The Saratoga Traveler: Day Trips, Weekend Getaways & Hidden Gems

August 2009 Archives

A trip to the Track

Nothing is more Saratoga than spending an afternoon at the track.  The sights, the sounds and the smells that make you remember what's great about this town.  Driving by the track and even downtown you notice out of state plates which make you realize just how much the track means to Saratoga Springs.
Walking through the gate after paying the $3 admission you come across all kinds of people.  The well dressed and the not so well dressed reading over racing forms and talking on their cell phones, families with kids in tow and older folks with hats, canes and portable chairs.  Not to mention the people -- the die hards-- who come early in the morning find a prime picnic table and spend all day.
In my opinion the atmosphere at the track is one of excitement especially the closer you get to the rail.  My suggestion is pay the $3 and head right for the benches near the rail.  Once you make your way through the crowds here you will find people who are there just for the races.  Who enjoy the thundering of the horses as they race past and the exuberant yells of  winning and the disappointment of losing.  Here you see it all.

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Right before the start of a race the horses parade past ridden by the jockey, while the announcers give their comments the whole time.  People line the fence to get a good look and to make their final decisions.  Moms and dads hold up their children so that can have a close look as the majestic creatures trot by.  Crowded as the grounds become there is still time to make your way to the rail and watch the numbers on the tote board climb as the bets are being placed.  People all around try to make their final decisions as to which number to pick.  Then the trumpet blares and they're off!  The announcer's words fly almost as fast as the horses as he describes the action that is nearly in front of you.  The tension builds as the horses come around the track closer and closer to where you are standing.  You can feel the excitment as almost everyone lets out a collective breath as they come to the finish.

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You can definitely tell the winners from the losers as the horses cross the finish line.  Another race is over.  So then its over to the winner's circle to try to catch a glimpse of the creature that either made you a prince or a pauper, and if you were lucky enough to be the first and not the second you might get a photo of the creature plus a big payoff.

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But if you are looking for a more civilized, less frantic atmosphere try the Carousel Restaurant and Lounge.  Here they have tables covered in white tablecloths, silverware, and cloth napkins.  Its a sit down restaurant with lunch specials and a full bar.  Its still open air so to speak but much more relaxed.  Around the carousel shaped bar are plenty of screens that broadcast the races so you won't miss a thing and betting windows are a short walk away.  If you decide this is the place you would like to spend a few races there is a $3.50 a person sitting charge that will be added to your bill.  However you can order food to go and take it to one of the picnic tables on the grounds.

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There are food stands all over the grounds that offer everything from pretzels and lemonade to fried chicken and sandwiches and everything in between, there's no shortage of choices.  You can smell the sausages and hot dogs wafting through the air as you make your way around.  Tables might be hard to come by but if you look around and don't mind standing at a table you might come across one where you can eat.
As we were walking the grounds we saw not one but two live bands, one oldies, the other dixieland.  People taking a break from their racing forms lined up to swing and sway to the music.  
The race track seems to try to appeal to a wide range of people.  Whether you're a big spender or are looking for an outing to do with the kids or family visiting from out of town or even a group from work there is something at the track for just about everyone.

H.O.P.E. Quarter Derby

The pet adoption group H.O.P.E. or Homes for Orphaned Pets Exist are having a fundraiser this Travers Weekend.  Come to Dawgdom on Broadway for their Quarter Derby.  Every quarter is about 1 inch in width and H.O.P.E. is trying to get 1 mile in quarters to meet their goal.  But they aren't just accepting  quarters.  For every $3 donated it moves them 1 foot closer to their goal.  $9 moved them 1 yard, $27 moves them 3 yard and $90 moves them 10 yards.  For every $90 the donor will be entered into a drawing for a free pet portrait.  They goal is to save 176 dogs and cats by raising $15,840.
So stop by and donate some quarters (or dollars) and watch them move closer to their goal!

Adirondack Animal Land

Adirondack Animal Land definitely falls into the category of family fun for under $100.  They are located on 82 acres in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains about 30 minutes from Saratoga Springs.  If you travel on Rte 29 to Rte 30 then north on Rte 30 you will see the sign for the park.
They bill themselves as a zoo but all the animals except the ones that are on the "safari" ride are in cages, which is kind of sad when you've been used to a zoo where the landscape is more natural for the animals to roam in.

