Ottawa – If you like Canberra…

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Having spent my formative years in Canberra I immediately felt at home in Ottawa.  We stayed in a B&B in the embassy district owned by an Australian called Carole who had that self-assured manner of many a grey-haired baby boomer.  The B&B was located on Goulburn street.  How Australian can you get?

When we arrived Sarah was busting for the loo but no-one was home at the B&B.  We knocked on the door with no luck.  So we abandoned the doorstep and drove to the local park looking for a public washroom (as the locals colloquially call a toilet).  We spotted one and a dropped Sarah off to run over while I looked for a good place to park.  I had to park a while away and walk back only to discover that Sarah had found the toilet locked.  This was now getting serious.  There wasn’t a convenient spot to go au naturale, so we hoofed it back to the car and starting driving randomly looking for a gas station or anywhere with a toilet really.  Sarah was concentrated, warning me not to get stuck in traffic.  We crossed a bridge and ended up in a retirement village.  I convinced a reluctant Sarah to ask them if she could use the toilet but the front door had an intercom and even in her desperate state she was not about to have a conversation like that  with a stranger over an intercom.  So we drove off again and found a street with a few restaurants.  Sarah dashed off and found satisfaction plus some baklava.  We got back to the B&B but still no-one was home.  I managed to get on to their wireless connection and checked the email confirmation they sent again.  The key had been in the letterbox all along.  My bad – sorry about that!  Carole’s response we she heard was, “People just don’t read things anymore.”

Ottawa has nice parks next to the river, a university in the middle of town, it’s home to the Canadian parliament and hosts many national institutions.  Is any of this sounding familiar?  Ottawa was pleasant without being remarkable.  To be fair we only had a day there so it’s not like we got deep under the city’s skin.  We took a walk around parliament hill (the buildings are an attempted clone of the English Houses of Parliament), went up the Big Ben replica clock tower and took in the leafy view.  Then it was of to the gargantuan Museum of Civilization which attempts to cover the entirety of human life in Canada.  It’s a large topic with an appropriately sized museum to go along with it.  The building was designed by a Metis architect and we wondered whether the confusing layout was a metaphor for the Metis people struggling to find a place in Canadian culture (EDIT: Sarah would like to disassociate herself from this culturally insensitive statement.  Her thoughts were that it was to give people the experience of being a minority and unfamiliar with the rules of the majority).  It was the kind of museum that just kept going on and on with very extensive (and to be fair interesting) information about every period of Canadian history.  They had some amazing totem poles and examples of First Nation houses.  Footsore and bloated with information we wandered over to the national gallery for a cram session during their free evening on a Thursday.  We had about 90 minutes to cover the major periods of Canadian art including the magnificent seven who produced some very nice modernist landscape studies, and the more generic abstract art which seems to be quite similar in every country.

We met a couple at the B&B who had spent a week in Ottawa already and rather than going to Montreal as planned were staying for an extra week in Ottawa.  This seemed excessive to us, no matter how many galleries, museums and parks there are.

Ottawa would feel more unique for Australian tourists in winter, when the large canal that runs through the centre of town freezes over and the run the zamboni over it to prepare it for the ice skaters.  They have winter markets on the canal as well which I can just picture under a clear winter’s sky.  One member of parliament apparently used to ice skate to work every morning.  As it was we bundled up against the coming Autumn and strolled among the leafy streets having a very Canadian nice time.

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