Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Tag: North America (Page 1 of 2)

Blake's Cider Mill in Armada, Michigan

8 Reasons to visit Michigan This Fall

Maybe it’s a bit cliché, but I love the fall. Or the autumn if you’re fancy like that. It combines great weather, beautiful foliage, some of my favorite holidays, and a lot of great events, so it’s easy to see why so many people enjoy this season. It’s also the perfect time to explore Michigan. Read on to find out all about the best reasons to visit Michigan in the fall.

College football

As the home of two very proud Big Ten universities, college football is naturally a big deal. Plus, Detroiters have suffered through the Lions’ failures for so many decades that college football is really the only way that many Michiganians (Michigander is used more commonly, but it just reminds me of male geese) have been able to experience actual success on the gridiron.

Michigan Stadium, home of the Wolverines

As a Wolverine, I’m partial to the games at the University of Michigan. The Big House aka Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor is an experience in and of itself. The stadium doesn’t look particularly large as you approach from street level, but as you emerge into the bowl and realize the massive expanse in front of you, it’s incredible. The Michigan State Spartans also have a stadium in East Lansing where they play football, but it’s just not the same. If you want the full experience, show up on the Saturday of the annual Michigan-Michigan State game and watch families be torn apart based on rooting interest and friendly wagers. Check these links for schedules for Michigan and Michigan State.

Cider mills

Blake's Cider Mill in Armada, Michigan

I didn’t realize how much of a Michigan thing visiting cider mills in the fall was until I lived elsewhere for a while. When I was living in Florida, I couldn’t even find real cider, which was pretty distressing in the fall when I most want it. Locals will queue up in long lines for single cups of cider or gallons to take back home with them. (The cider mill references here are specifically related to the non-alcoholic version of cider, though some of the local ones are starting to brew their own alcoholic versions as well.) It never really feels like fall until I’ve had a cider mill donut (traditionally covered in cinnamon sugar) and washed it down with an icy cold glass of locally brewed cider. It’s incredible, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even really enjoy apple juice. The cider can be served cold or hot, and I recently sampled a cider slushie as well. The best cider mills have other autumn-y activities to do while snacking, like pumpkin patches or trails to enjoy the fall colors.

My two favorites are both located in the southeast Michigan area, a little bit north of Detroit. Yates, in Rochester Hills, is the most iconic, with its red barn and wooded trails. The lines are long on fall weekends, and it creates its own local traffic jam on the busiest days as visitors hunt for parking spaces. Blake’s, located in Armada has a huge variety of different seasonal activities like berry picking. It’s also home to perhaps my favorite cider mill donuts. It’s a bit further from the city, but well worth the trip.

Renfest

Axe throwing at the Michigan Renaissance Festival

The Michigan Renaissance Festival, held in Holly, actually kicks off in August, but it’s always felt like more of a fall thing to me. It begins in late August and runs through the end of September. Even if you’re not into dressing up in period costume (if you are, you can rent them there), it’s a lot of fun to wander around and enjoy the atmosphere. There are medieval games that you can play like axe throwing (I STILL can’t figure out how to get the axe to stick in anything, let alone the target) and target archery. There’s also a spot where you can pay to lob tomatoes at some hecklers in stocks. The periodic jousting shows draw big crowds, and you can watch knights perform different skill tests on horseback. Find all of the info you need about Renfest here.

Oktoberfest at Frankenmuth

Frankenmuth is a small town located between Flint and Saginaw that is designed to look like a little Bavarian village. It’s known for its amazing chicken dinners, a mind-blowingly large Christmas store, and lots of kids’ activities. During September, Frankenmuth throws a traditional Oktoberfest party – the only one that’s officially sanctioned by the original Oktoberfest in Munich.

For one weekend in September (corresponding to the actual Oktoberfest in Munich), Frankenmuth comes alive with traditional entertainment, food, and – of course – beer. If a plane ticket to Germany isn’t in your budget, don’t miss a chance to wander among the Bavarian style buildings and soak up the closest thing to the real festival. More info can be found at this link.

Zoo Boo

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, which plays heavily into my love of the fall. The Zoo Boo event at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak is a family friendly event held after hours. Kids and adults can dress up in costumes and trick or treat along a route through the zoo. Most of the animals aren’t visible in the dark, though the reptile house usually remains open for exploration.

