Finger Lakes

I have been meaning to go back to the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York for the past thirteen years.  It was one of the first trips my wife, Sandra and I took together as a couple. At the time, we visited some of the numerous wineries and pubs in the region.  Now, with our ten year old son, David, waterslides and hiking were more the order of the day.

We started our visit at Greek Peak Mountain Resort.   We all enjoyed the indoor water park, waterslides and the indoor/outdoor pool.   The following day, Sandy and David took in the mountain coaster while I waited at ground level for their safe return.

Having got all of our adrenaline activities out of the way, it was time to pursue more leisurely activities.   We chose Corning, New York as the centre of our visit. Corning is well-known as being the home of everything glass.  It is the headquarters of the famous Corning Glass Works who have produced casserole dishes to the glass you find on your smartphone.  Steuben glass also got its start in Corning. The brand is recognized for its beautiful crystal and glass pieces. All of this history is encapsulated at the Corning Museum of Glass.

We arrived in Corning early afternoon and opted to start our visit at the Rockwell Museum. The museum is housed in the architecturally stunning old city hall.  The collection focuses on telling the American experience through art ranging from paintings to sculptures and everything in between.  The works are a mix of nineteenth century and twentieth century artists. The museum is also the only Smithsonian affiliate in Upstate New York meaning the museum has access to the famous Smithsonian collection.  

I must come out and say I am not typically the biggest fan of art museums.  Most I have visited have been look but understandably don’t touch and I have not totally understood the historical context of the art.  The Rockwell was completely different. The museum and the collection felt accessible. There were large panels explaining the different styles and used terminology that everyone can understand.   

To make the art more accessible for kids like David,  they provide an art scavenger hunt where the participant must find various elements in the paintings.   There are also frequent stations saying please touch allowing kids a tactile experience with the art.

The actual artwork is also stunning.   There are works from famous artists ranging from Charles Russell to Andy Warhol (I have even heard of him.)    

David found everything on the scavenger hunt and won a prize.  We all left The Rockwell with a greater appreciation for art and more open to visit other art museums.  

The museum was a short walk to the downtown area known as the Gaffer District.  The downtown was one of the most vibrant we have ever visited.   It was a perfect blend of shops catering to locals and tourists.  As expected, there were a number of shops selling beautiful, hand-made glass products.  One of our favorite stores was Erlacher Steuben Glass.  We met the friendly owner, Kitty.  Her husband, Max, happens to be one of the most famous glass engravers in the world. Most of the pieces were out of our price range but we never felt pressure to buy and enjoyed chatting with her.  

It was time to head back to our hotel at the Radisson Corning.  It was perfectly situated right at the start of The Gaffer District and close to both the Rockwell and Corning Museum of Glass.  The first thing we did after eating a light snack was hit the hot tub and swimming pool. It was a great way to relax before calling it a night.  

The next morning,  we had decided to dedicate the entire day to the Corning Museum of Glass. The museum covers everything you ever wanted to know about glass and is recognized as being the top museum in the world pertaining to glass.  

Upon entering the museum, you guessed it, there was glass everywhere.   The first thing that we wanted to check out was the hot glass demonstration.  We got to see master glassmaker, Eric Goldschmidt, as he went through the process of making a water pitcher from molten glass to the finished product.   My favorite part was seeing the glass blowing. After watching Eric practice his craft, we realized glass-making is truly an art form.

The next demonstration was the flameworking demo.   We watched as the presenter used a 4,000°F blow torch to melt glass rods and tubes and then mold them into various animals and beads.  I saw David’s eyes light up as I am sure he imagined being the owner of such a blow torch for various science experiments.

The museum also offers a chance to make your own glass.  Sandy and I signed up for the glass flower while David made a glass pendant.   Sandy and my guide expertly walked us through the process as he provided the molten glass.   We got to blow, stretch and shape the molten glass until it looked like a beautiful flower. Once we were done, we got to watch David as he donned the safety glasses and melted glass into his pendant while the instructor held the high-powered blow torch.   Our glass flowers now adorn our living room while David wears his glass pendant as a necklace.

We wrapped up our time at the museum checking out all the fascinating exhibits and displays.  I did not realize all the different products made out of glass including fibre optics cables. Sandy discovered the gift shop.  Spoiler alert, our family will be receiving glass products for the next few birthdays and Christmases.

A person could really spend two or three days at the museum without getting bored.  We only had the luxury of one day and had to move on to our next destination.

There was not any letdown as we arrived in Watkins Glen and the stunning Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel.  Located on Seneca Lake, our room overlooked the marina.   It was fun watching the boats coming and going.

For supper, we decided to check out the hotel restaurant, the Blue Pointe Grille.  The first thing that attracted us was the lakeside patio. The sun was actually shining which was a welcome change from the spring we were having in Ottawa.  All of us were very hungry. I ordered the black pepper fettuccine while Sandy took the Miso Glazed Salmon and David had the strip steak. We were famished and all of our meals were delicious.  We finished our meal with decadent chocolate covered cherries and coffee.

We were pleasantly full and went for a walk along the marina and pier for digestion.  David loved looking for seashells along the rocky outcrop. Sandy and I enjoyed lingering on the parkside benches watching David

It was time to head back to our hotel and we enjoyed the swimming pool and jacuzzi.  After the hot tub, it was time to turn in for the night and the hotel staff graciously left each one of us a chocolate on our pillow.  I am scared David will expect this as his night time ritual!

In the morning, we headed back to the Blue Pointe Grille.  When travelling, I love ordering a traditional breakfast of sausage, eggs, toast and coffee.  Sandy and David ordered the same except no coffee for David. The breakfast was perfect and our server gave us a tip to visit Watkins Glen State Park.  

We checked out of the Harbor Hotel vowing to return.  We made the short four minute drive from the hotel to the state park.    I am glad we followed the advice of our server. We opted for the aptly named Gorge Trail.   The trail follows a gorge with stone steps and stone bridges. It also passess under, beside and over numerous waterfalls.  Our favorite area was the cavern cascade where we were literally standing behind a waterfall. I would recommend bringing a good pair of shoes as the trail can be quite wet.  

It was sadly time for us to wrap up our holiday.  Sandy and I were happy to trade in our wine glasses for family friendly travel.  It won’t be another thirteen years before we return to the Finger Lakes.
For more information about Corning visit –    You can find more information about the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel visit –

Photos and article by Stephen Johnson