Hello from Rochester: A Perfect Getaway for Stressed Out Torontonians (and Other Urbanites)
By Susanne Pacher
Two days ago I took the CAT fast ferry from Toronto to Rochester and arrived well-rested after a 2.5 hour boat ride in the Port of Rochester, a scenic Rochester suburb called Charlotte. I was greeted by Patti and Carrie from the Rochester Visitors Association who had helped me with my itinerary and were kind enough to show me around.
It had been raining all day and Port Charlotte greeted me with grey skies and deep-hanging clouds. But the first thing I noticed as we drove towards downtown Rochester was the amount of green spaces and parks. We drove through a number of nicely manicured neighbourhoods and Patti showed me some of the amazing parks systems that Rochester has to offer. We drove through Genesee Valley Park, designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead who also designed Central Park in New York City.
We then headed to Highland Park where each May the City holds the annual Lilac Festival, when more than 1,200 lilac bushes of different varieties and colours burst into bloom. Driving through beautiful neighbourhoods with large villas and expansive front lawns we made our way to Cobbs Hill Park which is located on a hill and holds a water reservoir with a fountain. The unique thing about Cobbs Hill Park is that there is one spot in this elevated green zone from where you can perfectly see the skyline of Rochester away in the distance, past the lush green neighbourhoods that stretch in front of downtown.
After exploring some of the expansive parks of Rochester as well as the beautiful Victorian-era Mt. Hope Cemetery, we slowly made our way downtown on East Avenue, a historic street with extensive mansions. One of Rochester's famous home-grown entrepreneurs is George Eastman, the founder of the Eastman-Kodak Corporation, which to this day has its headquarters in Rochester. Eastman was a great benefactor to the city and donated the greatest part of his wealth, estimated at $2 billion in today's dollars, to different medical, cultural and educational institutions throughout the city. We briefly stopped at his home, the Eastman House, an elegant 50-room Colonial Revival Mansion surrounded by formal gardens.
Following the Eastman House, which also contains the International Museum of Photography and Film, we crossed over to University Avenue to the Neighbourhood of the Arts, or also referred to as Artwalk. This is a stretch of road down University Avenue which houses studios, galleries, art and antique retailers in a neighbourhood of post-war apartment buildings, multi-family Victorian mansions and charming cottages.
The award winning Artwalk features sidewalk imprints, artistic benches, tiled light poles, sculptures and bus shelters all the way from the George Eastman House towards the stunning neogothic building of the Memorial Art Gallery. Every September this neighbourhood hosts the Clothesline Art Show.
After Artwalk we headed down Main Street into the downtown area. I got a look at the Eastman Theatre, home of the Eastman School of Music, one of the top music schools in the country. The Eastman Theatre itself is an interesting building, curved and classically styled, it is literally cut off on one side since a neighbour of George Eastman demanded an exorbitant price for his property, and rather than giving in to these demands, Eastman simply decided to stop the building at the property line.
Our next stop was the Browns Race and High Falls Area: one of the city's newest entertainment districts. Rochester was once known as the Flour City for all the wheat grinding that occurred along its River. Today, the Brown's Race area is a national register historic district. The area sits above the Genesee River, right next to the thundering High Falls. The Pont de Rennes bridge is a pedestrian bridge, connecting the east and west side of the city, and is named after Rochester's sister city in France.
Many of the former industrial buildings have been renovated and are now occupied by ad agencies, tech companies and engineering firms. The streets in the district have cobble-stoned pavement and feature historically styled street lighting. There are a number of entertainment places in the area, including the Triphammer Grill, which has a patio area overlooking the falls. Beside this restaurant is an old water wheel, testimony to this area's milling history. It's a very atmospheric place and an example of a successful conversion of an old industrial area into a modern entertainment district.
The Kodak headquarters are not far away from the High Falls area, and our tour continued past a number of the downtown streets. As a true architecture buff, I marveled at how many of Rochester's historic buildings have been preserved. There are entire blocks that have an intact 19th century street front, some with cast iron architecture. There was no time to explore the architecture in detail, that would have to wait for my second day in town. But needless to say, I knew I had found a city that had preserved a lot of its architectural heritage that would require further exploration.
