Buffalo is the first large, vibrant city we have seen since Albany, New York. The waterfront has a wonderful veterans’ memorial area, with separate memorials for the Viet Nam War, the Korean War, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was dark when we got there, so there may be more than that! There are also some decommissioned Navy ships there that are open for visitors during the day. Dan was really interested in touring the boats, but we are starting to feel a little pressure to get home to Michigan. We liked what we saw of Buffalo, and we will definitely come back! We had a nice dinner at the restaurant in the same building as the museum…not sure what the subject of the museum is, because we didn’t enter!
Monday, October 8, 2018
At the very end of the Erie Canal, there are several bridges which are low enough to keep many of our looper friends from completing the western portion. We were able to do the entire length because of our foldable arch, which brings us under the 15 foot bridge heights. North Tonawanda is only a few miles from Lockport, and is where the Erie Canal empties into the Niagara River. Turning right and going down the river isn’t really an option, because of a little feature called Niagara Falls!
We pulled into Smith Boys, and tied up on their outside dock. Dan had quite a bit of maintenance catch-up he wanted to do, and I wanted to go home for a family fix! My sister was coming for a visit from Colorado, so I wanted to be there. Also, I was so ready to have some quality time with my son, Travis, and his family.
Dan and I talked every day about what he was doing, what we were doing at home, and I really missed him. But, it was a time that I really needed!
Back to when we first arrived: We got the boat settled and secure, then went on our bicycles looking for something to eat. We saw a place close by called “Betty’s”, which had a picture of Betty Boop (cartoon character) and a sign that said “Best Roast Beef in the Two Cities”. The two cities would be North Tonawanda and Tonawanda. We decided to give it a try. Well, of course, we haven’t sampled any other roast beef in that area, but I venture to say it would not be the best of anywhere. What they had done was buy roast beef sliced for sandwiches, put it into a crock pot, added water and let it cook all day (beyond the done stage at which they had bought it). Now, with the water added, they could say they have “au jus”. Oh my. They put it on a ‘weck’ bun, which is a western New York thing, where they brush the top of a hamburger bun with butter and roll it in coarse sea salt and caraway seed. We were underwhelmed.
Now, I have a word or two to say about the bar itself – run down place with run down looking men. North Tonawanda was another down and not-quite-out town like we have been seeing. Only North Tonawanda isn’t trying hard to attract tourists or boaters. The people we met, as always, were friendly and nice. I feel bad for folks who live in a town where there doesn’t seem to be any jobs or reason to live there….
Dan had a chance to explore the town during the 10 days I was gone – he got a haircut, found a grocery store, had a few meals out. But, mostly, he worked on the boat. He welcomed the opportunity to pull all the floor hatches up to expose the engines and etc. without worrying about my falling into the open hatches….which, sadly, I have already done twice. Just call me “Grace”.
When I returned from Michigan, we used the rental car to run some errands, then took it back to the airport rental car place. We got an Uber back to the boat. Next day appeared to be a nice day, so we decided to go to Niagara Falls. I have been there 2 or 3 times before, but Dan, the native Michigander, had never been there! We got an Uber there (only about 8 miles), and thoroughly enjoyed the day. We rode the “Maid of the Mist”, which wasn’t the experience I remembered – I remembered being absolutely deluged by tons of water, but this time we just got what amounted to a heavy rain. Still fun, though. Next, we went to the Cave of the Winds. These days, you don’t actually go into the cave – it collapsed years ago. But, you do get to walk on stairs and platforms right next to the water. You can (but we chose not to) go on to the platform called “Hurricane” platform for a real drenching! Pretty cool. The Niagara Falls experience is really amazing – when we exited the 200 foot drop elevator to walk on the Cave of the Winds area, there was the most dramatic rainbow I’ve ever seen. That, juxtaposed onto the Falls themselves was really extraordinary!
Lockport was one of the more interesting stops along the Erie Canal. Our friend from Fairport, Mick Anderson, was there and staying because of high winds. He told us he had a place for us to dock at ‘the top’ of lock 35 and that he’d be waiting for us. Whatever could he mean by ‘the top’….?
