History, North America

Visiting the Queen City of New York

July 24, 2016 • By

When I first visited Buffalo, New York in 2001, it was February and I hated it. I complained ad nauseam. It was cold, dark and dreary and I vowed to never return again but I was in L-O-V-E and needed to hide my disdain. I failed.

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Spot Coffee on Delaware in downtown Buffalo

The city was certainly not any colder than Chicago, my hometown, but I found reason after reason to dislike the Queen City. Starbucks and Ann Taylor had yet to arrive and I couldn’t walk to any shops or bars. The downtown was desolate and by comparison to Washington DC and New York City, it was small and boring. As New York State’s second largest city, I expected more.

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Delaware and Chippewa Streets are the main hub of downtown Bufalo

While I wouldn’t rush to move to Buffalo (and to be clear I have no reason to contemplate such a move), I stand corrected. Buffalo has grown on me. I have returned a few times for work mostly with my head lowered and my countdown clock going strong but on my last visit I finally figured out that the people are the driving force behind Buffalos’s allure.

Buffalonians are proud and hearty people.

They reflect on the positives the city has to offer rather than the negatives and the proof is in their relentless efforts to bring economic opportunities to the region. Buffalo has been fighting its way back to greatness since the demise of the Erie Canal at the end of the 19th Century. Similar to other Rust Belt cities, the decline of manufacturing stunted Buffalo’s growth and much of the population abandoned downtown for nearby suburbs. That is changing as more and more Buffalonians young and old come home to the City of Good Neighbors.

On a recent trip to Buffalo, I decided to explore the city from the perspective of a traveler. Why visit Buffalo?

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Buffalo Lighthouse on Lake Erie

It’s a city with two professional sports teams, a beckoning lakefront and a rich and interesting history. It serves as the gateway to Niagara Falls and the Canadian border and there is plenty to see and do.  A short 15-minute drive for Buffalo Niagara airport will land you right in the center of activity.

Buffalo will satisfy every craving whether it’s an architectural tour at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House and his Fontana Boathouse or a stop in Elmwood Village to marvel at the Victorian style homes or maybe a visit to the Silo City Grain Elevators for a chance to go back in time.

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Canalside and the walkway to the Buffalo & Erie Country Naval and Military Park

If the Queen City is on your destination list, then definitely carve out time to visit Canalside and listen to locals buzzing with excitement. I braved the overcast skies and flurries *(yes it’s possibly in late spring) to find out for myself if the area lives up to the hype. I hopped on the NFTA Metro Rail, which runs along Main Street and is free downtown. It dropped me at the end of the line at Erie Canal Harbor Station and I fumbled my way around until I realized everything seemed shiny and new.

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Anchor at the Naval and Military Park in Buffalo

Canalside is a redevelopment project that once served as the western terminus of the Erie Canal. It is now a lively area with restaurants, bars, the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park and the reconstructed Commercial Slip that once formed a boundary of the Canal District. It’s a great spot to grab a drink or bite to eat and learn more about the city’s past.

I sampled a 716 Kölsch style beer brewed by Flying Bison Brewing Company at Liberty Hound and swapped stories with the bartender originally from Chicago and a White Sox fan.   When I explained to him my recent re-discovery of Buffalo, he insisted I cross the street and investigate the offerings of HarborCenter, a hockey themed complex with rinks, restaurants and hotels. I wandered through 716 Restaurant and thought if only New York City had a sports bar like this place, I might actually follow the Yankees.

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One bite into Beef on Weck from Charlie the Butcher and I am hooked

No visit to Buffalo is complete without biting into something delicious so save room for Charlie the Butcher’s Beef on Weck sandwich served with mustard and a pickle or the Anchor Bar’s original Buffalo Wings and secret sauce. If you are like me and enjoy a sweet tooth, then Watson’s and their chocolate-dipped sponge is the place for you.

This time I departed Buffalo with only one disappointment: No Uber.  New York State has not granted a license  to the company and Buffalo definitely needs it. Rent a car and explore anyway.

Check out Travel & Leisure’s Here & Now Article from May 2016, Boom Time for Buffalo for more restaurant ideas

What to see on your visit

Discover Chippewa Street for beers and bites

Buffalo Harbor Boat Cruise on the Miss Buffalo II

Examine modern and contemporary art at Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Cruise the Erie Canal

Watch a Buffalo Bills football game, Sabres hockey game or the catch 9 innings with the Buffalo Bisons, Minor League Baseball team

Stare in awe at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House Complex

Wander Canalside

Admire the ships at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park

Take the kids to the Buffalo Zoo (third oldest in the United States)

Explore the neighborhoods of Allentown and Elmwood Village

Learn about a time in history at Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site

For more tour information, contact Explore Buffalo by email or phone (716) 245-3032


North America

A day at Niagara Falls

July 17, 2016 • By

On a recent trip to the Queen City, the allure of crashing water, colorful rainbows and the use of my passport would be enough to turn a business trip into a sightseeing adventure. I hired a cab from downtown Buffalo and a mere 20 minutes later I arrived in Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest state park in the United States.

