Becoming Locals in New York’s Capital Region

I love this colorful mural, painted onto the side of a brick building at the corner of Madison and Main avenues in downtown Albany, N.Y. It’s one of my favorite local “finds” so far, as I’ve started to get to know the Capital Region of New York.

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I haven’t spent much time in the downtown area yet—with the exception of the regional DMV. 😉 We all know that waiting an hour or two for your DMV ticket to be called (and, hopefully, accommodated on the first try) is a rite of passage every local-to-be must experience, as you exchange one state’s driver license for another.

I’m happy and relieved to share, friends, that I have crossed this nerve-wracking rite of passage off of my “Moving to New York” checklist. My new driver license should be arriving in the mailbox within 7 to 10 business days. I’m also happy to report that the majority of the employees I met at this DMV were kind and helpful—in particular the older gentleman who checked me in with a warm “Welcome to Albany!” and assured me I probably would be done in time to pick up my older daughter from preschool (I was). Thank you, sir.

dmv

As time goes on, I look forward to checking out The Egg, Washington Park and other iconic downtown sites. I also need to keep brushing up on my parallel-parking skills, which, presently, are very poor. 🙂 In the meantime…

The natural beauty in this part of the country can take my breath away. My favorite spot, currently, is Henry Hudson Park, located along the Hudson River about 10 miles south of my colorful mural. Looking out at the water, framed by these ancient mountains, makes me feel PEACE.

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A bonus: The girls have fun on the nearby slide and monkey bars. The locals seem to enjoy gathering at the various boat launches to take in the view, or kayak and canoe. Many folks here are active and outdoorsy; I’ve seen kayaks atop many a Subaru Forester, which seems to be the locals’ vehicle of choice. Kayaking the Hudson: also on my must-experience list.

What distinguishes the locals from the not-from-here’s? I would say knowledge of hidden gems—the inside scoop. Our neighbors clued us in to a popular walking/bicycle route known as the Rail Trail. Stanton, the girls and I enjoy walking, biking, stroller-ing and scooter-ing along it, especially on weekends.

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Perhaps most importantly, locals know all about food. Trusted grocery store, best pizza place, favorite mom-and-pop café. One neighbor kindly gave us a gift certificate to Romo’s Pizza, her favorite local pizzeria. We took home their famous “Gracie Pie” for dinner one evening and loved it. The Gracie Pie is a Sicilian-style pizza with cheese on the bottom and sauce on top.

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While the girls and I were waiting for our Gracie Pie, we discovered a local bookstore called Tattered Pages Used Books in the same outdoor shopping village as Romo’s. It was closed when we were there, but the book lover in me can’t wait to return.

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We live in a town a bit south of Albany, more suburban than urban. I was happy to find yet another local bookstore, I Love Books, in our neighborhood. In addition to literary works, I Love Books offers up items such as puzzles, toys and wine paraphernalia. 😉

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Close to I Love Books is Amelia’s Garden, a local fabric shop. Grace needed a fat square for a “friendship quilt” that her preschool class is making—such a sweet idea. Amelia’s Garden is a cozy, colorful breather from any mom’s to-do list. For a minute, I even considered signing up for one of their sewing classes; then Anna had a meltdown. Maybe one day, friends.

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One recent weekend, we stopped by one of the many “harvest fests” this region celebrates during the fall. This particular event was held at The Crossings of Colonie, an expansive park in Albany’s most popular suburb. I took this picture of the girls beside the pond that anchors the park.

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The Harvest Fest featured the Albany Drum Circle. This friendly group entertained everyone with their music. Thoughtfully, they also invited anyone who was interested to pull up a chair and learn some basic rhythms. This has been one of my favorite experiences here so far—learning what a drum circle is and watching it firsthand. Very cool.

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A friend of friend happens to live in Schenectady County, north of Albany. One Saturday morning, we met for breakfast at the comfy Union Café on a lively main street. I accidentally ordered a “ham and bacon” omelet—I meant to say “ham and cheese”—but you know what? That unexpected burst of bacon made it simply wonderful. Bring on the pork, right? 🙂

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My very favorite local restaurant, thus far, is Extra Napkin, located on Delaware Avenue, which bills itself as “Albany’s Main Street.” First, the customer service here is excellent. The owners and their team are so friendly and sincere. Second, I adore the name: Extra Napkin. Because who doesn’t need an extra napkin—especially when you’re running in for quick but delicious burgers with your kids?

About those burgers… I appreciate how this restaurant sears their name onto the buns. A cool detail.

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Last but not least, I love the chill vibe at Extra Napkin. This pastel-painted bicycle, part of the exterior décor, sums up the best of Extra Napkin—and possibly even the Capital Region as a whole.

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Adventurous. Down-to-earth. Unexpected.

I have a long way to go before I’m a local, friends. But I’m starting to figure things out. And I’m grateful for the journey.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

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