Saturday, August 29, 2009

High Falls/Brown's Race

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We all have our favorite spots to take friends and family who visit Rochester. For us, they've included the George Eastman House, the Susan B. Anthony House, the overlook at Cobb's Hill, and Wegmans, to name a few. The last two times friends have visited, we've driven them around downtown for our own "guided tours." The one place we've stopped the car and explored each time, winter and summer, is High Falls.

Besides checking out the 94-foot falls from the Pont de Rennes bridge, you can walk down Brown's Race to the Visitor Center, where you'll find a Rochester-themed gift shop, exhibits about Rochester history, and an art gallery. I like the "Power of the People" interactive exhibit, which tells you a bit about the lives of many prominent Rochester figures, like George Eastman, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Kate Gleason, and Sam Patch, who met his end at the falls on November 13, (Friday the 13th), 1829.

To learn more about the area, check out the Center at High Falls' website, which has an "online walking tour" with photos of each spot and historical details about the area in the 19th century, when it was home to several factories (churning out shoes, tools, buttons, and more) and mills. Unfortunately, when it comes to current information about the area, the website is at least a few years out of date, but you can read a bit about what's in the works for High Falls on

TIP: Check out the free laser/fireworks shows at High Falls. The next two take place tonight and Thursday, September 3.

NEARBY: Tribeca, Spin Caffe, New Unto Others

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (Seneca Falls)

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After driving past the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge countless times on my way to or from Syracuse over the years, I finally went through it on Sunday. Because of the rainy weather, Clem and I skipped the walking trails and stayed inside the car to explore Wildlife Drive, a three-mile route through the refuge, which is about 45 miles from Rochester.

Montezuma's website says that Wildlife Drive is "where you'll see the greatest variety of wildlife from ducks, geese, and herons to shorebirds, songbirds, bald eagles and other birds of prey! The Drive offers great birding and photography opportunities. You may also see turtles, muskrat, beaver, white-tailed deer and red fox."

Well, we didn't see much. Maybe it was the weather, which got worse as we drove; maybe it was the time of year; maybe it was bad luck; or maybe the animals were hiding behind bushes and laughing at us. Other than a few shorebirds (egrets?) at the entrance to the refuge, all we saw was a bunch of swallows (I think) that were swooping around too quickly for us to get a good look at them. We had better luck a few years ago in Delaware at Bombay Hook (which, incidentally, would be a good band name). I had brought my SLR -- film, not digital! -- and did have some fun taking closeups of flowers and a pretty snail shell.

When we finished the three miles, we drove to the Visitor Center, which has displays and a small gift shop. I think taxidermied animals are creepy, so I mostly passed those by, but the center also had an interesting map showing all the wildlife refuges in the U.S. as well as bird migration routes. If you push a button for a certain species, a series of small bulbs lights up to show the path that bird takes. (I am easily amused.) According to a sign in the center, visitors can borrow binoculars and field guides for the drive or trails.

Before we left, I flipped through a notebook in which refuge visitors had jotted down the birds they'd spotted. Recent entries mention blue herons, eagles, sandhill cranes, ospreys, and kingfishers, so maybe if we had picked a different day or time, or used binoculars, or had more patience, or something, we would have seen more. Montezuma doesn't charge a fee to get in, so someday we'll have to try again!

NEARBY: Women's Rights National Historical Park, National Women's Hall of Fame. Down the road is Montezuma Winery.

TIP: The Montezuma website points out which times of the year are the best for viewing wildlife.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Donating Blood

This Rochester experience is a bit different from others I've written about -- even though it does involve eating!

If I had to sum up my blood donation experience with one word, it would be "easy." It was easy to make the appointment online, easy to slightly change the scheduled time (online) when I needed to, and easy to prepare for and go through with the actual donation. It made me wonder why I had waited ten years (oops) since the last time I gave blood.

It's also easy to find out if you're among the 60 percent of Americans eligible to donate blood -- just check the Red Cross website. If you make an appointment, you'll be told how to prepare, too -- I made sure to drink more water than usual during the 24 hours leading up to my donation and didn't eat any high-fat foods that morning (because doing that can interfere with a certain test they may have to perform later on your blood donation).

