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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

This buffalo enclosure was on the street front!

CANADA - Kitchener (Wk.14 of 16 weeks)
Week 47 of World Tour

Buffalo Day Trip

“Would you like to drive to Buffalo?” Kit asked.

Buffalo, USA, is about 200 kms from Kitchener, Canada, and I definitely needed the practice because in a few weeks I’d be driving alone in Los Angeles and I needed to get comfortable with driving on the right hand side of the road.

Joel, a friend of Trevor’s (Kit’s son), was coming to visit for a few weeks, and instead of getting an indirect flight to Toronto, he got a direct flight to Buffalo which was a longer drive for us to pick him up, but it also had another benefit.

Joel’s flight was arriving at 9.52pm, so we could leave Kitchener early in the morning and turn the visit into a day trip of Buffalo, which would be my first real visit to the USA.

So at 10.15am on Saturday, April 24, I hopped into Kit’s black, sports, 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier, and gingerly made my way onto the Canadian roads. Thankfully it was a warm sunny day and I wouldn’t have to deal with the likes of snow or thunder storms.

By lunchtime we’d arrived safely in Niagara Falls (see Niagara Falls story at
Canadian meals are much better value than those in the USA, so we decided to stop at Niagara Falls for lunch. Trying to get a parking spot near the falls was impossible, unless we paid a $12 parking fee, so we opted to drive to an area a few blocks further out.

And that’s how we found Melodie’s Restaurant. The sign outside had “All-you-can-eat fish and chips - $5.95” on it. So we joined the other diners inside and ordered our own baskets of Alaskan Pollock and chips. Half-way through our meals the owner came up and asked if we’d like some more fish. Kit and I just looked at each other, both knowing that we’d be struggling to get through the generous serving of fish and chips already in front of us, so we politely declined.

From there it was just a matter of finding the entrance to the bridge and driving over to the American border.

The customs officers were polite but thorough. Canadians only had to show an ID, and after stating the purpose of their visit, were immediately allowed across the border. But for me, with an Australian passport, it was a little more time consuming. The customs officer kept my passport and directed me to collect it from the second floor of the adjacent Customs Building.

Basically, I just needed to apply for a 90 day Visa Waiver and I could be on my way. So after a 10 minute wait and a cost of USD$6, I was free to enter America, again making nonsense of all the warnings I’d had of the difficulties I could expect when entering the USA and the torment I would go through with their unusually strict customs procedures. All nonsense!

The bridge had taken us into Niagara Falls, USA, and soon we came to our first toll gate at the entrance to the bridge to Grand Island. The toll fee was 50 cents.

“Do you have any American money?” I asked Kit.

But neither of us did. As we got closer we took some Canadian coins out. We didn’t think they’d be too happy to accept a credit card for a 50 cent transaction. When I stopped by the toll window the girl reached out, with open palm, expecting the usual fee.

“We don’t have any American money”, I said truthfully. “We just have Canadian coins. So what can we do with this?” I asked, showing her 50 cents Canadian.

“You can give it to me”, she said casually, still with her hand outstretched.

Wow! I thought, that was very understanding of her. But then as we drove off we noticed a sign on the toll booth window.

‘Toll Bridges accept Canadian currency at 30% discount’. (which made it the same price for either currency)

Grand Island lies in the middle of Niagara River, which links Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, both lakes and the river being shared by Canada and America. And we were surprised to see the river still frozen, nearly 2 months into spring. Then once we drove off the island, and paid another toll fee, we were already on the outskirts of Buffalo.

Writing notes outside the City Hall Building in Buffalo.

Soon the imposing sight of the City Hall Building came into sight and after 205 kms, we were at the Waldon Galleria Shopping Centre picking up maps and tourist brochures. It was quite surprising how different it felt to be in America. There was a much larger black population than in Canada and the city of Buffalo looked … er … slummish. I hadn’t seen anything like this in Canada. But something that both countries had in common was the flags. On each side of the border, many houses proudly displayed a full-sized flag of their country. Maybe it was patriotism. Or maybe it was tit-for-tat. But they were there regardless.

The City Hall Building was emblazoned across all the Buffalo tourist brochures, so we headed there for the start of our city tour. I was surprised to see the city looking so deserted. It was around 2.30pm, and yet hardly a person or car was in sight. But seeing the architecture of the City Hall Building made the visit worthwhile.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House Complex, undergoing restoration.

One of the brochures featured the Martin House Complex (constructed between 1903-6) as a tourist destination. This was a residential building designed by the world famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, but when we got there we found it closed for renovations.

Our last stop would be (don’t laugh) Forest Lawn Cemetery. This was actually recommended to us by the Tourist Information staff. And it turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the day.

The cemetery shares a very large green area with Delaware Park and the Buffalo Zoo. And rather than going straight to the cemetery, I drove around the perimeter of this great nature hill. And as I got to the far end of the park, I noticed a wall of cage bars along the sidewalk. And inside the cage were 4 live buffalos! The city obviously knew how to promote the Buffalo Zoo! So pedestrians would stop on their walks around the park and gaze at the huge animals who were lying on the ground for most of the time.

The cemetery was empty and quiet. But soon we noticed a few interesting sights. Firstly, the Forest Lawns Cemetery is famous for having the grave of the 13th United States President Millard Filmore. But it also features some interesting tombs, some of which are built into the side of the hill. A stream goes through the cemetery, and along its banks are ducks and geese. Two of these geese, pure white with a huge plate on their orange beaks, felt that I was encroaching on their territory, so they approached me with a loud aggressiveness, and necks stretched out and high.

Geese act as sentries, protecting the tombs in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

We wandered around looking at the tombstones. The most ornate tomb, looking like a small church temple with statues of angels surrounding it, belonged to a Hiram Pratt, appointed Mayor of Buffalo in 1835. And the entire side of the hill was home to tombstones of others of the Pratt family, owners of much of Buffalo's properties.

It’s always fascinating to read the dates on the tombstones and find out how old (or young) they were when they died. How long ago they lived. How they have been laid to rest, their tombstone being their only clue for the curious passers-by.

Buffalo has lots of buffalo sculptures to keep tourists happy.

I can’t say that the cemetery was the reason for building our appetites, but soon we were back on the road and looking for a restaurant on the way to Buffalo Airport. And 10 minutes later we were at the Olympic Restaurant opposite the airport. But we hadn’t chosen it because it had a Greek cuisine. We’d stopped to photograph the pink buffalo on the side of the road, in front of the restaurant.

This was the poshest buffalo in town.

Another restaurant had a giant buffalo sitting on a chair and reading a menu, but it was an Italian a-la-carte restaurant, and we just wanted some food.

Before we knew it, it was time to pick Joel up from the airport. And so, at about 10.30pm, we headed back to Kitchener. But Kit was driving because I was so tired. Moments later I was fast asleep in the passenger seat and didn’t wake (except when crossing the border) until we got back to Kitchener, 2 hours later.

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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