Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Tag: Canada

Visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame

As a lifelong hockey fan, visiting the Hall of Fame in Toronto is always a highlight. I was especially looking forward to this visit because in the years since my last trip, several of the players I’d idolized as a child had been inducted. I was excited to see their plaques and get up close and personal with the best trophy in professional sports – the Stanley Cup.

Getting There

The Hall of Fame is located in downtown Toronto in an area full of restaurants and hotels. There are numerous parking garages around, though like any big city, navigating the one-way streets can be challenging. The area is very walkable – it was well below freezing the day we visited, and we still hiked the few short blocks from our hotel.

Entrance to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

Actually getting into the Hall of Fame can be a little tricky for first-timers. It’s located inside of a mall in downtown Toronto, which has always struck me as a little odd. Once you enter the mall, you take an escalator downstairs to the lower level, and the entrance will be hard to miss.

As luck would have it, we happened to visit just two days after an enormous statue of Gordie Howe – arguably the most famous of my beloved Red Wings – was unveiled at the entrance. He had passed away the previous year, and this was a nice tribute.

Statue of Gordie Howe outside of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

Inside the Hall of Fame

Once you’re inside, you’re surrounded by displays stretching out in all directions. If I have one complaint about the Hall of Fame, it’s that there is no flow to the exhibits. We started looking at memorabilia in one area and then found ourselves backtracking all over the place trying to cover the entire area.

Steve Yzerman jersey on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

Most of the center section of the Hall of Fame was taken up by memorabilia dedicated to notable players throughout the years. Some of them were fully inducted members, but a lot of them were not. There was also quite a bit of space dedicated to current players, which I didn’t really care for. In my mind, the HoF should focus on the players who’ve been inducted. We did come across a pretty moving video tribute to Steve Yzerman, my favorite player of all time, in that section, which was nice.

Vancouver Canucks jersey on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

There was also a fun display highlighting different jerseys throughout the years. There was one featuring the Batman logo, as well as the classically bad yellow/orange/brown Vancouver Canucks jerseys from a couple decades ago.

Montreal Canadiens dressing room recreated at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

The Hall of Fame had also recreated the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room, complete with replica gear from the era that the players played in.

Interactive Games

In one corner, we came across a bunch of interactive games. Judging by the lines for them, they were clearly geared towards kids, but that didn’t stop my dad and me from taking a turn. A lot more adults joined the lines after us, so I think everyone was just waiting for someone else to make the first move. I took a turn shooting pucks at a digitally projected goalie. Sadly, I didn’t score any goals so I guess an NHL contract isn’t in my future. There was also an option to play the role of the goalie and try to stop pucks that were launched from a screen.

Interactive games at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

If playing the game isn’t your thing, there’s also an option to try your hand in the broadcast booth. I took a shot at reading off some highlights and let’s just say that I don’t see a future in front of the camera for myself.

The Holy Grail

The Stanley Cup is by far the coolest major American sports trophy. It’s presented directly to the players instead of the team owner, they take turns drinking champagne out of it in the locker room, the names of each champion are engraved on its side, and each player gets to spend a day with the Cup doing whatever he wants whether it’s a charity event or eating ice cream sundaes out of it. Seeing it in person is by far the highlight of any visit to the Hall.

Stanley Cup display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

The Cathedral of Hockey

The Cup, along with the other NHL trophies, is housed in what used to be a bank lobby on the second floor of the museum. The sign pointing toward the entrance to area with the display calls it the “Cathedral of Hockey,” and it’s not wrong. The surroundings are gorgeous, and well-befitting such a storied prize. My favorite team – the Red Wings – had won the Cup four times in the last 20 years, so getting to see my favorite players’ names up close was very cool for me. It was fun to reminisce about the great teams of the past and see the names of players I’d forgotten about over the years.

Detroit Red Wings player names engraved on the Stanley Cup 2008

There is an official photographer stationed in front of the Cup to take group photos, but you can also use your own cameras and phones to snap pictures. If you’re driving in the area, getting an official photo may be well-worth your money – when we were there, the photos cost $10 for a print and included a digital download and a $10 gift card for a Canadian gas chain. We knew we’d have to stop for gas on the way home, so the way we saw it, as long as we stopped at that chain, we’d basically be getting a free family picture with the Cup.

Stanley Cup displayed at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

You’re also able to wander among theother hardware housed in the area. Trophies like the Conn Smythe – awarded to the playoff MVP each year – and the Norris Trophy for best defenseman can be viewed in glass cases throughout the lobby area.