I got to the Red Cross building on Prince Street a few minutes before my appointment on a recent Saturday morning, checked in, and showed my ID. A volunteer gave me a binder of information to read as well as a coupon for a free container of Friendly's ice cream (nice bonus), and then a staff person took me to a small room. She took my pulse, checked my blood pressure, and pricked my finger to get a bit of blood to check the iron level. Next, she left the room while I used her laptop to answer 50 questions about my health, which were very easy and didn't take long.

Then she directed me to a very comfy recliner-type chair in the donation area. She cleaned my arm, found a good vein, and put the needle in, which honestly only caused me a little pain. When I was "hooked up" to everything, I had to squeeze a little foam ball for five counts and then relax for five counts, and the Red Cross person stayed close by and made sure I was feeling OK. I had planned to use my phone to go online while I waited, but the counting kept my brain busy enough!

About ten or fifteen minutes later, I was done! I had to hold up my arm for a couple minutes to stop any bleeding, and then the staff person bandaged my arm with gauze and tape and sent me to the snack area. They had lots of sugary and salty snacks to choose from, and I picked the chocolate one, of course -- can't pass up Oreos. The very friendly volunteer got me a can of juice and made conversation with me and the other donor at the table. She showed me a little book of facts about giving blood -- that's where I learned the 60 percent figure. Unfortunately, just 5 percent of people donate each year.

The whole process took about an hour, and I hope to go back as soon as I'm eligible to donate again. (You're required to wait 56 days between whole-blood donations). How about you?

TIP: You can schedule an appointment online. If you donate before the end of this month, you'll get a carton of ice cream like I did, according to the website.

NEARBY: The Memorial Art Gallery, George Eastman House, and more.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ukrainian Festival

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Varenyky! That was my main thought any time the Ukrainian Festival came to mind this summer. Potato- and cheese-filled dumplings covered with melted butter and, for 25 cents extra, sauteed onions. Yes, please!

Within a couple minutes of arriving at the festival on Sunday, we were already ordering dinner. I went for the varenyky (of course), and Clem chose the combination plate (varenyky, holubets, kovbasa, kapusta, sauteed onions, and rye bread). We ate our delicious dinner while watching the end of one of the dance performances.

Afterward, we grabbed a couple of drinks and wandered around the festival, mostly looking through the booths. Vendors sold jewelry, hand-decorated eggs and other crafts, CDs, icons, wooden roses, and clothing (ranging from the traditional to T-shirts proclaiming the wearer "ukielicious"). The dessert area offered pastries and ice cream, and several Blackjack tables were set up across from the arts and crafts area. If we'd arrived earlier in the day, we could have watched embroidery and egg-decorating demonstrations inside the church.

After we'd looked around, it was almost time for the next performance, so we sat down by the stage to wait for Stephania Romaniuk to take the stage. A soprano studying at Eastman, she sang traditional folk songs and Ukrainian pop songs from the '50s.

We had been eyeing the desserts for sale, but it was such a perfect day for ice cream (i.e. really hot), I managed to convince Clem to go to Bruster's afterward.

TIP: Ignore the outdoor stands with typical festival food, like hamburgers, onion rings, and fried dough -- eat a Ukrainian meal instead!

NEARBY: Ice-cream-wise, Abbott's and Bruster's.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time hanging out in the area near the corner of Monroe and Oxford, stopping at places like Good Company, Village Green, and Brownbag Bookshop. A decade and a half later, those stores -- and several other independent shops -- have closed. The area looks very different, especially with the unfortunate addition of national chains like Pizza Hut and Subway. One store that has survived is Archimage, and I'm glad it did. I most recently stopped by the store on Friday after work.

