The holidays are over, it's a long way to spring, and cabin fever is about to set in. With all those holiday bills coming due and the rising cost of just about everything, the travel and entertainment budget is often the first to go.
However, there are a number of fun places to visit in Western New York that won't cost you a dime. Even though they may be right under your nose, sometimes you need a reminder of what we have in our own back yard. Well, here it is!
>Niagara Power Project Power Vista
5777 Lewiston Road, Lewiston
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
This facility, which opened in 1961, has long been a popular destination for families. But if you visited this place prior to 2001, you really have to return, as you'll be pleasantly surprised by the number of new hands-on exhibits, where you can learn about electricity and hydropower in Western New York and get tips on energy efficiency.
Young children will especially like the "hair raising" experience of when the staff demonstrates the Van der Graff generator. You can even send an electronic postcard, using blue-screen technology.
>Castellani Art Museum
Niagara University Campus, Lewiston
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
Just across the street from the Power Vista, on the campus of Niagara University, is the Castellani Art Museum, which was founded in 1990 by the late Mr. and Mrs. Armand Castellani. The museum has more than 3,700 works of art, focusing mainly on art from the 1970s to the present. Exhibits include drawings, paintings, photos, sculpture and more, including works by Picasso and Dali, a number of pieces depicting Niagara Falls from the Charles Rand Penney collection, and Freedom Crossing, a permanent exhibit on the Underground Railroad.
Current exhibits include "Homage to Picasso," a print collection by well-known artists honoring Pablo Picasso that runs through Feb. 15.
>Our Lady of Victory Basilica
780 Ridge Road, Lackawanna
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily
Our Lady of Victory Basilica dominates the skyline of Lackawanna. The circa 1926 Italian Renaissance-style Basilica was built by the late Father Nelson Baker, who is under consideration for sainthood in the Catholic Church. The Basilica, which has an immense 165-foot copper-topped dome, is constructed almost entirely of marble. When it was built, the dome was second in size only to the U.S. Capitol dome. The lower level features a gift shop, as well as a small museum chronicling the life of Father Baker, who is buried within the Basilica.
>Steel Plant Museum
560 Ridge Road, Lackawanna
Hours: 1 to 9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
Just down the street from the Basilica, Lackawanna's circa 1922 Carnegie library houses the Steel Plant Museum, a tribute to the steel industry in Western New York. The collection has memorabilia pertinent to the steel industry in the region, including Bethlehem Steel, which was once the largest steel plant in the world.
>Original American Kazoo Company
8703 South Main St., Eden
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday (until 7 p.m. Friday)
Eden is considered the Kazoo Capital of the World. Be sure to visit the Original Kazoo Company, the only metal kazoo factory in existence. Kazoos are manufactured on the original equipment, which dates back to 1907. Tours are self-guided. Admission is free, but be warned: They have a wonderful gift shop, with all sorts of toys, books, giftware and more, so you might end up spending some money on a kazoo or two.
>Toy Town Museum
636 Girard Ave., East Aurora
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday
A trip to East Aurora wouldn't be complete without a stop at the 8,000-square-foot Toy Town Museum. It features a permanent collection of Fisher-Price toys, as well as other toys and artifacts on loan from other museums and private collectors. Young children will enjoy Toyworks, an interactive play area.
>Holland Land Office Museum
131 W. Main Street, Batavia
(585) 343-4727; www.hollandlandoffice.com
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Also open Mondays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The City of Batavia is considered the birthplace of Western New York, and it was from the Holland Land Office in Batavia that early settlers bought more than three million acres of land. The 1815 federal-style stone building has 20-inch thick walls, which made it fireproof. The Holland Land Office closed in 1830, and the building fell into disrepair. It was saved from demolition in 1894 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961. The exhibits focus mainly on Genesee County history, as well as Seneca Indian history.
211 W. Main Street, Batavia
(585) 343-5888 or (800) 924-3879; www.oliverscandies.com
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
OK, if you have a sweet tooth and want to buy something here, this visit won't exactly be free. But Oliver's Candies is a local landmark established in 1932 by Joseph Boyd Oliver and worth a visit, even without a purchase. Oliver started out selling homemade blanched peanuts door-to-door and later went on to create his signature Cashew Glaze and Hostess Squares. Today, the shop carries more than 350 varieties of candy and has a huge selection of locally made chocolates. The candy shop, which also has an ice cream parlor, is within walking distance from the Holland Land Office Museum.
One Lafayette Square
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday (Thursday until 8 p.m.); 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday (closed Sundays during the summer months)
While one usually doesn't think of a library as an attraction, the Central Library in downtown Buffalo offers much more than your average neighborhood branch library. More than three million books can be found on 58 miles of shelves in this massive 400,000-square-foot building, which covers two city blocks. You can research local history, as well as your own family history, check out the latest best-sellers, enjoy a bite to eat in Fables Cafe or shop at their gift shop. The library's Mark Twain Room features the original handwritten manuscript of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and other Twain memorabilia.
Buffalo City Hall Observation Deck
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; closed holidays
Buffalo's city hall is a well-preserved example of Art Deco architecture, which was popular in the 1920s and 1930s. To learn more about this architectural masterpiece, Buffalo Tours (852-3300; www.buffalotours.org) offers a free one-hour tour, weekdays at noon. After the tour, take the elevator to the 25th floor, then climb three flights of stairs to the observation deck on the 28th floor, which has a great view of the city, Lake Erie, the Niagara River and the Canadian shore.
>Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum
453 Porter Ave. and 220 North St.
885-4139 (Porter) and 886-3656 (North); www.karpeles.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday (Porter); 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (North)
There are ten Karpeles Museums throughout the United States, and two of them are in Buffalo: Porter Hall (on Porter Avenue and built as a church in 1911) and North Hall (on North Street, a Greek-Revival style building, also a former church built in 1911). These museums contain the world's largest private holding of original manuscripts and documents, with more than one million documents, including the original drafts of the Bill of Rights and Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Every four months, the exhibits are rotated among the museums. Not only are the documents fascinating, but the buildings that house them are gorgeous. Until the end of April, the North Hall is featuring an exhibit on Florence Nightingale and the Porter Hall has a Sigmund Freud exhibit.
>Museum of Disability History
1291 North Forest Road, Williamsville
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday
This one-of-a-kind museum, operated by the nonprofit human-services agency People Incorporated, focuses on how people with disabilities were treated throughout the ages.
The museum's exhibits cover topics ranging from insane asylums and compulsory sterilization laws, to the development of the Special Olympics.