|Subject: A Long Weekend in Ottawa|
It had been 16 years since we'd last visited Ottawa, the capitol of Canada.. Our daughter's in-laws had been after us to visit their city, ever since their son and our daughter became engaged two years ago. At last we went, choosing a holiday weekend in August. Don't know what took us so long to do it, as Ottawa is just a pleasant five hour car trip from Toronto, or a very short flight. The main website for tourism is http://www.ottawatourism.ca
We stayed at The Minto Suites Hotel downtown, just a few blocks away from Parliament Hill. http://www.mintohotel.com We paid $119.00 and $4.00 per day for indoor parking plus tax, for the smallest "suite", really a large hotel room, with a Pullman kitchen. There was a separate seating area with couch and easy chair, as well as a dining table and chairs. We'd decided to take advantage of the kitchen for breakfast, and brought plenty of homemade muffins along. In Ottawa, we bought yogurt and juice. Coffee and a coffee maker were in the room. This worked out well.
We'd come mainly to see Felix and Nancy, but managed to visit a number of galleries and do plenty of sightseeing along the way. On the Friday that we arrived, we went out for a leasurely dinner with our cousins who live in Ottawa. They took us to Clair de Lune, in the trendy Byward Market, right downtown on Clarence Street. The food was a bit pricy, but very good, and this upscale restaurant has real staying power. Les remembered eating there on a business trip nearly twenty years ago. This time, we had steak frites and lamb confit, both delicious, followed by a killer creme brule for dessert. http://www.clairdelune.ca
Next morning, Nancy and Felix picked us up at the hotel, and we drove across the river to Quebec, which just takes a few minutes. Almost immediately, you're in the wonderful Gatineau Park, which covers about 140 square miles, minutes from downtown Ottawa. We stopped at several lookouts for wonderful views of the countryside in all directions. For info on this spectacular national park, so close to downtown Ottawa, go to http://www.canadatrails.ca
After our morning in Gatineau Park, we stopped for a quick, casual lunch in the market area, at Le Moulin de Provence. It's cafeteria style, with lots of outdoor seating to watch all the action at the Byward Market. There's sandwiches, quiches, salads, etc. Just perfect as a quick stop before setting out for The National Gallery.
Nancy and Felix then left us, to take in a concert of chamber music. They were right in the middle of the excellent annual Ottawa Chamber Music Festival. For info on this and other Ottawa festivals, go to http://www.chamberfest.com and http://www.ottawa-festivals.com We then took in the Renaissance show at the National Gallery. http://www.national.gallery.ca
The National Gallery is beautiful, with its glass and steel architecture, which echoes the outline of the Parliament Buildings Library. It was designed by Moshe Safdie, the reknowned Israeli architect, and finished in 1989. The show featured the works of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and other Renaissance artists. It was wonderful, but a bit overwhelming. We spent over two hours there and didn't really do it justice.
After a bit of downtown shopping, we wandered back to the hotel before joining Nancy and Felix at their home in suburban Nepean, for an al fresco dinner in their English style garden. It was good to relax after a busy day of sightseeing.
The next morning after breakfast, we walked over to The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, which is right beside the venerable Chateau Laurier Hotel, on the canal side. http://www.cmcp.gallery.ca
On the way, we passed Parliament Hill as the military bands were marching down Wellington, ready to enter Parliament Hill for the daily Changing of the Guard. We didn't have time to stay to watch the ceremony, but felt lucky to have been there in time to see the colourful parade.
The photography museum is not that big - just three rooms, and you can see all the works in about an hour. We saw a wonderful exhibit by the Canadian photographer Michael Semak. The museum is actually part of the National Gallery, and if you save your stub from the Renaissance show, you only have to pay $2.00, which was quite a bargain.
After that, Nancy and Felix picked us up in front of the gallery, and once again, we drove out to the countryside, across the river. We passed by her artist friend's home, right on Meech Lake, but unfortunately she wasn't at home. We drove for about an hour, seeing beautiful country homes, picturesque lakes, and even had the good fortune to spot a few fauns on a leafy section of the road. We had lunch at Aux Milles Delices in Wakefield, Quebec, where Nancy and Felix had reserved a table right at the window, with a great view of the steam train as it went by, right on the main street. Aux Milles Delices is a casual cafe, very French. It made a great stop during our tour of the Gatineau. We browsed in some of the shops in Wakefield.
Driving back downtown, we stopped for a few minutes at Les Fougeres Restaurant in Chelsea, Quebec http://www.fougeres.com which is a favourite of Nancy and Felix. We'd already had lunch, but took a few minutes to browse in their pretty shop and to buy a few bottles of their preserves as souvenirs. The restaurant is surrounded by lovely gardens, has a beautiful country atmosphere, and has screened in porches, which all add up to a beautiful dining experience. Nancy and Felix assure us that the food is terrific. We hope to have dinner there next time.
We then drove back to the city to an outdoor concert held on the lawn of the Governor-General's residence. This concert was part of the Governor-General's Summer Concert series, as well as being part of the Chamber Music Festival. We heard the wonderful Quartetto Gelato from Toronto. While walking back to the car, we passed through some interesting streets and laneways in the New Edinburgh area of the city.
We then went back to the hotel for a rest before heading out to the suburb of Nepean, where Nancy and Felix live, to join them for a casual outdoor dinner.
The next day, we checked out of the hotel and drove to Le Breton Flats, near downtown, to visit the new War Museum. You could also walk there from downtown, but we planned to leave the city after our visit. http://www.warmuseum.ca
It is housed in an incredible new building by Toronto's Raymond Moriyama. There is so much to see, however, we concentrated on the war art by war artists from Canada, Brittain and Australia. We also saw many armoured vehicles, which were very interesting. We were also fascinated with Regeneration Hall, which houses the plaster casts from the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge, and has an incredible, very slim view of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, which disappears as you descend the steps to the lower level. You could definitely spend the whole day there, but we had to get back to Toronto, so left from the museum.
We had a good drive back to Toronto, stopping in the town of Gananoque for lunch. All in all, a wonderful weekend in our nation's capital. We wondered why it had taken us 16 years to visit this marvellous city again, and vowed not to let another 16 years go by.
Many Americans come to visit the Niagara Region and to Toronto, but Ottawa is also a terrific place to visit. With its sweeping outdoor spaces, beautiful parks, many galleries, as well as spectacular public buildings and sense of history, it's one more good reason to visit Canada.
Margaret in Toronto