Splitting the Weekend

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North America » Canada » Ontario » Ottawa
July 30th 2017
Published: July 31st 2017
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I've made it to the nation's capital! Ottawa definitely moves at a slower pace than Toronto. I got here on Saturday afternoon and couldn’t find any reasonably priced restaurants open. And most of the touristy things had closed down by 6PM. It’s not my first time in Ottawa, but it is my first time on a weekend. As one of the ladies walking behind me down Sparks Street said, “Ottawa is all work and no play.” Maybe.

My Saturday morning began in Toronto. I got out of my dorm and took the streetcar down Spadina and then to Union Station for my train to Ottawa. I didn’t get any food along the way because most main train stations in large cities have abundant options for food and beverage. Toronto is an exception. They had a Tim Horton’s express on the lower level that only had coffee, and then there was a local organic place on the main level selling coffee and pastries. I got a cheese scone from them. When I got to the train, I had a suspicion that there aren’t many options in the station because they want you to buy the stuff on the train, which costs more than it should. It could also be the large amount of construction going on at the train station, but I saw no evidence under all of that for kiosks or servings lines.

Despite being on the train for over 4 hours, I felt like it was a relatively quick journey. I drove that distance last year, and it took about the same amount of time. I was fortunate enough to have an empty seat next to me, so perhaps that made it a little less stressful. I got a couple of drinks and a sandwich on the train as I read my book and wrote my previous travel post. There was wifi on the train, too. Free wifi. And toilets. Really, why don’t we have more options like this in America?

The Ottawa train station, as best I can tell, is in the middle of nowhere. Only two buses serve it, and they both take similar routes into the downtown area. The bus I got on only took coins for fares, so I was lucky to have them. It took about 20 minutes to get to the downtown area, and the first thing I noticed when I got off the bus was how much warmer Ottawa is than Toronto. Probably in the mid-80s F, or close to 30 C. I had to walk 2 blocks to my hotel, and I was grateful to get there.

I stayed at the Delta Hotels by Marriott – swanky, for sure. If I hadn’t had a discount from hotels.com to help out, I would’ve been staying elsewhere. My main reason for staying at a “real” hotel was that my future accommodations – the Jail Hostel I had stayed in last year and loved – had no space for Saturday night. I had already bought my train ticket before I realized this, otherwise I would’ve just stayed an extra night in Toronto.

The hotel staff were quite courteous and even offered a cold bottle of water while I waited to check in. As I said, the room was nice, climate controlled, with mini fridge and private bathroom (which you forget how wonderful can be when you’re used to having one around). When I got to looking around for food options, I decided that I would just order in – room service! The prices weren’t ridiculous, especially when I considered that they were in Canadian dollars. I did wonder about the portion size. I needn’t have worried. I ordered the fish and chips, and they were plenty. And the fish was probably the best I had ever had. That may be a sad statement.

After eating, I wondered around the Parliament Hill area – my hotel was only 2 blocks away. I really wanted to see the Supreme Court building again – Art Deco, and the first site I would come across if I walked to Parliament. Unfortunately, some monstrosity was in the process of collecting an audience in front of the Supreme Court building, so that was a letdown. They called it “The Machine” or something about a dragon, and it looked like monster truck meets extendable crane. There’s some festival going on this weekend in Ottawa, and I think this is just the main event every night. They’re making it into a movie or documentary or something, so there were people filming and signs posted saying that you agreed to be on film if you were there. I was just pissed that they were blocking the wonderful Art Deco view.

Moving on, I came to Parliament Hill itself, and it was still lovely. I was going to try and get some good pictures at sunset, but I was apparently far too early for that. I arrived around 7, and waited until after 8, thinking that it would eventually get to be pretty and pinkish and reddish. But it didn’t, and I decided I would rather read or watch some TV for the first time in a week. So I meandered back to the hotel and called it a night.