The best word to describe Archimage is "eclectic." It sells

- clothing and accessories (including hats, scarves, bags, and jewelry)
- incense and candles (in fact, the whole store smells of incense, as will your purchases)
- drums, tambourines, and other musical instruments
- paper goods (like Moleskine, notecards, origami paper, and gift wrap)
- toys and other fun items ("novelty" stuff, for example, inflatable toast; magnetic poetry kits; and things from Fred & Friends)
- home decor and accessories (paper lanterns, batiks, wall art, sushi plates, decorative wooden boxes)
- many other things, from political buttons to Uglydoll to a Vincent VanGogh action figure

Since it had been months since I last went to Archimage, I spotted a couple of new things I hadn't seen before -- pretty boxes made to look like old, leather-bound books, and scarves "recycled" from saris.

I was looking for a tank top -- now that real summer weather is here -- and I found a pretty pink one from a company called Eucalyptus. The tag on the shirt said that the company donates 10% of pre-tax profits to an organization that improves health care and education for women and children in a small Guatemalan village. It was included in the store's current sale, so I got it for about $18, down from $28.50.

Since I got a deal on that, I also picked up a silk short-sleeved top, made from sari-type material, from Jedzebel, a fair-trade company based in Santa Cruz. That was also on sale for about $18. I noticed a few other Jedzebel items at the store, as well as Flax pieces.

TIP: Archimage is a great place to find gifts.

NEARBY: Astoria and Aladdin's, just to name two.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Erie Canal

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During the summer, I'm not a big fan of outdoor activities. (What can I say? I sunburn easily and hate hot weather.) But on a nicer (i.e., cooler) day, I wouldn't mind a walk by the Erie Canal.

Go ahead and take your kids, your dog, your bike, your skates, or some combination thereof! In the past, I've gone on walks starting at Perinton Park, Schoen Place, and Lock 33 in Henrietta and would recommend any of them.

You can also cruise the canal on the Sam Patch, which departs from Schoen Place in Pittsford. Clem and I are hoping to take a boat trip sometime before summer ends.

To get you in the mood for canal-exploring, here's the Erie Canal song, sung by ... Suzanne Vega?! "Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal."

TIP: If you want to learn more about the canal's history, Syracuse is the home of the Erie Canal Museum.

NEARBY: Plenty, depending where you are! A couple of my favorites are Coal Tower and Bill Wahl's Microcreamery.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The City Walk

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The City Walk can give you a good opportunity to accomplish those "meaning-to" items on your list of things to do: "I've been meaning to try that bar," "I've been meaning to try that restaurant," etc. Other things always seem to get in the way, but if you go to the City Walk, which takes place on the first Thursday of each month, an evening of visits to Rochester spots is completely planned out for you. All you have to do is walk.

Last Thursday, the City Walk started at one of the Eastman House's Garden Vibes outdoor concerts (featuring the Hi-Risers). I had heard about Garden Vibes at the beginning of the summer but didn't know if I wanted to pay the $10 admission fee. Fortunately, City Walkers got in free. We'd continue the night at Starry Nites and Edibles (which are next door to each other on University Ave.) and then Pomodoro.

We gathered inside the Eastman House entrance and waited around a bit until we all had a raffle ticket and City Walk stickers to wear. Then we were free to browse the museum and listen to the band until 7:25 p.m., when it was time to meet again to leave for our next stop.

Clem and I walked to the gardens and checked the food. Near the band were booths from Abbott's, Dinosaur Bar B Que, and the museum cafe (which was open in the museum, too -- mmm, gelato). The concert was pretty well attended, and people of all ages were sitting on blankets and lawn chairs and enjoying the wine and picnic dinners they'd brought -- everything from bags of potato chips to brie. We found a spot to put our chairs on the edge of the garden, (On the way there -- of course, since this is Rochester -- we ran into a couple people we knew.)

Not too long after, it was time to meet up with City Walk back inside the museum. The evening's organizer raffled off some door prizes to places like Rock Ventures (which I'd like to try sometime!) and Starry Nites. Clem actually won one! (I think the last time I won a door prize was about ten years ago, seriously.) We now have a $10 gift certificate to Roma Cafe on University Ave.

After the drawings, the Eastman House's director of communications and visitor services talked briefly about the next Garden Vibes concert, the Picturing Rochester exhibit, a concert by Michael Feinstein to celebrate the museum's 60th anniversary, and the Eastman Young Professionals Group.