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But for what is it I think its a good effort.
Admission to get into the park is $11.75 for adults 12 and older, children 1-12 years are $8.75 and children under 1 are free.  The zoo is open every day from Mid May through Labor Day.  Their regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The park is laid out with mostly asphalt walkways and for the most part its level and easy walking, although there are spots where the incline can be steep.
As you walk up to some of the displays there will be gum ball type machines filled with what looks like Fruit Loops cereal.  Put your change in and you can feed the animals through the long tubes at the display.  The animals are used to being fed this way.  As soon as you walk up to the tube they will run over expecting a cereal treat.
The safari ride which runs every hour is included in the price of admission.   You board an open wagon and ride through an area where the animals run free.  There you will see camels, buffalo, emus and their babies, pot bellied pigs and other exotic animals.  Its a guided tour so there is plenty of information about the animals and the park... and maybe a close encounter or two.

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Adirondack Animal Land is a great diversion on a warm summer day.  They have 3 different picnic areas and allow you to bring in your own food and drinks or if you like there is a cafe too.  Bring the kids because there is a petting zoo, playground and a wild west town set up for something a little bit different.

If you go to Adirondack Animal Land remember:
There is a lot of walking so wear comfortable shoes
Feed for the animals can be bought when you enter
Bring a camera.  The Safari ride offer lots of photo ops
Parking is free but there is an admission fee for the zoo itself
Its a great idea for a school trip!

Is it worth it to fly?

I was reading an online article recently about a flight that was held on the tarmac for several hours.  The passengers were not allowed to get off and had to stay on the plane with a smelly toilet and no food for hours.  This happened on a flight from Houston to Minneapolis.  The airport apparently closed after midnight and so there was no way the passengers could enter the terminal, which turned out not to be true.
The dispatcher was told that there was nothing that could be done since there was only one airline that had employees.  No bus could be ordered and the passengers could not deplane.  Four hours later they were given the okay but by then they had to fly in another crew since the previous crew had worked too many hours.  Another hour went by and the passenger were allowed into the terminal, 2 1/2 hours later they boarded the same plane with the same smelly toilet.  

The airline did say they are going refund the price of the flight plus a $50 American Express Gift card.  But my question is-- is it worth it?  I know that flying is the fastest way and most efficient way to travel, for the most part but.... why not drive?  Pack up the car and just head down the road.  Pick a highway and see where it takes you.  Where is the adventure in boarding a plane, fighting for your luggage and then having to rent a car or depend on taxis and buses?  Now I know that sitting in a stinky plane with screaming babies and no food might sound like an adventure but I would much prefer driving down a country road and finding a covered bridge or a trout stream.  Or even stopping in a small town and finding an incredible restaurant in an unlikely place.  When you drive you have the freedom to stop, stretch your legs, make an unscheduled stop to see a natural wonder or a quirky tourist spot. It takes more time, yes, but that's what makes it so much more relaxing.
So the next time you think about taking a trip, why not take a couple extra days and really relax?  Drive, stop, eat and enjoy the countryside

Catching up....

I was planning on posting a blog about the last couple of fishing trips that my husband and I have gone on in the last week but since its going to be a busy weekend (Sunday is my birthday and I won't tell you how old I am) we are going to be trying a restaurant in Albany.
And since we have finally decided to put down roots here in the Saratoga area by starting to look at a house to buy (gulp!) I'm going to post my fishing blog later this weekend.
So until then....

The (Not so ) Fun Spot

I don't like to write anything negative about the places I visit, however I'll make an exception for the Fun Spot at Lake George.  Outside it's nice looking with its mini golf complete with swinging bridge an waterfalls, along with the outside go cart track, but once inside the place is sad, dark and dirty not to mention expensive.
I visit places either because it sounds and looks interesting or I want to compare it to some place I've been to before in St. Louis.  Well this was neither interesting or like anything in St Louis.
We took our two teenagers, a son and a daughter and our daughters friend.  After 3 rounds of mini golf at $7.95 a piece, 2 go cart tickets at $6.00 a piece, 2 roller skating tickets which were a total of $15 and some arcade games we had spent $75 and that didn't include any food or drinks.  We were shocked and disappointed.
If the place wouldn't have been run by surly teenagers and would have looked like the management cared about its appearance then I might have been impressed. 
If you still would like to check it then first go to their website and print out their coupons.  This will be the only way that it would make it even remotely worth it.
I realize that this is a travel blog, and I realize that this post doesn't necessarily fit the criteria for a travel blog.  But I volunteer with a group called HOPE who finds homes for animals that are in the Saratoga County Animal Shelter, and I consider them a gem in Saratoga.   This morning I got an urgent email about two beautiful black cats whose days are literally numbered.  These two cats came to the shelter several months ago and because of the crowded conditions at the shelter more than likely will be put to sleep.

