Thursday, July 11, 2013

Being A Docent in Buffalo

Krystal outside the Richardson
Olmsted Complex
This year, I've taken my Buffalove to another level by training to be a docent (tour guide) in Buffalo. I went through the training program with Buffalo Tours over the winter months, and then a training with the Richardson Olmsted Complex in early spring. In late spring, I was also offered a job with Buffalo Bites Food Tours as a tour guide.  

A question I always get on my tours is "How did you get involved?". For me, The Richardson Olmsted Complex had always been a mystery. Going to college at Buffalo State, I always drove past it, heard stories about the Complex, and wondered what was going to happen to such a vast land of buildings. Last summer, they offered a short tour season, and I was lucky enough to get a spot on one of the in depth tours. From the moment I walked inside the Complex, I was in love. It may seem like an odd reaction for a mental health facility, but hearing about the history of the Complex and seeing the simple beauty in the architecture, I saw firsthand this true "gem". 

Towards the end of the tour, our tour guide mentioned they would be looking for volunteers to help at events throughout the year. I quickly grabbed a card and think I sent an e-mail before that weekend was over. I volunteered at the Museums by Moonlight event held in the Fall and then learned they would be adding a group of docents for the 2013 season. It was a no brainer. 

As for Buffalo Bites Food Tours, my boyfriend and I took a tour with the owner, Laura Reed, last summer. We had an absolute blast, and Laura and I kept in touch after the tour. Early this year, she approached me to see if I would be interested in joining her team, and I couldn't say no. The Buffalo Bites Food Tours explore the Elmwood Village of Buffalo. Throughout the three hour tour you walk to six food stops and learn about the history of Buffalo and the Elmwood Village along the way. What could possibly be better?

Since my training has been completed for both, I've had the opportunity to lead, co-lead and chaperone various tours this summer. The response has been outstanding. People are genuinely interested in Buffalo, have a passion and excitement for the way things are going in our City, and always leave the tours with a good impression. It's an incredible feeling sharing my passion for Buffalo with those around me, and I can tell they all appreciate the small additional tidbits we throw in!

Here is my "insider" perspective on tours:

Richardson Olmsted Complex - The Richardson Center Corporation, the non-profit Board that is overseeing the redevelopment efforts of the Complex, is offering over 30 public tours this summer from one hour basic tours ($15), two hour in depth tours ($30), plus photography tours, family tours and more. All tours take you through the first floor of the Towers Administration building and ward buildings, and the specialty ones add additional floors. Throughout the tours the docents discuss the history of the Complex, its key players (H.H. Richardson, Frederick Law Olmsted/Calvert Vaux and Dr. Thomas Kirkbride), the present state of the Complex and the future. 

If you don't know what's happening at the Complex, rehabilitation efforts are underway, and the Complex currently boasts a gorgeous showcase space that shows off the potential of the Complex. 

Whether you are an architectural nerd, a Buffalo history buff, or have driven past the Complex a million times but never really knew what went on there, this is a tour for you. This summer is the perfect time to get on a tour; come fall, redevelopment efforts will begin to kick into full swing and getting the before and after perspective will be an added bonus! 

If you are planning on taking a tour, my suggestion - ask questions! I always tell my tour goers that my goal is to have them learn something new about Buffalo, one of the key players of the Complex and have fun. If you are taking a tour, remember you MUST wear closed toe shoes (no flip flops or sandals). 

If you can't make a tour, get down to the Complex in August anyway. The newly redone 9 acre South Lawn will be open as a public park for all to enjoy. I've had the pleasure of watching it all come together each time I have been at the Complex this summer. The project should be completed by the end of the month and it already looks gorgeous. 

The new location of Firefly Cupcakes
is just one stop!
Buffalo Bites Food Tours - Three hours of sampling some of the best food Buffalo has to offer? If that isn't motivation enough, add the backdrop of the eclectic Elmwood Village and some Buffalo history to the mix and you have the perfect afternoon in Buffalo. Worried about eating all that food and ruining your summer diet? Don't worry, we walk almost 2 miles over the 3 hours and I've been told there are actually no calories on food tour food (actual results may vary)! 

The tour costs $42/person, although Laura posts $10 off coupon codes - check her Facebook/Twitter pages for discounts. You receive enough food to be comfortably full, with time in between food tastings to walk it off. 

Owner Laura Reed was inspired after taking a food tour with some girlfriends in New York City. Her dream was to bring that concept to Buffalo, and last summer her dream became a reality. In its 2nd year, Buffalo Bites Food Tours are gaining popularity and there have been talks of adding a second food tour in a different neighborhood in Buffalo. 

Whether you are a lifelong Buffalonian or visiting from out of town, there is really something for everyone on a Buffalo Bites Food Tour. While I've spent many days and late nights on the Elmwood Strip, and frequented many of the restaurants on the tour, Laura gives you some history on the businesses and the foods you sample, and business owners have been known to chat with patrons during the tours. 

If you are planning on taking a tour, my suggestion - try everything! Unless you have a dietary restriction (which you can let the team know about beforehand and they can accommodate you with another food selection), give everything a try. In some tasting locations you have a choice on which item you get, so pick one you never have tried before. It will make the tour that much more enjoyable. 

Be a tourist in your own City this summer, Buffalo! Make sure you bring all your out of town guests with you too! 

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