Painted pumpkins at the Zoo Boo at the Detroit Zoo

The walkway is lined with a seemingly impossible number of carved pumpkins. Entertainment varies, but the last time I attended, there was a lot of pumpkin smashing in the name of science as well. Plus, did I mention that you get to leave with a load of candy? Find out more about the Zoo Boo here.

Hallowe’en at Greenfield Village

Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn throws another awesome Halloween event on select nights in October. The village, a collection of historic buildings that were relocated to the site, takes you back in time to Halloweens of old. More than 1000 carved pumpkins line the path through the park, and characters in period costume wander through the crowd. Special shows and live music provide additional entertainment, and if you keep your eyes open, you might just spot the legendary Headless Horseman. Find out more about the event here.

The leaves

Fall foliage colors in Michigan

Hiking is nice any time of year, but it’s at its best in the fall when the leaves start turning. Taking drives to view the foliage is a big deal out on the East Coast, but you can have the same experience without driving cross-country (and paying for more expensive everything out there) right here in Michigan. Because the state spans such a great distance from north-south (sorry, Connecticut), you have a bigger window to hit peak colors. The leaves in the UP (that’s the Upper Peninsula for you non-locals) turn first, and then the colors creep southward until they brighten up the whole state.

America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Forget Macy’s in New York. The America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade right here in Detroit is my favorite annual parade. Every Thanksgiving Day, people line the streets to watch a seemingly endless array of floats, high school bands, and gigantic balloons. Though my favorite part of the parade – the Briefcase Drill Team – had its last performance a few years ago, the parade is still a fantastic event. Every year, kids get to submit designs for a new float and balloon and the top choices are built in real life. The parade wraps up with the mayor presenting Santa Claus himself the key to the city. If you’re more into running than stuffing your face at dinner (or both), don’t miss the Turkey Trot, a series of races before the parade with distances of 1 mile, 5k, and 10k. Get more info on the parade and Turkey Trot here.

Not planning to visit Michigan in the fall? Maybe one of these other seasons will suit your tastes better:

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There are tons of great things to do in Michigan in the fall. Detroit | Thanksgiving parade | Oktoberfest | Frankenmuth | Michigan football | Fall foliage | Zoo Boo | Greenfield Village | Cider Mills

There are tons of great things to do in Michigan in the fall. Detroit | Thanksgiving parade | Oktoberfest | Frankenmuth | Michigan football | Fall foliage | Zoo Boo | Greenfield Village | Cider Mills
Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking Alberta Falls

The Alberta Falls trail is fairly easy and offers a rewarding view of a cool little waterfall. The trail to the falls is about 1.6 miles, and hikers can continue past the waterfall for a few miles to view some scenic lakes and ponds. We decided to turn back after reaching Alberta Falls because we wanted to explore some other areas on our last day, and it made for a perfect morning warm-up hike.

Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

The destination

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Mackinac Island from Fort Mackinac

Summer on Mackinac Island

It just so worked out that my birthday fell on a Saturday last summer, and as soon as I realized this, I decided to take a weekend trip somewhere. I picked Mackinac Island, one of my favorite places in my home state. I went there regularly with my family when I was growing up, but I had somehow managed to go eight whole years without visiting, and I was super excited to see it again. Summer on Mackinac Island is perfect and there’s something for all ages and interests.

Mackinac is a little island in Lake Huron between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. No cars (except emergency vehicles) are allowed on the island, and it gives it a charming, old-fashioned atmosphere. Fun fact: it was the US’ second National Park, after Yellowstone, though it is no longer part of the National Park system. Bikes and horses are the preferred methods of transportation during the summer, so we borrowed my parents’ SUV and bike rack to haul our gear Up North (yes, that’s a proper noun in these parts) and hit the road for the weekend.

Hotels on the island and in the closest cities (Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula and St. Ignace in the Upper) are crazy expensive for summer weekends. The Holiday Inn Express in St. Ignace (I’ve found that the hotels on the UP side are slightly cheaper) was going for almost $500/night when I was trying to make reservations six months in advance. Instead, I opted to stay at Straits State Park, a gorgeous campground right at the base of the Mackinac Bridge and we took a ferry over first thing in the morning.

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First Timer’s Guide to the Garden of the Gods

I’d somehow never heard of Garden of the Gods until I started planning a trip to Colorado Springs. As soon as I saw pictures of it, I knew I’d have to visit. It’s an incredible naturally formed area full of red rock formations that will dazzle you. I loved wandering through the enormous boulders and spires and marveling at the power of nature. Bring your camera and some hiking boots and be prepared to explore some awe-inspiring scenery. Best of all? It’s free!

