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I mentally shook myself and wondered if the clerk had just done what I thought she did.

For years I had wanted to visit the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, MA, having heard raves about the food, the programs and the scenery. A stay is steep, but since I saved, oh, $2,500 by not jetting to New Zealand, I figured $155 a night was a steal.

I definitely felt lighter when I left – $155 lighter, and enlightened by the knowledge that I had finally done something I had always wanted to do, even if I never, ever wanted to to do it again.

My $155 bought a bottom bunk in a glorified hostel, three meals of various pilafs, yogurts and tahini dressings and rather uninspiring yoga on sweaty carpet desperately in need of a good shampoo.

Part of it’s my fault. Seeking relief for repetitive stress injuries when I first moved to Albany, I tried Kripalu. The slow pace, easy stretches and simple breathing weren’t for me. Vinyasa yoga – a more athletic style – hooked me, and I never returned.

The Kripalu Center offers Vinyasa classes, but intimidated by the toned yoga bodies, I stuck with the easy class since I haven’t practiced regularly in about a year. I shouldn’t have been so shy. I remembered quickly why I didn’t like the Kripalu style.

The center offers biking and kayaking, but only in small guided groups. Guests can’t just sign out a boat or bike on their time. The center owns land down to a lake, where I sat and watched the rosy reflection of sunset clouds play across the water – after wandering around the property for an extra 20 minutes because the trails aren’t marked.

But the kicker was the room. When I entered, I found the previous occupants’ underwear, magazines, paperbacks, peach pits and Kleenex. I’m all for glasses half full, but that doesn’t mean I liked having mugs still sporting someone else’s coffee dregs on the dresser. After dinner I asked a woman at the reception desk if the trash could be cleared off. She questioned me: was I absolutely sure the girl had left? Then she told me to check back after my wander down to the lake.

Ninety minutes later I returned. She needed a moment to remember that she had spoken to me earlier. She asked if I had gone to the room. No, I said, she told me to check back. I said this in an even tone – I was patient, I wasn’t upset, though really I had every right to be. The woman looked at me and then – I swear to God – stretched her arms to the side, pinched her fingers, closed her eyes, and breathed deeply, holding the breath for a moment before exhaling slowly.

Now, she may have had a rough day. I don’t know what problems came before me, and she may have just been stressed by the situation. But whatever the reason, she felt it so necessary to de-stress herself that she had to interrupt a conversation with a guest to take a yogic breath and center herself before continuing.

Really? I mean, is life so tough?

I was too shocked to say a word. I went upstairs. The peach pits were gone but the dirty underwear lingered. I just went to sleep.

The next day I before I left I bought a cookbook in the gift store. Standing in line to pay, a woman approached me, asking where I found the book. I pointed. I knew the clerk heard me, so I turned to him and joked, with my most personable smile, the one that’s won over scores of journalistic sources: Glad I could be of service.

He looked at me confused for a minute.

I was joking, I told him, because I told the customers where the book was?

Ah, he said very seriously, thank you.

And with that, I left, never to return.

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Since I nixed New Zealand – collapsing into a ball of stress the night before, bemoaning the weightiness of life and everything in it – I decided that I still needed a vacation. And so I vowed to do a bunch of things I’d always wanted to do but never took the time to near Albany.

You know how it is: these things are always there, and so close, and you know you’ll get to them one day… and then never do.

I vowed to do them all.

Or at least a couple.

I have never been berry picking. Apples yes (and pears, and some nasty end-of-season peaches, which devolved into a game of peach pitching, which in turn ended with a mighty Sploosh of rotten peaches all over my jeans and much general hilarity – but I digress). Berries no. All summer I kept meaning to take Sirus out to Thacher Park, about a half hour drive from our house, and there was a berry patch on the way.

So that’s what we did one lovely Tuesday afternoon. It was actually quite overcast and threatening to rain, but that didn’t matter. I was on a mission. We fled Albany into the far flung suburbs where the water lines don’t even run, to a patch of strawberries hugging the easements around electric towers (minor pause to wonder what happens if a thunderstorm strikes, but I just refused to go there). Sirus burst from the hatch like a steam engine, flying three times around the wooden shack where the local teenager collects the cash. Said teenager was clearly worried about this craziness on four legs and instructed that I keep Pups well away from the berries. We picked our way carefully through the vines. I tied her to an apple tree and she happily sniffed the crazy country smells as I bent over and plucked juicy red berries from their nest.

It’s an undeniable rush to pick your own food, a connection directly from the ground to the bowl and eventually to the car, table and mouth. And then I realized what a luxury it truly was to pick berries, that I could dash in, play around and leave, without any of the hard labor of sowing and fertilizing and rising before dawn of actual farming – I got all the easy parts and none of the really hard work, and I felt absolutely decadent and a bit guilty all at once.