We walked along University Avenue to Starry Nites and Edibles, and there was just enough sunlight for me to get some photos of ARTWalk. Clem and I hadn't had dinner yet, so, faced with the choice, we picked Edibles, which offered a Thursday two-for-one drink special. It was a perfect night to eat outside, so we did. Not only was the weather nice, but we could easily hear the live jazz outside Starry Nites. Clem ordered the grilled pork tenderloin, and I got the pierogies with caramelized onions and sour cream. I will definitely be going back someday for those.

When it was time for everyone to move on to Pomodoro, we weren't finished with dinner, so we stayed at Edibles and ordered dessert instead (hazelnut creme brulee and chocolate lava cake). Someday we'll make it to Pomodoro -- their menu looks pretty promising.

TIPS: The City Walk has a Facebook group where you can find out about future events.

NEARBY: It depends!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thali of India

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If you're a fan of Indian food like I am, you're sure to find something to like on the menu at Thali of India. But if you visit for lunch on Sunday, you'll get to sample a large variety of dishes in one of the restaurant's twice-weekly buffets.

Last weekend, we took my college friend and her boyfriend, visiting from Pennsylvania, to the lunch buffet. Thali's website gives two different times for the meal -- 11:30 to 2:30 and 11 to 3 -- but we arrived around 11:45 and the food in the trays still looked very fresh.

The restaurant wasn't very crowded at first, but it quickly filled up (and then thinned out again by around 1:30). The buffet, which costs $8.99 per person, offers several vegetarian dishes as well as meat-based ones, along with a corner section with fruit and desserts, like gulab jamun. In addition to enjoying bread from the two baskets of naan brought to our table, I couldn't resist a couple pieces of bhatura. Keep an eye out for masala dosai -- I scored a couple of pieces from a plate a server brought to one of the buffet tables, but when my friend went to get one later on, they were gone.

None of us ordered drinks (at dinner, I'll usually have a mango lassi), but even when it got busy, servers were constantly refilling our water glasses, which was nice. This was our second time at Thali in a week and a half, and I'm sure we'll be back again pretty soon.

TIP: Try the dinner buffet on Monday nights.

NEARBY: Cantonese House is in the same plaza.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Park Avenue Summer Arts Festival

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On Saturday, I returned to the scene of my last blog entry with a trip to the Park Ave. Fest. We spent hours there, which was easy to do since the festival covers a one-mile strip of Park Ave. with booths on both sides.

If you've never been, it's definitely worth a trip. The 300 artists offer work for sale that includes the cute, the beautiful, the kitschy, and the odd (example: paintings of various dog breeds sitting in martini glasses). You don't have to spend much to go home with a festival souvenir; I bought a package of blank gift tags in assorted colors for $1 and spent $4.50 on a rubber stamp.

Of course, besides browsing through the booths of art, you can EAT! Park Ave. offers typical fair/festival food like fried dough and kettle corn but also crepes from Simply Crepes, samosas from India House, and some healthy selections from Freshwise Kitchen, just to name a few. Next time, I just might have to try the chocolate-dipped cheesecake on a stick.

If you're hungry, you can also stop at one of the many restaurants lining the street. For a nice air-conditioned break, we had lunch at Hogan's Hideaway (after just a 5-minute wait to sit inside), which had a special -- meaning limited -- festival menu. Later on, we shopped at a very crowded Parkleigh and ordered gelato (hazelnut with chocolate sprinkles for me) at Roman Holiday Gelato.

About 30 bands and artists perform at the festival stages, which are set up throughout the street. We didn't stop for long at any of the stages, but I did visit the greyhounds from Greyhound Adoption of Greater Rochester, NY. If we didn't have four cats, I would seriously consider adopting one of their dogs!

TIP: Wear comfortable shoes! Also, parking at one of the shuttle lots is pretty convenient if you arrive early enough to nab a spot. We parked at Gleason Works and paid $1 for a round-trip shuttle, which I would do again.

NEARBY: Lots of places, festival or not!