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North America » Canada » Quebec » Gatineau
August 1st 2017
Published: August 3rd 2017
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My final 2 days in Canada are coming to an end! I've got a flight at 5:25 AM tomorrow, which means I've got an airport bus to catch at 4 AM. Fun fun!

I've come to the conclusion that the woman from Saturday afternoon was right, for the most part: Ottawa is more work than play. It's not that there aren't fun or interesting things to do around here. It's more that the things that are fun or interesting are not exactly exciting. At least my experience affirms that. Of course, at a different time of year or whatever, it could be quite exciting. But that's not my story for the past 3+ days in Ottawa.

The past 2 days included getting some rest (much needed!) and spending the majority of my touristy time at museums. Well, two museums to be exact. Monday, I went to the Museum of Nature. I guess I had forgotten how expensive some museum entrance fees can be (or perhaps I had gotten spoiled last week with my Toronto City Pass). I was lucky to be able to use my student ID card for both museums in Ottawa for a discount. That and my debit card have been the only two cards I've carried around my entire time in Canada, and I'm glad it paid off. The Museum of Nature cost $16 for adults or $12 for students, and the Canadian Museum of History (which I visited today) cost $18 for adults or $16 for students. Those prices also did not include tax, which has been 12.5% my entire time in Canada. Anyway, after my museum experiences in Toronto--namely that I always felt like I needed more time to go through them--I decided to free myself up for that challenge in Ottawa. I spent the entire afternoon at the Museum of Nature, totaling probably 4 hours or more; and at the Canadian Museum of History, I spent closer to 6 hours. Yes, you read that right.

That's a lot of time on one's feet without going any great distance. But the thing was, these museums weren't exactly "close" to my jail hostel. Monday's museum took probably 20 minutes to walk to, with a nice stop at the Elgin Street Diner along the way--yummy food, and better than the food from Sunday night at Zak's Diner. The Canadian Museum of History required me to walk across the Alexandra Bridge into Quebec today, which took closer to 30 minutes. Less than 5 minutes by car for both of them, but I am without car on this trip.

So, what can I say about the Museum of Nature? I loved their dinosaur exhibit on the first floor! They've got the massive building divided into 2 wings on each floor, separated by the staircase/atrium. On the first floor are dinosaurs on one side, museum cafe/gift shop on the other. The 2nd floor had mammals on one side, water on the other; this was the least impressive floor to me. The third floor included earth science on one side, and on the other side was the bird gallery and the "nature live" exhibit; this was a good floor, especially the tanks full of live insects (and other critters) and the minerals on display. The 4th (and top) floor was the Arctic gallery, and it had some pretty innovative exhibits, like a video being displayed on 4 flat pillars of ice. You could actually go up and touch the ice, which looked like just plastic from a distance. But it was cold. And wet from all those people touching it. This gallery also had a boatload about First Peoples and Inuit cultures.

Across the street from this museum was the Iraqi embassy, so that was neat.

My main task Monday evening was to get a Beavertail, which is apparently Ottawa's major offering to culinary history. It's a flat piece of fried dough, longer than it is wide, topped initially with sugar and cinnamon. It looks like a beaver tail, especially with these two ingredients. And it is very good. I went to a place called, appropriately, Beavertails, in the Byward Market that specialized in this dining delight. They can also put other ingredients on the pastry, like fruit, or chocolate, or any large assortment of yummy things. I went for the original and was not disappointed.

For Tuesday, I had two goals, maybe three: get a 2017 coin set from the Royal Canadian Mint and then check out the Canadian Museum of History. If I had time, I wanted to get food at the Highlander Pub in the Byward Market area. I did all three! I passed by Beavertails too early in the morning for them to be open, which was a bit of a bummer. But the Mint was open, so I popped right in and got my coins. I wish. No, I tried to go through the gate without standing in line for the tour (which I had done last year, and it costs money), but a kind security officer asked me as I passed through the gates where I was going. And before I had time to respond, he asked if I was a contractor. I wanted to reply, "Do I look like a contractor to you in my Jays cap and Golden Girls t-shirt?" But I didn't. I told him I was only going to the store inside the Mint, to which he responded that I still needed to get a ticket for that. My look must've been something along the lines of "I'm not paying for a tour just to go to the store" because he quickly added that it was free. Okay. So I stood in line for about 5 minutes, got my free "ticket" (from a line that explicitly said "Tour Tickets," not something like "All Visitors Must Get a Ticket"), and went up to the store. They had plenty to see, but I after about 10 minutes of browsing, I settled on my specimen set.