Their names are Stanley and Iris.  Iris is a 7 year old spayed female, she is litter trained and good with kids and other cats.  Stanley is a 7 year old neutered male who is also littered trained, good with kids and other cats.  They were both brought in because their owners were moving.


If you or anyone you know would be interested in saving one or both please call the shelter -- ASAP-tomorrow maybe be too late.
Saratoga County Animal Shelter   885-4113
and please tell them you read about them on the Saratoga Traveler

The shelter does a lot of good work to help animals who have been abandoned or who have come to them for one reason or another.  But they do much more than that.  Later on in another post I will highlight HOPE and the shelter.  But right now I want to save Stanley and Iris and I hope you can help!


Picnic in the Park

One way to save money while having fun is to use what you have. What does that mean? Well for instance why not go on a picnic? Pack up some sandwiches, chips and drinks and head to a local state park. Chances are you have some lunchmeat in the fridge or even leftovers that you can pack or maybe you have some hot dogs or burgers you were going to use for another cookout. Using what you have will save you tons on hitting the store before you go. Sunday my family packed up some leftovers (I actually made some pasta salad out of some leftover chicken) and headed to Moreau State Park to try to do some fishing. We already had chips, snack crackers and sodas so all we needed was some ice and bait. Cost -- ice $3.00 bait $2.66 Entrance to the park $7 per car So for under $15 we were able to spend an entire afternoon fishing, enjoying a secluded picnic spot and taking in a beautiful park and lake. We we even had money leftover for ice cream! For a family fun money saving day the National Park is a great choice. There is swimming, fishing, playgrounds and other activities depending on the park. For a nominal fee some parks have camping. Moreau State Park is north of Saratoga on Route 9. Just bring a cooler, some bait, fishing poles and bathing suits--then you're all set!
This is the first in a series of blogs on family fun for under $100 in and around Saratoga.

On Saturday we headed downtown for breakfast.  First stop the Hungry Spot-- closed.  Second stop--Compton's-- where there was a long line and we were much too hungry to wait.  Third stop -- Ravenous, we've had been wanting to try it anyway and I'm glad we did.  It may have been our third choice but by no means was it second best.
We were actually there for brunch, since we got a late start.  Ravenous is a small place with a few tables and an open kitchen.  We sat where we had a good view of the chef making crepe after crepe.  Everything on the menu sounded so good but we knew we had to try the pommes frites (french fries) since they are a specialty of the house.  We ordered a small and a side of garlic mayo.  The fries were crispy but not overly and the mayo was a perfect compliment.  My husband ordered the special -- a crepe with proscuitto and goat cheese served with a side salad of organic field greens dressed simply with balsamic vinegar.  I had something they call the Mama Mia-- a crepe filled with Italian sausage, roasted red peppers and cheese, sort of a Italian sausage pizza in a crepe-- delicious-- also served with a side salad. 
The menu doesn't stop there.  They also have plenty of sweet crepes to choose from as well as mimosas at brunch.

Total spent at Ravenous -- $35 for two.  I figure if all four us would have went it would have been about $60.  A very filling, satisfying brunch that lasted us most of the afternoon, so I feel it was a good value.

Money saving tip:
When eating out, try to eat out for breakfast, lunch or even brunch.  You are more likely to get a better deal than at dinner and almost guaranteed fewer crowds.

After brunch we decided to check out Yaddo Gardens.  One thing I miss in St. Louis is the Missouri Botanical Garden or Shaw's Garden as its also known so I wanted to see how Yaddo compares.
Yaddo's admission is free and the garden is very small, which surprised me.  The garden consists mostly of a rose garden, pergola, fountains and lots of statues.  Its a beautiful garden nonetheless and perfect for a mid-afternoon distraction.