Old bank vault in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

One of the coolest parts is inside the old bank vault. Here you can see the old bands of champions’ names that have been removed. As years went by, the Cup got taller and taller as winners’ names were inscribed. Eventually, the older names had to be removed. Every few years, as the bottom band is completed, the oldest is removed and stored in the HoF.

Old Stanley Cup bands on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

The Inductees

There are currently 392 players, builders, and on-ice officials honored in the Hall of Fame. Each has a plaque dedicated to his or her accomplishments and a brief bio. It’s a sign that I’m getting old that most of my childhood hockey heroes are now enshrined here. In the decade+ since I last visited, more than half a dozen of my favorite Wings have been inducted.

Steve Yzerman's plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame

The way the plaques are displayed makes the ones in the top row a little hard to see – especially for us shorter folks – but it’s cool to stroll through the rows of legendary names. This is definitely the part of the museum that’s best suited toward the hockey geeks out there.

Angela Ruggiero's plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame

In recent years, a couple female hockey players have been inducted as well, so it’s nice to see the women’s game getting some recognition.

International Hockey

Steve Yzerman Canada jersey in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

The final section of the museum showcases jerseys from international hockey teams. There were tons of jerseys from Olympic and World Cup competitions, as well as some from professional teams in Europe. My favorite was a jersey from the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. Even non-hockey fans from the US should be familiar with that story.

1980 United States Miracle on Ice jersey in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

There’s the classic exit-through-the-gift-shop at the end, of course. I found the prices to be pretty reasonable compared to NHL merchandise that is available in regular stores. I took home a Red Wings Lego zamboni kit that I’m quite pleased with.

Have you ever visited a sports Hall of Fame? Which one is the best?

Tips for visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, CanadaTips for visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada

Niagara Falls State Park

After spending the weekend on the Canadian Side of Niagara Falls, I decided to pay a visit to Niagara Falls State Park, on the New York side. Not only does it offer the closest overlooks of the falls, but it’s the oldest state park in the country. Even better: it’s open 24/7, so you can experience the majesty of the falls any time of day.
American Falls lit up at night viewed from Niagara Falls State Park in New York

I went back at night a few weeks later to see the lights.

 

I lucked into some free street parking nearby and then headed into the park. There are some gorgeous overlooks of the American falls right from the start.

 

Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, New York

Exploring Goat Island

Walking or driving across a bridge will take you to Goat Island, which is what divides the Canadian falls from the American ones. You can explore the island, and get up close right at the brinks of all three waterfalls.

 

Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, New York

 

One of the coolest spots is on Luna Island, the tiny little bit of land that separates Bridal Veil falls from the rest of the American falls. Standing right between two waterfalls is a really neat experience. Looking straight down at the rocks below gives a pretty good idea of why those barrel-over-the-falls thrill-seekers back in the day picked the more intimidating Horseshoe falls for their stunts.
Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, New York

Looking straight out over the top of Bridal Veil Falls

 

Walking around the island gives you a chance to enjoy every angle of the falls. I love taking pictures, so just wandering around with my camera was a great way to kill the afternoon.

 

Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, New York

 

On the south side of Goat Island, you can access bridges to the much-smaller Three Sisters Islands that take you out into the main river channel. You can see the water around you picking up speed as it rushes toward the upcoming drop. One couple nearby decided to climb the railings and take some selfies right along the river bank. I was pretty sure that I was going to see natural selection in action, but they made it back in one piece.
Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, New York

This is not a good idea.

Rainbow Bridge Crossing

International Boundary Line between the United States and Canada on the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls

As I was leaving the park, I noticed the sign for the walking bridge to Canada. The closest crossing to the falls has a pedestrian lane so visitors can walk back and forth between the two sides. Since I still had my passport on me, I decided to go for it even though I was pretty well frozen by that point. I’ve crossed international borders by plane, train, and car before, but never on foot, so this experience was something new. The mist coming up from the water kind of obscured the view of the Canadian falls, but walking out on the bridge gave a unique view that I’d never seen before and was well worth it. Keep in mind that this is an international border, so once you set foot on the bridge, you’ll need a passport to get back into the US.

International Boundary Line between the United States and Canada on the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls

Read about our time on the Canadian side of the falls here.

Have you ever visited Niagara Falls? Let me know in the comments.

Don't miss a chance to visit Niagara Falls State Park on the New York side of the river to get up close to the famous waterfalls.

