Ottawa. I thought it was about time to explore my own capital. What better time to visit during the Tulip Festival! Ok, my visit was just at the end of the festival.
After an eight-hour bus ride, my A Voyagers Bed and Breakfast was conveniently located behind the station on Arlington Ave. After I checked in and dropped my bags in the room and began to explore
Twenty minutes later I found Palermo Cafe on Sparks Street Mall. Not having coffee all day, I grabbed a cup ($1.00) just before the 4 p.m.
Sparks Street is Canada’s first pedestrian mall started in 1963. When its popularity grew, it was decided in 1966 to keep it open all year long. I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the quietness on the Victoria Day holiday.
With no plans in mind, I meandered around the downtown area. I decided it was time to eat and found Yesterday on Sparks Street. The BLT sandwich with fries and a glass of wine ($15.00) hit the spot.
After a good nights sleep, I was ready to explore this walk able city. Every Remembrance Day November 11th, a ceremony takes place at the National War Memorial in honour of the dead. I looked down at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and paid my respects to those who died during World Wars 1 & II.
Across the street is the elegant first class Fairmont Chateau Laurier. I savoured the magnificent lobby of this hotel built 1912. Maybe one day I’ll bite the bullet and spend a night or two here.
Behind the hotel is Major’s Hill Park. I walked by the colourful tulips and a small fair. Behind the park is a statue of Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer who was the first white man to travel through the future site of Ottawa. Samuel has a gorgeous view of the Parliament Hill, Ottawa River and the Ottawa Locks.
My timing was perfect when I approached the Ottawa Locks. Two people cranked open a lock by hand let a small boat through. I watched them do two more.
Time ticked on and I had much to see. Bytown Museums next to the locks would have to wait until the next visit. For only six dollars, it gives a perspective of Ottawa’s history. The city was once called Bytown until 1855.
Ok. I’m biased Canadian! I loved Parliament Hill, or as the locals call it “the Hill.” Being the heart of Canadian government, it consists of the Centre Block, East Block and West Block. Plenty of statues adorn the grounds including John A. Macdonald (Canada’s first Prime Minister), Queen Elizabeth II on a horse, Women Are Persons (celebrating 1929 landmark victory Canadian women struggle for victory). My favourite statue is Lester B. Pearson sitting keeping an eye on the Parliament.
Tulips and daffodils brightened the Gardens of Provinces and Territories. This park is dedicated to the provinces and territories of Canada displaying each of the flags. I enjoyed the gentle sounds of the fountains as I snacked on an apple, banana and a bag of chips.
Ottawa is filled with museums. Not being a museum fan, I bragged to family and friends about the Canadian War Museum. It was worth every penny of the $12.00 entrance fee. With the threat of rain, the three hours spend here was just perfect.
My eyes widened when I entered a huge room filled with all sorts of tanks and jeeps used in the both World Wars and Korea. Each vehicle has a description of its history.
The exhibits are well laid out. It starts from the beginning of war (bows and arrows are the first weapons) on to the Plains of Abraham, World War I, World War II, and Cold war and to the present.
I walked through the makeshift trench with gunfire sounds and mannequin soldiers. I closed my eyes and visualized what the horror the men went through. Of course, nothing and compare but nevertheless the exhibit is done well.
I turned a corner to the World War II exhibit. My jaw dropped. Wow! I starred at Hitler’s Mercedes-Benz. Goose bump appeared on my arms. The car was captured by the Americans and given to Canada.
Juno Beach in Normandy France is on my “bucket list” but for now this had to do. With the black and white video in front of me, I felt like I was with the men getting off the water vehicle running through the water toward the beach.
The sudden 30C one-day heat wave proved to be too much of a difference from the day before jaunt in Montreal where I had to break down and bought another layer, a fleece jacket to be exact.
Ottawa is the tulip capital of the world. Commissioners Park beside Dow Lake has the largest tulip display in the region. The colours of the reds, yellows, whites, purples and mixed were so vibrant at this late stage. I stopped and asked a local how long the tulips would last.
“They’ll be gone by next week,” she said. “We were lucky for them to still look good thanks to the cool weather we’ve been having this spring.”
After I walked along the park, I headed toward the pavilion by Dow Lake, where there is a restaurant and bathrooms.
I left the park by Preston St. entrance. Here stood a statue of a man holding up a hat in each hand representing a symbol and link of the lasting relationship and close friends between Canada and the Netherlands. Canada got the tulips as a present of thanks for giving refuge to the royal family of the Netherlands during World War II.
