Hey I not only love New York, I love NY. Really. For all the doom and gloom about its economy, upstate remains a beautiful region with fascinating people and wonderful places to explore. So while motoring across the Empire State, I often find myself delving off the Thruway to visit favorite haunts discovered over the years.
You won't find some of these spots on the official tourist guides, and others delight only some peculiar pilgrim like me. But they're all there to try.
Just don't tell anybody there you know me - you might get thrown out.
*Parkleigh Pharmacy; 215 Park Ave., Rochester: www.parkleigh .com
Opened in 1960 as a drugstore on trendy Park Avenue, the Parkleigh is now a boutique that offers just about everything. It's one of those browsing places where you might not buy anything. But you'll have fun trying.
To top it off, Park Avenue offers lots of other shops, taverns and restaurants nearby. It will remind you of Elmwood Avenue with its eclectic collection of businesses and people.
*Windmill Farm and Craft Market; Route 14A, Between Penn Yan and Dundee: www.thewindmill .com
The Windmill has become a premier tourist attraction along Route 14A over the past 20 years, with a weekly attendance exceeding 8,000 to 10, 000 people. It's basically a huge food and craft market featuring more than 200 shops that sprawl through four buildings on a 26-acre-site.
There's no real unifying theme here, except maybe a "little bit of everything." You can purchase a variety of New York produce, as well as crafts and quilts created by the area's Mennonite artists. And you won't go away hungry if you're looking for home-cooked food.
Part of the unique ambience are the hundreds of horse-drawn, Mennonite carts and wagons clip-clopping their way to the market. It makes you feel like you've stepped back in time.
*Union Station; Bread Street, Utica: www.newyorkrailroads.com/uticaunionstation
Buffalo still agonizes over its once-proud Central Terminal, but not Utica. Its Union Station does what it's supposed to do - serve as a transportation center.
Built in 1914 for the New York Central and a few smaller roads, Union Station was designed by Allen H. Stem and Alfred Fellheimer of New York City, also involved in the design and construction of other grand railroad stations like New York's Grand Central Terminal and the art deco Cincinnati Union Terminal.
It's the last of the big stations from railroading's "Golden Age" to serve long-distance passenger trains in New York State and ins definitely worth a visit.
*Matt Brewing Company Tour; Court and Varick streets, Utica: www.saranac.com
The aroma of hops and barley swirling around Court and Varick streets in this Central New York city can only mean one thing - they're brewing those golden elixirs known as Saranac, Matt's and Utica Club - just like they have since 1888.
The F.X. Matt family invites thirsty travelers to visit its immaculate old brewery in a fascinating, one-hour tour through big vats and aging casks. It ends at the Brewery Shop and then the 188 Tavern - with tickets for a couple of cold and frosty products of Matt Brewing Co.
*Shrine of the North American Martyrs; Route 5S, Auriesville: www.martyrshrine.org
It's that big circular edifice you've always wondered about on the south side of the Thruway, just before the Amsterdam exit. Most people call it the Auriesville Shrine, a one-time Mohawk village now run by the Jesuit Order to commemorate the martyrdom of American's first and only canonized martyrs.
Auriesville - a place of history, beauty and peace - has been a pilgrimage destination since 1885 and now serves busloads of the faithful pouring in from all over the Northeast. The 600-acre site features the huge Coliseum (which can hold 6,000 people) and hosts Masses and retreat programs each weekend.
A must part of the Auriesville experience is the self-guided tour of the Ravine, where the writings of St. Issac Jogues appear at various stations to retell the story of St. Rene Goupil's martyrdom by the Mohawks on the very spot.
*The Stockade; Schenectady: www.schenectadychamber.org
This ancient Mohawk Valley city has faded since the days when General Electric and American Locomotive made it an industrial giant, but its Stockade District still shines. The secluded enclave comprises the heart of the original settlement, with many homes dating to the 1690s.
The Stockade is a wonderful neighborhood to meander, with practically every home adorned by those coveted blue and gold markers from New York State. There are also plenty of places to visit, like the Reformed Church, founded in 1680; St. George's Episcopal Church built in 1759, and the Schenectady Historical Society.
And if you're looking for a top-notch dining establishment, try the Glen Sanders Mansion just across the Western Gateway Bridge in Scotia. It was built in 1713, was owned by one family until the 1960s and is now a gorgeous restaurant and hotel.
*Hathorne Spring #1; Spring and Putnam streets, Saratoga Springs: www.saratoga.org
Everybody knows about the famous Saratoga Race Course, the ritzy shops along Broadway and all the history and lore of this spa city in the Adirondack foothills. And although there are plenty of places to slake a parched throat, there might be no better liquid than the spring water gushing from Hathorne #1. Located on Spring Street (where else?) just behind the downtown business section, the Chamber of Commerce brochure describes its waters as "cathartic, diuretic and grateful to the stomach."
Not everyone likes the slightly sulphurous flavor; in fact, some positively revile it. But real spring water devotees can't get enough of the natural carbonation that will cure what ails 'ya.
It always runs, and it's always free.
*U.S. Route 20
Let's face it. Though the good old Thruway is an engineering marvel, it gets boring. But there's always the U.S. Route 20 alternative parallel to I-90 to the south. In some spots in Central and Western New York, it joins State Route 5 - the old main trail of the Iroquois experts say was so wide and worn you could drive a vehicle over it.
Today, Route 20 is dotted with picturesque villages featuring spectacular 19th century architecture, town squars and Civil War monuments. You'll want to stop in the tourist meccas of Cazenovia and Skaneateles (Onondaga County) or little spots like Bouckville in Madison County (try the Landmark Tavern for lunch or dinner) for antiques.
Then there are the fruit stands -such as Beak and Skiff in Lafayette in Onondaga County, L'Hommedieu's in Madison County or Red Jacket Orchards in Ontario County near Geneva. This transcontinental route's highest eastern mountains are found near Lafayette. You'll also discover remnants of the old "cabins" that served long-distance motorists in the early days and some of the most beautiful scenery in New York.
There's even an old EMD F7 locomotive in some guy's Otsego County yard. Don't ask why or how. It's just there.
Robert McCarthy covers politics for The News.