Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Saratoga Weekend

This past weekend, we were out of town at a family reunion just outside Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. Saratoga has a lot in common with Fredericksburg. Both have historic downtowns, a quaint main street shopping district, nice city parks, and even trolleys and horse-drawn carriages for sightseeing visitors. We have the University of Mary Washington, they have Skidmore College. This year, we have painted fish, they have painted horses. The main difference is that Saratoga has the racetrack (the oldest continuously-operating thoroughbred track in the country), which brings wealthy visitors to the area every summer, plus lots of residents from the horsey set, and more than its fair share of moneyed socialites. When the track is open during the summer, the town is loaded with people and money. People and money mean a livelier downtown with lots of upscale shops and restaurants open late every night. We took a late night stroll, and there were crowds on the streets, in the restaurants and sidewalk cafes, and many shops were open until 10 or 11 pm. There is a thriving bar scene, quite a few street entertainers, and the whole place makes Fredericksburg on a Friday night look downright sleepy. Saratoga also has a much larger arts community, including the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Yaddo (a large estate used as an artists’retreat), and lots of galleries. Our parks have benches and brickwork, theirs have fountains and marble statues. Fredericksburg needs a lot more than one rich socialite if it expects to keep up (although one is better than none, so thank you, Doris Buffett).

Other peculiarities of Saratoga Springs include the springs the city is named for, whose water you can sample from dozens of drinking fountains around town that are tapped into underground springs that, for the most part, smell and taste pretty bad, despite allegedly having curative properties.

The city has also carried the horse theme a little too far, including way too many galleries devoted to “equine art” (isn’t that an oxymoron?). On the plus side of the horsey theme, they have a beautifully restored carousel in the middle of town, which you can ride for 50 cents. We all took a spin, although as usual, I prefer the old-lady benches to the moving horses.

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