What to Do

Perkins Central Gardens Trail

Kissing Camels formation in Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs

So cute!

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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.

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An Ode to Wishes

The Magic Kingdom’s nighttime fireworks spectacular, Wishes, will soon be performing its final show. It has been inspiring guests to trust their heats and make wishes since it debuted in 2003. As a former Cast Member who spent several months working at the park, I’m particularly attached to Wishes and was devastated to hear of its upcoming finale. Wishes’ replacement, Happily Ever After, is slated to have its opening performance on May 12th. The clips of the new show that have been released look very good, but before we welcome that new show, it’s time to look back at what has made Wishes so magical for so many years.

From the iconic flares that kick the show off to the castle-framing fans of light to that evil face that I was always determined to see right-side up to the spectacular beauty of the finale, Wishes was not to be missed. No fireworks show will ever capture my heart quite the way Wishes did.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

Who would think something as simple as a flare would be such a dramatic part of the show?

Being an intern at Disney World meant working the closing shift, and while that had the downside of ending late at night most of the time, it also included the perk of daily Wishes viewing and/or listening. Within a few weeks, those of us who worked at night had seen and heard the show so many times that we could tell how far into the performance it was based on just the sound of the firework bursts. The soundtrack wasn’t played in the ride station, and even though it’s open air, you couldn’t see the fireworks in the station, but we quickly learned to judge how far along the show was by the sound of the explosions echoing through the park. The light, airy bursts from the love section, the crackling sizzle that accompanied the villains portion, and the thundering booms leading up to the finale were as distinct as the music that accompanied them. This wasn’t just fun – it was a valuable skill on nights when the park remained open after Wishes, because the end of the show would signal an upcoming rush of people wanting to board.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

That silhouette still makes me smile.

If there weren’t many guests around to load and unload, we’d have our own sing-alongs providing an off-key, but spirited soundtrack to the invisible fireworks. And, let’s face it, sometimes the presence of guests didn’t even deter us from performing – hey, they call us Cast Members at Disney because we we’re all part of the show, right?

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

It’s even pretty when viewed from across the Seven Seas Lagoon!

By the end of our time working there, Wishes was so ingrained in my heart that it would bring a tear to my eye during the finale. That’s also when my favorite firework of all time explodes – the biggest, loudest shimmery gold one you can imagine. Wishes was an almost nightly ritual for several months, and I spent my last evening as a Cast Member standing on Main Street singing along. Just like certain songs can transport you back to a place and time that you remember fondly, this 12.5-minute long combination of lights, music, fireworks, and a flying fairy will always make me think of some of my happiest days.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

This one! This is my favorite firework of all time.

I tried to make it back to Orlando to watch it one last time, but the whole full-time job thing made that impractical. I’ll have to console myself with listening to the soundtrack over and over again. As luck would have it, I’ve taken enough pictures over the years that I could probably reconstruct it if I arranged them all together. These are some of my favorites.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

What would you wish for?

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“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.”

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“If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme.”

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This is perfection.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

The genie has some wishes to grant!

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Uh oh, be careful what you wish for.

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Always let your conscience be your guide.

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Good news: the Blue Fairy is here to save the day.

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The Hercules music used in this section is perfect.

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“Wishes! Dream a dream. Wishes! Set it free.”

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

“Wishes! Trust your heart. Just believe!”

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And the grand finale.

I know Wishes isn’t the height of all entertainment, but it will always be near and dear to my heart. I have so many amazing memories associated with this show, and it’s the only way I want to end my evening at Disney World.

Check out this incredible video by OnlyHDVideos:

Do you have any fond memories of Disney shows or attractions?

Planning to go visit Disney World solo? Here are some tips to make the most of your trip.

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The Wishes firework spectacular is ending its 13-year run at the Magic Kingdom. Look back on some great memories and photographs with a former Cast Member.Pin - Wishes2The Wishes firework spectacular is ending its 13-year run at the Magic Kingdom. Look back on some great memories and photographs with a former Cast Member.

The Evening Tourist – The Pez Factory

I love crazy evening adventures. Especially ridiculous ones that are a little cheesy. They’re exactly the kind of thing needed to break up the monotony of hotel living and keep you sane on the road. And also I’m pretty much just an overgrown child.