I checked out of my hotel Sunday morning and set out for a couple of places. But first, I stopped by ye olde Tim Horton’s, which has a store attached to my hotel. My first stop after being refreshed was the Bank of Canada Museum. Boring, right? Well, I like money – the physical manifestation of it, not hoarding it. The art, the craft, etc. And this museum was free. And open on a Sunday morning. They’re located in a glass pyramidesque building next to the Bank of Canada. Not so much like the Louvre, though. The staff were friendly and exuberant. You get a wristband with a chip in it, and when you go around to the exhibits, you place the chip-area of your wristband against the lighted circle, and you can interact with the display. They have some interesting exhibits, but I think it’s more geared toward kids (with the interactivity) and people who know nothing about economics. I liked the displays of various world currencies, the hyperinflated currencies, and the war bonds and other non-currency currencies. It took about an hour to do, and did I mention that it was free?

Next stop was Parliament. I actually decided to bite the bullet this year and stand in line for tour tickets of Parliament. To my surprise, when I arrived about 11:30, there was no line! But then I saw that there were no tickets left! In 2 hours, all the tickets for the entire day were gone. I guess they’re free, but damn. They did still have free tickets for the outdoor guided tour, so I opted for that, at 2PM. Of course this meant I needed to find something to do until then.

I was hungry, so I went to McDonald’s. It’s my first time on this trip, so get off my back. Plus this was a different experience. No cashiers to speak of – all touchscreen menus. They did have one cashier at the “McCafe” desk, and you could probably order stuff besides coffee and junk. But I went to the automated menu, placed my order, and waited. It took a few minutes, but it was exactly as I had ordered it. Great. I went upstairs to find a place to sit (it always gets me when there are multiple levels to a McDonald’s). Once finished there, I decided I would keep reading my book, once I got back over to Parliament Hill. It was warmer Sunday than Saturday, so I didn’t really want to sit in the sun. I didn’t bring sunscreen because I thought, well, Canada.

The tour began at 2PM at the eternal flame in front of Parliament, and we had an enthusiastic guide named Lauren. We got some interesting factoids about Canada and its development, specifically in terms of technological advancements over the years. But she did the tour by going from one statue (or group of statues) to another. I had already seen all of these statues, but the commentary was nice and the group was amenable. It only lasted 40 minutes, and it was free, so if you’re in the area, you now have 2 free things to do.

After this, I went back to my hotel because it was now late enough to check into my Jail Hostel. I retrieved my bag from luggage storage, and they asked if I’d like a taxi. Sure, I said. It was hot, and I wasn’t going to carry the bag over a mile, and I wasn’t sure I had enough change for the bus. Taxis accept plastic. My taxi driver was an amiable fellow who also couldn’t believe the fuss being made over that monstrosity in front of the Supreme Court. He got me to the Jail in less than 10 minutes and I gave him a $2 tip, to bring my entire fare barely above $10 total.

I checked in, found myself 2 doors down from my cell from last year, and got settled. It’s still as small as I remember it, but they’ve made some improvements. Once I was settled, I went to the Byward Market, which I intend to explore more tomorrow once the sun comes back up. I had been told to try out Zak’s Diner, especially the milkshakes. So I did. I had great service (but there was only 1 in my party), and the whole experience took about an hour. The milkshake was okay, and certainly not worth $7. But I had certainly had my quota of grease for the day.

I managed to talk to dad both days this weekend, and things seem to be going better. I was told by him, mother, and Nick at various points throughout the day that he had also been given a flu diagnosis on top of the pneumonia from the initial consultation. That made it sound much more troublesome to me, but he sounds better and says that he feels better. So I’ll take that as a good sign. I got to talk with mother, too, who is staying away from the hospital more now, what with the flu diagnosis. But that’s just common sense. Anyway, I’m hoping (and so is everyone else) that he’ll be out of the hospital before I even get on a plane to come back to America. And that’s barely 48 hours from now.

Until then, I’ve got 2 days in Ottawa to explore. Of course, I don’t think I’ll need all that time to do all the touristy things I have in mind, so I’m looking forward to the relaxation that a real vacation can afford.

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