The bus system in Ottawa is fantastic. With help from a local, I hopped a bus on Preston St. and Carling Ave ($3.00) and was dropped off near the Ottawa Public Library.
After a quick stop at the library to check out my emails, I headed toward Byward Market. I didn’t have to fight crowds and savoured the smells and sights of the indoor and outdoor vendors selling items from fresh fruits and vegetables to cheese, meats, and flower. There are lots of speciality shops and restaurants to choose from as well.
The day was perfect to sit on the cushy seats outside of Cornerstone Bar and Grill. I sat for about two hours sipped on a Peach Mojitas, enjoyed a Panini ($16.00) and watched the world go by.
Refreshed, I was ready to hit the sites I had planned for the afternoon. First stop was Carleton County Gaol (1860-1972) is now known as Ottawa International Hostel. I considered staying in one of the jail cells or dorm. This was the site of the last public hanging. There are tours at certain times but unfortunately the timing didn’t work for me.
I looked for Laurier House (once home to Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier now a museum that houses the Nobel Peace Prize won by Lester B. Pearson) in vain. I asked at least five people, no one knew where Laurier House was. Frustrated, I headed toward downtown. Later, I was sorry I just didn’t go inside a building, cool off and try again. I knew I was close to the museum. Next time. I’m lucky to live close enough to Ottawa by bus or train.
Ottawa is a young capital but rich in history. And I love historical buildings and this city has plenty of that. The sparkling steeples of Basilica Cathedral of Notre-Dame captivated me. This is Ottawa’s oldest church that began 1841. And there are plenty more of this around the city.
Down the street is National Peacekeeping Monument depicts three peacekeepers standing on walls above the debris of war. Canada is known as a peacekeeping nation. It played vital roles in Cyprus, Haiti and the Middle East. Ottawa impressed me in its commemorative to those who risked their lives, whether by war or peacekeeping.
Unfortunately my plans for the day didn’t go according to plans; however, I decided to head back to “the Hill”. In the information tent (it’s white and huge); I purchased a free ticket with the tour time on to visit inside the Parliament.
After an airport-like security check-in, we began our 45-minute tour. The guide chatted and joked as we walked along the various halls. Down one hall are portraits of each Prime Ministers who chose their own artists. My favourite is Pierre Elliott Trudeau, once a very charismatic man and leader.
We passed by House of Commons and the House of Senate on toward the Library of Parliament, a quiet yet elegant area of the Parliament.
After the tour, we were left on our own. I took the elevator ride up (only 7 allowed) the 92 metre high Peace Tower, a recognizable landmark of Canada, to enjoy the 360-degree breathtaking view of the city and Ottawa River.
If I had known, I would have tried to make reservations inside the Memorial Chambers to witness the turning of the page of the First Book of Remembrance precisely at 11 (done each morning). The book, in a glass topped case watched over by statuettes of kneeling angels, contains the names of those who died in World War I. There is another book that contains the names of those who died in the Second World War. Scattered around the room are poems of war including the famous “Flanders Fields” by John McCrea, written in 1918.
My time in Ottawa dwindled too fast. Across from the Parliament is a cosy outdoor cafe called Parliament Pub. I sat outside with a fantastic view of the Parliament and Chateau Laurier. Next to the pub is a statue of Terry Fox. Terry was a courageous young man diagnosed with cancer, right leg amputated above the knee. He walked across Canada to raise money for cancer research, but had to stop due to the return of his illness. He died at the age of 22.
I pondered the thought as I ate my carrot soup with fresh bread and sipped my wine that I’ve travelled and explored other countries and their capital. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve waited this long to discover the history and beauty of this thriving city. I anticipate a return to see more sites that I missed in my nation’s capital, Ottawa.
- Visit Ottawa Public Library. Get a free card (good for a year) for Internet use to check emails.
- Local bus transportation is excellent. C$3.00 exact cash. Day passes are C$7.00 exact cash fare bought on the bus.
- Visit website www.ottawatourism.ca
- A Voyagers Bed and Breakfast, 95 Arlington St., conveniently located on the back of the bus station, two blocks from the local bus that goes directly to the train station. To most tourist sites about a 20-minute walk or so.
- Canadian War Museum. Do not sit on the tanks, jeeps etc to pose for photographs. On Thursdays it’s free from 4 .m. to 8 p.m.
- Library of Parliament. Inside the Parliament Building. No photographs allowed.
- Memorial Chambers inside the Parliament. Only 5 are allowed at the 11 a.m. ceremony of the page turning. Reservations are made on a first come first serve basis. http://www.parl.gc.ca/Memorial/history_designs-e.htm