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Total spent for a Saturday afternoon for 2: $35
For a family of 4: about $60

Money Saving tip:
When looking for an inexpensive way to spend an afternoon don't pass by some of the free attractions around Saratoga.  They do exist and are well worth the research time on the internet. You might be surprised what you find!
Money is tight for almost everyone so I thought I would do a series of blogs on affordable day trips in and around Saratoga.  A day full of fun and food --including the cost of gas for $100 or less for the whole family-- sound impossible?
That's why I took on the challenge.  So for the rest of the summer my family will be taking the $100 or less challenge.
Come back often to see just how much fun your family can have for not much money -- and take the challenge yourself!
This blog is usually about discovering new places and then telling you about them and how to get there.  But sometimes I write about hidden gems in and around Sarataga.  Well, yesterday while running errands I stopped into the Petsmart in Wilton like I had done many, many times before to see what dogs the SPCA had there for adoption.  They run the adoption every Saturday for dogs and Saturday and Sunday for cats.  I walked over to the penned area near the back of the store.  There I saw a black puppy sitting in the corner of her crate.  The name on the cage was Chianti.  That's okay I thought, she's young, I can change it.  She had tufty fur and long legs.  "Who does that remind you of?" I asked my husband.  We had a dog, our first together as a couple almost 20 years ago.  Her name was Cooper.  He agreed, this one looked an awful lot like her.
"I want her," I said.  I got one of the volunteers' attention and asked if I could get her out.  "She's a real sweetheart," she said.  "She likes to be held and will cuddle with you.  She's a real lover."
She took out the tarp and put it out on the floor for us.  At first the puppy was shy.  She just laid there on the tarp.  Then slowly she made her way over to me and laid her head in my hand.  I was in love.  Employees and other volunteers came over and said that's a good sign.  She seemed very comfortable with us.  She even cuddled with my husband Mark.  I was sold.
One of the volunteers wanted to know what we thought.  Mark just smiled and nodded his head toward me.  "I think so", he said.  
I wanted to know the procedure. "We just fill out an application and take her home?"  She said yes, that's it.  "We usually like to do a home visit but we know that she is going to a good home."  I guess she knows a dog person when she meets one.
Then came the application, lots of paperwork and questions to be answered.  The adoption fee is $250 which included a vet visit, all her shots and her spay.  I thought it was a pretty good deal.   After about 20 minutes of paperwork we got to take her home.  We bought her some puppy chow since our other dogs are on adult food, and a new collar and leash.  She rode happily home, snuggled in Mark's arms.
When we got her home she came to life, playing and romping with our doxies.  It was so cute.  I was sure I made the right choice.
Now if we can only come up with a name.

If you would like to rescue a dog or a cat (ours came from a kill shelter in Tennessee, so I feel like I saved a life, literally) then visit the pet adoption at Petsmart in Wilton.
Cat adoptions are Tuesday through Saturday
Dog adoptions are every Saturday

Or if you would rather visit the shelter their hours are:
Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday -- closed
Tuesday-- 11 am to 5 pm
Wednesday and Friday -- 11 am to 7 pm

Directions to the shelter:
Take interstate 87 to exit 19.  Take a right off the ramp onto Aviation Road.  Continue on Aviation Road through the intersection of Route 9 where Aviation Road becomes Quaker Road.  Continue on Quaker Road until you see the Cumberland Farms on the right.  At this intersection take a left onto Ridge Road.  Continue to the first right hand turn, this will be Hicks Road, you will see an airport sign and a white building that sells the lawn and garden equipment (Smith's Equipment), follow to the first stop sign.  Take a right onto Queensbury Ave.  They are the second building on the left.  Look for the SPCA sign.

588 Queensbury Ave
Queensbury NY

If you are looking for a companion or for a new member of your family, I highly recommend them.  They do good work saving animals from kill shelter from all over the country.  If you're new to pet ownership the volunteers know the personalities of all the animals and can match you up with the perfect one.

Not interested in adopting but would still like the to help the shelter out?  They would be happy to take a monetary donation or a donation of food or other items to make the animals lives better while they are waiting for their forever home.

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Kim Bernard

Moved to Saratoga from St Louis MO (home of The Gateway Arch, Baseball Cardinals and of course Anheuser-Busch) with my family for my husband's job. In the last 2 1/2 years we've had the opportunity to explore and discover day trips, hidden gems, along with some of the most beautiful, historic, interesting and curious places in New England. So come with me and look through a Midwesterner's eyes at Saratoga and beyond. I hope you enjoy your adventures and feel free to share yours and together we can feed our travel bug!