We had made the decision to fly from Vancouver to Ottawa rather than drive across the prairies – something that has been applauded by most people, including those from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
After a rather horrific time through check-in (process improvement opportunity!!) and security (it’s only a domestic flight guys!), we had a very comfortable flight, soaring over mountains, flat plains and lakes. That said, we were happy to get off the 5 hour flight – we think Australia is big!
Our wonderful hosts, Mike and Janice (more on them later), live about 10 minutes from the airport, so after collecting bags, we gave them a call and soon they were outside the terminal to collect us and our MANY bags!
Our first day in Canada’s capital was spent getting the lie of the land. Mike, an ex-taxi driver (amongst other things), a born (and very proud) Ottawa resident, was our guide and driver. We drove along the Rideau River, checked out Parliament Hill, crossed the bridge to Quebec and explored Gatineau Park. The amount of green area around the city is lovely. As the capital, naturally there are a number of government buildings – a lot of similarity to Canberra.
We had an opportunity to visit some small towns outside of Ottawa. Almonte was especially memorable. We enjoyed rummaging through some large antique stores with a truly large collection of both treasures (and some junk). We are not buying, but looking is fun. We decided to have lunch in Almonte at the ‘Superior Restaurant’…..proved to be an interesting experience. Certainly no smile with the service – unusual given how friendly everyone else was in town. Food was ok, nothing special. Again unusual given we have had so much good food.
We enjoyed numerous runs mostly along the canal – very scenic. On one of the days (Glenda’s birthday) we saw a hot air balloon – yes I arranged it specially…
Janice, patient partner of said Mike had researched everything that we needed to know to maximise our time in her home city. So day 2 (and a few times after that), armed with maps and bus details, we headed off downtown.
Our first highlight of our stay came very early. After hopping off the bus and venturing a bit further along the road, we saw the Rideau Canal. Always keen to get near water, we climbed down the stairs from the bridge across the canal. Only to discover a set of lochs – and the bonus was that there were 3 boats wanting to venture up river. We spent ages watching the Canada Parks staff opening and closing the gates and seeing the vessels navigate from one section to the next. If we had to leave then, we felt satisfied!
But then there was more! We meandered along the streets into some of the old areas of town to The Byward Market. The name refers to the old ‘By Ward’ of the City of Ottawa (‘By’ deriving from the surname of the engineer, Lt-Colonel John By, who was the area’s original surveyor). We could not say that we’d been to Ottawa without sampling a Beaver Tail, so we shared one for our morning snack. The French influence is very strong in Ottawa, and Byward Market is full of French style bakeries and patisseries. So our lunch was a Franco affair of bread, cheese
We visited Byward a few times during our stay, sampling more of the French type cuisine and watching the eclectic mix of people. Everywhere we went we were greeted with “hello” “bonjour” – we hadn’t realised the extent of the bilingualism in Canada / Ottawa.
Having bought bicycle helmets during our time in Victoria, Vancouver Island, we were kitted out and ready to borrow Mike and Janice’s bikes for a trip on the Capital Bike path and downtown. Perhaps because it goes to areas beyond the normal tourist destinations and most people don’t have time to do more than the key things, the bike path does not seem to be used much by travellers. It was awesome to be able to venture off the beaten path and get out with the local bikers and walkers (and dogs).
We even discovered a wonderful “local” bakery and café for breakfast. (http://www.artisinbakery.com/). Cycling along the Rideau Canal, past Parliament Hill and along the shores of Dow Lake made for a memorable day.
Canada Day is officially on 1 July (Sunday), although 2 July was the gazetted public holiday and celebrations were spread over the whole weekend (confused yet?!). By this time, the heat had arrived – mid 30 degrees and humid. Even hot for us Aussies!! We braved the sun and heat and visited Parliament Hill on the Saturday – we had been warned that “The Hill” would be crazy on Sunday 1 July and we would not want to be there! There were lovely views of the river and the Alexandra Bridge that crosses into Quebec.
Starting our Canada Day with celebrations and the national anthem at a local church, we went “home” to watch the official events on TV. The Governor-General, Julie Payette – ex astronaut and inspirational woman – chose to arrive on The Hill by bicycle.
After lunch we decided to brave the heat again and took the bus downtown. We have never seen so many people wearing red! The atmosphere was amazing, although crowd numbers were down on what was expected, likely due to the heat. Fortunately, they had done a good job of providing water and misting stations in an effort to keep people safe and healthy. And with free entry to many of the galleries and museums on the day, we were able to enjoy some air conditioning and artwork at the same time during a visit to the National Gallery of Canada.
The highlight of our day was the airshow by the Snowbirds. Having decided to go to “The Hill” as it didn’t seem to busy, we arrived just in time to see the first aircraft buzz overhead. Officially known as the Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds are Canada’s military aerobatics or air show flight demonstration team whose purpose is to “demonstrate the skill, professionalism, and teamwork of Canadian Forces personnel”. And boy were they skilled! We couldn’t believe how close they were to each other in formation.
We walked through many of the streets of Ottawa experiencing the many facets of the city. At one end they had Landsdowne Park which is a 40 acre entertainment and exhibition centre. It also contains a large sportsground and stadium. We were surprised how close we could get to the fields.
Along the way we also visited a brewery that Mike had mentioned to us knowing the owner and having served on a few boards with Him. Seeing us looking in, although closed, he opened and kindly gave us a tour. We returned a day later to enjoy a nice meal and beer.
Changing of the guards…..
Thinking that watching the boats pass through the lochs was going to be one of our most memorable experiences in Ottawa, we were unprepared for the last day! We had said to Mike that we had wanted to see the changing of the guards at Parliament Hill and hadn’t made it yet. So he offered to drive us in, wait for us and take us back. Well, he did soooo much more than that. Being a source of all knowledge, he knew where the guards met and started their march up to the parade ground. So he took us there. We had our photo taken with one of the musicians and chatted to some of the guards. We even met Brian the drum major – he had given up his mace for the day to someone else to lead the parade.
The walk alongside the guards was such fun – there were very few other people along the road so we could get so close we could’ve touched them. This meant that by the time we reached Parliament Hill and the huge crowd that was waiting for them, we were soon ready to head back to meet Mike and go on home.
Celebrating with friends….
Whilst on our cruise from Barcelona to Rome in 2017, we kept bumping into a Canadian couple, Mike and Janice (not sure who was stalking who). They made the mistake of giving us their card with contact details – little knowing that we would be looking them up very soon and availing of their hospitality.
Not knowing anything much about us, they did not hesitate to offer us a place to stay. And when we said that we had a birthday to celebrate, we were strongly encouraged not to do this on our own but to do so in Ottawa. And boy are we glad we did – they took us to their private golf club where we sat outside enjoying great food and wine. We could not have wished for more – staying with locals is always good, but this was much more than that. Being shown around by lovely people with a deep passion for their city and country was a privilege.
It was also fun to meet a number of their friends and to be invited to neighbors for drinks and snacks.
Thanks Mike and Janice!!