Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Tag: Hockey

Visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame

As a lifelong hockey fan, visiting the Hockey 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.

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Getting There

The Hockey 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.

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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.

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A Weekend Escape to Ottawa, Ontario

Being from the Detroit area, I’m a huge Red Wings fan (see my love letter to their old arena here). My boyfriend got a crazy idea to take a long roadtrip to spend a weekend in Ottawa that included watching the Wings play the Senators. I say “crazy idea” because it’s an eight-hour drive each way and plane tickets there are cost-prohibitive.

Our weekend in Ottawa

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.

Once we made it to Ottawa, we spent our time exploring Parliament, checking out the famous Rideau Canal, and of course cheering on our hockey team (spoiler alert: they lost). Even though it’s cold during the winter, there’s still plenty of fun things to do in the Canadian Capital.

Parliament Hill

We started off our weekend in Ottawa by exploring the area around Canada’s Parliament. 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 also 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. I’ll have to come back for another winter weekend in Ottawa so I can get out on the ice someday.

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!

Once our historic adventures in Ottawa ended, 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 - How to spend a winter weekend in Ottawa

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). I guess heading to OT and the shootout got us a few extra minutes of “free” hockey, but an actual win would’ve been nice. Having something to cheer about would’ve been a perfect way to end our weekend in Ottawa.

We grabbed poutine from Smoke’s Poutinerie, a Canadian chain that I 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. I fundamentally don’t understand why poutine hasn’t become more popular in the US, as it’s exactly the kind of diet devastation that we Americans love.

Bacon cheeseburger poutine from Smoke's Poutinerie - How to spend a winter weekend in Ottawa

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, we had a great winter weekend in Ottawa.

Check out more posts about Canadian adventures here:

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

A weekend escape to Ottawa, Canada

10 Reasons to Visit Joe Louis Arena Before it Closes Forever

If you’re a hockey fan, you’ve probably heard that the Red Wings are playing their final season at Joe Louis Arena, their home since 1979. While the building has never been known as a model of luxury, it’s well-worth a trip to say goodbye. There aren’t many games left, so if you haven’t already bought tickets to one, here’s a list that is sure to convince you to pay The Joe a visit before you miss out forever.

Pavel Datsyuk takes a faceoff at center ice in Joe Louis Arena

Only one of the three Wings pictured is still with the team, but it brings back fond memories of happier times.

1. You’re a hockey fan.

Many of the game’s greatest players from the last four decades have played here. This is the ice Steve Yzerman called home for his entire career. Nicklas Lidstrom. Pavel Datsyuk. The list goes on and on. The Wings have spent most of their tenure at the Joe in the upper echelon of the league, and the Joe’s history shows it.

Banners at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan

2. The banners.

There are a lot of them. I’ve been to NHL games in Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Buffalo, and Ottawa over the last few years and I find their lack of banners disorienting. Especially St. Louis. They’ve been in the league since 1967 and at one point had a 25-year playoff streak, yet don’t have a single Stanley Cup to show for it. (For reference, the Wings won four Cups just in their Joe-based years.) In contrast to the Blues’ naked rafters, the Joe is covered with so many banners for retired numbers, Stanley Cups, conference championships, Presidents’ trophies, and division championships that it’s almost impossible to photograph them all.

Stanley Cup at Joe Louis Arena

A lot of trophies have been awarded to the home team.

3. The history.

The Wings broke their 42-year Cup drought on this ice. This is where Nick Lidstrom scored his first hat trick at the ripe old age of 40. Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe took the ice together here. Sergei Fedorov scored five goals in one game here (it was the first game after I received his jersey as a Christmas gift and I may or may not have been convinced that that caused his success). This was the site of the unforgettable Fight Night that fans still smile about to this day. Steve Yzerman scored his iconic Game 7 goal to finish off the Blues (This is really not a Blues-bashing post, I swear.) The 2002 team with its collection of future Hall of Famers skated the Stanley Cup around this ice. These things may mean nothing to you if reason #1 doesn’t apply to you, but I assure you that they’re a big deal.

Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan

Those stairs

4. You’re a thrill-seeker.

Adventurous visitors will get to try their luck on the Joe’s iconic outdoor staircases. If you’ve ever wanted to try navigating very narrow, steep stairs that are frequently covered in ice with a few thousand people who’ve been drinking beer, you only have a few chances left. I’ve always been baffled by this architectural choice, especially given Detroit’s climate for most of the hockey season. Why not just make the staircases indoors? Or less steep? The world may never know. Don’t worry – if you’re handicapped or have difficulty with stairs, there’s a ground-level entrance with an elevator that you can use to enter the arena.

Concourse at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan

5. They finally fixed the bathroom situation.

It only took them about 35 years after the building opened to figure out how to alleviate the notoriously horrendous bathroom lines. (Seriously, just a few years ago, making it from your seat to the women’s bathroom and back during an intermission was a rare feat worth celebrating with a beer. Except that there was no way you were going to find time to fit a concession stand visit in too before puckdrop.) The Joe’s problem is that it only has one concourse level – the upper and lower bowls empty into the same area with limited food and bathroom space. A few years ago, someone got the fantastic idea to go vertical and two enormous restrooms were installed above the concourse. Now you can breeze up a flight of stairs, and while I can’t speak for the men’s rooms, the women’s ones are an endless sea of stalls in which I’ve never waited even one second. For some reason, people still wait in line for the older original bathrooms, but the savvy visitor can easily save themselves a 10-minute wait by just walking a couple sections over to find the upstairs bathrooms.

