Udon Lab) which was actually really good (and I don't even usually like udon, I prefer ramen). I'm so jealous of New Yorkers who have access to such amazing food just around the corner from them. Any shop you go to will basically be good because you have to be good to survive in NYC.
The next morning, we planned to head out early as we had 6 hour drive back to Richmond. But we couldn't resist getting good Asian food one more time in NYC (it's very limited in Richmond)! So after braving the crowds of Chinatown and spending about 30 minutes looking for parking, we finally snagged a spot! And ordered some XLB, Shenjian bao and scallion pancake from Deluxe Greenbo.
Eating on the street with a car passing 2 feet from your table.
After we finished, we even ordered to-go cantonese noodles and Xi'an Famous Foods. Best decision ever, after 6 hours of driving home, to have XFF for dinner when we arrived back in Richmond. To continue with the XFF obsession, C even ordered the book for me and I spent the entire last weekend cooking up recipes from the book! I'd like to think they were pretty successful :)
New York has definitely been hit hard by covid. They were hit hard with the initial wave and so I feel like they pivoted well during the reopening phase. It did feel safe in that there was plenty of outdoor seating and almost everyone was wearing masks even outside. Even though there were quite a few people on the streets it was still lower numbers than usual, and the subway was at a very manageable level even during rush hour. It feels like the soul of New York is hibernating though and it just wasn't the same. I know New York will come back though as it always does. I'm looking forward to coming back to New York in a post-covid era!