NHL All-Star Game travel advice: what to do in Raleigh, NC

nhl raleigh

It’s shaping up to be a busy, busy weekend for sports. The NFL’s Pro Bowl is set to take place Sunday night, and a few hours prior, the NHL’s All-Star Game will kick off in North Carolina’s capital city. This weekend will be the first that Raleigh has hosted the All-Star Game, with the Carolina Hurricanes being the host team and their RBC Center being the host facility. Those living here (like me!) will be quick to point out that Raleigh brought home a major national championship before the more populated Charlotte, with the Stanley Cup coming to NC during the 2005 – 2006 season.

The city has been doing an awful lot of planning since it found out it would be this year’s host in April of 2010, including the finalization of RDU’s sophisticated Terminal 2 this past week. We’re still no closer to having a legitimate public transportation system (outside of a few sporadic bus routes), but there’s plenty of southern hospitality to go around for those coming to town. If you’re planning a trip down below the Mason–Dixon Line in order to attend this year’s NHL All-Star Game, read on to discover five can’t-miss places to visit (and eat at) while in Raleigh.

nhl raleigh

The Pit. Yes, this is the same Pit featured on Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food,” and if you’re looking for a real taste of the south, you’ll need to grab a reservation here. The vibe is authentic, the “y’alls” are easy to come by, and the food is simply delicious. Don’t be scared to try a few local favorites: fried catfish, cheesy bacon grits, sweet potato fries and fried okra.

nhl raleigh

Cook-Out. Don’t bother searching for an official website — there isn’t one. Cook-Out is a mysterious fast food eatery that only has stores in the state of North Carolina, and while the grub itself is delightful, it’s the expansive milkshake menu that’ll have you returning nightly. You’ll find well over 30 options, with each shake costing just $2.19. Feel free to mix and match flavors (Oreo Cheesecake is a popular custom flavor), and grab a “Huge” sweet tea if you want to really know what a southern beverage tastes like. Here’s a secret: order a Cook-Out tray at the Cook-Out on Western Blvd. near NC State’s campus, and you can take home a Cook-Out visor or t-shirt for just $1.99!

nhl raleigh

Wolfpack vs. Tar Heels basketball. UNC alums will swear up and down that Duke is their only rival in The Triangle, but if NC State pulls the upset at the Dean Dome this weekend, you’ll never find a more sour group of fans. NC State vs. UNC games are always rowdy, and if you can score a ticket for this Saturday’s matchup (1/29) in Chapel Hill, it’s most certainly worth going to. Just getting inside of the Smith Center is a magical experience for devout college basketball fans.

nhl raleigh

Velocity VeloCAB ride. Downtown Raleigh may not be the biggest downtown you’ve ever seen, but it’s still full of life, parks and history. It’ll be chilly in late January, but if you’ve got a beefy coat and a significant other to cuddle up with, a ride in a rickshaw (dubbed a VeloCAB) is a great way to learn about Raleigh from an expert that lives here. And hey, you may just pass by somewhere you’ll want to return to afterwards.

nhl raleigh

Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern. If you leave Raleigh without dining here, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. This restaurant is a Four Diamond award winner, and their menu changes on a regular basis. They go out of their way to procure ingredients from right here in North Carolina, and every single dish is a winner. Head to the tavern if you aren’t looking to dress up, or reserve a table in the main dining room if you bring your formal wear to town.

nhl raleigh

Raleigh — along with all of North Carolina — is a fine place to visit, and while there are quite a few hotels to choose from, the out-of-the-box travelers would do themselves a favor by heading up to Durham. There, you’ll find The Arrowhead B&B, a gorgeous inn (circa 1775) ran by two of the nicest, sweetest individuals (Phil and Gloria Teber) you’ll ever meet. The breakfasts you’ll find here are to die for, and if you’re into splurging, the Carolina Log Cabin or Garden Cottage are the ones to book.

nhl raleigh

If you’re a local, feel free to add your own must-do suggestions in comments below. For the full schedule of events during the 2011 NHL All-Star weekend, click here. Enjoy NC, y’all!

Canada gets its very own dictionary

Canadians have long been quick to declare the differences with their American neighbors to the south. Whether displayed through a particularly fervent love for hockey or by virtue of the country’s publicly-funded healthcare system, there’s numerous if sometimes subtle differences. We can now add one more reason to the list – Canada has its own version of English.