A Weekend in Niagara Falls

While I was working in the Buffalo area, I had to stay out there for a weekend. Since it’s so close to Niagara Falls, and Niagara Falls is only a few hours from home, I invited my boyfriend to join me on a semi-work-funded mini-vacation. Niagara Falls is the perfect weekend destination. There’s just the right amount of scenery, attractions, and nightlife to keep you entertained in any season.

Wandering Buffalo

He had to drive in from Detroit after working a full day, so I had Friday evening to kill on my own. I decided to head to downtown Buffalo to find some dinner, but quickly realized that that wasn’t in the cards because the Sabres had a home game that night. I wandered around a little looking for somewhere to pull over so I could look up some other areas on my phone and ended up stumbling across an outdoor hockey rink with a bar and restaurant attached. That was good enough for me, so I grabbed a seat at the bar and watched some kids play through the glass. It was such a cool location right along the river and as a life-long hockey addict, I loved hearing the sounds of pucks and skates echoing while I had my dinner.

Outdoor hockey rink in Buffalo, New York

When I was done eating, I decided that it was time to head up to Niagara Falls to check into the hotel. I had booked the Holiday Inn on the Canadian side because it’s super cheap (at least during the winter), only a couple blocks from the falls, and I generally have good experiences at IHG properties. I had looked and looked to try to find a reasonably priced room with a view of the falls, but I ended up choosing price over such niceties and was generally pleased. I also appreciated the free parking right on site.

Waterfall Fireworks

I was planning to wait to go see the falls until the next morning with my boyfriend, but the hotel clerk mentioned that there were fireworks displays on Friday nights and I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to see fireworks over a waterfall. I walked down to the overlook and tried to find a spot that would allow me to see the fireworks over the Canadian falls. This would’ve required a lot more walking than I was prepared to do at that point because the location the fireworks were being shot off from was further down by the American falls.

Fireworks display at Niagara Falls

The fireworks show was nothing mind-blowing, but it was kind of neat. It’s definitely a unique setting for a display like that. It wasn’t very crowded on a Friday night in December, but I would imagine it could be pretty crowded in more popular tourist seasons. The fireworks don’t go up very high, so getting there early to grab a spot by the railing would be a good idea if it looks like it’s going to be crowded.

Of course, the lights on the falls provide a spectacular enough view that there’s really no need to dress them up any further, but fireworks are always appreciated by this blogger.

The Main Attraction

If you’re visiting Niagara Falls, you’re obviously going to spend some time enjoying the view of Mother Nature’s handiwork. When we got up the next morning, we grabbed breakfast across the street from the hotel at the Fallsview Casino. We ate at the Famous Diner, a little restaurant with thoroughly cute décor and delicious food.

American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls, New York

The American side. The Canadians definitely won the waterfall game.

After that, we started our walk along the overlooks at the falls. We stopped to take pictures from every imaginable angle, of course. My boyfriend had never been there before, and it had been years since I visited, so we took our time enjoying the view. You get the best wide-angle view from a little ways down the walkway, but don’t miss the chance to look straight down at the brink of the falls. The thunderous roar and sight of the water rushing over the edge really gives you a feel for the power of the river as it tumbles downward.

Brink of Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario

Clifton Hill

I had discovered a coupon for a thing called a Beaver Tail in one of the guidebooks at the hotel, and as a lover of all things sugary, I absolutely had to have one. We walked down to Clifton Hill, what I would classify as the cheesy tourist area of Niagara Falls, and hunted down the delicious fried pastries covered in an assortment of sugary toppings. It’s both very good and infuriating that there isn’t an easily accessible location where I can get these little bites of heaven on a regular basis.

Beaver tails on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls

This was eight kinds of delicious.

If you’re looking for family fun, this is the place you want to be. Every corner had attractions ranging from fun houses to wax museums to Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Even on a chilly day in the off-season, it was bustling with people.

Exploring outside of town

We opted out of the cheesy tourist attractions (sadly, the Maid of the Mist boats were not running since it was winter) and instead hopped into the car to drive up to the whirlpool where the river takes a sharp turn to the right. It’s so pretty up there and we got a good view from the cable car platforms that were closed for the season. We decided to keep going up to Niagara-on-the-Lake and stopped at a few other scenic overlooks along the way.

Whirlpool at Niagara Falls

Niagara-on-the-Lake was a cute little town, but it was swarmed with crowds of people that day. There appeared to be some sort of festival going on, but we couldn’t figure out what it was. We ended up finally finding a place to park at a little lakeside park, so we walked down to Lake Ontario and climbed around some of the boulders on the shore.