 

While on a business trip to southern Connecticut, I discovered that we were only a few minutes down the road from the Pez factory in Orange, CT. Not only does the factory have a visitor center and museum, but it was also open until 6 pm, giving us exactly one hour between when we would finish working and when it would close. (Hours vary seasonally, and winter closings are a bit earlier.)
Giant Pez candies at the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, CT

I’d like to take these giant candies home, please.

I had convinced a co-worker to go with me, so at exactly 5:00 we shut our laptops down and headed to the car. It was a quick ride down the interstate and we found the factory easily. As part of your admission, you also get a store credit (it’s a great way to encourage you to spend even more money in the shop, and sadly worked quite well on both of us).

 

We also got bingo cards that had a bunch of specific Pez dispensers on it and to mark off each square, you had to locate that dispenser and write the year it was manufactured. You only needed to get a bingo to earn a free Pez dispenser, but we were determined to fill out our entire cards. Thanks to some excellent teamwork, we were able to find all but two of them. The ladies behind the counter spun the Wheel of Pez (A very catchy name I made up myself) and I earned a polar bear one that I regifted to my sister when I got home.
Giant Pez dispenser at the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, CT

That’s one tall Pez dispenser.

You’re greeted at the door by an enormous Pez dispenser that opens and closes with a motor. It would’ve been a lot easier to pose with it if I wasn’t so darn short.

 

The museum isn’t huge, but it was a fun way to kill a couple hours if you’re in the area. There is some history about the candy and dispensers along the wall. I had no idea that Pez started out as peppermints from Vienna. It does explain the name though, as pfefferminz is the German word for peppermint.

 

The main display is cases upon cases of old Pez dispensers. Looking at the oldest ones was interesting because some of them were pretty creepy.
Vintage Tinkerbell Pez dispensers at the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, CT

Tink is looking a little scary there.

I was also pretty jealous of a set of Canada-exclusive NHL ones that I would’ve loved to have had a chance to buy.
Zamboni Pez dispensers at the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, CT

I would totally shell out for a Red Wings one.

I quite liked these Pez dispenser guns and totally would’ve purchased one if they’d had them in the store.
Vintage Pez dispenser guns at the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, Connecticut

 

This display showing how different colors are molded together to make the figures on top was interesting too.
Anna from Frozen Pez dispenser at the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, Connecticut

 

You could peek into the factory through some windows at the back, but there wasn’t much to see. The area closest to the viewing spot had a couple workers mixing different shaped dispensers together for individual wrapping, followed by grouping into a variety pack.

Pez dispensers being packaged at the Pez factory in Orange, CT

 

My favorite part might’ve been the Pez dispenser head photo op. You can basically pose for a picture with your face on top of a Pez dispenser stick so it looks like you’re about to eject some little candy tablets. There were a variety of hats you could use as props, but I went with just plain, old me.
Pez dispenser photo op at the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, Connecticut

I guess I’m famous now that my head is on a Pez dispenser.

Nearby, there was an opportunity to make your own Pez dispenser. There were a bunch of different shaped bases that kids (or fun adults) could color to make their own designs. These cost money, but weren’t any more expensive than the other items in the store. I didn’t make one for myself because I’m pretty lacking in the creativity and drawing department, but in hindsight, I kind of wish I had given it a shot.
Detroit Tigers Pez dispensers displayed at the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, CT

After the obligatory pass through the Pez store (We had to spend the free credits that came with our tickets, after all), we headed out, with five whole minutes to spare before closing time. Not bad for an after-work adventure.

The Pez Visitor Center in Orange, Connecticut offers fun for families and adults.The Pez Visitor Center in Orange, Connecticut offers fun for families and adults.

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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Six Reasons to Visit Michigan This Spring

Spring in Michigan is a wonderful time when the gray of winter melts away and blue skies, green grass, and colorful flowers return to the state. As temperatures reach the 50s, you’ll see residents – like me! – sporting shorts and flip flops and flocking to local parks to enjoy the outdoors. There’s a lot going on as the state comes back to life. Here are six reasons to visit Michigan this spring.

Marche du Nain Rouge in Detroit, Michigan

Photo by Stephen Pham

Marche du Nain Rouge

The Nain Rouge, French for “red dwarf,” is a legendary creature that has been described in local Detroit lore for centuries. Reported sightings typically precede disasters like the 19th century fire that destroyed much of the city, the surrender during the War of 1812 that handed the city over to the British temporarily, and the 1967 riot.

