This post was originally titled 'Six Months In New York State.' Well, that didn't work out as planned and to be blunt, not everything has worked out as planned over the past year - but then again, I've become much less of a planner these days.
What has worked out?
Well aside from having much more time to create and make art, we've had a tremendous opportunity to explore not only New York but the entire Northeast as well. For the sake of some semblance of organization, I'll try to hit the high points of the past year in two wander logs - this one about New York, and another yet to come about our general travels through the US Northeast. All of these explorations around New York State have been completed as day trips, being located relatively centrally within the State has certainly helped as has not having the $$$ to spend on lodging costs.
What are my general takeaways from a year spent living in Upstate New York State?
There's a strong and growing community of makers and artists around the Hudson River Valley. The coffee, tea!, and craft food culture grows by the day. The two main mountain park regions, the Catskills and the Adirondacks, have a much more European national park vibe where private land and public land commingle, there's no cost for entry, and rules for use less stringent. That last observation leads me to my biggest takeaway - the historic roots of the buildings, communities, and places run deep here in a way that's much more reminiscent of Europe as well.
And I like it.
With Lake Placid clocking in at about three hours drive away from us, it makes the center of the Adirondacks a long day trip, but it couldn't be more worth it. One of our favorite summer days was spent seeking out a quiet spot on Lake George for a swim on a hot day (not the simplest as resorts line the shores), followed by a picnic lunch in downtown.
As the weather turned cooler, we made another two trips up to the Adirondacks. Once driving through Keene, an adorable town, and up the Whiteface Memorial Highway. During the "on-season" you pay to drive up a beautifully constructed highway to a parking lot high up the mountain. From there you can hike/scramble about a quarter mile up the rocks to get an absolutely epic view of the Adirondacks, Lake Placid, and Lake Champlain. Our second jaunt took us on a short, very pleasant, autumn hike to Cobble Hill - which is sort of on the side of Whiteface Mountain and to Saranac Lake for some excellent coffee and a superb London Fog. Saranac Lake by the way seemed more like the "locals" Adirondack town in comparision to the slightly more touristy Lake Placid. Granted, in Lake Placid, you can see the Olympic ski jumps from just about everywhere in town - and yes, it's kind of neat!
- Do: Howe Caverns, Lyrical Ballard Bookstore, Saratoga Tea & Honey Company, & Yaddo
- Eat: Circus, Different Blend Bakery, The Local Pub & Teahouse, Mexican Radio, Oh Corn!, Stacks Espresso, Superior Merch, & Uncommon Grounds
I never quite know what to think of Albany and frankly, we just haven't spent as much time up there as we should! We drive up the 30 minutes to Albany on a weekly basis for errands and occasionally throw in a stop somewhere interesting. Most recently, we've been making an effort to check out all of Albany's espresso bars, of which we admit, we've now become repeat customers at Stacks Espresso on Lark Street. There are two other eateries just outside of Albany I crave to get back to all the time. Oh Corn! up in Clifton Park, where they make Venezuelan arepas, cachapas, and tostones in almost a totally gluten free environment. Their fryer is safely free from gluten and they just have two cakes on the menu that are not gluten free. I still have yet to try their fried yuca and flan! The second spot I take any excuse to go to is Different Blend Bakery in Schenectady because cream puffs. No seriously, the most amazing gluten free cream puffs with wonderful seasonal varieties. They make a number of other delectable treats as well - it's worth a detour out of Albany for sure.
Heading north just another 30 minutes is the very pleasant day trip-able spot of Saratoga Springs - yes, the place with horse racing. It certainly dominates the culture of the community but there are plenty of other interesting spots as well. My particular favorites include tea and honey tasting at Saratoga Tea & Honey, wandering through the rabbits warren that is the Lyrical Ballard Bookstore (it just keeps going!), and walking the gardens at Yaddo.
- Eat: Circle W Market, Higher Grounds Coffee Company, & The Windham Local
- Hike: Kaaterskill Falls & The Windham Path
While they used to be a very popular vacation spot in the 1950s-60s, much of the Catskills have quieted down and you'll see a fair amount of "resorts" and other lodging in various states of disrepair. However, enter the fleeing Brooklyn-ite and a new generation of locals! A revival is happening in the area and it's simply beautiful to see.
