Mention New York and most people think New York City; never the other regions of the state. But our Capital Tour brings us to the "other" New York. Not the din of downtown excitement and star-studded entertainment, but the perfect peace of sapphire blue lakes, emerald valleys and stars that twinkle like diamonds in a midnight sky.
NEW YORK STATE DIVISION OF TOURISM (800) 225-5697
STATE HOUSE, Albany (518) 474-2418
Open Mon-Fri 9-4
"When our future shall be past,it must be that those who shall live then will rejoice that the Capitol has been built so strongly that its traditions will endure to the latest generation."
Lt. Governor of New York, 1879
The Capitol "will endure." That's for sure. It's built like an impenetrable fortress with interiors that resemble a massive medieval cathedral or castle. Walking through the dimly lit arched hallways, along the thick stone walls and stone-carved stairways, beneath chandeliers straight out of Henry the V, makes the visitor feel small and frail, like a serf called before his lord.
Tip: Don't miss the walk across the reflecting pool to the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza. Walking from the Romanesque-like Capitol to this futuristic plaza is like going from a symphony hall to a discotheque.
The scenery in this part of New York, Leatherstocking County, is thick and lush with all the shades of green packed in a Crayola box of 64. Clusters of dark green trees stand among yellow-green grasses and feather-duster ferns, against a backdrop of round, silver-green hills and puffy-clouded blue skies. It's like the "Valley of the Jolly Green Giant" commercial come to life.
Cooperstown is named after James Fenimore Cooper's father, Judge William Cooper, who acquired this land after the Revolutionary War and became one of the new nation's first suburban developers. It's an adorable town with bright colored flowers hanging from gaslight streetlamps along a Main Street loaded with quaint little shops that shout, "Hey! Am I cute or what?"
Before arriving here, we thought the place would smack of everything James Fenimore Cooper. But we discovered that the bat is mightier than the pen and the Great American author is overshadowed by the Great American sport, baseball. The Baseball Hall of Fame is surprisingly fun, though. Even an apathetic, non-athletic person can easily spend two days here.
National Baseball Hall Of Fame, Cooperstown (607) 547-7200
Open daily 9-9
Since we're not really baseball fans we originally planned on taking a cursory peek inside just to pay homage to the national pastime. But from the very beginning, (or should I say, Big Inning?) each exhibit grabbed us by the shirt collar and wouldn't release us until our empty stomachs growled in protest. The displays are so well-designed, so enticing, so nostalgic and such Good American Fun that time passes faster than a Roger Clemens pitch. Four hours whizzed by just like that. We took a break for lunch, only too eager to return for a few more hours of All-Star gazing. (The ticketers stamp the back of your hand purple so you come and go as you please.) Before visiting the National Baseball Hall Of Fame, we were baseball Know-Nothings. Now we're baseball Know-It-Alls. Can't wait to get back home and "correct" all our friends when cocktail conversation takes the inevitable turn to baseball.
Tip: Make sure you see every floor. We thought we'd seen everything then found out the next day that we missed one of the best programs . . . The feature films on the top floor.
Fenimore House Museum, Cooperstown (607) 547-1404
Open daily 9-5
Features Native American art, Hudson River School paintings, changing exhibits and a room dedicated to James Fenimore Cooper memorabilia.
Tip: The name is misleading. This is the original site of where James Fenimore Cooper's home once was, but it is not his house. The neo Georgian house and terraced gardens belonged to a wealthy businessman in the 1920s. We thought it was Cooper's family home and were disappointed to discover otherwise. If you know this in advance, you can appreciate the museum contents without being soured by the disappointment.
Tip: The other disappointment we had was the placement of the Hudson River School paintings. We had been told that this museum carries a large collection of this unusual style of painting. But the paintings are hanging high on the wall along a huge, curving staircase. Very difficult to see the paintings when one is trying to watch one's step as one ascends or descends the stairs. Not to mention the glare coming in from the window at the top of the stairs.
You cannot call yourself an American, a real American, unless you've witnessed Niagara Falls personally and felt its powerful spray splash your bedazzled face . . . preferably from the deck of the famous Maid of the Mist tour boat, which has its own unique 150-year old history. Yes, I say, be ashamed to die without ever having seen The Falls. There. That's all there is to it. Get your raincoat and rubber boots and get going!
Check it out . . . We had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe Niagara Falls. Afterwards we walked to Goat Island and found we could have had lunch overlooking the Horseshoe Falls.
Tip: Normally we love orientation films at Visitor Centers. But skip this one on Goat Island. It's costs $2.00 and is just plain annoying. It's painful to watch the pathetic attempt at humor. We felt bad for the unfortunate foreigners in front of us who couldn't understand the forced jokes. You can get more info from a great little paperback in the Gift Store called Niagara Daredevils. It's fun to read, costs only $1.50 more than the film, provides more info about Niagara than the film, and you get a little keepsake to show your friends back home.
Tip: Tourist Information signs are aplenty on the strip to Niagara Falls. But most of them are really Grayline Tours offices They have TOURIST INFO in big letters and Grayline in small letters. So if you go there and ask directions, they try to sell you a tour. Instead of giving directions, they say, "That's why you should go on a tour. So you won't get lost."
OUR CAMPSITES FOR THE WEEK:
Shadow Brook Campgrounds, Cooperstown (607) 264-8431
Just a short drive to the Baseball Hall of Fame this campground is a wonderful place to stay for the Cooperstown sites. It has beautiful pond views, great facilities, and delightful hosts. When we arrived on that stormy night, well after office hours, our hostess, Darla, drove from her home, through thunder and lightening, to meet us. She led us to the campsite and stayed with us until she was sure we were safely hooked up.
Niagara Falls Campground and Lodging, Niagara Falls (716) 731-3434
This campground is the closest one we could find to the Falls (only six miles). It's small, but comfortable and just right for our needs. We could spend the day at the Falls, come home to rest, then hit the Falls again at night. With many of the other campgrounds, the drive would have made this impossible.