OK, yes…I can hear you saying that “eh” doesn’t quite count as a word. But it turns out Canadian English is much more than that – enough that Canada has its very own dictionary made by publisher Harper Collins. The most recent version of the Canadian Dictionary, released in April 2010, provides an interesting run down of some distinctly Canadian words and phrases.

A few examples can be found here (PDF download). Ever heard of a toque? For those not up on their Canadian lingo, it’s a close-fitting knitted hat often with a tassel or pompom. Or what about a wanigan? As any Canadian worth their salt will tell you, it’s a watertight box or chest used by canoeists or lumberjacks to hold provisions. In honor of the dictionary’s release, Harper Collins is holding a short-story contest. All entries must contain ten Canadian words found on the PDF list mentioned above.

If you’re heading to Canada any time soon, make sure you grab yourself a copy to start practicing your Canadian. As respectful travelers, of course, it’s important we all speak some of the local lingo.

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Ten best extreme wheelchair sports videos

It wasn’t until a close friend of mine wound up in a wheelchair that I took any notice of sports for quadriplegics. That’s when I realized the athletic feats accomplished by these wheelchair-bound competitors are truly astonishing. While I, and my perfectly capable limbs, stood on the side lines and cheered, my friend was out skydiving, skiing and even kayaking as a “quad.” Check out the ten best extreme wheelchair sports in this round up of videos.

Can’t Feel My Legs, Haha
Clay Egan is one of the best Rock Climbing drivers in the world. This inspirational man broke his neck in a motorcycle accident, but that never stopped him from participating in events that have him literally falling off of cliffs. After one wild fall, he remarked, “Man I can’t feel my legs!” Just a little quad humor.

North Pole Wheelchair Accessible
The North Pole is wheelchair-accessible? David Shannon proved that it is. He reached the summit on the 100 year anniversary of the first North Pole expedition. This video outlines the journey he took and the obstacles he encountered. Many able-bodied people try and fail, but this quadriplegic was a success.

Hang Ten, Baby. Quad Surfing
The Disabled Surfing Association of Australia allows Kelly McCann, a C2 quadriplegic to surf. She has no use of her arms or legs and needs constant breathing assistance, but can get on a board and experience the awesomeness of the ocean.

Yes, He Can
Gene Rodgers does it all in this video clip. Bungee jump? check. Ride an elephant, check. Parachute? check. This quadriplegic has done it all and his catchy little background song is by the blind musician Jeff Moyer. “Yes, I can”….and yes I will be singing this all day now.

Leave Your Disability at the Dock
Beautiful clip on sailing for quadriplegics. Control the sails and gain your freedom on the open sea. There is a man in this clip who gets to take his wife and service dog out for a sail. On land he is dependent. In the boat, he is in control.

Scuba Diving, Up Close and Personal
Dive right in. Regardless of your abilities, diving is a wonderful experience. The adaptations they have for quadriplegics like zip in wet suits and webbed gloves make it easier for anyone to give it a try.

Power soccer athletes doing their thing. Played indoors with a foot guard over the front of a power wheelchair. This sport allows individuals who are completely dependent on others for their day to day care to be competitive athletes. Fun video to watch!

Ride a Bike
All ages get together to ride hand cycles. These awesome pieces of machinery allow the wheelchair bound freedom on the streets. I loved seeing the little kids on the bikes. The clip mentions how the hand cycle gives them common ground with their family and friends. Going for a bike ride puts everyone on the same playing field, nice.

Sledge Hockey at the Paralympic Games
Exciting game! Check out these Canadians, nothing disabled about them. They came away with the GOLD.

King of Extreme Wheelchair Sports
We end this round-up of the 10 best quadriplegic extreme sports with the “King of Extreme,” Rugby. Wheelchair rugby, or Murderball, is brutal but thrilling to watch.

A Canadian in Beijing: Summer Ice Skating

Here it is the heat of summer in Beijing and I found myself on ice skates last night. I looked down at the ice rolling under my skate blades in the “You Yi Shopping City” mall ice rink last night and I laughed out loud. I was wearing a light shirt and jeans and the sweat was dripping down my back. Ice skating in the summertime? I don’t think this Canadian has ever been skating without mittens on her hands! China, I keep forgetting how inventive you are!

Last night, a group of us went to a local mall to strap on skates and make some circles around the rink. It was a standard ice rink just like the ones back home, but this one was in the middle of a huge shopping mall – one of the largest in Beijing – and it’s not the only ice rink found in a mall in this city. In fact, naïve me thought that only our famous “West Edmonton Mall” in Canada had ever thought of such a crazy idea. Turns out, thanks to a quick chat with my Quebecois friends who came along, that there’s one in a mall in Montreal too. So, I guess it’s not so rare after all . . .

