Friday, 15 September 2017 09:28

Mini-Vacas: Ease into Fall, School & Cooler Weather

Summer was great here in Saratoga. Now, another page turns in the Spa City. Our school year will soon begin, bringing with it structure, homework, and the cool air of fall. Yet, chances are it won't be long before everyone's dreaming of another family vacation. Or two.

Because sometimes life can translate into a series of mini-vacations throughout the year rather than one long stretch of days. Oftentimes, work schedules are hectic, or we struggle to coordinate days off during study time. And trouble with either one can lead to disaster, no matter how hard we've worked on our well-laid vacation plans.

No need to fret, though. Studies show that sneaking away here and there, even for a few days throughout the year, can benefit the health and wellness of our family unit.

If you can manage two days, you can fit in a good deal of fun–even throw in some education, to boot. (They'll never know they're learning outside of the classroom…promise!) Here are three amazing places you can take the kids on one of your mini-vacas, and they're only an hour or so from home.

Take a Friday off and start a mini-vacation by touring the New York State Capitol building in Albany. Here, you'll have a choice: enjoy a self-guided tour or become part of a group tour. Both entrance to the building and tours are free.

First of all, the building itself is amazing! Although the exterior architecture is certainly something to write home about, the interior design will absolutely take your breath away! It's imposing, impressive, and overwhelming, all at the same time. Completed in 1899, it took over a quarter of a century to build, with five architects working on its unique layout. It was admired by many as a truly beautiful building, but scoffed at by others, who declared the cost–over $25 million–exorbitant. (That’s over $720 million in today’s dollars!)

The so-called “Million Dollar Staircase” took nearly 14 years to complete, to the tune of $1.5 million. The sight is beyond spectacular, and I bet you lose count of the reported 444 steps, as you'll need to concentrate on breathing! It is made mainly of things like medina sandstone, limestone, granite, and Corsehill freestone. 

Under the direction of Isaac Perry, an architect called out of retirement in order to get the job done, over 500 stone carvers worked on ornamental carvings that adorn this awe-inspiring staircase. Although they did have a specific list of notable people who had to be carved along the steps–77 faces in all–the men were also allowed to carve a design of their own afterwards. Some carved the sweet face of their wife or daughter, making them immortal, in a sense. And one cheeky craftsman carved the face of a devil, maybe the size of a dollar coin, tucking it into the folds of intricate scrollwork along one of the lower hallways.

The first thing you might want to know about this sprawling inn in Scotia across the Mohawk River from Schenectady: Who was Glen Sanders anyway, and what part did he play in history? If you've never heard of him before, you might be more than a little curious.

Imagine the surprise when you learn there was no such person! The property actually was named after two families that settled in the area, one of them years before Schenectady was even founded. Alexander Lindsey Glen was born in Scotland and planted his feet on the northern side of the Mohawk River in 1658. He named his family home “Nova Scotia,” which translated to “New Scotland.”

The stone house originally stood nearer the river but suffered extensive damage during devastating floods one year. Mr. Glen was forced to save what he could and build a one-room dwelling, farther away from the river. That dwelling is the present-day kitchen of the Glen Sanders Mansion. The roof, a Dutch gambrel, is also original.

In 1713, Alexander Lindsey Glen’s son added the east wing, and the Glen family entertained many important historical figures. General George Washington was a guest of the mansion, and even Louis Philippe of France stayed with them during exile.

In 1739, Glen's great-granddaughter, Deborah, married John Sanders of nearby Albany. In 1765, they became the sole proprietors of the Glen Estate and renamed it Glen Sanders Mansion shortly after. It stayed in the family, moving through each generation, until 1961.

If you inquire at the inn’s front desk, you might be invited to wander through many of its stately rooms while visiting. You also can go for dinner and drinks, choosing not to stay overnight. The menu is extensive, and they also offer specials that are to die for. Maybe a lobster bisque with lump crab meat to start? Sea scallops, steak, dessert? You want it, they have it. Besides that, the entire dining area will cater to both couples and families with small children. It's refreshing to see everyone enjoying each other's company as they relax over a meal.

The food, ambiance, and service will
not disappoint!

This stately mansion is located in Johnstown, New York, and stands out like a sore thumb. In a good way. You won't miss it. In fact, I bet you'll probably stand, silent and still, for more than a few minutes while staring at the beauty of it.

Built in 1889 by the gelatin magnate and philanthropist Charles Knox, the mansion boasts 42 elaborately decorated rooms. There are many pianos, Victorian-style couches, even a fireplace made from volcanic ash. This came from a castle in Italy and was shipped, block by block, back to the U.S.

Portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Knox hang on the wall at the foot of a long, sweeping staircase that leads visitors to the rooms above. An expansive library sits to the left with innumerable books, photo albums, and magazines, many opened to pages of yesteryear when the Knox family was alive, entertaining the rich and famous.

When Charles Knox passed away in 1908, he owned the largest unflavored gelatin manufacturing company in the world. His wife, Rose, proved to be a smart businesswoman. She ran the company for more than 40 years, and under her direction, the business expanded tremendously. 

Touring the mansion is quite interesting, as there are layers of history begging to be told while there. They are a most unique bed and breakfast and have been in business for more than 20 years. It's imperative to call ahead, as sometimes the mansion hosts interns from around the world, meaning all rooms are taken.

Looking for a fun fright?

Oh, did I mention? In the spirit of fall and the upcoming Halloween season, all three of these properties are registered with the Haunted History Trail of New York State (! If you have any interest in ghosts or hauntings, you should definitely get in touch with them. The trail has 65 designated locations spanning 31 counties, with 400-plus miles to explore. I'm already planning my next mini-vaca with them…
I can't wait!

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