I'm playing detective and discovering new things to do in and around Ottawa.
When the cat is away, the mouse will play... or something like that! This week, Ryan is traveling to warmer shores to do something I would never be brave enough for (okay, he's on a cruise - but that's a boat and we all know that boats top my list of travel enemies. So the bravery comment stands). Regardless, it's good motivation for me to plan my own amazing staycation. And it's even better that it's happening during Ottawa's festive Winterlude season.
Ottawa is a wonderful winter travel destination and it's the perfect place for a February vacation or staycation. But, I must admit, skating and other outdoor activities aren't always my strong suit. But that's not going to stop me from having a memorable time in my hometown! You don't have to strap on some skates to join in my staycation plan. Here's what's making me love Ottawa lately.
PS Canadian readers, we have a special giveaway for you at the end!
Doing Something Out Of The Ordinary: Escape Manor.
The great thing about vacations and staycations is that you get to shut down your worries. For me, the perfect way to do just that is to visit an escape room.
Escape rooms are my new favourite thing. Remember the first time I visited one -I was actually really scared until I finally went there! (Yep, I still don't know exactly what was going on in my brain!) Escape Manor is Ottawa's premier escape room company. They have properties in several parts of the city and have even partnered with museums -how awesome is that?! We were excited to visit their property in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood (not too far away from my next discovery, below).
Hintonburg is a fun, funky neighborhood and it makes sense that Escape Manor's property would reflect that style. Their lounge area is fantastic. It reminded me a cool, jazzy kind of 1940s hang out, complete with plush leather furniture and great props. There's a fun selection of puzzles and brain teasers that Ryan especially loved - yep, I made sure he didn't miss it, even though his cruise was right around the corner! And, as I was soon to find out, the lounge area doubles as an excellent spot to relaxing and sipping wine during for your escape room postmortem.
Yes, I said postmortem. Because debating what you should have, could have done is nearly as fun as the challenging rooms themselves. The permitted time to "escape" or "solve" your room is 45 minutes, but you should count on hanging around for an extra hour or so. You're going to love sinking into the cushy furniture as you rehash every step and misstep from the room. In our particular case, we were in the "Psycho" room- and it was the perfect fit for my kind of puzzle solving, with an imaginary crime and some intriguing detective work. We were SO CLOSE to solving our scenario when we ran out of time. CRAZY CLOSE! My heart was pounding with excitement - and a bit of exercise. I was scurrying around our room like a cat, searching for anything we might have missed.
I can't imagine a situation where an escape room scenario isn't a great moment of 100% delightful play. It doesn't take an expertise in puzzles or detective work - just people who are kids at heart and are eager to dive right in. I cannot wait for my next Escape Manor visit.
Discovering Something New: Beyond The Pale Brewing Company (and YOW Popcorn).
Ottawa is well known for its excellent craft beer scene. Alas, it's a scene that I don't know much about. I'm not the beer drinker in our family - that would be Ryan! But the fortunate arrival of an out of town friend offered some perfectly timed motivation to explore.
We chose Beyond The Pale Brewing Company on a bit of a lark. We exchanged some worried glances as we pulled into their location (Unit 106 - 250 City Centre Ave). What exactly were we driving into? The exterior of the building is ....hmmm.... unique in appearance. "Industrial" might be the kind way to describe it. "Run down warehouse; potential lair of a serial killer" might be more apt. But you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, nor a brewery by its building exterior!
We stepped into one of the friendliest, funkiest, most relaxed bars in Ottawa. It wasn't yet noon but the small bar and even smaller retail store were humming with couples, families, even a few dogs (with their owners, of course!). The high ceilings and wildly creative wall art were an Instagrammer's dream.
Just one thing marred our visit. I was so blinded by new found love, I didn't realize that when I ordered "My Bourbon Milkshake" that I was ordering a BEER, an oatmeal stout to be precise, that was reminiscent of a creamy, vanilla, and cocoa bourbon milkshake and NOT an actual milkshake. Opps! In all honestly, I didn't like it, which isn't surprising given that I don't really like all beer, but the blame lands entirely on me. Fortunately, my taste buds were happy soon again.
We had the chance to try YOW Popcorn for the first time. I'm so glad we have our very own, homegrown popcorn company in Ottawa. Remember how very excited I was about a similar concept in Lake Placid, New York? YOW Popcorn is just as delicious and our bag of sriracha lime popcorn was extremely tasty.
Shaking Up the Food Routine: Nokham Thai and other yummy treats.
I don't visit Nokham Thai (UPDATE: NOW CLOSED) nearly as often I want to but it's been on my 'favourites' list since I first moved to Ottawa. The small restaurant is always humming with couples, friends, and families and the staff are always really friendly. It's a lovely blend of comfort food and conversation.
Nokham Thai serves Thai food and they do a darn good job of it. Their creamy soups are absolutely delicious! I love that they have popular dishes, like Pad Thai, and also things you might not see everyday. For this week's visit, my friend and I ordered something new- a steamed young coconut filled with chicken, shrimp, and basil - and we discussed such serious matters as her evil pet fish (she knows who she is - I shan't shame her here!)
Of course, it wouldn't feel like vacation without some yummy treats! I've been busy discovering new bakeries and trying sweets - including some that honor Canada's Prime Minister. Yes, Ottawa sells Justin Trudeau cookies- who knew!
Roadtripping to the Ontario Highlands.
While Ottawa has plenty to offer within the city limits, sometimes it's hard to resist the temptation to sneak in just a wee road trip to a nearby community. For me, that temptation is the Ontario Highlands region. It's Ottawa's next door neighbour and the scene of my triumphant first snowshoeing adventure.
The area's lovely scenery always coaxes me back for more but I have an extra motivation to visit again because I got a sneak peak at their new Come Wander itineraries (complete with an amazing care package that included all the fun treats you need to organized a winter trip!) I took their online quiz and it confirmed that I am a "Creative Cruiser". No surprise there! Based on my last trip, which was filled with fine food and funky arts projects, this seems pretty accurate to me. My past trips lasted for several days but there's still plenty that a short day trip can offer as well - perfect for spicing up a staycation.
Savoring Staycation Breakfast Fuel: Sous Vide Egg Bites.
(Every good adventure, at home or on the road, needs a proper breakfast to kick off the day. I was thrilled when Starbucks sent me a gift card to try their new sous-vide egg bites. The egg bites are smooth, creamy, fluffy, soft, and served piping hot. I really liked both the flavors (red pepper with Monterrey jack cheese and bacon with Gruyere cheese). And, as I'm so dedicated to my research, I tried them both twice just to make sure that you would love them as much as I do.
They're the perfect fuel for staycation adventures and also for trip planning. The day after we booked our latest reward-points based trip, I went to my neighbourhood Starbucks with my favourite travel mug, ordered a latte and egg bites, and settled in for a cozy session of travel planning. Lovely! You couldn't ask for a nicer start to a winter day.
Now you can enjoy your own snug travel daydreams and fuel your next adventure. Our friends at Starbucks Canada are sponsoring a generous giveaway for one lucky Canadian TurnipseedTravel reader. The lucky winner will receive a $25 Starbucks gift card, a beautiful S'well water bottle, and a Starbucks tote bag. (Contest Now Completed.)
To enter, fill out the ballot below and tell us what you like to do to make your winter staycations special!
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like:
Heating Up Winter in Haliburton
Vanessa Goes Snowshoeing
Ottawa Girlfriends' Getaway Guide
Our visit to Escape Manor was provided at no charge as a result of a Travel Massive event. The care package from Ontario Highland was provided at no cost and with no obligation to me. All research, writing, and opinion are my own- as always.
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