Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Ottawa, Canada

After our first week in Toronto [which you can read about here] and a trip to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake [which you can read about here], Emily and I headed for a what felt like a holiday within a holiday, to Ottawa and Montreal. 

I visited Canada on a work trip in September and drove from Toronto to Ottawa and back. I discovered then that this journey is very long journey [around five hours each way] and not very scenic, so we decided to travel by train for this November trip. We booked the train tickets online with VIA Rail, which worked out at about £200 in total for the two of us to travel from Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto. We think this is a great price, especially given the very expensive price of train travel in the UK!

ottawa canal walk
Walking to the city via the University of Ottawa

The train was spacious and clean, and unlike UK trains, it was great that all seats are designated [with no one having to stand or sit on the floor!] and that there was a good regular trolley service with decent food. Unfortunately our rail trip didn't get off to a great start, with a two hour wait on the train, on the platform, due to a mechanical fault. We were later able to get some money back for the delay, although they didn't make this easy. Other than that, and the fact that our train was also delayed by nearly an hour on the way back, the VIA Rail experience was good overall.

On arrival in Ottawa, we jumped straight into an Uber to our AirBnB apartment, located on Mann Avenue, near the University of Ottawa. The apartment was in a fancy apartment block, which turned out to be upmarket student housing. The room was nice enough and good value compared to lots of quite pricey and boring looking hotel rooms when I was researching places to stay.

ottawa parliament building
Canada Parliament building

After a week of very unseasonably warm and sunny weather, it had gotten very cold, with sub-zero temperatures and a chilly wind. It felt like we had finally been smashed in the face by the cold Canada winter we had been expecting! We are told the temperature drops as low as minus 40 degrees celsius or even colder in the winter, which is unimaginably cold.

We wanted to check out the Parliament of Canada in the centre of the city, which took us on a nice walk via the historic Rideau Canal, which was especially breezy! After some nice lunch and coffee in the Rideau Shopping Centre, we headed back out into the cold to check out the Canada Parliament building. The building and clock tower looks strikingly similar to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in London.

canada parliament fire
Canada Parliament building by night

We thought we may have been too late for a tour of the Parliament buildings, as we arrived quite late in the day and the ticket counter for the free tour was shut. After chatting to someone at the tourist information centre, they suggested we head straight to the visitor entrance for a chance to sit in on Parliament. We went through two rounds of airport style security and weaved our way around the building, before finding ourself sitting in the public gallery of Canada's Parliament, which was in session. There were small phone style speakers next to each chair, to be able to listen to proceedings in English or French. It was a very surreal and interesting experience! 

ottawa brunch
Brunch at Wilf and Ada in Ottawa

After having a drink in a nice bar in the lovely Byward Market area of the city, we headed back to our apartment for a takeaway curry. The height of fancy local cuisine! 

The following morning, we wanted to have a nice brunch and had scoured the web to find a good spot. We found Wilf and Ada's, which was a short Uber rider from our apartment. Web reviews said it gets very busy at the weekends, but as it was a Wednesday morning, we had no trouble getting a table. The service and food were amazing; the photo above is of Emily's french toast with cider and berry compot. 

ottawa rail journey
Snowy, scenic train journey to Ottawa

After our short and sweet visit to Ottawa, it was time to head to Montreal for a couple of days, again by train with VIA Rail. I'll be writing about Montreal in my next blog post :)

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