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New York’s capital city a capital choice

If you don’t have a lot of cash to spend and want to get away for the weekend, a good choice would be New York State’s heritage region, Albany. The state capitol building has free tours, the state museum has free entrance and offers eclectic options for each member of the family to enjoy, Grandma’s is the perfect pit stop for home-made food (even if you’re just passing through this exit) and the uniquely designed Desmond Hotel is a fun place to rest your head.

The New York State Capitol building, finished at the end of the 19th century, is a combination of renaissance, gothic, and medieval styles, and was built and carved by hand. When you take the tour you can see the difference between the assembly and senate chambers (notice the 23-carat gold leaf “wallpaper” and think of it as tax dollars stuck to that wall) and note the $1 million dollar staircase. Find out about the whispering fireplace, the resident ghosts, and ask to see the carved face of 4-year-old Lucretia (lovingly carved by her proud grandfather - one of the sculptors who were allowed some artistic freedom after their required list was finished).

Nearby, The New York State Museum covers the gamut, from a passing art exhibit on American attitudes toward race to permanent ones on the Adirondack wilderness, archaeology, the Cohoes mastodon, and Harlem in the ’20s. Other attractions include real-time displays of earthquakes in New York and around the world, a fire engine hall, birds and an enormous mineral collection. Do not miss the exhibit on the rescue after the World Trade Center September 11, 2001, attacks, including the recovery operation at the Fresh Kills landfill and the public response to the attacks.

You can ogle the governor’s collection of contemporary Native American crafts, while the kiddies will love visiting the original set of Sesame Street (secret: my dad helped build it), as well as the full-size carousel built between 1912 and 1916.

The restaurant called Grandma’s is a misnomer, as it’s run by a grandpa. Joseph Danaher opened it in 1976 as an alternative to fast food. He stuck to such basics as pot roast or meatloaf with mashed potatoes, hot open turkey sandwiches, spaghetti and meatballs, quiche, roast chicken, lasagna and delicious homemade soups.

As at all grandmas’ homes, you must leave room for dessert. Heirloom-recipe pies are the specialty here: wild blueberry, tart cherry, coconut custard, swiss chocolate almond, four kinds of apple, lemon meringue, pumpkin and even five sugar-free choices.

Even sleeping can be fun in Albany, as the Desmond Hotel was planned by a local family to mimic a Philadelphia street. When you are inside the complex it feels like you are outside. Rooms have balconies overlooking landscaped indoor courtyards, back doors with tables and chairs, and some of the rooms have two floors, with circular staircases leading up to your canopied bedroom (you can see a photo at plogger/plogger.php?level=picture&id=634)

Before you go New York State Capitol, Washington Ave. and State St. Take NY Thruway Exit 23. Walk-in tours Monday-Saturday. Info: 518-474-2418; www.ogs.

New York State Museum, Madison Ave. across the Plaza from the State Capitol building. Open daily from 9:30am-5pm. Info: 518-474-5877;

Grandma’s Restaurant, 1273 Central Ave. Take I-87 Exit 2. Info: 518-459-4585

Desmond Hotel, 660 Albany Shaker Road (Exit 4). Info: 800-448-3500; 518-869-8100;

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