When you think of New York, what images spring to mind? Gridlocked traffic full of yellow cabs? Steaming manhole covers? The iconic Chrysler & Empire State buildings, or maybe the Brooklyn Bridge. We are all so familiar with the sights & sounds of the city that never sleeps, the starring backdrop of countless movies & TV shows. This was the city I grew up in and love, and no trip to the US is complete without spending some time in the Big Apple and you can always get great deals on flights to all of New York’s airports.
There is another New York, people are less familiar with, the New York of lakes, mountains & forests. A New York with a landscape more akin to the Scottish Highlands than the cityscape we always associate with New York. This was the New York I called home in my teens when my family moved to the capital of New York, Albany. Moving here was something of a culture shock after living in 2the city” and Long Island.
So if you want a change of pace from Manhattan and experience the other New York, hop on the Amtrack at Penn Station (Grand Central’s ugly sister) and take the North to Albany. The line leaves the city and follows the Hudson River north offering views of West Point, Bear Mountain & the Hudson River, look out for iconic American Eagles on the way, I’ve seen several from the train windows. The journey takes just over 2 hours.
Albany is something of a hidden gem. About 150 miles north of the Big Apple, it is a city of about 300,000 people. At the edge of the city’s sprawling suburbs you can still find early Dutch style farmhouses while downtown Albany and boasts some fabulous architecture, from the typical American brownstones to the spectacular Capital building. Empire State Plaza houses the State Offices, the New York State museum & The Egg (so called because it looks like a huge egg!!) this is a performing arts venue, containing two theatres.
Lark Street hosts a variety of independent restaurants & boutiques and is the artistic quarter of the City. Other great places to eat when visiting the capital include, Jacks Oyster House, Café Capriccio or if you want a more casual atmosphere The Fountain offers great pizza and wings and always has a good atmosphere, El Loco serves authentic Mexican cuisine and Tomo Asian Bistro serves the most amazing sushi. These are just a few of my favourites, but Albany has a great variety of restaurants & diners.
As with most American cities you really need a car to get around Albany, and a car is essential to get the full benefits of what Upstate New York has to offer. As a city it makes a great base for exploring Upstate New York.
Within easy striking distance of south of Albany is the legendary town of Woodstock, famous for the 1968 music festival at Yasgur’s Farm. Woodstock is still a mecca for artists and boast some excellent bohemian shops & cafes.
Woodstock sits at the northern edge of the Catskill Mountains. My Grandparents owned a Jewish deli/café in Monticello. If you’ve ever seen the movie `Dirty Dancing’ then you will be familiar with the landscape & small towns of the Catskills. That movie always brought back memories of the old summer resort gatherings.
History buffs may enjoy a trip to Hyde Park NY, the home of President FD Roosevelt, this is now a museum to the great man, it’s about an hour’s drive south from Albany and boast some fantastic views over the Hudson valley. The route to Hyde Park, passes through the small town of Rhinebeck which is a great spot for quirky little boutiques and cafes.
If you head North out of Albany and you come to the town of Saratoga Springs, best known these days for horse racing, but once was the scene of a major battles in 1777 during the War of Independence, and the birthplace of the club sandwich!!! A few miles further north up the i87 is the small town of Lake George. This is a resort town boasting some impressive lakeside houses, boat trips and a full rise replica of Fort William Henry. Those familiar with the novel `Last of the Mohicans’, may recognise the name of the fort, as part of the novel is based on real events that occurred at the fort in 1757.
A short drive from Lake George to the look-off at Prospect Mountain, gives amazing views of the surrounding lakes and forests, uninterrupted all the way to the horizon. From here it is possible to get a real feel for just how vast & unspoiled Upstate NY is. A visit to this area in the fall shows the state at its most beautiful, the climate is at its most temperate and the trees a myriad of shade of reds & golds.
From Albany if you want to go further afield and have a two-country visit, the Canadian border and Montreal is just two & a half hours away, or if you feel up to the drive another couple of hours will take you to Niagara Falls.
Just beyond Albany’s western suburbs is the small village of Altamont and Indian Ladder farm. In the fall Indian Ladder farm is a mecca for locals looking to pick their own pumpkins for Halloween or their own apples. It’s worth the short trip just for the Apple Cider donuts alone. Altamont is my husband’s favourite place in the Capital district.
To the south west of the city is John Boyd Thatcher State Park, which offers some interesting walks along the Indian Ladder Trail and the look off from the 400m high Heldeburg escarpment gives stunning views of the Adirondack & Green Mountains and the Hudson & Mohawk valleys.
A short drive to the east & you cross into Massachusetts and that can be another blog!