On our recent travels around Canada we were fortunate enough to spend five nights in the capital city, Ottawa. One of my best friends from school has moved out to Ottawa with his fiancée and they live there now, it had been a long time since we had met up so it was great to catch up and they showed us some amazing places we definitely would not have found on our own…we owe them!
Sometimes you get an immediate feel for a place, there are many times I have gone somewhere and just not felt comfortable, sometimes places grow on you, sometimes places can feel faceless and impersonal…this was definitely not the case with Ottawa! This was the kind of city where I immediately felt at ease and relaxed, everywhere seemed to be within walking distance, it would always be a pleasant walk and I always felt safe no matter what time of day or night.
The atmosphere here was lovely, after going to the top of the clock tower at parliament I remember saying to my fiancée “Everyone just seems so content and happy”. It was a bit funny and almost a case of famous last words because as soon as I had said this we went for a walk towards the lock station where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River and there were a good 200 people preparing for a protest near to parliament. Even then though, the protest had more of a party feel than any anger, people dressed up singing along with the group cheer leaders.
It is fair to say I really enjoyed our time in Ottawa, even if the humidity was through the roof! It’s not something I think people from the U.K generally associate with Canada, I think everyone has this image of Canada being deep in snow, huge lakes and wilderness, I certainly didn’t realise what the climate was going to be like in Ottawa during the summer months. We were there in early to mid September and the temperature every day was around 30°c and the humidity was really high, a little uncomfortable at times. Of course in the winter there is the snow and ice, so much so that the Rideau Canal is transformed into the worlds biggest ice skating rink! It’s difficult to imagine in the conditions we were visiting in.
Support for local independent businesses in Ottawa comes across as being a really big thing, the city doesn’t seem flooded with chain restaurants, and like I had already discovered in Toronto craft beer is huge here! It seems like almost every bar and restaurant we went to had the biggest selection of craft beers to choose from, again local breweries being really supported like Beyond the Pale who John, my friend we were visiting works for. They don’t have wine lists in Ottawa…it’s a craft beer list! This has got to be the way forward, I look forward to the day in this country a waiter opens up a menu in front of me and asks “Would sir like to see the craft beer list?”
We spent our first night in Little Italy and ate at a great place called Pub Italia. There are really cool pictures on the walls inside and great funky decor and the food was so good…and again…a pretty good selection of drinks at a really good price. People are not afraid to be different in Ottawa, in fact people and businesses want to be unique, creativity seems to flourish here as a result. It seems that even the smallest opportunity is taken to stand out from the crowd.
The Big Tour
Our second day we went on a big tour of discovery with our friends around the city, went downtown for the first time and realised how much Ottawa has to enjoy. We caught our first glimpse of parliament Hill and went past the lock station at the junction of the canal and the river, there are really nice views here, and the regal Fairmont Chateau Laurier is located here. Opened in 1912 it is an imposing almost white stone building with renaissance style turrets to fit in with the parliament buildings just the other side of the canal. It is a landmark in it’s own right.
We then went on to explore the area around Byward Market, an area flooded with independent traders, shops and cafés. A lovely place to wander and stop off for lunch or drinks. Plus…most importantly…this is where we had our first ever BeaverTails! What?? BeaverTails are a traditional Canadian snack a kind of fried dough, almost like a flat doughnut which you can have with either sweet or savoury toppings.
Ottawa is by no means a huge city, but it is a capital city, and as such has a lot of the pomp and pageantry associated with this. It has some wonderful statues celebrating the nation’s history and culture, it also has some world class museums and galleries.
The National Gallery houses the largest collection of Inuit art in the world and has installed the striking Maman (Mother) spider sculpture by the artist Louise Bourgeois outside in front of the gallery. Originally on display at the Tate Modern in London the steel sculpture was obtained by the national gallery for around 3.2 million dollars, a large proportion of the gallery’s annual budget. The statue is of a spider carrying 25 eggs made of marble in an egg sack and is over 30 feet tall.
Across the road from the National Gallery is the Notre-Dame Cathedral with its ornate interior and shiny tin covered steeples, again it is a building which really stands out and has stood since 1846.
This is a really nice area of town with the pretty Major’s Hill Park located here as well. We spent some time chilling out in the shade in this park and it was so cool to see wildlife I had never seen before here. There were black squirrels running around, which proved pretty much impossible for me to catch on film, and some very cute chipmunks!
Just across the Alexandra Bridge, which is really nice to walk across, (just be sure to dodge the joggers and cyclists!) is the Canadian Museum of history (previously the Canadian Museum of Civilization). Halfway across the bridge you cross from Ontario into Quebec, the border running along the middle of the Ottawa River.
The Canadian Museum of History
This museum is really quite amazing, really impressive, the architecture of the building itself is so cool, and inside I found it to be really educational and eye opening. I loved spending time in the Grand Hall and the First Peoples Hall. The Grand Hall is a huge glass fronted area with a display of towering totem poles and recreation of traditional buildings.
Inside the buildings there are some great displays of traditional tools and weapons and also head dresses, masks and other ceremonial items which really made it clear just how different these cultures were to those of my ancestors, differences which should be celebrated and embraced but sadly have not always been. It got me thinking about when these different cultures first met each other and how strange things would have seemed to both sides, also something that hit me was that these items were from the not so distant past, in some cases less than 100 years ago.
