Buffalo , New York - if it's terra incognita you seek, don't bother with the atolls of the South Pacific or the 'Stans of the former Soviet Union. Just go to Buffalo. You can't get much further off the tourist trail than this tarnished jewel in the Rust Belt, where you'll see some stunning architecture, eat some great food and meet some friendly people.
One way to really see the city is from the observation deck of city hall. Buffalo City Hall is a jaw-droppingly huge art deco pastiche of brute Americana. After passing through the Byzantine lobby beneath murals of muscular farmers and steelworkers, we board an elevator.
Since there's almost no signage or guidance, I ask a fellow passenger about the deck. She's a little unsure but advises us to just head for the top. Then, in the open manner that we come to think of as typically Buffalonian, she smiles and says, "If you can't find it, just visit us on the 21st floor. We've got a great view."
We get off at the 25th floor where we're greeted by a barren hallway. Around the corner, a small sign indicates the way to the top. We climb the stairs to the very apex of the massive octagonal main tower. The place is empty except for a couple of mop buckets. Doors to the outside are locked, but the view through the ornate steel-cased windows is 360° of lake, city and beyond.
After an appropriate interval of listening to the wind howl and feeling like exiled superheroes, we go back to the elevators. But before we descend, curiosity gets the better of us and we slowly push open the windowed door marked "Office of the Comptroller."
It becomes obvious that the entire floor is abandoned and we are alone amongst the stacked tables, faded wall maps and dangling blinds. If Buffalo City Hall has ghosts (the guy who jumped from the deck and impaled himself on the flagpole being a prime contender), the 25th floor is where they walk.
Edifices and edification stir the appetite. All the travel guides correctly cite the admirable Anchor Bar, birthplace of the Buffalo chicken wing, but rarely mentioned are those other western New York specialties, hot dogs and beef on weck (a hot beef sandwich served on a gravy-dipped salted kaiser).
For dogs, go to Ted's and savour grilled foot-longs washed down with loganberry juice. Exemplary beef on weck can be had at Schwabl's in the proletarian suburb of Orchard Park. This woody old roadside restaurant offers all-enveloping nostalgia, white- jacketed bartenders and fantastic beef.
For accommodation, the Lennox Hotel, an elegant but down-at-the-heels Edwardian pile once home to a baby F. Scott Fitzgerald, provides relative economy and Jim Jarmuschian atmosphere. Here the night man may regale you on the spiritual benefits of the conjugal bed, notwithstanding the dangers posed by unmanicured toenails.
People go to Buffalo for the high culture of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery or the low culture of NFL football.
I go for all the stuff in between.