I am a city girl. I ride the subway, I hail cabs and I complain about garbage and rats. The sound of heavy traffic, roaring fire engines and honking horns soothes my soul. Carry-out menus line my kitchen shelves and my refrigerator contains a handful of perishable items. Breakfast for idiots is my kind of book and I have a chef who cooks for me. I live in a 465 square foot studio and identify my neighbors not by their faces but by the sounds of footsteps or a hair dryer and blender.
Why on earth did I decide to visit Alaska? This is an easy answer. It’s the complete opposite of anything in New York City.
An hour after my arrival in Alaska, I found myself on the side of Mt. Alyeska in Girwood hiking the North Face trail. My friend Brooke Edwards outfitted me with bear spray, binoculars, layers of clothing and the important and necessary day pack and off we went. At some point while swatting mosquitoes, yelling out, “Hey Bear,” I wondered why I would embark on this journey.
Mt. Alyeska, Alyeska Resort, Girwood, Alaska
Brooke assured me this was an hour-to-the-top type /kind of hike and I would appreciate the views. I admired how she didn’t break a sweat and I struggled to maintain my dignity. Brooke may not have understood my current level of experience involved(better word) “hiking” up 20 or so steps from the subway to the street and a few block stroll along a flat and even surfaced Lexington Avenue. (See Life on the 6 Train)
The view at the top exceeded my expectations and I was happy to get a sense of my surroundings and take in the scenery of the Turnagain Arm, a branch of glacial water surrounded by towering mountains that leads to the Gulf of Alaksa. Turnagain Arm proved not to be the Northwest Passage Captain Cook sought to discover but its natural beauty rivals any landscape I’ve seen in the world.
Catching my breath, I hobbled to the restaurants as I peeled layer after layer exposing my sweaty back and the markings of an out of shape city girl. I hoped Brooke would be amenable to a “Kelly kind of eating and drinking break” before heading down the mountain. She did better than that, after a brief exchange we decided to go fancy in our hiking gear and dine at Seven Glaciers Restaurant, where I feasted on my first Alaskan halibut and a Boullabaisse soup, loaded with seafood and a saffron broth. We topped off my first day with a pleasant tram ride down the mountain and heaps more wine at the Alyeska Resort.
My expert guide Brooke Edwards at our first toast after hiking Mt. Alyeska, 7 Glaciers Restaurant
With the midnight sun (11:30 PM sunset) toying with my emotions and idea of place, I settled in for a few hours of desperate sleep before jolting awake at 5:30 AM when the sun beckoned me to hit the road.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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