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TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX > Even More Surprises

Niagara Falls, NY   06/09/06 (Day 45)
Even More Surprises

There are many iconic places in America--the kinds of places people dream about for years before they get the chance to see them for themselves. The danger with such places is that the fantasy in your head becomes so perfect that reality can never hope to match it. Not so with Niagara Falls. Like the Taj Mahal, Niagara Falls (which is really one name for two falls: the American Falls on the US side and Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side) delivers on its promise to wow you no matter how much you’ve anticipated the thrill. Even just walking the trails that meander through the parkland surrounding the US side of the falls is exciting as you wander around the American Falls and catch glimpses of the curve of Horseshoe Falls.

A couple of tips: Before you pay to park in the official lots, check out Goat Island which is part of the Niagara Falls State Park and has free parking areas. And you can enjoy a mini-Cave of the Winds experience without the admission fee simply by climbing up below The American Falls via the staircase that is accessible as you get off the Maid of the Mist boats.

After drying off after our Maid of the Mist boat ride, we head for Lockport, an aptly named town famous for its Erie Canal locks. Though all the locks on the canal are still in working order and still manned, the canal is no longer the main artery of transportation as it was in its pre-interstates heyday. Today, the Erie Canal is largely used by private individuals navigating their way lazily up and down stream and by local tour companies.  We make it in time for the last cruise of the day with Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises ($13 per person).

The two hour tour takes us upstream through locks 34 and 35. From the top deck of the boat, we get a real sense of the genius of the canal locks system as we watched nothing more than the power of water being transferred from one level to another raise us 49’ in just a few minutes. After meandering upstream for a while, to the somewhat annoying accompaniment of recordings of old-time canal songs, we pass slowly under Canal Bridge, said to be the world’s widest bridge at 399.5’. Then we turn around and pass back through locks 35 and 34 which lower us down 49’to the same water level that we started at.

If you don’t have two hours or $13 to spend experiencing the locks from the deck of a boat, stand on the Pine Street bridge in Lockport and watch the action from above. It’s an awesome vantage point and completely free.

Back in Buffalo we decide to try another local culinary treat for dinner and head out to Schwabl’s, which has been serving something called “beef on weck” for more than 160 years. An uncomplicated dish, beef on weck has only two major ingredients: sliced roast beef served and a kimmelweck roll which features grains of salt and herbs on top. Add a bit of horseradish, or not. Either way it’s delicious. You can’t hardly turn around in Buffalo without someone trying to sell you beef on weck, but we urge you to get yours at Schwabl’s, as much for the quality of the food as for the chance to go back in time.

Claiming to be the oldest continuously operated restaurant in New York State (and possibly all of the US), Schwabl’s has been open since 1837. The waitresses wear white uniforms that make them look like nurses. Many of the patrons have clearly been coming there their whole lives. Best yet? The bartender who is clearly devoted to old-school cocktail making. As we watched him meticulously concoct a Manhattan we immediately regretted our beer and wine orders.
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