Ottawa Adventure!

In a lovely stroke of timing, Dong and I had the weekend of July 4th off… and that means 3-day weekend baby! It would have been great if we could’ve had that Friday off as well, but I’m not going to quibble. Three still > two. And that’s plenty of time for us to go on a little Canadian adventure to Ottawa, the capital city of all Canada. That’s right… the whole country. It’s the Canadian Washington D.C.!
Okay true… when you think of Canada, Ottawa doesn’t exactly pop into your mind. In my mind, the order goes something like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Quebec City…. etc. So I suppose you could say I went into the trip with pretty low expectations. But it really surprised me with how pleasant and scenic it was.

Otttawa is pretty close to Syracuse, less than 4 hours. Honestly, all that driving doesn’t even faze me anymore after all the driving one has to do for work. It’s just amazing that you can be in another country in such a short period of time! So after a fairly short 3.5 hour drive (where we almost forgot to bring our passports!!) we found ourselves in downtown Ottawa, navigating the underground basement of the Marriott Ottawa, where we would be staying. The hotel is pretty standard, although when we came it was pretty busy since everyone was checking in. Honestly it was a little hectic… and they didn’t have our room ready even after the guaranteed check-in time at 3:00…. so we ended up leaving our bags with the bellhop and going out to scrounge for food.

Unfortunately we came at that nebulous time between lunch and dinner, when restaurants have finished up lunch and have closed to gear up for dinner. Ahh! We ended up at an Eggspectations, which is apparently a chain restaurant in Canada that serves breakfast food all day. Kind of like a classier diner.
what is that thing peeking out?
the eggspectation
The food was pretty good, although I think at that point we would have been happy with anything! There were also a few Halal places that Dong really wanted to try… which were closed. HA! The huge spinning wheels of meat rejected us.
When we came back, our room was finally ready so we dropped off our bags, checked out the view (17th floor so Dong was very scared of the full-length windows) and then we were on our way! First stop was to get onto Wellington Drive, which contains many of the government buildings of Ottawa.
rental bicycles offered by the city
All over the city are these bicycle rental stations, where you can get a bike for $5/day or $12/3 days. We really should have done this but I was kind of scared to ride the bike on the streets. Plus there weren’t any helmets to rent… But really, Ottawa seems like a pretty good city to bike in. We saw plenty of people biking, the streets were well-paved and also pretty empty (might have been because it was the weekend), and we constantly gazed wistfully at bikers gliding by us while we slogged on by foot.
The Supreme Court of Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada
the peace tower of parliament
view from Parliament Hill of the Ottawa River
On Wellington Drive, you can pass by the Supreme Court of Canada and Parliament Hill, which is composed of the Left Block, the Center Block (with the Peace Tower) and the Right Block. We had come the day after Canada Day so they had a huge stage still set up in front of the center block, which didn’t allow for good wide shots. Still it was a great walk the buildings are just so impressive!
The Fairmount Chateau Laurier
back view of the Fairmount Chateau Laurier from the Rideau Canal
Farther down the block is the Fairmount Chateau Laurier, one of the most famous hotels in Ottawa. It seriously looks like a castle! It has a great location right next to Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal, the famous canal which winds through the city. The Rideau Canal is used for water sports like kayaking and boating in the summer and in the winter freezes over into a long skating rink. So cool!
We walked over to the Byward Market, which is a busy downtown touristy area full of restaurants and shops. In the morning there are farmers markets with veggies and flowers, but by the time we came it was dinnertime and the streets were crowded with people seeking food. Our first night we ate at Play Food & Wine, a restaurant that I looked up on Yelp. Since we didn’t have a reservation we were seated at the kitchen bar, where we basically got to watch the chefs in their crazily efficient dance of food preparation. The restaurant basically does small dishes and pairs them with wines, but being teetotalers we basically focused on the food aspect. It was still… pretty damn good.
interior of Play
grilled asparagus with goat ricotta, prosciutto and almond granola
squid soup. what more to say?
bok choy with sesame and sriracha
pork belly with fruit curry with black eyed peas, cashews and cilantro
strawberry trifle dessert with maple, angel food cake and walnuts
the kitchen crew in action

 

It was delicious! Although they might have thought us strange for not doing the wine pairings. Anyway it was cool to watch them in action, and you knew that your food was totally fresh since they were preparing it right in front of you. Just awesome.
very popular pastry stand BeaverTails. Too many jokes here. The beavertail is the pastry of Ottawa apparently.
Busy area of Byward Market

After our meal we wandered the market a bit more, and finally made our way back to the hotel. It was seriously a lot of walking, and for two people who are used to driving to work and then maybe standing/sitting for 12.5 hours, that is a recipe for a good night’s sleep!

