Tuesday. Train to Buffalo day. After an early start and with a scaled down bag of packed items we went to Penn Station and boarded the Amtrak train, impressively huge, silver and sleek with wide comfortable armchair seats. A small dining car sold snacks-good enough for a breakfast of coffee, bagels and cream cheese.
The journey out from New York was the most diverting part, it transpired as what followed was hours of attractive but not dynamic scenery. Tiredness and monotony led to some gentle skirmishing [if you’ve followed from the start you’ll know that the relationship was in its infancy].
At intervals the train stopped. Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, towns heard of in some way and now in context. Some passengers were travelling direct to Niagara; a few heading on to Toronto. We alighted at Buffalo, expecting to go straight to ‘Tourist Information’ and being disillusioned. Buffalo Station had nothing more than a ticket office-and a tiny one at that. One railway official remained as the train chugged off in the direction of Niagara. He looked at his watch. ‘Aaahm about to close up at fooour!’ he announced. We’d still to find accommodation and the bus station, for getting to Niagara next day.
The buildings of Buffalo reared up in a menacing, unwelcoming way as the railroad man pointed vaguely in the direction of the bus station and suggested The Radisson or The Hilton in response to enquiries. We heaved our bags across the road and walked the few blocks to the bus station, where the wall-mounted schedule was incomprehensible. Braving the disdain of the ticket clerk we were none the wiser. I threw myself at his mercy. ‘We’re English’ I told him. ‘We’re all a bit dim. Please would you help explain this?’ He softened. ‘Sure. You go get schedule 40 and I’ll show you.’ I sighed. A cold sore had begun its ominous tingle at the corner of my mouth.
Now we had to tackle the hotel problem. The transit police suggested the Hotel Lenox and that we’d need a cab [of course] to get there. The driver spent the entire journey earnestly trying to persuade us to take his cab direct to Niagara. ‘You can get a motel down there for 30 dollars and give me 30 dollars-that’s less than you’ll spend at the Lenox’. He laboured his point several times, until Husband gently persuaded him otherwise. ‘We’ll stay here now,’ he replied, ‘we like looking at places so we’ll have a look at Buffalo’, at which the driver capitulated and suggested a restaurant-‘The Anchor’, home of the famous ‘Buffalo wings’. Who knew?
The Lenox was once grand but now a decadent pile skulking in front of the Holiday Inn. The room was adequate.
Buffalo was not the tourist Mecca I’d expected. We debated our options, with this town seeming less hospitable by the minute. A connection to Boston, the next destination, was impossible. I suggested a flight, but there was no reply from any of the freephone numbers we called for ticket agencies. Maybe reception could help? The receptionist seemed invigorated by the challenge- a small, pale, bespectacled girl, offering the phone, finding numbers.
We were introduced to ‘Mr Pellegrino’, the hotelier, an effusive character who extolled the virtues of the Anchor Bar. ‘Tell them Mr Pellegrino sent you!’ and gave us a card. He was a portly ex-cop.
The travel research was not going well. Only one airline flew direct from Buffalo to Boston and the ticket was $301.
We went out to find The Anchor, a red brick pub standing alone on a corner. The sun was still warm and the evening crisp and clear, the beer excellent. Here in the quiet gloom of the restaurant 3 mountainous men were consuming gargantuan meals while a family in the corner were setting into a banquet, with plates covering the whole table. A nearby couple appeared to be eating the entire menu of food. We were surrounded by eating machines-dwarfed by them. But the famous, spicy chicken wings were very good and following the meal we decided to look at the town…