We crossed into the city's west end and passed by a famous tavern called Nick Tahou's House, which is the home of the "garbage plate": a plate full of hamburgers, fries, and a variety of other heart-attack inducing delicacies. This route took us past a beautiful modern townhouse development that, surprisingly enough, holds recently built subsidized housing. We then made our way towards Susan B. Anthony's house. Anthony was a daring social activist who insisted on voting rights for women and was arrested in 1872 for voting in the presidential election, challenging the law. Her house was a congregation for many of her activist friends, including the famous suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Rochester's history includes another famous activist, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and both Susan B. Anthony and Federick Douglass are featured in sculptures in a little park just down the road from the Susan B. Anthony House.
We then took in the Corn Hill neighbourhood, an area with tidy historic homes that hosts the Corn Hill Arts Festival every July. The next stop on our itinerary was the Strong Museum, ranked one of the top 10 children's museums in the United States. It holds the National Toy Hall of Fame and many world renowned collections of toys, miniatures, dollhouses as well as the world's most comprehensive collection of dolls. The entrance area features an authentic 1950s diner still in operation and an antique carousel.
Crossing the city again into the east end, past tree lined avenues with attractive homes, we headed outside of town to a quaint Rochester suburb called Fairport, located on the Erie Canal. On the way we passed through the wealthy suburb of Pittsford, which is the location of the Oak Hill Country Club where the 2003 PGA Championships were held. On our way to Fairport we drove past St. John Fisher College which is the location of the Buffalo Bill's training camp. Fairport itself is a gorgeous little village with beautiful storefronts, a river walk and public docking facilities. We caught a glimpse of the Colonial Belle, a 2-deck sight-seeing boat that cruises the Erie Canal.
From Fairport we went back to Pittsford, whose quaint historical center is also located right on the Erie Canal. Pittsford has a number of retail stores and restaurants that are built around an old lumber mill and it is the home of the Sam Patch, an excursion and charter boat that is a replica of an old canal packet boat. Both Fairport and Pittsford reminded me of Niagara-on-the-Lake with beautifully restored architecture, colourful overflowing flower baskets, and a variety of shopping and dining opportunities.
Well, after this comprehensive sightseeing program it was time to go for dinner. We headed up towards the Lake Ontario shoreline and into beautiful Irondequoit Bay. The name for this large bay of water is from the Iroquois Nation and means "where the two waters meet." The Native Americans once used this bay and the incoming Irondequoit Creek for canoe travel to avoid the high falls on the Genesee River. At the southern end of the bay is a large attractively styled new restaurant called Bazil's which features casual Italian cuisine.
Although the restaurant is fairly new, the place was absolutely packed, and the first thing we noticed was the chandelier in the front entrance hall which is made completely of wine bottles. We waited for about 15 minutes and then had a great dinner in the bay-side dining room area. I enjoyed the dinner which was capped off by the largest and most delicious funnel cake I have ever seen.
After this long day of sightseeing Patti and Carrie dropped me off at the Holiday Inn Express where I had well-deserved night's rest since another round of sightseeing would await me in just a few hours. My first day in Rochester had left me with a number of impressions:
- the large expanses of green spaces within the city
- meticulously manicured neighbourhoods with attractive well-kept homes
- several vibrant entertainment districts, including the historic High Falls area
- one of my favourite spots: the outdoor art experience of ArtWalk
- the historic buildings of the downtown core
- and the beautiful bayside dining at Bazil's.
I admit I didn't know much about Rochester before I got there, but the scenic quality of its suburban and downtown neighbourhoods definitely struck me. Combined with convenient access to water sports on the Erie Canal and Lake Ontario as well as to a huge variety of sports activities including golf, hiking, biking and skiing ust minutes from the downtown core, I realized why Rochester's slogan is "Made for Living".
About The Author
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions (http://www.travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the t-ransitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
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The travel story with photos is published at Travel and Transitions - Travel Stories (http://www.travelandtransitions.com/stories_photos/hello_rochester_2.htm).