Dinner with a view at the Skylon Tower

We had dinner reservations at the rotating restaurant at the Skylon Tower for their early prix fixe meal. This also entitled us to a free trip to the top of the tower. Don’t make the mistake we did – go early for your reservation. We showed up with enough time to ride to the top before our time slot, but we ended up seated in the interior of the restaurant behind a tall group of people (seriously good genes in that family) so we couldn’t see anything out the windows.

American Falls in Niagara Falls, New York lit up at night

Since that was kind of the point of eating there, I asked if there was anywhere to move. All of the window tables were full, but we were offered a pager to wait for one to clear. We decided to do that and headed up to the observation deck to kill some time before we could eat. When our buzzer rang, we went back down and were seated at a perfect table, but discovered that we were no longer allowed to order off of the prix fixe menu. It made dinner a LOT more expensive, and I wished that the staff had told us that waiting for a table would mean that we’d have to take the late dinner menu.

The food was delicious though, and even my boyfriend who hadn’t been feeling great all day downed his entire dinner. You really can’t beat the view from up there, and my boyfriend was excited to have his first meal in a rotating restaurant. I’d never been up in the tower on my previous visits, and getting an aerial view of the falls was amazing. They’re especially beautiful at night, and spending that much time up in the tower gave us a chance to see the lights rotate through the different color patterns.

We had also gotten free tickets to the Skylon Tower from the hotel, so we decided to use those the next morning to check out the view during the day. I wouldn’t have paid to go up again, but since they were free there wasn’t much sense in letting them go to waste. Daylight definitely brings a different perspective to the falls. Whereas the lights at night give them a soft, dreamy feel, seeing the roaring water tumbling down into the gorge during the day gives a much more impressive insight into the raw power of mother nature.

Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Canada from the Skylon Tower

Ice wine

This part of Ontario is actually quite famous for its wine. The Canadian climate also provides for a unique type of treat: ice wine. This super sweet local specialty is made by allowing grapes to freeze on the vine and then very quickly harvesting them while they’re still frozen. I don’t know a lot about the wine-making process (outside of that one episode of I Love Lucy), but the freezing process somehow makes the wine extra sugary, which, as noted above, is exactly my kind of thing.

We took the ice wine home and drank it a couple weeks later and it was incredible. I’m not a wine fan at all, but this was so sweet it was more like drinking juice. It’s hard (and expensive) to find elsewhere, but if you find yourself in the Ontario wine region at any point, definitely make a point to try it.

Have you visited Niagara Falls? What’s your favorite thing to do there? Let me know in the comments.

Read about another winter weekend adventure in Canada:

Highlights of a couples weekend in Niagara Falls, including the best sights, dining, the Skylon Tower, and ice wine.Pin - Niagara2Pin - Niagara3Pin - Niagara4

A Weekend Escape to Ottawa, Ontario

Being from the Detroit area, I’m a huge Red Wings fan (see my post about the necessity of visiting their old arena before it closes here). My boyfriend got a crazy idea to take a weekend roadtrip to Ottawa to see a Wings game that happened to fall on a Saturday night. I say “crazy idea” because it’s an eight-hour drive each way and plane tickets there were cost-prohibitive.

As luck would have it, Toronto falls almost exactly halfway between Detroit and Ottawa, so we hit the road Friday night after work and drove about four hours to a hotel in the Toronto suburbs. Both of us have low-mileage leases on our cars, so I used Enterprise points to rent a car for the weekend. I also used IHG points for the two nights in hotels, so thanks to my endless work travels, we ended up with a pretty cheap getaway.

Parliament Hill

I had planned on getting to Ottawa around noon, but we sort of slept in a little longer than planned and didn’t actually get there until around two. Whoops. We wanted to see as much as we could in the few short hours before the hockey game, so we headed straight to Parliament Hill.

Parking was a challenge, but we ended up with a space not too far away that was free but required climbing through mid-calf deep snow to get in and out of the car. I was ok with it.

Parliament building in Ottawa, Canada

The Parliament building

The Parliament Hill buildings were gorgeous. I loved the Gothic revival architecture style. They looked especially gorgeous with snow covering the ground in front of them.

When we were done taking pictures, we went into the visitor center across the street to see if we could grab a couple of the free tickets to tour inside the building. All they had left was one ticket to the French language tour that was departing in about 45 minutes, but the lady at the desk was nice enough to overbook the group by one so we could both go.

Unfortunately, neither one of us speaks French. I thought we might be able to pick up on a little since there are plenty of cognates between the two languages, but I was sorely mistaken. Having English speakers thrown in on the tour must be fairly common though because right at the start, our tour guide announced that if anyone who didn’t speak French had questions in English about something, she’d be happy to answer them one-on-one after she got through her main dialogue.

