Local Tourist: Playing Tour Guide In My City

A few months ago, I had an amazing opportunity to take three people from Indonesia around Buffalo, NY for the day. One of my best friends, Kim, is an anthropologist and has spent a lot of time in Indonesia for field work. While there, she’s met some pretty great people and has developed friendships with many of them.

One of them is a young woman named Ferra, who works as a tour guide in Indonesia. Ferra was in the US through the Fulbright Scholar Program, a prestigious program that awards grants to students to study internationally. Through this program, Ferra has met many people from all over the globe, including a few from her home country. She was able to travel all over the US during her time here, and she and two of her other Indonesian classmates/friends came to town to pay Kim a visit. Kim is an instructor at two colleges in Western New York, and she couldn’t get off work during one of the days everyone was here, so she gave me the honor of playing tour guide for the day and showing them around town. I was thrilled and flattered that she thought of me…

I immediately started thinking of things to do and places of interest; it can be a bit of challenge because I wanted to make sure I was giving them a nice blend of places a Buffalonian would go, but I also didn’t want to skip over any essential places that I think an out of towner should experience while they are in Western New York.

I picked up the trio at Kim’s parents’ house in the early afternoon, and I immediately knew we were going to get along great because they were so warm and upbeat to me the second I met them! Each of them were from different islands of Indonesia, which was neat, because I felt like I was gaining a pretty well-rounded perspective on the country and the different cultures and ways of life. Ferra is from Borneo, Bobby, a video producer, is from Papua, and Lenny, a travel writer, is from Sumatra.

After picking them up, I drove them straight to Niagara Falls, a most definite must see for anyone in town! It was a bright and sunny day, which made it perfect to roam around and take in the sights and sounds of Niagara River and the Falls. While driving on the 190 (a highway in Buffalo), I pointed to the land across the Niagara River to our left, which happens to be Canada! They really got a kick out of that. Due to visa restrictions, none of them were allowed to venture to other countries while they were in the US, so they loved to see how close they were to another country.

We made our way to the Falls, and I was so glad to be back…I really don’t visit the Falls enough, but I guess that is what happens when you live so close to something like that. I imagine Parisians only visit the Eiffel Tower when they have friends or family from out of town visiting, and it’s quite similar to Western New Yorkers and Niagara Falls. But there is no denying that the Falls and the raging rapids of the Niagara River are both breathtaking and worth the visit. The ride to the Falls is full of anticipation; you drive alongside the Niagara River the entire time, and the rapids grow more fierce the closer you get to the Falls, and in the distance you can see the mist of the Falls once you’re about to arrive. As soon as you park and get out of the car, you can hear the roar of the Falls before you see them, and you just follow the sound until BAM, there they are in all their glory. It was really fulfilling to be with a group of people who were experiencing it for the first time, it was almost as though I was living through them and experiencing the Falls for the first time as well.

We stayed there for quite a bit; we marveled at the Falls up close and on the observation deck, and then walked around Goat Island to get a good glimpse of the rapids. We met an interesting man who is originally from Brooklyn but is now living Buffalo, and he has been all over the world. We all had a nice chat with him and shared our stories of all the places we’ve traveled to.

After the Falls, we made our way back to the city for lunch, and I had to take them to get some wings. They’ve all had wings out in Arizona, but nothing can compare to chicken wings in Buffalo! Deciding where the best wings in Buffalo are is a never ending debate amongst Buffalonians, but I knew I didn’t want to take them to the Anchor Bar, the birthplace of the Buffalo wing, because honestly there are so many other great places to go. Ultimately I decided on the Pan-Am Grill at the Hotel Lafayette, and that largely had to do with the hotel itself. It’s a gorgeous and historical building inside and out, and I wanted them to experience that. Also, the Pan-Am Grill pays great homage to Buffalo’s history, so I thought that was a nice touch as well. Admittedly, I had never had the wings there before, so I was taking a bit of a gamble, but they turned out pretty good. My only complaint was that they were not spicy enough… Depending on where you get wings in Buffalo, they can be very deceptively hot, but I’m a huge fan of spice and heat, and so were my Indonesian friends. However, the wings weren’t as spicy as I’d hoped. Either way, they all devoured them and agreed, they were WAY better than any chicken wing they’ve eaten in Arizona.

