City trip to Ottawa

My brother and I had the great opportunity to accompany our father on a business trip to Canada. He had to give a lecture at Statistics Canada, so we decided to stay for a week and walk around the city of Ottawa.

Travel

The last flight from Schiphol with KLM's MD-11.

The last flight from Schiphol with KLM’s MD-11.

Our flight was somewhat surprising. I have bad experiences with intercontinental flights, them being overcrowded, and being 188cm tall, I don’t fit in the current seats on planes any more. But booking economy plus on KLM, I was pleasantly surprised by that the legroom increase was substantial, actually allowing me to move and stretch my feet. Another surprise was that this was one of the last flights of this particular aircraft. The MD-11 was one of the oldest serving planes of KLM. The one we flew in was the last of the commercial flying ones. It would make one trip back to Schiphol, and then be carted of to the junk yard. At first the prospect of flying in this old rust bucket made me feel apprehensive, but the pilot and flight crew were surprisingly upbeat about this all, and assured us that this was one of the most reliable and fun to fly air planes out there. I took the rust holes and outdated systems for granted, and enjoyed the flight reading and resting.

Ottawa doesn’t have a direct connection to any Dutch airport, so that left us to fly to Montreal. Our landing was eventful. It looked really rainy as we landed, but rolling on, it wasn’t actually rain, but a festive arch of water, created by two Montreal airport fire engines. “OMG they made it”, must’ve been their thought.

A bus then picked us up, and took us to the Ottawa train station. A two hour trip later, we took a taxi to the hotel in Gatineau, just across the river from Ottawa.

The city

Crossing the Alexandra bridge.

Crossing the Alexandra bridge.

To get to the centre of Ottawa, we had to cross the river [1], a walk that took around half an hour. I took my winter clothes, and was glad I did. Temperatures were roughly half of what they were in The Netherlands, and the wind blowing across the massive bridge didn’t really help.

I had never been in a proper north american city, so this was quite a fascinating experience [2]. There was a little bit of the city that looks like a European city, a small leftover from British Colonial times. The parliament building and the adjacent Fairmont Ch√Ęteau Laurier Hotel were particularly striking. Most of the city though, is a standard North-American grid. No old architecture, impressive buildings or anything you see in old cities.

Memorial

The Canadian War Memorial

The Canadian War Memorial

One of the most impressive places was the Canadian War Memorial. It was only three days after the terrible events where a soldier guarding it was shot, and the tension was noticeable. There was a lot of armed police around, and many emotional people, laying flowers and notes for the deceased. The whole week we were there, we could see the signs of the event. From constant media coverage, to the motorcade carrying US Secretary of State John Kerry, who came to offer his condolences. Also notable was the prevalence of the remembrance day poppies on people’s coats [3], a week before the were supposed to be worn.

Surprisingly, the Parliament building where the perpetrator was finally shot, was open for business. The only difference being a more visible police force [4] and lots of media, asking visitors what they thought of the police presence. It was quite funny seeing a camera crew interviewing some tourists on if the extra police had made them think twice about coming. Well, obviously not eh?

We were late for the tour, that would pass by the bullet hole-riddled walls, but we went up to the clock tower anyway, and enjoyed some stunning views of the city.

Food

A bowl of Poutine.

A bowl of Poutine.

We had the privilege to arrive during Ottawa’s annual Poutine festival. Slightly less than impressive, this amounted to about a dozen food trucks parked along Sparks Street, serving the mix of fries, gravy and cheese curds to anyone interested. This seemed to be the only real Canadian food on offer in Ottawa. Fortunately there was also the more generic North American food, and we enjoyed some lovely barbecue meals and hamburgers.

Conclusion

Although Ottawa is a lovely city to explore, it’s not that big and doesn’t have as much features as an European city. My week would’ve been better spent had it been the tourist season, all attractions and sights, except the museums, already having closed for the winter. Still it was a great way to get a taste of Canadian/North American culture.

Notes:

  1. Gatineau is just some houses, and massive ugly government buildings. Nothing to see there. We tried to find the centre, and failed.
  2. I spent time in Washington DC, but that is the probably the most atypical city in the world.
  3. I spent quite some time figuring out how to get one myself, before finding them in the bookshop. Later my dad also gave me a couple; they started handing them out in front of government buildings.
  4. Which brought it on par to a minimal European police presence.