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International Bowl gives USF Bulls fans a chance to discover Toronto

If you're thinking of following the University of South Florida Bulls football team north to Canada for the International Bowl on Jan. 2, here are five things you need to know about Toronto in January. Well, maybe six. The Bulls will be playing the Northern Illinois University Huskies. (You never know when that bit of trivia will come up at a holiday cocktail party.) • Oh, and you'll need a U.S. passport. • Janet K. Keeler, Times lifestyles editor

1 Winter is brutal. There is a reason lots of Canadians flock to Florida in the winter. Toronto temperatures are mostly below freezing in January with the average high 30 degrees. Right, that's the high. If you remember your grade school geography, you'll know Toronto sits on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario. The city gets about 53 inches of snow a year, considerably less than Montreal and Quebec. Still, bundle up in gold and green. (The Huskies' home field is in DeKalb, Ill., where the average January high is 27 degrees. See No. 2 to understand why that won't give them a climatological advantage.)

2The stadium is domed. The Rogers Centre, formerly the SkyDome, is home to the Toronto Blue Jays. It is the world's first stadium with a fully retractable dome and let's just guess that it will be in use for the International Bowl. The stadium seats 52,000 and also hosts other events. A Disney ice show featuring skating princesses will be at the center in the days leading up to the bowl game and a monster truck jam plays Rogers later in January. The Rogers Centre sports and entertainment complex is in the Harbourfront district of the city, adjacent to the Financial District and Old Town neighborhood. Both have lots of restaurants, clubs, theaters and shops.

3Toronto is a hockey town. Torontonians may root for the Buffalo Bills, which would be the nearest NFL team, but it's the Maple Leafs that break their hearts. The Leafs are off to a lousy start (again) and haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1967. Nevertheless, the Hockey Hall of Fame is in Toronto. The hall is housed in an 1885 bank building and entered through an underground mall (more on that in No. 4). In an interactive section, you can don goalie equipment and try to stop foam pucks fired from the film images of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, or grab a stick and try to score on onscreen goalie Ed Belfour. There are countless exhibits devoted to the game's history, and the original Stanley Cup is on display in a vault.

4You can live underground. The PATH is a subterranean world that connects many of Toronto's main sites via walking paths and subway stations. This keeps people out of the elements, plus highlights small businesses that were pushed out when high rises and other new buildings went up above ground. Expect to see lots of underground musicians who have permits to play and pass the hat, along with restaurants, spas and shops. If you happen to stay at the Fairmont Royal York (rates start at $135; fairmont.com/royalyork) you may never need to go above ground at all since the PATH connects the hotel with the stadium. There are other hotels on the PATH. For more information and a map, go to toronto.ca/path.

5A global experience. "Toronto is like New York, as run by the Swiss," actor Peter Ustinov reportedly once said. That means it's efficient and clean but with a sophisticated vibe and reputation for good food, great shopping and fantastic theater and music. Some 4.5 million people live in the greater Toronto area and the city itself is a melting pot of cultures with large Asian, Italian, Portuguese and Jewish populations. Toronto's distinct neighborhoods are fine for walking so you may want to come back in the summer when the weather is more conducive to strolling and eating at sidewalk cafes. The G20 Summit will be held in Toronto next summer so there is likely to be even more sprucing up between now and then.

Information from Times files and Fodor's "Toronto 2009" guidebook was used in this report. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

.fast facts

Follow the Bulls

The USF Bulls play the Northern Illinois Huskies in the International Bowl on Jan. 2 at Toronto's Rogers Centre. Game time is noon and tickets are $20 to $55. To get information

or to buy tickets, go to

internationalbowl.org.

USF athletic boosters have two-night travel packages starting at $435, not including airfare. For more information, go to bullssportstravel.com or gousfbulls.com or call toll-free 1-800-924-9993. In addition, USF will give tickets to any students who want to go to the game.

A check on hotel-and-flight packages from Tampa to Canada on Expedia.com resulted in several affordable options. For about $1,200, two people can fly from Tampa to Toronto nonstop on United and stay three nights (Jan. 1-4) at the Fairmont Royal York. The Royal York is not far from the Rogers Centre and is connected by a subway.

The Renaissance Toronto hotel is adjacent to Rogers and has rooms starting at $175 a night. You can even get a room with a view of the field; that will set you back about $300. For information, go to marriott.com or call toll-free 1-888-236-2427.

Other tips and attractions

• For stunning views while dining, check out Canoe on the 54th floor of the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower. It won't be cheap but it will be pretty. Canoe is closed on weekends so you'll need to dine Friday or stay a few days after the Saturday game. For a less expensive experience, consider Beer Bistro (18 King St.) for a beer tasting and award-winning food.

• Football is far from the only game in town. Robin Hood, the EnvironMENTAL Family Musical ends its run at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre on Jan 3. Go to toronto.com for other event listings.

Janet K. Keeler

International Bowl gives USF Bulls fans a chance to discover Toronto 12/12/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2009 3:30am]

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