Lockport is the site of the last two locks on the Erie Canal, number 34 and 35. They are back-to-back, meaning they share the central wall. So, you pull into Lock 34, it closes, lifts the boat about 25 feet. Then, the middle door opens, you pull into Lock 35, and are then lifted another 25 feet. As we started up the rise, we saw Mick bicycling up the hill besides the locks, and then we saw him talking to the lock master at the top. We wondered why he was wasting time talking to the lock master – didn’t he need to go on down the Canal to where we were docking? Well, actually, the docking spot, just big enough for two boats, was parallel to the Lock 35 wall, just on the other side of the wall! That space is actually what used to be the old lock! Locks 34 and 35 replaced 5 locks on the old canal – the ‘new’ canal was finished 100 years ago!
It was really interesting seeing the old and ‘new’ locks side by side – there was a museum there that showed what an engineering accomplishment it was to create those locks through solid rock. The engineer who oversaw that project was not formally trained! Amazing what was accomplished so long ago without today’s tools and equipment.
Mick told us he had a good place to go for dinner – we liked it so much we went there both nights we were there! And, Mick had already been there one night before us. He was greeted like an old friend.
Brockport was a nice little town, with a city dock just alongside the canal. We didn’t explore very much – for some reason, I wasn’t feeling my best. We did ride our bikes to the drugstore, and a volunteer at the welcome center drove us to the grocery store for reprovisioning. So nice to be treated so nicely all along this route!
Another couple, from Maine, pulled in to dock there in a rented canal boat. They rented it for a week, just going up and down the Erie Canal. We had a nice evening at dinner with them. They were people that we feel like we could be really good friends if we lived closer or saw them more often.
Fairport had been touted as one of the favorite stops on the Erie Canal. It was a nice stop – we were a little disappointed that all the buildings right at the city dock were all new structures, rather than the older, redone buildings as in other ports. They were very nice and attractive – just not the old architecture that we enjoy! The dock master met us and gave us a welcome packet with all kinds of information. One very welcome item in the welcome bag was a book from the book resale shop! Always welcome! He also gave us valuable advice – “See that ice cream store over there? Don’t get anything larger than a kiddy scoop!” He was right – the kiddy scoop was huge!
We went looking for the small specialty grocery store near the dock, and Dan made a very nice discovery – a tool resale place! He was practically drooling – they were closed, but had some fellows inside. They said he could buy something if he had exact change. He managed to spend $20….if we had not been on the boat, he could have really dropped some change. The next day, Dan went there looking for two large pipe wrenches for a 10 minute job. They were only about $20 total. When the guy heard he only needed them for 10 minutes, though, he told Dan to take them and return them the next day – pretty cool.
The specialty grocery store had some nice offerings, for example some locally made pierogi and ravioli!
We met a solo looper, Mick Anderson, on the Phantom, that first day. He pulled in later that day. We enjoyed visiting with him – he is on his third complete loop! Amazing. He is headed the same direction as us, but is in a bit of a hurry to get to Naples, Florida this season, where he has a business restoring yachts. He travels slower than us, at about 5 knots, but he just keeps moving – he was there one night, then moved along. We will see him again.
One happy event was that two more looper boats came in the second day we were there – both were headed east and down the coast for the winter. We made plans to go to drinks and dinner at a delightful place located in an old mansion. Turned out all three couples are from Michigan! What are the odds of that happening? We had a wonderful meal and lovely time for the evening.
Sunday, September 16, 2018
Once again, we stopped here because of timing – we left Lyons late in the day, and so this is as far as we could get before the locks close at 5:00! And, once again, we are so glad we stopped here.
We were greeted on the dock by Dick, who we assumed lived here and greeted boaters like Bob Stopper in Lyons. He told us we were just in time to attend the town’s Canal Days Festival, just up the road. In fact, he said, the parade is happening right now. So, we hurried up to the main street to see the parade. I expected a small town parade, with a couple of tractors and a school band. We were quite impressed with the half dozen or so of bands, including school bands, an alumni band, and a jazz band! There was a float on which was recreated the scene from Iwo Jima with the Marines raising the flag. One float carried about six lovely young women all dressed in formal gowns with sashes denoting their title – I didn’t catch what those were. Wonderful!
The festival itself was pretty typical, with food offerings like fried dough, chicken quesadillas, hot dogs. There were booths with goods for sale too. We met our favorite dog since we lost Max. Buddy was 82 pounds of love, a mastiff/boxer mix. We would have taken him home in a heartbeat!
