Most of the places we visited we spent a substantial amount of time exploring. Visiting Albany, on the other hand, was a last minute decision. Wanting to visit Vermont we purchased tickets for the Ethan Allen Express to Rutland, Vermont. When the Amtrak board at Penn Station failed to list any Vermont trains, I approached an Amtrak employee and said, “May I ask you a question?” She said nothing but her face grew red and she visibly clenched her jaw so I inquired about the train to Vermont. In an unpleasant tone accompanied by an eye roll she stated, without looking at me, “I don’t know why they’d sell you a ticket to Vermont when no train goes there.” We returned to the ticket counter where a more helpful employee issued us a partial refund and informed us that we could take the Adironack Line to Albany so to Albany we went.
Map of the Adirondack Line — image source: Jersey Pinoy
The US has the largest rail system in the world — more than twice the size of China‘s — but in many parts of the country it travels at a frustratingly slow speed and its ridership pales as a result. 111 years after the invention of high speed rail, New Jersey Transit‘s Northeast Corridor Line is one of the country’s only true high-speed rail lines. A Montreal—New York City high-speed maglev was proposed at least twenty years ago. In 2005, New York Governor George Pataki and Quebec Premier Jean Charest echoed calls for high speed rail but almost a decade later that train has yet to leave the station.
Amtrak’s Adirondack takes eleven hours to travel chug along 613 kilometers of track which is why we decided to stop somewhere overnight rather than ride all the way to Canada. Luckily, the Hudson Valley istruly beautiful and the three hour trip to Albany includes scenic natural vistas, quaint villages, and charming Hudson River lighthouses among other sites (although the entire three hour experience was made somewhat less pleasant by a group of gossiping co-workers whose mean-spirited, beer-fueled hen party lasted the entire ride).
We arrived in Albany shortly before the sun concluded its journey across the sky with few preconceptions. Albany is mentioned a lot on Orange is the New Blackbut other than that, my main impression was formed by Agent USA, a computer game from 1984 designed to teach users about train travel and geography. In the game, an antagonist known as the Fuzzbomb is infecting the residents of various American cities. Although the 8-bit graphics are simple, one of the lessons the game taught me was that capital cities are often quite small and, aside from their governmental importance, not the most always cosmopolitan of places. Although our time in Albany was short I feel comfortable with my conclusion that New York City rather than the state capital is the more vibrant urban center.
I proposed to Una that we walk across the Dunn Memorial Bridge to Albany but the walkway looked more like a freeway shoulder than something most humans would feel comfortable walking along. We instead called a hotel and they sent a shuttle which arrived after what seemed like an inordinately long wait. We climbed into the van (the interior of which smelled of noodle soup). As we rode along I-787 we saw some of Albany’s beautiful buildings which I wanted to pay a visit to: Albany City Hall, the Alfred E. Smith Building, the Cathedral of All Saints, the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, the Egg, the New York State Capitol, the New York State Executive Mansion, the Palace Theatre, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and the SUNY System Administration Building (fka the Delaware & Hudson Railroad Building) among them. However, despite the presence of an attractive attractive downtown I saw few signs of life after dark.
Downtown Albany — image source: Capitalize Albany
When I asked our driver if Albany is one of those towns that closes at 5:00 (likesay Oklahoma City — although it should be noted that I haven’t been there since 1999 and maybe it’s a happening scene nowadays) he assured us that downtown Albany is actually quite hopping at night and named a couple of sports bars as supportive proof. Once situated in the hotel I was able to confirm that there were at least two sports bars open but little else, it seemed. It was only just after 10 pm and but it seemed that few restaurants remained open so we ordered food from Mild Wally’s.
From the comforts of our hotel room I attempted to research the cuisine of Albany. In 19th century Albany, Sturgeon was so popular that it was often referred to as “Albany Beef” but the fish itself has a much larger range. Also, despite Principal Skinner‘s claim that Albany is known for “steamed hams,” I found no evidence to support that and it seems that there is little truly regional cuisine. In its place I mostly found praise of signature dishes from various restaurants and locally made products (e.g. the Doritos Nachos at The Fountain, the Italian bread baked at Perreca’s, the burritos at Bombers, and the “doughboys” (rather like Hot Pockets, it seems) from Esperanto). From elsewhere in the greater Capital District, the city of Troy produces Freihofer’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, Utica has chicken riggies (rigatoni) and halfmoons (another type of cookie), and it is often (albeit erroneously) claimed that pie Ã la mode was invented in Cambridge.
Mozzarella and melba sauce — image source: Albany Eats
NEIGHBORHOODS & ALBANIANS
Albany is only the sixth largest city in New York. It was incorporated in 1686 and has a population of about 100,000 Albanians who are roughly 79% white, 13% black, 5% Asian, 2% mixed race, and 5% Latino of any race. Albany Neighborhoods Arbor Hill, Buckingham Pond, Beverwyck, Campus, Center Square,Eagle Hill, Helderberg, Delaware Neighborhood, Dudley Heights, Dunes, Hudson/Park, Melrose, New Albany, Normansville, North Albany, Park South, Pine Hills, Sheridan Hollow, South End, Kenwood,Krank Park, Mansion District, Pastures, Second Avenue, University Heights, Washington Park, West Hill, and Whitehall.
MUSIC OF ALBANY
I could find no famous musicians from Albany, although I’m sure that there are some. Although a fictional character, Rennsslaer claims to be the birthplace of Yankee Doodle. Supposedly, whilst quartered at a home there, British Army surgeon Richard Shuckburgh wrote “Yankee Doodle” in 1755, famously mocking the colonists whose notions of foppishness were apparently so unrefined that a mere feather in a hat was enough to warrant referring to the wearer as a Macaroni. Like Hamas’s “Attack! Carry Out Terror Strikes“ century’s later, “Yankee Doodle” was co-opted by those it attempted to satirize as a patriotic song.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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