And let me also add that $12 worth of grocery store strawberries is enough for smoothies for, say, a week. While $12 worth of hand-picked berries was good for smoothies for two – and strawberry-lemon-ginger muffins (which didn’t rise, I think I need new baking powder) and strawberry oatmeal bars (the best of which I can say is that I know how I’m tweaking the recipe in the future) and strawberries for salads and enough strawberries in general that, by the end of the week, I craved blueberries.

Next Post: Intrepid Traveler vs. Zen Yogis, and the yogis send me packing

For some it’s the destination, others, the journey. Or at least, traveling in style.

I met this gentleman at the grocery store yesterday.

The black box above the front wheel is a car stereo receiver.

The fringed saddlebags hold the speakers. Genesis played softly as he paid. He turned up the volumne as he waited for the automatic door to the parking lot to open. It sounded like quite a ride. I can guarantee he had a better sound system then my car. Now that’s a way to ride.

Pimped out bike

I used to have a night in Albany where I knew everyone in the pub. The bartender refused to let us pay, so we overtipped him handsomely. Now law and med students have taken over. The owners forces the bartender out after a few too many free pints. It’s not the same.

I feel for those San Fransiscans losing a part of their city. In their honor, I encourage everyone everywhere to seek out a neighborhood joint instead of the trendy spot and say hey. Where’s the best places we should support in your town? I’m ready!

I’m packing. I’m leaving the apartment building that’s been my home for five years for a free townhouse three blocks away. After a few months there, we plan to move to New York City. A new journey begins, and it starts by boxing up my books. Sometimes packing is monotonous, but sometimes a cover made me pause. This time, two – Alexander Hamilton: A Life, by William Stern Randall and The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto.

I don’t read many biographies, but the book came free, and I had long been curious about Hamilton. Turns out he lived in my Albany neighborhood. He married a local girl – I could walk to her family’s mansion (he also cheated with her sister, but I’ll leave that to the book). They lived locally too, with his law practice down the street. He strolled through the space that is now Washington Park. I walk through the park almost daily.

While reading the book I imagining the horses and cravats, the creation of a nation, and my footsteps in theirs. A handful of brownstones in my neighborhood still date to then, same with the layout of streets. I wonder how familiar the city would look to him today. I loved the book because Hamilton is such a brilliant yet tragic American figure. I loved it even more because the book made me a traveler in my own neighborhood, seeing the streets with new eyes. (A caveat: some say Randall stretched the truth too far in this book. Other Hamilton biographies have better reviews. But again, the book was free.).

The Island at the Center of the World
covers the early history of New York City – specifically, the development from New Amsterdam into a world capital through a handful of decisive colonial choices.

The first page placed the author, and the reader, in the state library on Madison Avenue. In good weather I run the giant steps outside the archivists’ offices. The author describes paging through rare documents recently translated from the Old Dutch. From those translations he plucked the story of a rising star in the new Colony and his political battles. It’s an exemplary piece of historical genre writing.

The author sprinkles the book with tidbits that stuck in my head. The young hero bought land to farm north of Manhattan. In the old language a young gentleman is a Jonker. Hence Yonkers, the town immediately north of Manhattan. He describes the rivers that ran through what is now Upper Manhattan and the swamps of the Bronx.

Every time I take the train south to the city I look at the office parks, highways and apartment buildings, and imagine the homesteads that once stood.

This is why I love reading books with such strong senses of place. They offer new contexts for viewing a small slice of the world. It’s why I travel – it’s why I read.

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Top on my weekend getaway list for the Capital Region/New York City has to be the Mohonk Mountain House. My mother stayed there once for a business meeting and raved about it so much that my brother and I gave our parents a night there for their 30th anniversary. We joined them for the day and dinner, and fell in love with the place.

Mohonk is an old-time castle of warm stone and warmer wood, a high-class version of everything cozy and comfortable about a Catskill or Adirondack retreat – but only 20 minutes max from the highway that connects Manhattan to Albany and Montreal. The house sits on a lake, which in turn rests at the base of a cliff. The house has paddle-boats in the summer and Nordic skis in winter. A gazebo offers warm-weather barbecue. Afternoon tea in a massive great room with sofas is a must. A broad veranda with rocking chairs overlooking the lake offers the perfect place to read, knit or chat.

Day passes to the grounds are available, but an even better option is to make a meal reservation. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are gourmet affairs in a cavernous, circular wood-panelled room with picture windows above the Catskills. Dinner has an old-fashioned jacket, tie and skirt dress code. Room stays include meals, but reservations for a single meal, without an overnight stay, include a grounds pass. So while $30 may be an expensive breakfast (rates range up to $61.50 for dinner), the perks are priceless.

The House also offers a lovely afternoon tea with cookies. It’s meant for overnight guests only, but no one asks questions if day guests quietly join in.

I’m sitting in an Albany coffee shop, trying to work, and a family of 10 just invaded on their way down to Mohonk. A woman said their father is treating them and his grandchildren for a Sunday night there in honor of his birthday. Are you listening, mom and dad?