Our favorite spot in the Catskills, as well as the closest to us, is the ski town of Windham. There's a slightly more substantial downtown area then some of the other mountain hubs and there are two, count them, TWO coffee shops! The Windham Local, twins with an NYC coffee shop, sits in a stellar space that I think used to be an old bank building - the exposed brick, tall windows, and some gorgeous fiber art lights make it a wonderful spot. The best thing to do after grabbing lunch and a coffee is to walk the easy, well maintained Windham Path. It's simple, the people are friendly, and it would do nicely for a run with multiple loops.
Hudson River Valley
- Do: Charlotte Taylor, Coxsackie Farmers Market, Olana, Pilothouse Paper, Sleepy Hollow, Talbot & Arding, Thomas Cole House, & The Westerner
- Eat: Ca'mea Restaurant, The Gluten Free Bakery, Gracies, Harney & Sons Fine Tea, Hartland on Hudson, Heather Ridge Farms, HiLo, Irving Farm, Mansion & Reed, Meredith's Bread, Monkey Joe Roasting Company, Moto Coffee/Machine, New York Restaurant, Outdated: An Antique Cafe, & Verdigris Tea & Chocolate
- Hike: Harlem Valley Rail Trail, Mohonk Preserve & Wallkill Valley Rail Trail
Where do I even start? We're based in the north end of the Hudson River Valley and spend the vast majority of our time in this particular region of New York. So in order to get through this, I'll focus on a few of my favorite towns; Catskill, Coxsackie, Leeds, & Millerton.
To keep it fair, let's start alphabetically with Catskill - it's about 25 minutes south of us and it's high on the list of towns I'd love to be closer to. The best hot chocolate and roobios tea I've found in New York comes from Verdigis Tea & Chocolate located at the end of the incredibly cute historic downtown area. Along the strip you'll find great coffee at HiLo, books from Magpie, and other cute little shops are popping up every day. The New York Restaurant offers a really interesting American/Polish fusion menu with lots of gluten free options. Recently the town has also started a first Friday's style event called "What's Up In Catskill," in which the businesses have a nice little open house. I for one am a fan.
Coxsackie is a little sleepier, with a very picturesque historical downtown on Reed Street and a much more confusing name to pronounce. One day we stopped by the Coxsackie Farmers Market on a whim and it was wonderful, an amazing assortment of vendors and right on the Hudson in the river front park. A few new wonderful shops have also opened up including the cutest little stationary store, Pilothouse Paper; a market full of tasty eats, Mansion & Reed; and the well stocked Reed Bottle Shop. For the record, according to the locals it's COOKS-sah-key.
Leeds has the tiniest, possibly cutest, little downtown block with the closest espresso bar to us at the hybrid stationary store, Hartland on Hudson. Down the road a bit is an upscale dinner which makes just about everything they offer, including the American-style cheese, from scratch. Gracie's isn't the most friendly atmosphere for the gluten free among us, but I've survived just fine with maybe the best bunless double cheeseburger and chocolate shake I've ever had. I'll keep returning just for that meal.
Finally, Millerton is the little town I dream of living in. Unfortunately, it's located on the Connecticut border about an hour away - so it's not all that practical for our jobs. In it you'll find the headquarters of two of my favorite caffeine purveyors in the state, Harney & Sons Fine Teas and Irving Farm Coffee Roasters. At Harney, you can taste over 200 varieties of teas and tisanes, as well as enjoy a non-fussy tea room style lunch. They do a great job of always offering a few gluten free selections and their soups are fantastic. Irving Farm has a great cafe for hanging out in town and they do make an excellent latte. Adorable little shops line the streets, including one of my favorites, Charlotte Taylor which is stocked full of beautifully illustrated and patterned gifts. To make it all even better, the Harlem Valley Rail Trail runs through town. If you come to visit me, a day trip to Millerton is very likely in the plans.