A few months ago, I was scrolling through one of my social media feeds when I stumbled across a concert announcement by one of my favorite bands, Sianspheric. Not only was the recently reunited outfit recording new material and playing live again, they were doing a handful of shows with another of my favorite bands, the also recently reunited Swervedriver. The opportunity to see both of these bands on the same stage was just too much for me to pass up.
The show was happening at This Ain’t Hollywood in Sianspheric’s hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. When I realized that the show was scheduled for Mother’s Day weekend and would put me within an hour’s flight of my own hometown, just outside of New York City, I bought a ticket for the show and began looking at flights immediately.
After a few days of research and planning, I convinced my girlfriend to join me for at least part of the long weekend. She was able to schedule a business trip to meet with some of her Canadian clients, after which we would meet up for a quick trip to Niagara Falls before I flew to New York to surprise my family and she flew back to Los Angeles.
I took a red eye on Thursday night and landed in Toronto at about 6 AM on Friday. After navigating a ridiculously long line at customs — and dealing with extra scrutiny, probably due to the fact that I had just traveled internationally with a one way plane ticket — I stumbled out of the airport and into a beautiful and unseasonably warm Canadian morning.
My girlfriend was already in Toronto and she left me a room key at the front desk of her hotel. After a short cab ride, a two hour power nap and a hot shower, I set out on foot to do some exploring. I walked south along Sherbourne St., past Allan Gardens and then west along Front St.
My first planned stop of the day was the St. Lawrence Market, which is known worldwide by culinary professionals and foodies alike, both for its size and wide variety of high quality offerings. The cavernous space is filled with two floors of vendors selling everything from fruits and vegetables to prepared foods, coffee, wine, cheese and seafood.
I walked the entire market before deciding on where to have lunch. I opted for Buster’s Sea Cove, which had the longest line in the market by far. The ordering process was fairly straight forward, but there was a huge bottleneck of people waiting for their food, with nowhere to go. There was a small seating area right next to the booth, but it was completely full and the line of people waiting to order wasn’t getting any shorter. By the time my Po’ Boy was ready, a few seats had opened up at the counter and I was able to sit down and enjoy my sandwich in relative peace. I originally wanted the crawfish, but sadly, they were sold out. The red snapper was an excellent alternative. It was lightly dressed with mayo and topped with red onions and cucumber and was absolutely fantastic.
Next on the list was the Hockey Hall of Fame, which is not the easiest place to get into. When you find what you think is the entrance, you must figure out that you actually have to walk around the corner and through a set of glass doors that leads to a courtyard. Once you’re in the courtyard, you then have to walk past a fountain, through the atrium and find the escalator that leads to the concourse below. At the bottom of the escalator, you have to make a 180 degree turn and walk to the very back end of the concourse in order to find the entrance to the museum. Clearly, the signage could be better.
If you ever find the entrance to the Hall of Fame, you will be treated to an amazing collection of assorted hockey ephemera. In addition to the hockey sticks, pucks, vintage jerseys and other gear, there is a screening room and numerous vintage hockey merchandise displays, as well as several interactive experiences. When you’ve had your fill, head up a separate escalator to the gift shop. The staff will be happy to ship your purchases to you if you are visiting from another country and don’t feel like lugging them around.
After the Hall of Fame, I walked along the waterfront for a bit and then over to the CN tower for a quick photo op before making my way to the train station. The train ride from Toronto to Hamilton was only an hour and cost about $12, which was cheaper than the five minute cab ride from the train station to my hotel. I stayed at the Admiral Inn Hamilton, which is small and inexpensive, but well run and very clean.
I still had a couple of hours to kill before the concert, so I decided to head out and grab some dinner. I found a place called The Ship, a nautical themed gastropub where I had an AMAZING meatloaf burger called The Bat Out Of Hell. It’s an actual burger patty, not just a slice of meatloaf on a bun, and is topped with house made sweet ketchup glaze and crispy fried onions. They have a great selection of craft beers and a small, but thoughtfully curated bar, stocked with some hard to find bourbons, whiskeys and gins.
After dinner, I walked another mile or so from the restaurant to the venue. There was a street fair going on, so there were a ton of people milling about. It was mostly the usual nonsense: food trucks and tables filled with crap as far as the eye could see. There was also a young rock band playing on the roof of a small building, but they weren’t very good.
This Ain’t Hollywood is a fairly good size bar with surprisingly good sound and the show was everything I hoped it would be. Melodic swells, waves of distortion and surges of feedback washed over the crowd. WTCHS opened to a sparse, but appreciative audience and Sianspheric played a really great set, but I was having trouble standing up by the time they finally went on. Somehow, I managed to get my second (or maybe third) wind for Swervedriver, but by the time they finished playing I had absolutely nothing left. When I finally left the venue, I had a hard time getting a cab and didn’t get back to the hotel until around 2 or 3 AM. After a quick shower, I passed out, completely exhausted from an entirely too long, but really awesome day.
The next morning, my girlfriend picked me up in Hamilton and we drove to Niagara Falls, which was only about 45 minutes away. Neither of us had ever been there before and we were really excited to see the falls, as well as to take in some of the kitschy tourist traps that fill the surrounding area. We stayed at the Niagara Falls Hilton on the Canadian side and our room had an unobstructed view of Horseshoe Falls. After a quick lunch at Pranzo Italian Grill, we walked down to Hornblower Niagara Cruises for a 30 minute tour. Maid of the Mist used to operate on both sides of the river, but now only operates out of New York. From what I could tell, the experiences are nearly identical (read: FUN!) and you should definitely go on a cruise if you visit Niagara Falls. It’s the best way to see the falls up close and personal.
After getting soaked and listening to people scream for a half hour, we walked back up past the falls, stopping often to take photographs and gawk. It really is amazing to see and hear all of that water roaring over the edge of the cliff and pounding the rocks below. It’s even more awe-inspiring if you are visiting from a drought-ravaged area such as southern California.
Once we exhausted ourselves walking around, we trudged back up the hill to the hotel to shower and change for dinner. The dining options in Niagara Falls were not very exciting. We decided to head over to Doc Magilligan’s. I had a burger, which was decent, but not quite what I was hoping for. My girlfriend was equally unimpressed with her meal. Entertainment for the evening consisted of a haunted house, some arcade games and a nighttime viewing of the illuminated falls, followed by a not quite long enough, but very deep sleep.
The next morning, I was up before dawn and on my way to Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York, which was only about a 45 minute cab ride from the hotel. A couple of hours later, my sister picked me up at Newark and we went back to her place and waited for my parents and aunt to arrive. As hard as I tried to keep my visit a secret, my mother suspected that something was up. Even though it wasn’t a total surprise, everyone was thrilled to see me. There may have even been a few tears.
Mother’s Day was extremely mellow compared to the rest of the weekend. It was really nice to just sit down and relax and spend some quality time with my family, whom I hadn’t seen since Christmas. Unfortunately, it was a very short visit and the next day, it was right back to the airport and then home to Los Angeles.
Over the course of four days, I visited four airports, three cities, two different countries and logged almost 6,000 miles. It was certainly a whirlwind, but it was also one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.