Posts Tagged ‘travel’

More Travels with my Grandson

More Travels with my Grandson take us to Ottawa, the Nation’s capital

Two years ago my grandson Zack and I enjoyed a visit to Quebec City by train. But now he’s almost 17, would he like to join me again on a three day trip to Ottawa, I wonder. The answer is yes, and on a hot day in August off we go. VIA rail has several departures every day between Toronto and Ottawa and we chose the midday train at 12.36pm. It is about a four and a half hour journey with several stops which arrives in Ottawa in good time for dinner. Zack loves business class travel on the train with the comfortable seats and delicious meals served in style, and room to relax or dial up and do some work as the train moves through the green heartland and little towns of eastern Ontario. The attendants are friendly and always willing to help, says Zack.
Day 1 – Ottawa’s train station is now located on the outskirts and it is a 15 minute taxi ride to the Lord Elgin Hotel, just down from the famous war memorial, the focal point of downtown Ottawa. Once there everything is within walking distance and after checking in to this landmark hotel, we set forth to Parliament hill where we walked around the complex and admired the statues of Canada’s Prime Ministers and also a rare statue of Queen Elizabeth II on horseback. Then it was time to sample our first meal in Ottawa, known for its wide variety of dining choices. The trendy Metropolitan Brasserie with an open air terrace is right in the heart of things next door to the Chateau Laurier Hotel. Service is swift and meals substantial but Zack grumbles about changing into dress pants on instructions from his Mum, and takes great delight in texting her that it would not have mattered!
Don’t let anyone tell you Ottawa is a staid government town, especially during the summer months when it is really hopping with a wide variety of things to do. Zack had not visited since he was a little boy and is keen to get started on the many sights and attractions. It helps that we both like history. As darkness fell we join a Ghost walk which starts on the corner of Sparks and Elgin. Costumed guides lead us by lamplight through some dark corners and forgotten alleys where dastardly deeds are said to have taken place long before Ottawa became the sophisticated city we know today and Zack enjoys his stroll through time.
Day 2 – Up early. After breakfast we decide to taxi to our farthest point and work our way back to the city, and soon we are crossing the river into the Province of Quebec where the enormous Museum of Civilization dominates the riverside in Hull, once the centre of the pulp and paper industry in Canada. The museum has several special exhibits and we especially enjoyed Expedition: Arctic, a detailed timeline
of the historic Canadian Arctic expedition of 1913 – 18, with artifacts never seen before.
The original dogsled abandoned in 1917, only retrieved in 1971, is on display with clothing, a camera and early Decca record player, and even the newsletter produced for Christmas 1913.Also displayed are Goggles made from caribou, which were much more effective than modern ones, said volunteer docent Mary, “The Inuit knew how to live off the land” and an Ulu, a womans All purpose knife used for everything from hunting to preparing food, along with stuffed animals and skulls of animals captured on the expedition. The exhibit continues until April 2012. There is also an interesting Postal Museum at the facility.
With much more to see we move onto the new War Museum, another impressive architectural building back on the Ottawa side of the river. I find the interior a bit disappointing, with all the exhibits crowded together and much wasted space, but Zack said “ I really liked the War museum because the artifacts that were there were some things the average person would not get to see, and I don’t think military would get to see them anymore either as there are now more modernized guns and medical material.”
Arriving at Byward market we stop for a cinnamon and sugar pastry snack at the famous Beavertails, a fixture in the market since 1978. But now the sun was up on one of the hottest days of the year, so we decide to cool down a bit with a boat trip down the Rideau canal. The Canal, built but never used for military purposes by the hapless Colonel Bye from 1826-32, is a Unesco World Heritage site and one of the capital’s most valuable resources. The boat trip meanders down the canal past some of Ottawa’s finest neighbourhoods, the university area and acres of lovely parkland to Dows lake, a recreation complex where you can sail, canoe, water ski or just hangout, only a stones throw from downtown. In summer cyclists throng the bicycle paths and canoeists glide along the canal, while in winter it freezes over to become the World’s largest skating rink 7.8km from end to end. Ottawa citizens truly embrace the outdoors year round.