With that done, I trekked over to Gatineau, Quebec, to visit the Canadian Museum of History. The Alexandra Bridge was not too bad--all the lanes for pedestrian and bike traffic, in both directions, were clearly marked. It offered some great views of Parliament Hill. But as soon as I got across the bridge, I knew I was in Quebec because all the signs were in French first, followed by English; it had been the opposite in Ontario.

The Canadian Museum of History is an institution. And you could really spend all day in here without getting to see everything. There's an entire "Canadian Children's Museum" that takes up most of the 2nd level that I didn't even touch. It's geared towards children, so I was fine with that. But there was so much else to see. I spent nearly 2 hours on the bottom level, which is the sprawling exhibits about the First Nations of Canada. The brochure that you get from the admissions people gives an idea about how much time they think you'll spend in each exhibit, and they were pretty much dead on here - for all of the First Nation stuff, they say it'll take 2 hours and 5 minutes. They have a small theater with several short films (2-5 minutes each) on loop. Those were cool. And the ways that native peoples have integrated into modern Canadian society (or not). After that, there's the Canadian Archives exhibit and a room with every single Canadian postage stamp ever printed; I didn't spend nearly as much time in each of those rooms as they expected (maybe 20 minutes, and they say 50). They do include the "world's largest collection of totem poles" on this level, and if that's the case, then I'm guessing no one else has ever tried to assemble a large collection of totem poles. There were quite a few, but I'd say no more than 30. Still, they were fun to see.

By this point, I was famished. There's a quick little cafe for food that costs about 4 times what you should pay for it, so I opted instead to go to the official restaurant of the museum. This can be tricky, since they typically don't have many options, and the prices are also higher than normal, but it was quiet, and the prices weren't much higher than any other fine dining establishment I had encountered in Ottawa. I had a pasta dish and then some cheesecake, and they were both of very good quality.

After lunch, I got to the special exhibit on the 2nd level, which was about hockey. Not being a hockey fan myself, I wasn't terribly excited by the exhibit, but it was informative and actually fun to go through. And check out that Wayne Gretzky painting by Andy Warhol. The only other thing to do on the 2nd level is the Cine+, and they were showing a short (20 minutes) film called "Horizons," where they went through different parts of Canada and filmed landscapes and people from different cultures doing mostly culturally-specific things, like dancing, fishing, skating, ext. And it was mostly on the ceiling, because they had filmed in a way that captured 180 degrees of motion, so half a sphere. They did include a nausea/motion-sickness warning at the beginning.

The last thing to do was the newly opened exhibit on Canadian History. They just celebrated 150 years, don'tcha know? The first parts of this were interesting to compare to American history, since a lot of the historical period overlaps with what we learned in school in the USA. That was all in the first part of this exhibit, which expands over half of the 3rd level.After the American Revolution, we in the States don't get much information about what happened in Canada, so that's where it really became another school lesson for me. This was the second half of the 3rd level of the Museum. The tensions with Britain, and with the US, and even the internal struggles about how to deal with the M├ętis and the First Nations, was fun to learn about. This section included everything up to World Wars. Probably the craziest thing in there was the entire Ukrainian church that had been built somewhere in western Canada during the mid 1800s, with the influx of immigrants. They had picked it up and moved the entire thing into the museum. You could even go inside the church and check out the pews, balcony, altar, etc. Wild. Then up the ramp to the 4th level, and you get to the Modern Canada section, including basically the 20th and 21st centuries. By this point, I had spent almost 6 hours in this museum, so I took in what I could and then headed out.

I did get to eat at the Highlander Pub on my way back to the jail hostel. It was okay, but since I don't drink beer, I'm sure my experience isn't going to be as good as others'. I also managed to pick up some souvenirs on MY LAST NIGHT IN CANADA! Which means I'm going to have to pack up all my stuff--granted, it's not a lot--and then try to get some sleep before I wake up at 3:20 AM to catch that airport bus. I only hope that the people in my hostel aren't very loud. They were very good on my first night, and I even managed to sleep until after 8 AM on that first morning. Last night, not so much. It was probably after midnight before things quieted down, and then I was up before 7 thanks to some loud washroom-goers. I guess I might actually be the loud one tomorrow morning, but it'll be so early (or is it late?) that most people probably won't even remember it when they do wake up.


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