Editor’s note: one of the best things about having guest writers is the ability to experience travel their way, which is different than my own. In this story, Mandy shares her visit to Niagara Falls as the narrative of the journey, and an exciting one at that. For more of her writing, click here to visit her index page.
In November 2021, I had the opportunity to visit Buffalo, NY. I really wasn’t sure what to expect or even what we were going to do during my three week stay (aside from this visit to the Martin House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) because I was a guest of a friend, but I definitely wanted to make sure that I at least got to visit Niagara Falls. This name refers not to one but three waterfalls which straddle the US/Canada border, two of which (American Falls and Bridal Veil falls) are on the American side, and the other (Horseshoe falls) on the Canadian side. While there are many waterfalls that are taller, Niagara Falls are considered one of the most impressive in the world in terms of its combined width and volume. An astounding 700,000 gallons (28 million liters) pour over the falls per second, which is an absolutely mind-boggling number to me. Established in 1885, Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the country and was designed by Frank Law Olmstead (famous for designing NYC’s Central Park and the fairgrounds in Chicago for the World’s Columbia Exposition). In terms of getting there from Buffalo, I was lucky enough to have a friend drive us to Niagara Falls State Park, but if you don’t have access to a car, it is possible to get there by a 45 minute Amtrak train for $20-30.
While November was fairly cold (59°F/15°C), it was warm enough to enjoy the almost two hours we spent walking around the park. I’m not a hardcore hiker, so I stuck to the easy trails at the top of the falls, though it is possible to go down into Niagara Gorge (more details here). There’s an option to take an elevator down into the gorge (details here), but unfortunately it was closed by the time we thought to visit it. I’m sure it’s wonderful, but the views from up top were absolutely stunning. What was more incredible to me than the view was the sound of the roar of the waterfall; it was loud enough to make speaking to the person next to me difficult, athough despite the volume, I found the sound strangely comforting.
After our long walk and drive there and back, it had been quite a long time since we last ate and I was beyond hungry, and there was no way I was waiting for our 7pm dinner reservation. I decided it would be best to get a drink and appetizer somewhere since it was 4pm, that odd time between lunch and dinner. One of the great things about being stateside after over four years in Europe was having access to so much delicious food. I first moved to France at the start of 2017 and let me quickly disabuse you of any ideas that ‘the food there must be so good.’ It’s not bad exactly; it’s fine, but lacks the things I love about restaurants: ethnic variety and spice (aka flavor). I then moved to England where the food is famously lackluster. So you can believe I was ready for some actual good food and what I had been missing most was American-style Mexican food. We went to Señor Tequila for the required sustenance. My friend and I shared regular nachos with chicken and some margaritas. The drinks were perfect and the nachos were out of this world. They did not have the poorly melted shredded cheese that some places deign to serve up, but rather a delicious creamy goo mixed with perfectly seasoned shredded chicken. It was enough food to tide me over until dinner at Frankie Primos +39 – which was also amazing. There, I had Italian sausage as a starter, which was perfectly paired with a cold ricotta and definitely my favorite part of the meal. I followed this up with a chicken and prosciutto panini which was also excellent. By this point my hunger had completely dissipated and I was far too full for dessert, but I’m sure that would have also been incredible.
I was lucky to fit all this in at the tail end of my trip before our train ride back to New York City to catch my flight back to England. Getting to and from Buffalo/Niagara is probably easiest via Toronto, as it is a major international airport hub and there’s plenty of transportation from Toronto to Niagara, and this is how I would have ideally done it. However, constant changes in travel rules made me very apprehensive about throwing an extra international border crossing into the mix. New York is considerably farther than Toronto, and I had the choice between an eighty minute plane ride or a nine hour train ride at less than half the price. For me, this was a no-brainer; I love trains, I love saving money, and I kind of hate airports. When I really think about it, the seven and a half hour difference gets whittled down when one considers things like getting to the Buffalo airport (40 minutes) and from JFK airport to Manhattan (60 minutes), whereas both train stations are right downtown in both cities. Add in the time it takes to get through security and waiting at the gate to board, boarding thirty minutes before take-off, disembarking and getting through at the other end, that 80 minutes turns into several hours. I also personally find it difficult to get anything done on a plane, especially on a short flight like that, so it’s all lost time, not to mention the fact that there’s no internet on the plane. With that in mind, as well as the steep price difference, I happily boarded Amtrak’s Maple Leaf line which first travels east across New York State before heading south towards the city. I spent some of my trip writing emails, I caught up on some reading, and I saw some incredible views. The train passes by some beautiful bodies of water which looked incredible during the golden hour before sunset. There is a food/bar car available, although you are free to bring on your own food and drink (even alcohol!) to save even more money, and there is also a 15 minute stop half way through if you need some fresh air. I highly recommend this train trip to anybody wanting to get Buffalo/Niagara Falls or even all the way up to Toronto from NYC!
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