Spring in Albany Part I: Marching Out of Winter

Spring in Albany Part I: Marching Out of Winter

Where we’re at: I’m recapping my 2019, including my time at home in Albany and around in March. 

I recently wrote a post about surviving winter in Albany in which I concluded that frankly, spring doesn’t tend to bring much weather-related relief to the area, at least at first. The official first day of spring tends to fall somewhere in the month of March, which in a city like Albany, is really a formality at best — there is an abundance of snow about, with a smattering of mud, if you’re lucky, and it still feels quite distinctly wintery throughout the month. 

Still, we start to get more blue skies and the days linger a little longer, bringing hope that t-shirt weather and bright pops of colorful flora are right around the corner. March was quite a busy month for me as I buzzed around, eager to cure my cabin fever and ditch my puffy jacket. Here’s what I got up to, who came to see me, and when and where I got outta town.

Ariana Grande Concert in Albany, NY

I kicked off the month with a highly anticipated excursion — a press preview of the Historic Downtown Albany Food tour.

Taste of Troy Food Tours began in 2016 in, you guessed it, neighboring Troy. The founder and tour guide Amy was intrigued by the capital city, as well, and it wasn’t long before she launched a version in Albany as well. I liked Amy immediately — she’s well traveled, passionate about cooking and food — and knowledgeable, too, as a registered nutritionist — and doing a great service to these two cities by creating this great experience for locals and tourists alike.

Historic Downtown Albany Food Tour

I’ve written often that I was quite impressed with the glow up of Albany’s food and drink scene since I moved away at seventeen. Albany has been New York’s capital for 320+ years, but it’s seriously having a moment right now. I love that there’s a tour that highlights that culinary and craft brewing boom!

Our first sip and sample stop was at Albany Pump Station. This beautiful historic building is home to C.H. Evans Brewing Company, a family business that’s been brewing beer in Upstate New York since 1786. While I’m not a beer drinker, I loved learning about the history of a restaurant I’d eaten in before, as well as starting to dig into Amy’s culinary insights.

Historic Downtown Albany Food Tour
Historic Downtown Albany Food Tour
Ama Cocina, Albany

 

The full Albany tour would then wind around to The Hollow Bar and Kitchen, a hip tapas spot, and Olde English Pub, a British tribute in the second oldest building in Albany. Our abbreviated tour preview however skipped straight to dessert —  Cider Belly‘s doughnuts at Stacks Espresso Bar. Yum!

Historic Downtown Albany Food Tour with Taste of Troy

The full version of the tour takes in five tastes, lasts around three and a half hours, and covers one and a half miles. This tour has an ambitious aim — to tell the story of Albany’s history and culture through food. And it does it really well. In fact, trying the Troy version is now firmly on my local to do list! Thinking of joining the Albany tour? Mark your calendars — they run Fridays from May through October.

Gathering at Nine Pins Cider

Luckily, my appetite for local food and beverage events is never sated — because that would be my first of three for the weekend! The next morning, I ran over and hit up the last hour of The Gathering, an annual celebration of all things craft cider, at Nine Pin

Gathering at Nine Pins Cider

The event takes places on the production room floor with Farm Cideries from all over the state setting up cute little booths and pouring out samples into the adorable little Gathering of the Farm Cideries tasting glass included in the ticket. There are two separate three hour sessions and Laura and I were only able to squeeze in the final hour of the one that had tickets left — when we arrived, the crowd had clearly been taking full advantage of the unlimited cider and were quite merry! Out back, local food vendors were dishing out day drinking fuel, and a local radio station was blasting tunes.

Honestly, Albany tends to go into a pretty major hibernation through the winter — this was the liveliest the city had felt in forever.

Gathering at Nine Pins Cider

The next The Gathering is on February 29th, 2020 — so nab a ticket now, because they actually do sell out. At $25, they are seriously a bargain — though expect to be tempted by the rare and unique ciders for purchase.

Gathering at Nine Pins Cider

After The Gathering wrapped, Laura and I headed up the road to the Winter Art Fest at Albany Distilling Co. The whole way we were unable to stop commenting on how the streets of the city suddenly seemed flooded with people! Props to our local craft beverage makers for planning these fun events that start pulling people out of their cozy homes and into the world when the weather’s still bleak.

