One of my goals in being location independent and working for myself was to have more time to not just travel but to spend with friends and family. So I made good on that this summer and visited Margaret — the second oldest of my three sisters — in Rochester, New York. I hadn’t been to Rochester in years and I admit I didn’t know too much about it aside from the fact that I had a sister residing there. In just one short weekend my impression would improve dramatically as I discovered a city with an impressive arts scene, great restaurants, and a comfortable way of life for residents both human and canine.
But first I had to get there. Four hours of driving solo along an interstate highway might not sound like too much fun, but don’t worry — I had the world’s cutest copilot.
As you can tell, Tucker was extremely excited to visit his cousin Boo. They are best dog friends.
Soon we arrived at the house, and dog cousins and human sisters were happily reunited. Tucker, my adorable cocker spaniel, looked so happy being part of a pack that I felt guilty he doesn’t have any other dogs in the house on a regular basis. It only strengthened my convictions to be a crazy dog lady some day with a whole herd of canines.
Speaking of my sister’s house, I’m kicking myself for not getting a picture of it. It was my first time seeing the place since she bought it a few years ago and it’s beautiful. We had a barbeque and caught up while hanging out on the porch and making plans for our big venture to Niagara Falls the next day (separate post to come!)
The next night we were joined by our dad, who flew in just to spend the weekend with us. We hit the ground running after picking him up from the airport, and headed straight to First Fridays, a citywide open gallery event on the first Friday of every month. Many of Rochester’s once vacant industrial parks are now being turned into artists’ studios and shared gallery spaces, breathing new life into the area.
Once we felt appropriately refined and cultured, we were off to Good Luck. I wouldn’t have guessed Rochester for a culinary capital, yet this was one of the best restaurants I’ve been to in a long time. The design was original and flawlessly carried through the restaurant, the family-style menu was fun and everything from the cocktails to the entrees were mouth watering.
If you are in Rochester, or hell, anywhere within a reasonable drive of Rochester, you need to come eat here.
The only thing I didn’t get to try at Good Luck was the desserts, because we had puppies at home who needed walking. So the whole family took a stroll down to a local ice cream shop. My sister and I share a life philosophy — always live within walking distance to ice cream.
The dogs were a little flustered by the lack of ice cream going their way, but no one ever said being man’s best friend was easy.
We kicked off Saturday by visiting the Rochester institution James Brown’s Place. Margaret and her crew are pretty famous around here — so famous that her boyfriend Ted had a special named after him on this particular morning.
The infamous James Brown himself came out to greet us and I could see immediately why he is such a local legend — a quick poke around the website and you’ll see too. After hearing about what I do for a living he showed me his wall of fame — photos of people wearing James Brown’s Place t-shirts in front of famous monuments all over the world, from the Taj Majal to the Great Pyramids. I was honored when he gave me one too and now I’ve got to get somewhere exotic ASAP so I too can make it onto the wall!
Before heading to the main event of the day, Park Ave Fest, we had to wear out the dogs. We brought them to the new Rochester Dog Park and wow, I was so impressed! Usually Tucker is kind of a prissy pup and prefers human activities like watching TV and eating human food to canine pursuits like swimming in ponds or running to catch a ball. But something got into him on this morning and he went wild — I’ve never seen him swim so fearlessly or actually compete with another dog for something.
I’m so sad Albany doesn’t have a dog park like this. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen Tucker this happy since the time he broke into the laundry room where we store his food and had to be admitted to the emergency room for “dietary indiscretion.”
Once the dogs were passed out from exhaustion back at the house, we headed out to the Park Avenue Festival. This art-centric event reportedly attracts up to 250,000 people with more than 300 artists, vendors, and exhibitors from twenty one different states. There were all the elements for a perfect street festival in place: indulgent fair food, eccentric art vendors, various live music stages, and bar patios spilling out into the streets. I love community events like this and we had a great time. Unfortunately, this year’s event also coincided with one of the hottest days of summer, and my sister commented that attendance seemed kind of low as a result.
But we’re troopers, and a little heat isn’t going to stop me from making myself sick on banana nutella crepes, ice cream and french fries! And nothing stands between my Dad and buying at least five pieces of art per every event ever attended in life.
Does it seem like all we did was eat all weekend? Not entirely inaccurate. After walking away from Park Ave Festival declaring I would never eat again, a few hours later I was asking when dinner was. Once again Margaret picked a winner when she brought us to Sticky Lips, a delicious BBQ joint. My only complaint was the air conditioning being a little too strong, which I rectified with a little napkin scarf — much to my family’s embarrassment.
That was supposed to be a “brrr” gesture but it turned out a little more dolphin-y than planned. Guess I’ve been away from winter too long.
The weekend was flying by but I simply could not leave Rochester without visiting Parkleigh, my favorite shop in town. It’s a hodgepodge of cute gifts, fun home accents, great books, funky jewelry, and more.
They even have a counter of luxury candies and chocolates. My favorite were these squeal-worthy truffle hippos. My travel budget doesn’t allow for actual purchasing, but I have perfected the art of a good window-shop.
Next up, Margaret found an exhibit that she knew I would love. If non-New York state residents have heard of Rochester, it’s probably thanks to the city’s deep connection to the Eastman Kodak Company. While Kodak has fallen on hard times, Rochester is still rightly proud of the connection and hosted a retrospective of two famous Kodak photographers’ work at the High Falls Art Gallery.
Neil Montanus was Kodak’s underwater photography specialist, having pioneered large-format underwater photography in the 1960′s. He used the techniques to take the world’s largest underwater photograph ever produced, measuring 18×60 feet and displayed in New York’s Grand Central Station in 1969. I wonder how many future dive certifications were inspired by that display?
Walking through the exhibit was like flipping through every travel guidebook in the library. Beautiful images popped off the walls from everywhere from underwater in the Bahamas to to deep in the jungle in Brazil.
Also in the High Falls Center was a fun and interactive display about Rochester’s history. I loved this larger-than-life size version of the vintage camera that I display proudly in my bedroom at home.
Before heading out of town we had one last adventure. Margaret’s boyfriend Ted runs Top Shelf Staffing, a bartending company. His headshots on the website were a bit out of date, so I offered to take some new ones while I was in town. I always get nervous when I’m doing any kind of “professional” photography, but with a great setting and model it was fun! I’d hire this guy to bartend my party, wouldn’t you?
I was really impressed by seeing Rochester through a traveler’s eyes. Even before I arrived I’d vowed to make this trip an annual one, but now that I’ve been I look forward to returning even more. Sometimes it’s destinations like this — the ones that really surprise you — that are the most memorable.
Thank you so much, Margaret and Ted, for such a great weekend!