I sit amidst sparse yet loud local fans at an Albany Devils hockey game in the modern and spacious Times Union Center, watching Number 5, defenseman Rob Davison from St. Catharines, take a two-minute penalty for boarding a Hartford Rangers forward. At 6'3" and 215 pounds, Davison skates well and can make his presence felt. I check out the roster: 14 Canadians, 12 Americans and 4 Europeans. 23 players are 6' and taller, 17 weigh over 200 pounds. The smallest guy on the team is 5'7", 180 pounds. I'm glad I'm not on the ice.
I soon discover that I need more than two nights in Albany, New York State's capital. The next day is hectic: in the morning, a New York State Museum tour, a State Capitol tour, lunch at the Albany Pump Station, part of the CH Evans Brewery, followed by an Aqua Ducks tour and an afternoon visit to the Albany Institute of History & Art, with evening dinner at the Hollywood Brown Derby. Busy indeed.
The Museum is huge, and I could easily spend an entire day wandering around the four floors of exhibits, but one that really resonates is the 9/11 display with its many burnt and disfigured artifacts such as a fire truck and police car. On the top
floor, flooded with light from wrap-around windows that provide great looks at the surrounding mall architecture, there's a fully restored antique carousel that attracts any child, including the adult variety. Also of interest is a display of Canadian Karel Soucek's bright, red, nine-foot custom-made barrel bearing the words, "The Last of Niagara's Daredevils," that carried him safely over the Falls on July 3, 1984. He is buried at the Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls.
Next, Stuart Lehman takes us on a "Haunted Capitol tour," really a stunning example of 19th century architecture, initially designed by Englishman Thomas Fuller, who also designed the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Canada. Four hundred feet long and three hundred feet wide, the Capitol encompasses five stories with a full basement and attic. It is constructed principally of gray granite and the substantive walls are over sixteen feet thick at the foundation. The vast Assembly Chamber is the single largest room marked by a groined vaulted sandstone ceiling that rises to a height of 56 feet above the floor.
In 1911, a fire swept through the Capitol, causing wholesale destruction of everything in its path. The flames roared wildly through both the State and Assembly libraries reducing them to ashes. However, the Capitol was saved from total destruction as the progress of the fire was slowed by the papier-mâché ceiling in the Assembly chamber.
The most prominent interior features are the three major staircases, lavishly carved in a variety of stone and crowned with magnificent skylights. The Senate and Assembly staircases were designed by Leopold Eidlitz. The Great Western Staircase, known as the Million Dollar staircase, took 14 years to construct. It contains 444 steps and reaches 119 feet high.
Over 500 stone cutters and carvers were employed at various times. Many were Europeans who had mastered their trade in their homelands of England, Scotland and Italy.
Their main task was the carving of various prominent people into the stone as ordered by chief architect Isaac Perry. He wanted 77 in all, and it's some of the finest stonework found anywhere in the world.
The Senate Chamber walls are covered with beautiful, shimmering 23 carat gold leaf. Siena marble from Italy forms the large arches above the visitor's gallery with red granite from Scotland for the pillars and Mexican onyx to panel the north and south walls. The ultimate in luxury was attained with red leather and carved mahogany paneling on the walls below the galleries.
Next, the Albany Pump Station in the CH Evans Brewery, highly recommended for lunch which we thoroughly enjoyed. I savoured the bratwurst with beer, but was soon off on a 90-minute Aqua Ducks Tour that ferried us into the wide Hudson River and allowed us great views of the skyline.
Steve Ricci, Director of Public Relations and Marketing took us on a tour of the Albany Institute of History & Art, but again, we noted that a return visit was necessary to do it justice with its terrific collection of exhibits (more than 30,000 objects) from the Upper Hudson Valley region from the late 17th century to the present.
We returned to the Hampton Inn to enjoy a session in their "Relaxation Room" which features a private steam bath, sauna and a delicious exercise lounge chair which seemed to invigorate and massage every muscle in one's body. A fitting way to relax after a busy day.
For our evening meal, we visited the Hollywood Brown Derby which was an easy walk, quite close to the hotel. I ordered scallops and they were particularly tasty. After the delicious late dinner, we were more than ready for bed.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Churches & Synagogues: http://www.justthecapitalregion.com/religion.htm
Albany Tourism: http://www.albany.org/
Albany Heritage Area Visitor Center & Museum Gallery:
www.albany.org 25 Quackenbush Sq., (518) 434-0405
Albany Aqua Ducks Tour:
www.albanyaquaducks.com Broadway & Clinton Ave., Quackenbush Sq., (518) 462-3825
Albany Pump Station, CH Evans Brewery:
www.evansale.com Quackenbush Sq., (518) 447-9000
Albany Institute of History & Art:
www.albanyinstitute.org 125 Washington Ave., (518) 463-4478
Hollywood Brown Derby:
www.thehollywoodbrownderby.com Clinton Ave., (518) 463-1965
New York State Museum Tour:
www.nysm.nysed.gov Empire State Plaza, (518) 474-5877
New York State Capitol Tour:
www.ogs.state.ny.us/plaza/CT/Tours/Capitol.asp Washington Ave. and State St., (518) 474-2418
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