If the French language tour is your only option, it’s still worth going even if you can’t understand the guide. I made mental notes about things I was curious about and either asked the guide individually, found the answers in brochures, or googled them later. I would’ve been disappointed if we had missed out on touring the building because we skipped the French tour.

Despite the language barrier, I loved the tour. I have a weird thing about visiting capital cities and seeing seats of government, and this was no different. The architecture was gorgeous inside.

House of Commons in Ottawa, Canada

The House of Commons

We got to see both houses of Parliament. We could only peek through the windows at the House of Commons, but got to enter into a small viewing gallery in the Senate.

The government chambers were neat, but the most spectacular part for me was the Library of Parliament. I have a thing for gorgeous libraries and this one did not disappoint. The huge round room was ringed with tiers of books on beautifully carved shelves and decorated with coats of arms for the seven provinces that existed when it was built. I wanted to go full-on Belle and find a ladder to swing along the shelves on, but we couldn’t actually touch any of the books. I would’ve happily sat in a corner and just admired the beauty all day if I was allowed to.

Library of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada

I loved walking through the corridors in the Centre Block. It felt vaguely like Hogwarts in some of the areas.

After we finished our guided tour, we visited the Memorial Chapel. The details in it were astounding. The level of care and dedication that went into designing it with brass shell plating and stones brought from battlefields where Canadians had lost their lives was incredible. The names of all Canadians who have died in the service of their country are listed in books whose pages are turned daily so that every name is shown at least once a year.

Our final stop was the top of the Peace Tower. A quick but cramped elevator ride took us to the top for a great panoramic view of snow-covered Ottawa and Gatineau, Quebec across the river.

View of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Ontario

Looking out over the Rideau Canal

I also loved the golden ceiling, which no photograph could ever do justice to. I joked that I was determined to replicate it in my condo, but that was quickly shot down by my boyfriend who’s still a little annoyed by the excessively complicated, Pinterest-inspired paintjob he got dragged into helping with when I bought the place.

Rideau Canal

Before we headed out into the suburbs to go to the hockey game, we walked over to the Rideau Canal. We had missed the Winterlude Festival by one week, which was a huge disappointment, but we wanted to at least walk out onto the frozen canal. Unfortunately, there was some sort of filming going on, so we weren’t allowed to go near the ice.

Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada

We walked back toward the Chateau Laurier and looked down on the canal from there. There was a bridge that I’m still not 100% sure I was supposed to climb out on, but there were tons of footprints in the snow leading up to it and going across, so I went for it. It was a little wobbly and slippery, but there were guardrails and I didn’t feel unsafe. My boyfriend chose not to join me though.

Hockey time!

That concluded our Ottawa adventures and we hopped back in the car and headed out to our hotel in Nepean, the city where my hockey idol Steve Yzerman grew up. The location was coincidental and chosen only for proximity to the Canadian Tire Centre, but I was pretty excited about it.

Parking at the arena was a horrific mess. I’m sure repeat visitors have the routine down, but the signage was terrible and we spent almost 40 minutes sitting in traffic, passing by full lots expecting to find other places to park only to discover that there was nowhere to make a left turn or a U-turn beyond that, getting back on the highway to circle around the arena and try again. We barely made it for puckdrop, but once we were in our seats, all of the frustration was forgotten.

Red Wings playing at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Canada

Well the parking frustration disappeared only to be replaced by the frustration of two people who grew up in the Wings’ era of excellence and are still struggling to come to terms with their current mediocrity. They ended up going to overtime (yay, a point!), but lost in the shootout (I still hate shootouts).

We grabbed poutine from Smoke’s Poutinerie, a Canadian chain that I believe is opening its first Midwestern locations in the metro-Detroit area soon (!). We each ordered our own, but easily could’ve shared an order. Even my 6’4” boyfriend who usually eats twice as much as I do barely made a dent in his. I got the bacon cheeseburger flavor and it was delicious.

Bacon cheeseburger poutine from Smoke's Poutinerie

Bacon cheeseburger style

After the game, we headed back to the hotel and crashed so we could get up early the next morning. The 8-hour drive wasn’t fun, but we broke it up with a couple roadside stops and dinner in the Toronto suburbs. And I won a free drink from Tim Horton’s Roll Up the Rim promo! All in all, a great weekend.

Pin - Ottawa2

From Parliament to a Senators hockey game, here are the highlights of a winter weekend in Ottawa, Ontario.

A weekend escape to Ottawa, Canada

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