Joe Louis Arena

The Joe is guaranteed to be packed for the remaining games.

6. You want to hang out with the best fans in hockey.

This is a science-backed, totally unbiased fact. Probably. The Wings faithful have long been one of the most enthusiastic crowds in the NHL. Hockey is a big deal here and an entire generation of fans has grown up knowing nothing but excellence (seriously, two of my adult siblings have never seen the team miss the playoffs). Even through the struggles of the last couple of years – sadly, that playoff streak doesn’t seem likely to continue – the Joe has remained packed with slightly disheartened, but still diehard fans.

Scoreboard at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan

7. You want to marvel at its vintage charm.

Check out that old-fashioned scoreboard. It’s so…un-digital. The smaller scoreboards are even more old-school – only one color! Seriously though, one of my favorite aspects of the Joe is it’s lack of flashing LED screens everywhere. I really don’t like the modern buildings with LED rings encircling the whole building with bright lights and ads. I’m probably in the minority, but I find them distracting and a little annoying. The Joe pre-dates all of that sleek stuff so you can focus more on the game than the flashing lights.

8. You like good views.

The Joe was built for hockey fans. My dad was recently mourning how close to the action the upper bowl was at the old Olympia building (the Wings’ home before the Joe), but since that ceased to exist before I was born, I have no frame of reference for that. I can say, that after visiting four other NHL buildings (and sitting in the upper bowl in all of them – I’m not rich, ok?), the Joe offers fans the best views from up above. I’m a fan of the upper corner seats because they give the best angles, but those views have been somewhat hampered by the safety nets that were installed several years ago. My ideal seats would be in the lower bowl near center ice, about 8-10 rows back so you have a good view of the whole action, but if someone wanted to toss some front row tickets my way, I wouldn’t complain one bit.

View from a suite at Joe Louis Arena

The view from a suite

9.You want to know how not to build a hockey arena.

I love the Joe. I really do. But, um, it has a lot of flaws. (See item #5 above.) For starters, the builders forgot to include a press box and had to install it later by removing seats. Whoops. Despite the fact that it occupies prime riverfront space, it was designed as a concrete bunker with no windows. I’ve long joked that I’d choose to ride out a nuclear apocalypse in the Joe’s musty confines on the theory that it’s probably the most well-insulated place in Detroit.

The suites are also way up in the rafters. I’m pretty sure that if I were a few inches taller, I’d be able to touch the banners from one of them. I secretly kind of like this because it means that seats I can afford are closer to the action, but I recognize that it’s not a great selling point.

It’s also thoroughly aggravating to get to. It’s super close to a couple downtown freeways…and yet it’s also totally cut off from the rest of downtown. On my most recent trip, we parked at a meter on the street and then had to backtrack a few blocks to cross an entrance ramp to The Lodge, and then climb a winding ramp that circles through a tower that most casual observers would probably assume was a nuclear missile silo, and then walk through a tube that takes you over the highway before finally emerging onto the second level of the entrance area – but hey, you don’t have to navigate the stairs that way. Good luck driving up to it if you’ve never found the place before. I’d visited a dozen times before I made an ill-fated attempt to drop a friend off at the box office one day and had to actually try to navigate up to the building. It’s truly an icon of poor urban planning.

10. You don’t like corporate sponsors.

When the Joe closes, there will only be one NHL building left without a corporate sponsored name. I know that’s the way things are these days, but I’ll honestly miss it. I love saying “The Joe.” It’s classic. I’m at peace with the decision to name the new building Little Caesars Arena because at least it’s a Detroit business and owned by the same family, but in a world of silly names like Jobing.com Arena (now the Gila Rivers Arena, which isn’t much better) and PPG Paints Arena, the Joe always stood out as special.

What to do before the game

Detroit has really been rebounding over the last few years and sometimes it seems like there’s a new restaurant opening every week. There aren’t many places by the Joe (see point #9), but many of the bars and restaurants around town have game shuttles.

Hockeytown Cafe

Hockeytown Cafe is sort of the official Wings restaurant as it’s owned by the team owners. It’s a pretty classic bar and grill type place, and it offers shuttles to and from the Joe. You can get yourself pumped for the game while dining in a multi-story restaurant decked out with team memorabilia. And if the weather warms up toward the end of the season, you might even get to visit the roof deck. You’ll also likely be able to catch a glimpse of the Wings’ future home, as it’s being built just up the road.

Cheli’s Chili Bar

Located close to the Hockeytown Cafe, Cheli’s Chili is owned by former Wings defenseman Chris Chelios. It’s also a great place to hang out before Tigers games if you don’t quite make it to Detroit in time to visit The Joe.

Greektown

You really can’t go wrong in the Greektown area. The casino has a variety of restaurants, although I’ve never personally sampled anything but their rooftop bar. Pizzapapalis makes some delicious Chicago-style deep dish pizza, though you’ll have to order early if you want to eat before the game. New Parthenon and The Golden Fleece both offer some delicious Greek food. Greektown is also home to the new Detroit home of Wahlburgers, in addition to a variety of trendy chain restaurants. The best part of Greektown is that you can park in the casino garage and hop the People Mover, Detroit’s one-way monorail system around downtown, over to The Joe for only $1.50 round trip.

So have I convinced you to come pay your respects to The Joe before it’s demolished? Did I miss a good pre-game hangout spot? I have tickets to a couple more home games this season, so I’ll have a chance to check them out.

Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, MI

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