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First sight of the waterfalls crossing the Rainbow Bridge

I’ve never fancied myself a daredevil, but I’ve always dreamed of–or more likely fantasized about–going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. After momentarily calculating my odds of survival, I cleared my mind and decided that today, my feet would stay grounded. I crossed the Rainbow Bridge pedestrian walkway briefly straddling the United States and Canada for a few scenic shots of the Falls until gusts of wind wreaked havoc on my hair and forced me to bundle up and hurry along my route. Canadian customs gave me the all clear (sadly without a stamp) and a few steps from their perch a breathtaking view of all three waterfalls emerged.

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American Falls and the Maid of the Mist a great combination

Niagara Falls, a result of glacial activity more than 10,000 years ago, is far better enjoyed on the Canadian side of the border. The vantage point allows tourists to get a clear and direct view of the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls and the Horseshoe Falls from an impeccably landscaped path connecting the bridge to restaurants, hotels, shops and a fun assortment of tourist trap booths. Canada has done a great job of creating a booming tourist industry in an area that attracts some 12,000 people annually. It’s all about the view.

Closer to the Falls with an unobstructed view I’m so overcome with emotion that I feel hypnotized. With my vision solely focused on the raging strength of the American falls, I hear nothing but sounds of roaring waves with tornado strength. It’s misty and windy and I am put into a trance. It’s impossible not to feel dizzy yet at peace especially with sunny and clear skies above me. The sight of the Falls is overwhelming, but I am snapped back to reality and away from my daydream when a German tourist taps me for a picture. “Sure,” I say, “If you take mine.”

I continue to admire the view and breathe in the mist and the smell of the spring flowers–red tulips. It’s a Monday and the hordes of tourists are about a month away.

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The Canadian or Horseshoe Falls view from the Observation Deck at the Skylon Tower

Niagara Falls is a hot spot for international visitors traveling to Toronto and New York as well as honeymooners, families and obviously for spinsters like me who are swayed by natural beauty. On the Canadian side within walking distance to hotels, there are numerous food kiosks filled with ice cream and fudge for lunch and dinner or go local and stop for a donut at  Tim Hortons.

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View of the American Falls as the Niagara River splits

I set my sights on lunch at the Skylon Tower, home of the famous revolving dining room. It includes a visit to the Observation Deck with a meal ticket. I recommend skipping the dining room experience unless it’s an extra special occasion but do not miss a visit to the Observation Deck. It provides incredible 360 degree views of the Falls along with a great perspective of the rapids and the split of the Niagara River separating the American and Canadian waterfalls. If an engagement is in the works, it’s windy so make the proposal a quick one and if kids are in tow watch for the time sucking money blowing arcade on the entrance level.

After a leisurely stroll back toward the Rainbow Bridge, I pause briefly to admire the Falls. The mighty power of the waterfalls and the beautiful turquoise color of Lake Ontario with swirling pools of foam force me back into a daydream. I’m taking it all in and then an idea pops into my head. One finals thing to do — I must conquer the Maid of the Mist boat tour.

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Maid of the Mist Boat Tour at Niagara Falls

Covered in a bright blue plastic garbage bag of sorts, I board the Maid of the Mist will full knowledge that I will be soaked but I remind myself the views are worth it. Our boat departs the dock and sails steady as mist wets the deck. In front of the American and Bridal Veil Falls, the current turns aggressive as the volume of water falling from some 100 feet above slams into the pile of boulders at the base.

Our boat inches closer to the Canadian side of the Horseshoe Falls and I feel like I am in a hurricane. Brave passengers not cowering in corners endure a lashing. I move from side to side unable to take my eyes off this wonder but not quite ready to face the deluge. The Maid of the Mist turns away from the Horseshoe Falls and there is a sense of calm and relief among passengers. We have made it. I’m so excited I want to do it again but I am cupping my hands and blowing hot air into them. They hurt. I am grinning from ear to ear. What a ride!

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Old Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario

I ended the day with a short trip to Old Fort Niagara about 20 minutes from Niagara Falls in Youngstown, New York. On the shores of Lake Ontario, the fort served as a strategic military post for three countries: France, Great Britain and the United States.

Today, it is a beautifully restored reminder of historic battles. Check out the Fort Niagara Flag, stolen by the British during the War of 1812 and returned to the United States in 1994. Descendants of General Sir Gordon Drummond beautifully preserved the flag at their family home in Scotland.  Walk the stunning grounds and go back in time with a live re-enactment. I wanted to carry a musket but I settled for imagining life in the 1800s atop a viewing platform.  The sun illuminated Lake Ontario creating dancing flickers of light on it’s clear blue waters and I stopped and thought beauty is all around me.