Winter Art Fest, Albany Distilling Co

This event is actually a fundraiser for the Albany Center Gallery, another local institution I’m obsessed with. Clearly, I’m not alone as the AdCo Bar was absolutely packed! Even their outdoor space, one of my favorites in the city, was pretty bumping for a frigid day — surely the ice pong, ice shuffleboard, and ALB Vodka ice luge helped with that. Hot cocktails and space heaters helped keep things toasty.

The second annual Winter Art Fest is right around the corner on February 22nd and tickets are just $20 — don’t miss it! Admission includes a welcome cocktail, DeFazio’s Pizza (my favorite in the Capital Region — drool) and unlimited creations at the s’mores bar. 

Winter Art Fest, Albany Distilling Co

Winter Art Fest, Albany Distilling Co

Sadly, Ian’s work schedule meant he tended to miss all the fun weekend events in the city when he came to visit, like he did for the following two days. Still, much of the time he came to visit we just hung out at home and enjoyed some quiet time together with my family. Sunday and Monday nights are tough times to visit Albany — many of our favorite restaurants are closed and things are pretty quiet.

But while the weekends were clearly starting to liven up, my weekdays were still mostly filled with being at home with my mom and squeezing in work when I could, plus heading out for a workout class in the evenings. But one Tuesday I really spiced things up and worked out in the morning so that in the evening, I could attend a performance by one of my yoga teachers that night. Wild, right?

Yes, I’m being silly — it actually was a really cool event! My girl Kenzie and I headed over to Schenectady for Burlesque at Proctors, a special event by It Came From Schenectady. The offbeat cinema fan club organizes quirky events like this one, where the cult classic movie Burlesque was screened before a live burlesque performance by Albany’s Pop Culture Provocateurs. It was interesting hearing about the art and history of burlesque from women who perform it today before the screening, which was made extra cozy by the couches and pillows carted in for the screening! A bar served up themed drinks which made the movie extra entertaining. And let’s face it, I’ll take any excuse to head to one of the Capital Region’s most beautiful historic theaters.

I’m going to be totally honest — most of the films they screen are a little too avant-garde for me, though I’m actually gutted I won’t be able to attend the NY Dog Film Festival they’re putting on on February 1st to benefit the local animal charities. Upstate New Yorkers, don’t miss it!

Boston Sea Rovers Dive Show

The next weekend, I took my first trip of the month, a quick one night getaway across the state border to Massachusetts for Boston Sea Rovers. Actually held in Danvers, the two day dive show was a new one for me — I’ve been several times to Beneath the Sea in New Jersey, and was eager to check out another Northeast dive show. The idea to pitch a session about marketing to millennial divers had been percolating in my mind for a while, and I knew a familiarity with the event would only benefit me.

While the show is significantly smaller than Beneath The Sea, Boston Sea Rovers is a historic organization that’s been around since the infancy of scuba diving and there’s a lot to love here. I woke up before sunrise to make the three hour drive and arrive in time to make the most of the weekend!

Like most dive shows, this one was a flurry of exhibitors, short daytime seminars, longer workshops that go more in-depth on their topics, an ocean-inspired art exhibit, Discover Scuba sessions for new divers, and a film festival.

I normally plan by days at dive shows around what sessions I want to attend — I’m a dive nerd so it can be hard to chose! I enjoyed sessions on Diving With Drones, Off the Beaten Track Diving with Women Divers Hall of Fame inductee Faith Ortins (even if I won’t go to some of the drysuit heavy destinations she featured, I loved being introduced to them by her!), an Acing The Shot photo editing deep dive (which left me dying to take a class with the speaker!), and a seriously fascinating look at Sunscreen and Coral Reefs. While they weren’t as informative as I’d hoped in sharing how to do the same, I also eagerly attended sessions on Wine Diving in Croatia and Shipwrecks of Martha’s Vineyard.

Boston Sea Rovers Dive Show

I also noted that there were lots of the same seminars as Beneath The Sea, which I also tried to attend but ended up unable to, so look closely if you’re in the northeast and considering which to attend.

Between sessions, I browsed the exhibitors — it was a small hall but I made a few great connections. One was One Ocean Love Shop, a small eco-friendly ocean-inspired clothing and accessory brand who has now sponsored some of our gift bag items on recent Wander Women Retreats. I love that 5% of all One Ocean net profits are donated toward keeping the oceans clean! I also must say I was quite tickled by chatting to the Boston Malacological Club — where I learned what malacological means (it’s the study of mollusks, AKA shell enthusiasts, if you too are wondering.) 