Marche du Nain Rouge in Detroit, Michigan

Photo by Kate Sassak

In recent years on a weekend day in late March, residents have banded together to banish the Nain Rouge from the city to prevent disasters from striking in the upcoming year. Participants often dress in costumes  – some in a Mardi Gras style – so that if the Nain Rouge returns the following year, he won’t be able to recognize them to take revenge. There is a lively parade down Cass Avenue in the Midtown area, followed by a ceremonial burning of the dwarf in effigy. And who knows? Maybe it’s working. Since the first Marche du Nain Rouge in 2010, the city has seen steady improvements, new businesses, and a rebounding population. It’s fun. It’s quirky. It’s unlike anything else. Read about this year’s event schedule here.

Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park

Tigers Opening Day

There’s something magical about the start of a new baseball season. Combined with the gradually warming weather and lengthening days, Opening Day in early April brings a sense of reawakening to the city after a long, cold winter. The Tigers haven’t won the World Series since 1984, but that doesn’t stop their faithful fans from throwing a party before the first game of the season. Many co-workers and classmates will be suspiciously absent from offices and schools as playing hooky to attend the game is a time-honored tradition for many.

Bars around Comerica Park pull out all of the stops with live music, parties, and outdoor barbeques. Don’t have a ticket to the game? Don’t let that stop you from joining in the fun. Grand Circus Park hosts a block party sponsored by the local sports radio station which features a projection of the game on a large screen for those fans unable to make it into the stadium. More info about the block party here.

Tulips in Holland, Michigan

Photo by Ken Westveld

Tulip Time

Holland, a small town on the western side of the state, is famous for its Dutch heritage. For two weekends each May, the city comes to life for the Tulip Time festival celebrating its Dutch heritage and famous tulips. Events and attractions are scattered throughout the city and visitors can experience everything from parades and Dutch folk dances to concerts carnival rides. Food is plentiful and sure to satisfy all diners. You can even tour a working Dutch windmill. Amidst all of the fun, don’t forget to take time to enjoy the magnificent tulip gardens the festival is named for. More information about the festival can be found here.

Flower Day at Eastern Market in Detroit, Michigan

Photo courtesy of the Eastern Market Corporation

Eastern Market Flower Day

If you haven’t had enough flowers at Tulip Time, make sure to attend Flower Day at Eastern Market, a large public market area in Detroit. The area is fantastic year round, but it especially shines on Flower Day. Each year on the Sunday after Mother’s Day growers of flowers pack the market area with beautiful flowers for shoppers to peruse. This annual tradition, dating back to the 1960s, allows buyers to browse through a large selection and interact with the growers for tips to keep them blooming. Food trucks and live music will also be featured during the event. More info here.

View from Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island Lilac Festival

Mackinac Island is a small island located between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas in Lake Huron. It’s a spectacular tourist destination that allows visitors to step back in time to an age without motorized vehicles and enjoy the scenery on bikes or in horse drawn carriages. For ten days in early June, the island celebrates the beautiful lilac trees that bloom during the spring.

Festival highlights include a 10k run/walk as well as a kids’ race, concerts, a parade, wine tastings, and a dog and pony show. Enjoy a carriage tour or explore the island’s natural beauty on your own. Don’t forget to pick up some of the island’s famous fudge while you’re there. Learn more about the Lilac Festival here.

Fountain at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, Michigan

Springtime at the Detroit Zoo

The Detroit Zoo, located in the suburb of Royal Oak, offers great animal encounters year-round. It really shines during the spring, as I’ve found that the animal are most active during this time of year. While many of the animals prefer to rest during the hot summer days, cooler spring weather offers the perfect opportunity to see them actively exploring their habitats.

The zoo offers several events and lectures throughout the spring as well. There is an Earth Day celebration called GreenFest, which features crafts, zookeeper talks, and a community art project. The zoo also offers guests discounted admission if they bring a cell phone to recycle that day. Adults will also enjoy the Zoo Brew event in May, which gives guests over the age of 21 access to the zoo until twilight hours, as well as live music and samples of beer from Michigan craft breweries.

What are your favorite things about springtime in Michigan? Did I miss something that should be on the list? Let me know in the comments.

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6 Reasons to visit Michigan this spring

6 Reasons to visit Michigan this spring

Six reasons to visit Michigan in Spring

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:

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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