Ottawa is not as large as Toronto or Montréal, nor as seemingly glamourous as Canada's two largest cities.
But you can find plenty to do and see in the nation's capital. The weather inspired more indoor choices than August would normally require. The list in a 3-day visit featured plenty of indoor and outdoor options.
Service wise, you can feel more comfortable conducting business in English, but felt like saying "Bonjour Hi" a lot. I found that when I would say "Bonjour," people would start out in French. In Montreal, once they hear me say "Bonjour," they switch to English pretty quickly. I don't think my French is getting better, but this is more of an Ottawa approach than in the heart of Quebec.
-- The Natural History museum is across the river in Gatineau. On the night of the latest installment of the international fireworks competition (Switzerland), I took a OC Transpo bus to the museum but walked back across the nearby bridge back to Ontario.
I have been in more than one province in the same day, but that has usually involved airplanes. Last fall, I set a personal record for being on the ground in 4 provinces in one day (almost 5). But this was the first time I was in 2 provinces on foot.
If you live in Ottawa, there are more obvious differences when going back and forth between the provinces. In Quebec, you can't turn right on red, while you can in Ontario. The drinking age on the Ontario side is 19 while in Gatineau and the rest of Quebec, 18 is the drinking age. The road signage is more heavily French even across the river.
Queen Victoria decided Ottawa would be the capital of Canada. Somehow, putting a capital on the border of these two provinces makes more sense now than in the 1800s.
-- Byward Market, the building, is a lot smaller than you would imagine. You realize that Byward Market is more than just a building. The shops on either side tie into the market in a similar fashion to Marche Jean-Talon in Montreal. I scored 50g of a marvelous roquefort societe that made for a nice protein snack before hitting a museum.
Add in the shops, cafes, and restaurants in the area and you have a wonderful neighborhood worth walking around.
I strategically stayed in the Byward Market area and didn't regret that for a second.
-- My intention was to spend some time outside the downtown and Byward Market area. I did walk around the Italian neighborhood for awhile and enjoyed what I saw. I had Hintonburg on my list, but ran out of time.
The rain and cold did not help, but without a major train system, traveling outside of downtown took more time, given the bus schedules. The city is supposed to be getting a train line that will run through downtown; this will help you see more of the city.
-- Going to Ottawa allows you opportunities to take in the elements of government. I toured the Supreme Court building as well as Parliament.
The only thing I did in my brief layover in Ottawa in 2009 was to tour Parliament. This time, I took notes and got better pictures. You can also go up in the Peace Tower once the tour is over. You can get some nice views of the area, especially when the skies are sunny (they weren't for me).
The Supreme Court tour lasts an hour. The Parliament tour is considerably longer; factor meals and blood sugar issues into your plans
You do need a ticket for the Parliament tour; those tickets can be accessed across the street from Parliament (the location has wi-fi, an added bonus). Both tours are free.
My final quest in the triumvirate of the Canadian political system was to take a picture of 24 Sussex Drive, where the prime minister lives. From the road, you don't get a sense of the building where the PM resides, but I did snap a picture of the front gates and the officer who stands behind those gates.
One of the city guides mentioned that the Governor General lives across from 24 Sussex Drive and that the grounds of the home are open.
I walked the whole route from Byward Market with tons of construction and not the best shoes for walking. Then I added more walking on the grounds of Rideau Hall. The grounds are a destination in themselves.
You can take a free tour of Rideau Hall. One oddity: during the tour, you can't take pictures. However, from 3-5 pm, you can take pictures of the same rooms where you couldn't take pictures before. My tour ended about 3 pm, so I got to go back and take pictures.
The concept is that people could be conducting business in the house where the Governor General works and lives. Apparently, by 3 pm, that isn't an issue.
Even if I only got to take a picture of 24 Sussex Drive, I would have been thrilled. Getting a tour of Rideau Hall made the walk that much better.
-- Usually on these trips, the days are full but the nights lack for options. Not on this trip.
We mentioned the fireworks on Wednesday, and the RedBlacks game took up Friday night. Thursday early evenings are free museum time, where the major museums offer a happy hour type time slot for people to explore the museums. I took in the National Gallery and Contemporary Photography Museum. There are several different experiences within the complex: contemporary art, classic paintings from famous artists, Canadian specific art. All within walking distance of the Byward Market area.
To cap off Thursday night, I took in Mosaika, a sound and light show where they show the history of Canada on the front of the Parliament building (see the picture at the top of the story). The show lasts just under an hour and is beautiful and amazing.
I saw a similar show in Quebec City in 2009, but had trouble putting what I saw into words when I returned home. You really have to see it to understand the show.
The weather turned cold in Ottawa so seeing the show required a bit of endurance to deal with the much cooler temperatures, but the show was worth a chill in the air.
The show in Ottawa is going on every night at 10 pm through September.
-- You hear stories about people skating to work on the Rideau Canal in the winter time. The part of the Rideau Canal north of the bridge would not lend itself to skating.
Turns out the part of the canal for skating is south of the bridge that separates the Byward Market neighbourhood and the government area. A Parks Canada guide explained that they lower the water level to 2 feet in the winter time. This accounts for the ease in the water freezing quickly and how skating is a lot more viable.
Given the limited train options in Ottawa, you can understand why skating isn't that bad an option to get to work in the winter time, even with the time needed to remove your skates and switch to shoes to go to work.
photo credit: me