The real highlight, however, was the Saturday night film festival. Honestly, I was blown away. The films and speakers were incredible, culminating in Silvia Earle taking the stage to a standing ovation — and a few tears from me. Watching the Diver of the Year accept their award made me think about what I could achieve someday in the diving industry, a humbling thought.

As usual, I left a dive or travel show overflowing with inspiration. The next Boston Sea Rovers is March 7th and 8th, 2020 — it’s a must if you’re a scuba addict in the area! Even better, the organization is a non-profit and the full proceeds are used for scholarships, internships, in support of other non-profit organizations. Tickets are insanely affordable, just $60 for access to both days and the film festival, until February 1st when prices go up. The film festival totally does sell out too. I had to beg my way in!

Staying on location would have been nice but I was trying to be reasonable considering I was barely working at the time, so I booked the cheapest non-crime-scene looking hotel I could find. It was actually lovely, and I relished in my first night truly alone in months and months.

Boston Sea Rovers Dive Show

Back in Albany, I didn’t have to wait long to get my next ocean fix. Brian Skerry, renown underwater photographer — who I’d just seen at Boston Sea Rovers — was speaking at the National Geographic Live! series at Proctors.

My stepdad and I thought my mom might be up for it, so we crossed our fingers that the venue was truly handicap accessible and made our way to Schenectady, where I was delisted to find that I had finally picked a Proctors event in the grand main theater. 

I mentioned in my last Albany post that I was shocked by the lack of attendance at so many of these incredible local events —  mean truly, how often do you get to hear the captivating stories of a National Geographic legend who captured the first photos of a US president underwater in a nearly hundred year old theater? (In case you’re wondering, it was Obama, snorkeling in Hawaii, while he officially designated a national marine sanctuary.)

Sadly my mom wasn’t really as into it as I’d expected, but it was still nice to break up her routine a bit.

Proctor's Theatre, Albany

That weekend, it was St. Patrick’s Day! Albany was once known for its super raucous celebration of the iconic holiday, but ever since things got a bit out of hand one year, it’s cooled considerably. By “got a bit out of hand,” I mean that federal riot charges were brought against local SUNY students after a wild party led to appliances going out windows and onto parked cars on the street, the local universities actually changed their schedules so that their students could go home to terrorize their own communities, and local police no longer turned a jovial eye to drinking green beer in parties that spilled out onto the streets. Ah, youth! 

So instead of kegs and eggs, I kicked off the day by nabbing green bagels from Bruegger’s so we could have a little breakfast celebration with my mom before heading to the parade —  you know how we feel about themed breakfasts!

St. Patrick's Day in Albany, NY

I met up with a few high school friends and their families to watch the parade, which was fun to see up close. It had been ages since I’d had a night (or day!) out, and so it’s no surprise that when my friend Amanda’s bus arrived from New York, she, my friend Matt and I took advantage of the merriment and went dive bar hopping.

St. Patrick's Day in Albany, NY

St. Patrick's Day in Albany, NY

The next day, we braved our hangovers for the real reason for Amanda’s visit — a day of skiing at Jiminy Peak. Amanda and I started joking that she had to visit once a quarter for a seasonal activity, and we actually stuck to it!

Skiing at Jiminy Peak

Jiminy Peak is one of several mountains within an easy day trip drive of Albany, this one right across the border in Hancock, Massachusetts. I hadn’t been here since high school and hadn’t been on skis in about a decade — so it was a big day for me! Luckily Amanda was happy to take it easy and I think it was the perfect reintroduction. I’m definitely a spring skier over a winter one — you won’t find me out on those slopes when it’s below freezing. But on this beautiful March day, I couldn’t stop marveling at how nice it was to be outside! I think that’s actually my favorite thing about skiing — it gets you outside in the sunshine at a time of year when you rarely get any vitamin D. 

Skiing at Jiminy Peak

One very cool thing about Jiminy Peak in particular? It’s run on 100% renewable energy! How cool is that?

Also, you can get crazy cheap lift tickets here, I’m talking like $39 on some weekdays, but we got the best deal of all — free! — thanks to my stepdad. Miller skis constantly all winter and spring and volunteers at Jiminy Peak with Stride Adaptive Sports, introducing skiing to those with disabilities.