After lunch, I asked whether they would be interested in visiting the Albright Knox Art Gallery or Forest Lawn Cemetery, and they wanted to visit the cemetery, so off we went. Forest Lawn is a beautiful, 269-acre cemetery that has a lot of famous and important figures buried there. They taught me to say “permisi” before taking any photos, which is a way to say “excuse me” to the spirits to make sure they were OK with us photographing their graves. All three of them were really wowed by how large it was, and I took them to a few famous graves, one being the 13th President of the United States, Millard Filmore. I also wanted to show them Rick James’s grave, but none of them were familiar with him, despite my horrific attempt at singing Super Freak, so they weren’t too keen on venturing out to visit him.

After a bit of wandering, I decided to take them to see the grain elevators and silos. These are great relics of Buffalo’s past, as Buffalo was once the largest grain supplier in the entire world. They are now abandoned and rusted, very symbolic of Buffalo’s industrial past that has come and gone; however, they have since found new life…another great allegory of Buffalo’s recent renaissance. Art shows, festivals, kayaking, and rock climbing are just some of the things offered down by the grain elevators. The area has since been renamed Silo City, and it’s a pretty neat space to enjoy a range of activities. It’s most active in the summer, so when we were down there, not much was going on, but they still loved hearing my spiel about Buffalo’s past and I think they liked the eeriness of us being alone amongst the rusted giants that used to breathe so much life into Buffalo’s livelihood.

After the grain elevators, we met up with Kim, who was just wrapping up with her classes at Buff State. I made sure to drive up Delaware Ave and down Chapin Parkway to show them the extravagant and beautiful mansions and carriages houses that were built in the late 1880s. Many of the mansions on Delaware have since been converted into office spaces and country clubs, but the homes on Chapin are still residential and they are pretty breathtaking. Even though I’ve driven by them countless times, I still find myself slowing down in my car and staring every time I happen to be driving by. They are just incredible.

We eventually met up with Kim at the HH Richardson-Olmstead Complex, which is located right next to Buff State. It’s an abandoned insane asylum that was designed by famed American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and the outside was designed by the famous landscape architect Frederick Olmstead. Olmstead created a vast park system in Buffalo, with its focus to incorporate nature into urban living. He based his designs on the park systems in Paris, and his parks are an integral part of Buffalo’s design. You may be more familiar with his contributions to New York City, as he designed Central Park.

Anyways, the Richardson Complex is an absolutely stunning building that has a strange history given that it was an insane asylum. Add in that it’s now abandoned, and it’s become quite a point of interest for tourists and locals alike. Tours of the interior are only conducted in the summer, but viewing it from the outside is just as intriguing because it’s beautiful, with all the classic “Richardsonian Romanesque” elements that Henry Hobson Richardson designed his buildings with.

We took some pictures outside of the building, and made sure to say “permisi” to ensure that no spirits would appear in any of our photos haha…and then we decided to grab a drink. Lenny said she was in the mood for something sweet, so we decided to head to the Chocolate Bar, a swanky dessert bar in Buffalo’s entertainment district. We all ordered dessert flavored martinis and some sweets to pass around. After drinking, we ventured a block down to a restaurant/bar called The Lodge, because it has a bunch of arcade games. We ordered some more drinks and started playing skeeball, air hockey, and the longest game of pool known to man!

After our games, I thought it would be fun to head up to Allentown, which is where I usually like to hang out to drink. Allentown is filled with an eclectic choice of bars; ranging from your typical dive bars, sports bars, more swanky places, and great bars that have live music. I chose Nietzsche’s; not only are the drinks cheap with an interesting crowd, but there happened to be burlesque girls that night which I thought would be a bit different. There was also a young guy covering Madonna songs on a piano which was pretty fun. The burlesque girls were great, it was the first burlesque show for Ferra, and she seemed pretty amused.

At that point, it was pretty late in the night, and it was time to say our goodbyes. They were all heading out the next morning to continue on to New York City. My new friends gifted me a guide book on Indonesia, along with some Indonesian trinkets and a very sweet thank you card which they all signed and wrote little messages. It was so nice! They were all so appreciative that I took them around, but honestly it didn’t feel like a task at all, I had a blast and they were so much fun to talk to. I felt full of pride showing them around my city, but I was having just as much fun asking them about their lives in Indonesia and what it’s like living there.

I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to meet Ferra, Bobby, and Lenny and I now consider them my friends…even though we come from very different parts of the world, we all have very similar interests, especially when it comes to traveling and exploring. They all seemed down for going on adventures, and I think I just found some more travel companions for future travels. I’m looking forward to visiting them in Indonesia so we can swap roles and they can take me around their towns.