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TRAVEL Niagara and Buffalo: A mix of old, new--and enchanting
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times

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Recently, I ( as part of a media excursion ) took an illuminating and entertaining trip to western New York state, specifically Niagara, Lockport and Buffalo. What I encountered was a mix of the old ( the natural wonders of Niagara Falls and history of Old Fort Niagara ) and the new ( a revitalized Buffalo ).

The attractions of Niagara

Niagara Falls, New York, is, in a word, charming. My visit ( and, yes, I did a lot of tourist-y things ) started with a visit to the restaurant at Red Coach Inn ( 2 Buffalo Ave; ). The decor is a bit medieval ( in a good way ), the food was tasty ( with the cheesiest French onion soup leading one person to say, "I like my soups to be cheese with a side of broth" )—and the atmosphere even included a couple that got married at the inn, underscoring the town's rep as a marriage/honeymoon destination.

The charming atmosphere extended to a walk around the town, observing and hearing about natural wonders such as the Niagara River, Goat Island ( previously called Iris Island and which is between the U.S. and Canadian falls and, yes, had goats on it at one point in its history ).

As for the falls themselves ( American, Horseshoe and Bridal Veil falls ), what can be written that hasn't been said? This natural wonder, simply put, has to be experienced. They have an awesome splendor that inspired me to be reflective, awed and even misty. ( I mean that last one literally, thanks to the Maid of the Mist tour that takes tourists relatively close to the bottom of the falls. ) There's also the Cave of the Winds tour, which takes you mere steps from the waterfalls.

We media writers stayed at The Giacomo ( 222 1st St.; ), a European-style hotel/residence with a funky and even industrial vibe in spots. ( I aim to return one day if for no other reason than to check out the Splendore Suite, a 2,000-square-foot, two-bedroom spot that boasts amazing views of Niagara Falls. )

After a short nap, it was time to visit Savor: Niagara Falls Culinary Institute ( 28 Old Falls St.; ). I profile restaurants for Windy City Times, and can honestly say I encountered some items here I had not seen or tasted previously. ( The lobster bread pudding was scrumptious, and the place also features "beef on weck" pizza—a take on a popular local dish. ) Afterward, manager Kurt Guba provided an enthusiastic tour of the institute, showing everything from ice sculptures to classrooms.

There's only one warning about Niagara Falls, New York: The location may play havoc with your cellphone in terms of international roaming charges, so be careful.


Shufflin' off to Buffalo/B>

After leaving the comforts of Niagara Falls, it was off to Buffalo—but, first, we stopped off in at a couple spots to experience more history.

Old Fort Niagara ( ), in Youngstown, is the oldest continuously occupied military site in North America. Thousands of people visit the site annually to take in the sights, learn about the fortification and view historic re-enactments. The tour guide provided detailed accounts of the extraordinary conditions the military has dealt with from the 18th century to the present day. The cold, blustery conditions that day did nothing to take away from the sense of amazement this writer felt while experiencing all this history.

Then, it was off to Lockport. After dining at Lock 34 Bar & Grill ( 80 Main St.; )—which has a cool steak-and-arugula sala, and which has several intriguing pizzas and burgers—it was off to the Lockport Cave & Underground Boat Ride ( ). The guided tour, which isn't nearly as claustrophobia-inducing as one might believe, had people exploring the Erie Canal Locks 67-71, constructed in 1838, as well as viewing ruins from the Industrial Revolution as well as observing various geological formations.

Also, the writers got some sneak-preview info, as we were informed that Lockport will have zip-lining starting next year, allowing people to travel across the Erie Canal in a different fashion. More info is at

Despite its location, Buffalo has that Midwestern feel ( possibly because of the Great Lakes connection ), down to the people always smiling and being friendly. ( At least that's the case in SOME Chicago neighborhoods. ) Also, Buffalo has some impressive architecture. City Hall ( 65 Niagara Square ) is a 32-story Art Deco building in 1931, and it's complete with an observational deck that ( on a clear day ) offers a view of Canada. Just a few of the other sights to see include Niagara Square/The McKinley Monument, Statler City/Hotel Statler, The Delaware North Building and Shea's Performing Arts Center.

We checked in at the Westin Buffalo hotel ( 250 Delaware Ave.; ). Embracing themes of nature and well-being ( which all Westins feature ), the hotel—which officially opened in mid-September—has 116 guest rooms and suites. It has a lot to like, down to the almost-effusive front-desk attendants and very cool 24-hour fitness center. ( I went there at 5 a.m. and ended up having a very interesting conversation with an employee. )

The Westin also has dining spots, including the very sleek ( and popular ) Patina 250, which has some incredible cuisine that provided the food coma that led to me sleeping in an incredibly comfortable bed.

Rollin' on the river

The next day involved taking in a light breakfast at Patina and then going to the Canalside district of Buffalo ( ). Hundreds of activities take place there annually, including artisan markets, the current Fright Night and the Buffalo River History Tour ( ). The 90-minute narrated tour of the river and Buffalo's waterfront afforded spectacular views, natural and man-made ( including some huge grain elevators ).

Lastly, since it was Buffalo, I had to try some Buffalo-style wings. ( Yes, they started there. ) So it was off to Anchor Bar ( 1047 Main St.; ). Visually, the place almost overwhelms the senses ( again, in a good way )—and the wings are incredible. ( For a more interesting time, you can try the wings with suicide sauce—although I certainly didn't. )

Many thanks go to the tourism bureaus of Buffalo and Niagara as well as the corporation Delaware North for arranging this trip. ( Delaware North operates Niagara Falls State Park's concession, retail and dining locations as well as owns/operate The Westin Buffalo. )

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