Bull Moose Club Co-Working Space

Amanda had gotten special permission to work remotely that day for an extremely important reason — the Ariana Grande tour kickoff at the Times Union Center (nope, no idea how Albany, New York landed that honor.) Not a single friend on my local rolodex was interested, so I bribed Amanda to stay an extra day in Albany with tickets.

Again, I was really working part-time at best, so this was kind of a ridiculous splurge, but I was missing girl time and silliness so hard, it was worth it. I have to be honest, it wasn’t the best concert of my life. I’m kind of obsessed with the princesses of pop — I’ve seen Britney, Madonna, Gwen, etc. — and Ariana didn’t quite have their showmanship or energy, though she definitely has the pipes.

That week, another local activity caught my eye as something my mom might enjoy. At this point, we were at least half a year into her complete paralysis and the amount of activities she could enjoy with her advanced brain cancer were very limited. We fraught constantly over her quality of life and if she was peaceful, comfortable, and engaged. So anytime we thought of something we thought she would be capable of and enjoy, it was worth a shot.

My mom had been a prolific flower arranger. She was so talented at it, and loved gifting friends elaborate arrangements. And so I couldn’t help but get excited about the Ikebana Flowering Arranging Workshop for Crafty Hour at The Arts Center of the Capital Region, where my mom once sat on the board and where I worked and took college classes all through high school. What could be more appropriate?

These adults-only social events are held once a month and involve a deep dive into a certain discipline — with a drink in hand. I called ahead to inquire about handicap accessibility and explain our situation and got a personal call back from the program director, who could not have been more lovely or helpful.

My mom’s bestie Emily kept us laughing the whole time and while my mom didn’t seem particularly engaged with the whole evening, it still remains a special memory of us sharing one last time something she loved. 

Turns out ikebana is no joke — it’s a super methodical system of design which I really loved learning about, and which left me itching to visit Japan. On our way home, we decided to stick to our theme night and watch Lost in Translation (in which Scarlet Johansen takes an ikebana class) and grab a sushi dinner from Little Rice Ball in Troy, which I’d been meaning to try for ages.

Good thing we did, because it permanently closed not long after! Though it was replaced by The Daisy, a cute taco spot by the team behind Caskade Kitchen in Cohoes — hopefully that one sticks the landing in the long run.

With my lack of travels this month I hit my workouts pretty hard, racking up 24 workout classes — a mix of aerial, yoga, spin and weight training but also some fun ones like a pole class on my way back from Saratoga, a yin yoga and massage workshop at Good Karma, and slow flow yoga class at an art gallery.

Definitely the most notable, however, was the night I decided to try the monthly 5K running club at Nine Pin Cider.

I hadn’t run a 5K in just about forever, however the warming weather and opportunity to try something new lured me the five minutes down the road from my house. I was actually pretty darn happy with my performance and left vowing to add more running into my routine. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t. A girl can only do so much!) 

Running Club at Nine Pin Cider

That week, another one of my mom’s best friends and I went to a local production of Urinetown at Cohoes Music Hall — which was incredible. I’d seen the show, about a dystopian city in which the water supplies are so low the local government charges citizens to use the bathroom, years and years before and remembered loving it. I think the message of activism, the warning of depleted resources, and the dangers of a totalitarian government rang truer than ever. 

That weekend I was on my way out to Saratoga, but when I realized my sister and my stepdad were taking my mom to the annual Capital District Garden & Flower Show, I couldn’t pass up the chance for a family outing on my way out of town. There were some very creative floral and landscaping displays as well as some fun floral competitions we enjoyed admiring the entries to. The next edition is March 27-29, 2020, and tickets are just $12 in advance. 

Hudson Valley Art Center

And then I rounded out the month with a relaxing, peaceful trip to nearby Saratoga Springs with Prada to meet Ian. 

Trip to Saratoga

It was a pretty busy month, no? Being away only three nights the whole month meant I logged lots of time at home. While it’s true that we were never able to sink into anything I’d call a “routine,” I had at this point accepted my current reality. And while that reality was full of pain and uncertainty and distinctly lacking in freedom and flexibility, this post is proof of the love we poured into trying to make the best of it.

And it felt like the first hints of spring were there to cheer us along.

Stay tuned for Part II! Are you looking forward already to any spring events in your area?

3-devide-lines

I received media passes to the Historic Downtown Albany Food Tour, The Gathering, Winter Art Fest, and Boston Sea Rovers.

Sara Lassiter

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