The next morning we got our food at The Scone Witch, specializing in obviously recipes with scones. A little pricey but it was intimate and cute, and the food was pretty filling. Scones! Just the word itself is great.
inside the scone witch
can you spot the scone witch?!
my blt sconewitch, with salad
dong’s creamy scrambled eggs combo. scrambled eggs were great!

And then off we go! We managed to catch the tail end of the changing of the guard (isn’t that the crux of it anyway?) and then we headed through Byward Market in the daytime to catch the farmer’s market in action. Close by Byward Market is the Basilica Notre Dame and the National Gallery of Canada, a huge art museum.

changing of the guard
statue of Laurier next to the right block of parliament
veggies at farmer market
Basilica Notre Dame
The National Gallery of Canada. scary spider outside is “le maman” = the mother

I really wanted to go inside the Basilica Notre Dame but seeing as it was Sunday at around 10:30 AM, there was a service going on and it’s just not right to snap pictures when people are praying. So we headed farther down to the Royal Canadian Mint, where we would end up dropping some serious gwap. That’s right… gwap.

We went on a tour of the mint, which now does commemorative coins rather than circulation coins, and learned about the coin making process. It’s pretty interesting, to see how chunks of silver/gold get turned into pretty shiny coins. And the design making process is pretty cool too. They also did the medals for the recent 2010 Vancouver Olympics! Nice. We weren’t allowed to take pictures during the tour, unfortunately. At the boutique store, we just had to spend money on coins… Dong sees them as a good investment for the future and I think they look nice.

the Royal Canadian Mint
A freaking solid bar of GOLD! and it is HEAVY. and there is a guard nearby and a chain attached to it so don’t try anything!!!

By the time we left the lovely air-conditioned goodness of the Mint and came back to the Basilica, the 10 AM service was done… and then the 12 PM service was happening. Doh!!! That’s called bad timing mmkay? So we decided to break at the Byward Market and have a quick snack and rest. It is really hot and tiring to play tourist, let me tell you. I really need to get my stamina up for Paris.

We finally got to go inside the Basilica. I really love going into churches… there is such a sense of peace and timelessness about them. Plus they are almost always terrific examples of architecture and they are very lovingly decorated. Say what you will about religion but they know how to make nice buildings.

After that…. well, at this point we were pretty tired. I guess I did not know the toll that all the walking around would take on us, especially on a hot July day. And my feet were getting blistery from my sandals… definitely not the ideal footwear for the enterprising tourist. So after a recon stop at Chapters (big Canadian bookstore chain with FREE WIFI!) I decided that we could go on a Lady Dive amphibious bus tour, which would get us off our feet while also informing us about the city. The bus was freaking hot…. but at least we were sitting while the tour guide chatted up front in French and English about the various charms of the city. We passed by a lot of what we had already seen, and then we crossed the Ottawa River to the city on the other side, Gatineau, and eventually we got to the best part – going into the river! Whee! Some nice shots from the river…. it was really pretty. The stiff breeze coming off the water was nice too.

view of Ottawa from the river
the Canadian Museum of Civilizations, apparently quite interesting
Back view of Parliament Hill

All too soon, we were back on land, and it was time to forage for our next meal. This time Yelp led us to an Asian fusion restaurant Taste that was very empty, maybe because it was that no-man’s-time of 4 pm? A nice late lunch followed by a trip back to the hotel… for a next pre-dinner nap. ZzzzzZZZzzzzz.

squeezing lime over pad thai
pork tonkatsu
nice sunset views of rideau canal

After that… oh god… so hard to wake up from a nap… We had to get up and find ourselves a nice late dinner. We ended up back at the Byward Market, where my original quest to find a restaurant from Yelp (mexican food!) was supplanted by our aching feet and rumbling tummies, so we stopped into Shafali for our Indian food fix. Eh, I can’t say it was much to write about. Pretty serviceable food and it was open late (we left around 10:30) so there’s no complaining. But geez we were tired. I think 2 days just about does it for us, hehehe.

Our last morning in Ottawa! And we spent the first part of it back in the Royal Canadian Mint, spending more money on coins. I guess we’re going to be coin collectors from now on…! And then finally breakfast, courtesy of Zak’s Diner in the Byward Market:

Phew! That’s it! A delicious end to a fulfilling and tiring weekend trip. Geez. Time to sleep……

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