Europe, helped no doubt by Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcok, has very successfully marketed what I would call the “ romance of the rails “ – the sense of mystery and adventure that a journey by train entails. So what if I were to tell you that possibly one of the most beautiful and romantic train rides in the world leaves from New York’s Grand Central station hourly, winding its way upstate almost entirely along the mighty and majestic Hudson river.
The MetroNorth rail cars are not as fancy as they are on their more affluent Connecticut lines. But the stunning vistas of the water more than make up for any shortcomings.
A tip: When headed to Beacon, which is my usual destination, always try to get a seat on the left side of train- which provides the best river views. The reverse, of course is true, and it’s the right side you should get from Beacon to Grand Central.
Even though I always find some time to enjoy the view, the approximately eighty minute train ride ( 67 minutes if it’s a Beacon Grand Central non stop express which typically run at rush hour ) is also occasion to do some uninterrupted work. My laptop has a mobile hot spot so I’m able to get an incredible amount done without the distractions of an office setting.
The Hudson is a changeable and fascinating river inextricably tied to the history of this nation. For one thing it is tidal all the way up to Albany. The river, as the local American Indian tribes called it, which flows both ways.
The journey begins along the Harlem river which separates Manhattan from the Bronx and is straddled by a multitude of bridges. As the train curves slowly to join the main track north, we catch our first glimpse of the imposing Palisades- a sheer cliff running for miles along the New Jersey shore of the Hudson.
Thanks to the largess of the Rockefellers, the Palisades are still as pristine today as on the day that Hendryck Hudson first viewed them from the deck of his ship, The Half Moon.
There’s a stop at Ossining, home to Sing Sing , the legendary prison, which gave rise to the expression: “ He’s been sent up-river “. The prison sits directly on the water. Its stone perimeter walls crowned by razor wire look just like what you would expect prison walls to look like on a stage set. Not quite real, yet to the inmates, I’m sure all too real.
On the way you’ll pass the Tappan zee bridge which ironically crosses the Hudson at one of it’s widest, but also shallowest points. A new span is under construction, running parallel to the old one, which apparently has outlived its shelf life. Here the river is so wide that it takes on the appearance of a lake.
A notable feature of the picturesque Hudson Highlands which begin at the Bear Mountain bridge is the U.S. military academy at West Point which forms our army’s office corps. Eisenhower was once the commandant of the “ Point “.
Nearby, at World’s end, during the American revolution, Washington’s forces stretched a chain across the river in a vain attempt to prevent the British ships in New York from joining their forces in Canada. Washington had his winter headquarters in Newburgh just across the river from Beacon.
Just before reaching Beacon the train passes Polipel Island, better known as Bannerman’s Island. Bannerman was a Scottish arms merchant who become rich buying up Civil War arms surplus and selling the stuff off in the developing world. He stored munitions on the island and built himself an imitation Scottish castle which is unfortunately now largely in ruins.
The Metro North ride to and from Beacon is not one to be missed. And fortunately the commute is perfect for anyone looking to purchase a home in Beacon and work in the New York City.