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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Ottawa Overview 

I'm back in Vancouver.

Our week in Ottawa was definitely the best vacation The Lovely One and I have taken since our honeymoon. Much of that was down to personal issues: our hosts, Sandy and Eddie, were incredibly accomodating, and Sandy and TLO pretty much planned out very day of the trip, much to the benefit of all involved. Everybody just got along very well, too.

Ottawa is a lovely town. Your tax dollars have made sure it's a realy nice place to visit, with lots of interesting places to go, both public and private. The town itself has nice shopping districts like the Bytown market. I can understand why Sandy and Eddie like the place: if you can enjoy cross-country skiing, there's a lot to recommend the city. I was impressed by the number of cyclists on the streets. There's surely more in downtown Vancouver, but they were a regular presence on the roads, despite the ice and snow. I think the trick is that the roads are salted aggressively and the weather is consistently very cold, which avoids the sort of super-slick near-zero icing that you get too often in Vancouver, and which is the most treacherous surface on which to ride.

We went sledding one night, which was great fun. We missed skating on the Rideau Canal (not quite frozen enough), but the snow was lovely and put us in a highly Christmasy mood. Of course, we were there for a week, and got to come back to Vancouver (a shirtsleeve-friendly 7 C today!) after. I woke up on our third day there, looked out the window of our hosts' 23rd-floor apartment, and commented to Sandy, "well, it's still snow-covered out there!" She replied, "it will be until April."

That might get a bit old.

The temperatures in Ottawa ranged around 0 to -15 C while we were there. I had experienced temperatures like that before, and I'm less sensitive to cold than TLO, but she was literally colder than she had ever been in her life. Her sheepskin jacket was a lifesaver.

I like to pack light on trips, and managed the same trick this time, getting a week of clothes and sundries into two lightly-packed carry-on bags. I have a superb piece of luggage, an MEC backpack which converts into a soft suitcase with shoulder strap, and also has a zip-off day-pack. When separated, the two pieces are both carry-on legal. It was a long-ago gift from my generous Auntie Gisele, and while the exact piece is no longer in the MEC catalog, this unit, looking rather different from mine, is its functional successor.

Of course, packing light still requires packing smart. I managed to bring four paperbacks but no boots (suede runners? What was I thinking?), which led to a trip to the shoe outlet store to pick up something suitable. I got a nice pair of heavy-soled shoes for $15. The Lovely One brought a bigger suitcase, but not that much bigger, and had two sets of boots. Smart girl.

Being tourists at this time of year was ideal: it was too early for the Christmas tourists, and at times we simply had the attractions to ourselves. I would gladly go for a seriously off-season vacation again.

Now to the stuff we saw, in no particular order.

The Aviation Museum, if you're a wing nut like myself, is a must-see. Messerschmitt Komet? Spad VII? Twin Otter? The largest remaing piece of an Avro Arrow? About 100 other highly significant aircraft from the history of Canadian flight? Thank you, may I have another! I only wish we had had more time there.

Rideau Hall was an interesting tour, but it consists of seeing five front rooms of the Governor General's residence. I'm not sure how to feel about this one: the grounds of the residence are vast. the house itself is nice, but not monstrous. Keeping in mind that this is the site of some of the grandest state dinners and receptions in Canada, I might even say the house is relatively modest. Canadian, even. That said, the main ballrom is reasonably fancy-looking. On the other, other hand, there's something like 100 staff at Rideau Hall, everything from cooks to tour guides to a considerable security detail (perhaps as much for the visiting dignitaries as for Her Excellency, though Ms. Clarkson is hardly the most popular GG, what with the ongoing financial questions).

Parliament is interesting. We did the tour, which is nice, and I took some nice photos. The Library was closed for renovations (and covered outside with white plastic) which is too bad, because it's supposed to be really nice. But the most moving room was the Memorial Chamber in the base of the Peace Tower. There's a metaphor there.

The Museum of Civilization was fine, but not particularly impressive. I guess you have to go there, but at least they had a moderately interesting exhibition on the history of wine. I learned about the existence of Baby Bear, a Canadian sparkling red wine that was one of the other wines from the Baby Duck era. i'm not too disappointed about having missed that one.

The National Gallery was very nice, until 1955. My General Theory of Contemporary Art (and music) is that it looks worse than historical art because the crappy historical art is long gone. At one point, The Lovely One walked out of a small gallery saying "there's nothing there", not realizing that (according to the placard on the wall) the cable running diagonally through the room was the artwork. Compared to that, the trompe a l'oeil tractor trailer, and Attila Richard Lukacs (about who TLO said "you can't unsee it!") Voice of Fire looks like genius. But van Gogh, El Greco, and many more.

We took a day trip to Montreal, and did some shopping and lunch in Old Montreal, along with seeing the two most important churches in town, the Notre Dame Basilica and St. Joseph's Oratory. Both are beautiful. St. Joseph's also has a museum, which had a huge exhibit of nativity scenes. Photos of that to follow.

Back in Ottawa, we wrapped up our last day in town with a trip to the Chateau Laurier for the Afternoon Tea. It is a superb experience, at least the equal, and possibly superior to the Empress Afternoon Tea. But at the Chateau Laurier, the experience is considerably cheaper: $24 for the afternoon tea (though I opted for the pricier "Canadian Tea," whcih added a cheese plate and upgraded the sandwiches and desserts with a Canadian theme (nanaimo bar, Alberta steak on toast, etc.) and both of us added a glass of sherry) versus $40 in Victoria. Maybe this is just the sherry talking, but highly recommended.

Like I said, I took over 200 photos, most of them bad. That's normal. The good ones should start trickling onto this site over the next few days. The camera performed reasonably well, and sometimes very well indeed. Carrying such a compact camera is a good thing. it just comes with you everywhere, as it did in my case. I took over 250 full-res shots on one 256 MB memory card without filling it. The camera's weaknesses? Mostly that I tried to use it in situations where I wouldn't even try to use most other cameras. Low-light no-flash situations, and it would do its best. The on-board flash is fairly anemic, but adequate. I should buy a spare battery before my next trip. I think I need to practice holding the camera steadier, too. Other than that, more megapixels are always better (Future Shop did have a Canon A85 for $330 in a recent flyer, but that deal may have disappeared by now. This is the 4-megapixel version of the A75 which I think so highly of).

So, Ottawa. Go there. And if you can, stay with Sandy and Eddie. Also, get The Lovely One and Sandy to plan your trip.

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