When we arrived, we descended down giant escalators into a wide walkway and saw gallery style railings that looked down and into the ice rink. People leaned over these railings all evening, intermittently watching the skating from above. I did the same for a moment before going down yet another set of escalators into the skating area.

Choosing skates was the first adventure. I don’t use figure skates because I’m more comfortable in hockey skates. When I asked for hockey skates, the overwhelming response was “Are you sure? They’re dangerous!” I assured the staff and my Chinese friend that I was sure and was reluctantly handed the skates without picks on the blades. It seems as though this choice is more rare here in China, especially for a woman. I explained that I thought it was more dangerous for me to have the picks on the ends of the blades because I’m not used to them and they catch the ice and could tip me forward. It all depends on experience, I suppose.

We all sat down and strapped our skates on and I was excited. It’s not every day that I get to go skating and, even though I live one hour from the longest skating rink in the world (Ottawa’s Rideau Canal), I did not make it into Ottawa for a skating day this winter. I love to skate but I had to go to Beijing to find the time!

My skates were laced and done up long before anyone else’s. I took to the ice and took a few loops to gather back my comfort on blades. I love the feeling of ice beneath me. It’s such a powerful sound, too, that slick scrape of skate blades on frozen water. The very pitch of that sound is nostalgic. Then, when I get the rhythm under me, I feel like I’m flying on the ice the way flying sometimes feels in a dream state. It’s as though you’re being carried along and not actually generating the flight, like the way your hand will catch and ride the wind when you dangle it out your car window while driving.

Like surfing the air.

I suddenly realized that I was daydreaming and ignoring my friends then, and so I went back to check in on them to find out why they were taking so long. There were some size confusions with the skates and then lots of switching between hockey skates and figure skates going on. All of my friends that came with me are male, but all but one settled on figure skates in the end.

It’s very common for men to skate with figure skates here. It’s very unusual back home, in my experience, unless they are training to be figure skaters. In fact, in Canada, I’m ashamed to say that as kids we used to differentiate hockey skates and figure skates as boys’ skates and girls’ skates, respectively. I no longer see it this way, of course, knowing that many women (like me) prefer hockey skates and/or play ice sports and many men (of all sexual orientations!) are accomplished figure skaters. Still, I realized last night that these assumptions are still in me when I found myself marvelling at all the boys in figure skates being so beautiful and graceful with their turns and spins while I roughly cut and scraped the ice at top speed, racing between people and wishing I had a hockey stick and a puck to chase.

Stereotypes are meant to be broken.

When I looked up at the posters hanging from the upper railings around the rink, I saw a maple leaf almost immediately. A picture of a local hockey team showed the kids wearing hockey jerseys with various NHL team logos. One of the kids in the front row was sporting a Montreal Canadiens jersey. I definitely felt at home in that moment and quietly complimented the photographer on placing that kid in the front row. Of all the teams to feature, I’d say that was a good choice!

There were many little kids on the ice as well — some who looked no more than four years old — and several were being coached in certain techniques by professional skaters. The center of the ice was being used as training areas as were the corner circles, thus making it necessary to skate a bit slower in order to avoid collision with the little ones. Speed could be increased as it got later, though. By around nine o’clock, the rink was clearing out and we had the last half an hour with lots of free space to mess around and practise tricks and have some races.

I had a great time. It was an unusual outing, for sure, but I enjoyed the exercise and the challenge of trying to remember how to skate backwards in a circle. The skills we learn as kids stay in our limbs, I believe, and I found my body recalling the movements and finding the steadiness bit by bit. I’ll have to go back and keep practising!

When we left, it was closing time at 9:30. Some of my friends spent most of their time off the ice, but everyone tried to skate, at least, and we all put on our shoes again in a good mood.

With the piped in Muzak still ringing in our ears, we watched the rink staff rolling large silver coverings onto the ice not unlike those used in the windshields of cars in the summertime to protect one’s interior from overheating. No zamboni and so I imagine that this technique enables the rink to maintain its frozen state, like a cooler. Still, I wonder how they do smooth the surface again? Perhaps the zamboni comes out in the mornings? I have no idea.

I woke up this morning with sore muscles and a bit of homesickness for Canada. Next year, I’m not going to miss the canal. That’s a promise to myself.

And I’ll be sure not to forget my mittens.