The First Peoples Hall was another voyage of discovery and education for me. I have never been to a museum with such an amazing collection of exhibits from aboriginal cultures, I found it fascinating and it has motivated me to find out more as I realised just how little I knew and understood.
We also really enjoyed a film in the IMAX 3D cinema here, it was great fun with really good effects.
Entry into the museum costs $15 for adults and can be combined with a ticket for the war museum nearby as well for an extra fee.
On this side of the river you get brilliant views of the rear of the parliament building and the intricate library building at the rear. We were so lucky visiting at this time of year, the city really was full of life people using the river for fun activities, paddle boarding, jet ski’s, relaxing on boats and small yachts. There are places along the river where you can pay to do these activities, there’s also a place to ride rapids a little further along!
We continued our tour walking along the river side on a purpose built path and cycle route Voyageurs Pathway. It’s a very pretty walk through beautiful gardens with lovely views across the river all the way along, and it is really popular with keep fit fans jogging and cycling the route.
This is something the U.K could really do with catching up on, every city we went to had brilliant safe pedestrian and cycle paths, often away from roads and in very scenic locations, it makes you want to dump the car and get out and be more active.
We finished this tour crossing back over the river returning to Ontario. It was a great day discovering Ottawa!
The Sound and Light Show Parliament Hill
Every evening at 9pm on Parliament Hill there is a stunning sound and light show, similar to those we experienced in the Loire Valley, France. This edition is called the Northern Lights, the grassed areas are opened up for people to sit down and people flock here to catch the show, and I have to say…I was glad we did. It is a show celebrating the history and achievements of the country, a country which is due to celebrate only it’s 150th birthday in 2017. Images and colours are beamed onto the parliament building with music and a narrator providing the story line. It was impressive and showed just what a proud nation Canada is…and rightly so. At the end of the show the national anthem was played…everyone, absolutely everyone rose to their feet, some with hands on their hearts, it’s special.
There are some big celebrations planned for the 150th birthday and there are going to be some really big parties! 2017 will be an amazing year to visit Canada. There was a lot of work being carried out already in preparation in all cities we visited, if you’ve thought about visiting Canada…there will be no better time…they are really excited about this…it’s going to be big!
Visit the Top of the Clock Tower
From a building directly across the road from Parliament Hill you can pick up free guided tour tickets of the parliament building and free tickets to go to the top of the clock tower, each ticket has a time slot telling you when to be there, and it is very popular so get there early if you want a selection of time slots to choose from.
We went to the top of the clock tower and it was a good experience, the views from the top are nice albeit through windows making it a bit difficult to capture the views on film. Again though the best views are across the river over the library building.
Our friends took us on a bit of a road trip out to Gatineau Park, the other side of Ottawa River over into Quebec to see some nature as we had spent pretty much most of our time in Canada in cities, we will be back to tackle the wilderness and national parks, Banff is high on my bucket list! Gatineau Park though is a great place to visit from Ottawa for a break from the city. We took a trip along the Promenade Champlain up to the Champlain Lookout point and you well and truly feel like you have left the city behind!
There are some really nice forest walks here and the views are amazing, however we did get eaten alive by mozzies here! Be prepared!
There is an abundance of wildlife here, big birds circle overhead… clearly vultures knowing we were on deaths door with the humidity and mosquitoes…it’s a great place to explore though and is within easy reach of Ottawa and definitely worth the trip.
We went on one walk…attempting to follow the waterfalls trail…however…we got ourselves completely lost! Pretty much as we were totally distracted by John disco dancing and slapping himself trying in vain to swat mosquitoes! We never saw a waterfall! However…it’s not always a disaster being lost, and sometimes it leads to special moments. Through the forest I caught a flash of something red, I stopped and realised it was a big female deer. Her ears pricked up and she looked straight at me but carried on rummaging around the forest floor. This was really cool, I just wish my photography skills were a little better so I could have got a perfect picture of her!
We also bumped into a gopher just chilling out, he really did not care that we were passing by…clearly knew we were more interested in getting to water and away from the mozzies than bothering him!
We eventually found our way back to the car after walking along the roadside retracing our steps with a bit of help from Google maps! It was an awesome experience though with some special moments.
Canadian Museum of Nature
Whilst in Ottawa we also visited the Canadian Museum of Nature, again it’s home is another marvellous building and it has some really great exhibits. It’s dinosaur fossil collection is very impressive and also houses a full skeleton of a blue whale.
There is also a section housing living insects and spiders and other invertebrates and I think I scared at least one Twitter follower with a photograph of a Tarantula! There is also a section on the native wildlife of Canada with taxidermied animals including bison, a polar bear, a moose, grizzly bears. It was captivating but slightly strange…I want to see them wild and living!
I loved our time in Ottawa, the atmosphere is great…relaxed and friendly, and I really love how local independent businesses are supported promoting creativity resulting in a vibrant city where you can experience so much. There are some awesome bars, restaurants and cafes and buzzing coffee shop scene with the local Bridgehouse Coffee Company right at the forefront.
If Ottawa had a theme tune it may well be that Pharrell song…you know the one I mean!
As always, thanks for taking the time to read and I hope you’ve enjoyed.
Again I cant stress how much that there has never been a better time to visit Canada and the east coast of the U.S with so many airlines now making the transatlantic crossing. Check out Opodo and Expedia (who are in the middle of their autumn sale) for flights and you may well be surprised at how affordable flights have become.