Back in Byward market we dine at The Courtyard, on George Street, much more Zack’s style, an interesting restaurant in a cobbled courtyard which has featured in Ottawa’s past since 1827 when a log tavern stood on the spot. Later it became a garrison for the Governor Generals guards and was the site of Canada’s last military hanging. Now the courtyard contains several excellent restaurants and I particularly enjoy the musicians who entertain under a shady tree in the centre of the courtyard while we dine on roast lamb and ribs.
The day hasn’t ended yet, at dusk we make our way towards Parliament Hill where crowds are gathering for a spectacular sound and light show projected on the centre block. This runs every evening at 9.30pm during the summer months and highlights some historical events against a colourful backdrop of a brilliantly lit Peace Tower and Parliament buildings
Day 3 – First stop Parliament hill again, for the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony at 10:am. Soon we hear the beat of drums as a Scottish regimental band beat the retreat prior to handing over to the Canadian Grenadiers in their tall black busby helmets. This is one of the few places in the world outside of Britain that you can see this colourful centuries old ceremony and Zack takes lots of pictures. We walk on over to the big white Info-Tent where guided tours of Parliament Hill commence. Several tours are free but it is necessary to reserve tickets. Our ticket is for 12.30 pm so we walk on down Sussex Drive, past the United States Embassy and other notable buildings to the National Art gallery, another architectural gem overlooking the river and an interesting view of Parliament hill across the park. I really want to catch the Caraveggio Special Exhibit running until September. But art is not Zack’s thing so we move on to the Royal Mint. I’ll try and see it later.
The tour of the Mint (a real bargain at only $3.00 Student $4.00 Senior) leaves us fascinated as we see solid blocks of gold emerging as coins in a very concise process.
This mint now produces only investment coins, while real money is made at a newer facility in Winnipeg. The most expensive coins ever made cost $3.5 million, now worth millions more. Only five of these giant coins were made and rumour has it that one is being used as a coffee table!
I’m exhausted on this scorching hot day as we retrace our steps back up the hill for our tour of Parliament, a cool respite in these hallowed marble halls. We see the House of Commons, the Senate chamber and the magnificent octagonal but silent library containing millions of books, the only original part of the building saved , when it burned down in 1916. The remainder of the building dates from 1927 and is currently undergoing a massive renovation, but we’re impressed.
For our final afternoon we plan to take the guided double decker bus tour of the city, but first we stop for a cool drink and some people watching at an Irish pub. I’m too tired to go back to the Art Gallery and it is 3.00 pm before we board the bus. Our tour takes us along Sussex Drive, past foreign Embassies and the Prime Ministers residence to Rideau Hall, stately official residence of the Governor General. We’ve missed the last tour of the day inside the house, recently reopened to the public by our present Governor General, David Johnston. But we do have time to stroll the lovely grounds and identify some of the tree plantings by prominent foreign dignitaries who have visited over the years, including John F. Kennedy before the last bus returns at 4.30 pm. It takes us for one last turn around the city to Dows lake and back to Sparks Street. Very good value at $18 for a step on step off tour.
We end our visit to Ottawa with a wonderful dinner at Le Café, the lovely open air restaurant at the National Arts Centre. Zack decides this is an occasion for his dress shirt and pants and I dine on roasted salmon and vegetables and my favourite crème brule as we relax beside the Rideau Canal. As the sun goes down we stroll along the canal pathway to our hotel after another memorable vacation. What did Zack like best I ask. Surprise – it was the Royal Mint but he thinks the whole city is beautiful with lots to do and nice people. Travelling with Grandma is OK too!
Next morning, Friday, we are up early for the early train departure and arrive in Toronto right on time at 1.15 pm. I reflect that Ottawa is a perfect place for a multi generational vacation , even for older teenagers who may not think a family holiday is for them. For those interested in history and all things military as Zack is, there are some unique attractions like the Tour of Parliament Buildings, the War Museum, the Royal Canadian Mint and the Changing of the Guard, which you won’t find elsewhere in Canada. An added bonus is that many of the attractions and sporting activities are free or quite inexpensive, and they will still find Starbucks and a shopping mall around the corner!
GO Ottawa for all reasons!

August 2011