One unique feature downtown is a 150 foot flag tower, given to the town by the Republicans back during the Cleveland-Harrison campaign of 1892.
We had a chance to get to know Dick, since, as it turns out, his boat is parked on the dock behind the Kittiwake. He lives on his boat, on the Canal, every summer – for the past 10 summers now. He can just run up and down the canal, never paying for dockage, meeting wonderful people, enjoying life. He said there are a half dozen or so people who do the same thing. When the canal closes, this year on October 10, he will store his canal boat and hie to his trawler that he keeps in Punta Gorda, Florida. Oh, the people we meet!
After leaving Seneca Falls, we got back onto the main Erie Canal and stopped at Lyons. We stopped there mainly because of timing. We had a late start out of Seneca Falls, and Dan needed to do some work on the internet at 4:00. We are so glad we stopped there!
First of all, we tied up at a very high rough wall. It was the highest we’ve every experienced. To exit the boat, there was about 3.5 more feet of the wall to step up! - not something easy for me. I actually had to sit or get on my knees on a rug, then get to my feet. I’m not as agile as I used to be. In order to reboard the boat, it was easier for me to step from the wall onto the fly bridge and climb over the settee up there! I’m so grateful that our boat has all those levels, something I never thought of when we bought her. We have now used all four levels to get on/off!
The docking and electricity were free. There is a fire house at the top of the stairs by the dock – boaters are free to use their bathrooms and showers. Turns out, the city had gotten a grant from the Erie Canal promoters to redo their bathrooms. All the fire house had to do in return was to make their facilities available to boaters! Win-win.
The first night there, we went to a restaurant I had found on Google, the Maitre D at Trombinos. Delicious meal, delightful staff. The restaurant has only been there for two years and occupies a former opera house. The décor is rich wood with opulent fittings.
We wandered through the town after dinner – some beautiful old architecturally interesting buildings, including a county courthouse with a dome that looked silver but is actually wood. There is a Central Park with a band stand decorated in red, white, and blue bunting – how American! A man was working on restoring a building next door to the old County building. He bought it for $10,000 just before it got torn down! He is a master woodworker, and is restoring the entire building – not sure to what purpose the building will be put – some combination of commercial and residential.
One delightful feature in this town and, we are told, in several western Erie canal towns, is the variety and placement of large murals. In Lyons there are quite a few and they are located all around town.
We were met the next morning by Bob Stopper, who is the volunteer greeter for the town and the town’s unofficial historian. He told us about the town – until about 10-15 years ago, the town was doing well. Then, within the space of 5 years, two large employers left and took almost 4,000 jobs…this, in a town of only 3,500! Now, Lyons is like many of the towns along the Canal, economically depressed, but trying hard to promote the town and improve the situation. One way is to make boaters feel welcome and appreciated. They are doing that for sure.
That morning, Saturday, there was a farmer’s market in the Central Park. We purchased some homemade jams and bread, and enjoyed the organ music of old songs.
After the market, Bob offered to take us to some sites that are important historical places on the canal. Lyons may be the only spot on the canal where all three versions of the Erie Canal can still be found. The first, called Clinton’s Ditch, after the New York City mayor who managed to fund and get the first Erie Canal built. It was an engineering marvel, 524 miles of canal linking New York’s rivers and lakes. It was started in 1817 and finished in 1825. We saw portions of the original ditch and remains of the original lock. Alongside of the ditch is the mule track, where the mules pulled the canal barges up and down. The ditch was very narrow, having only a few spots where two boats could pass.
The next version, called the Improved Erie, rerouted and enlarged the original ditch. That version, started in 1862, deepened, widened and rerouted the original canal. Now the canal was 7 feet deep and 70 feet wide (from the original 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide). Now, two boats could pass all along the way.
The new modern canal, finished in 1918 (100 years ago) is what is being celebrated this year. It was so interesting to actually see all three versions here in Lyons, with Bob’s vast knowledge freely given to us. We would never have known all that was here without his carting us all around in his car!
On one stop in our tour, we met a couple who were traveling on their bikes. They came from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and are taking advantage of the old mule path, now miles of bike paths, that go along the canal. It was so interesting to talk to them – they will end their bike trip in Syracuse and take the train home.
We are so happy we stopped in Lyons – it hadn’t gotten rave reviews from some people we talked to nor from Waterway Guides.