In July, my parents, little brother, and I planned a week-long vacation in Canada, hitting a few major cities such as Ottawa and Montreal. For the past two weeks, I was at a Sea Cadet medical training at Ft. Drum, NY. This was only a few hours drive away from the border, so … why not? On July 13, 2013, I graduated from the training, and my family and I started on the drive up.
Mostly, all I did was look out the window or sleep. When we approached the border, the security folks asked a few quick questions about what state we were from, why we were here, and how long we were staying before letting us go. Finally, we were cleared to travel on Canadian roads!
That first day was spent driving and taking in the sights. As we progressed North, I looked out the window and noticed that we were under a huge mass of clouds. It didn”t look like a storm cloud. Rather, it looked like multiple layers of clouds weaved together miles high in the sky. It seemed to stretch on forever and ever until the highway led us to the end – open skies and a beautiful sunset.
Soon, the green land gave way to traffic, buildings, and cityscape. We could now tell that we were in Ottawa.
After some searching around, we were able to find our hotel at the St. Paul University. It was a suite-styled room we got from a really good online deal. There was a bathroom, kitchen area, and two identical bedrooms. All in all, it was nice, and the rooms even came with a free breakfast.
I went through my evening routine, dumped my luggage, and crashed on the bed. And I slept. A lot.
Day 1: Sunday 07/14/2013
When I woke up that morning, I was exhausted, period. My parents asked me if I wanted to come along and explore Ottawa, but I declined. I was tired from the past two weeks and wanted to enjoy my vacation in bed. A few hours later, I got my lazy butt to the refrigerator to find some food. Most of the day was uneventful and consisted of browsing the internet, eating fruit, and working out.
When everyone came back to the hotel, I was tasked with the job of looking for a place to eat dinner. Eventually, we decided to just go with the flow and just find one somewhere downtown. We drove around the city in a hungry frenzy and found a parking space on the side of William St. From there, we looked at our options. There was a fish market, cafe, and sushi place, amongst other places. We had a short discussion and chose a restaurant called The Aulde Dubliner where we sat outside and enjoyed the evening. I ate my salmon, used the restroom downstairs, and we headed out to Parliament Hill for the Mosaika Sound and Light Show.
We sat on the grass and relaxed while music blared in the background. I laid down and stared at the clear, blue skies. Free wi-fi, free music, and a free light show at Canada”s capital? If only D.C. was this chill. The hours ticked by as the blue faded away to black. At one point, we saw some lights move around in front of the building, but we still had to wait until 10:00 pm.
Suddenly, the main Parliament building was transformed into a movie screen, and the show began.
I was hooked. The show showed the story of Canada, its prominent leaders, and its involvement in wars. It showed the hardships and struggles people have had to endure throughout the ages. It showed the building of the railway and the growth of television and media. Of course, it showed Canadian culture – including hockey. My heart sped a little when it mentioned Terry Fox - an amazing amputee runner who embarked on a trans-Canadian run to raise awareness for cancer. As a runner, it”s always nice when some aspect of running is mentioned, whether it be a movie, news article, or, in this case, a sound and light show.
The show concluded after half an hour with touching video clips on what Canada means to her people. They did some weird shadow-y thing with the lights that made the building look 3-D and like it’s moving before ending with the Canadian colors projected in bright, white lights. It was very picturesque. This is something I”d recommend everyone to experience.
Day 2: Monday 07/15/2013
Day 2. It was time to go out and explore. That morning, we got breakfast and drove to the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The parking was a little strange since your car had to literally drive around and around in a circle while descending to the garage. Interesting design …
We raced up the stairs and excitedly bought tickets. Because my little brother was bent on going to the children”s museum, we went there first. When you entered, you got your hands stamped, and they give you little passport books. The goal was to get a stamp on every page of the book by stopping at the station that corresponded to the page. The theme of the stamps revolved around countries, culture, the world, etc. It was a fun little activity that the adults ended up doing.
There were cool things for a 5-year-old to do. My little brother was climbing into vehicles, playing with toys, solving puzzles, and running around. There was a Mr. Potato Head exhibit that he really enjoyed. It had games come complete with noises, buttons, and color – everything a kid could ask for. It was difficult getting him to leave, but with the promise of more food and fun, he finally agreed (though not without a fight first).
We looked around at the restaurants on our floor, but they looked kind of expensive, and we wanted more options. So, we asked somebody, and they pointed us downstairs to the cafeteria. After some searching around (which staircase was it??), we located the correct staircase and headed downstairs. As we approached the top of the stairs, we were greeted with this sight.
We continued to search and soon found the cafeteria. There were plenty of options there: pasta, pizza deli sandwiches, salads, chicken, beverages, and more. We spotted a table, gathered our food, and headed outside. This was the view.
I had a salad with mandarin oranges and chicken. We stayed there for a while before cleaning up and going inside to see the rest of the museum. We entered what I believe was the First Peoples Hall and looked at some ancient artifacts. There were jewelry and large spoons in glass cases. As we progressed through the dim rooms, we saw videos about the land, maps, and other things. When we reached the end, there was a staircase to another floor.
There were exhibits set up with humans, clothing, and even a ship. We watched a clip on the Canadian Railway and looked at a set-up of pretend storefronts. When we exited, I was pretty much spent, but it was a good learning experience.
We then drove and drove some more to the Canada Science and Technology Museum. This was a little more my speed, but we only had an hour to look around before the museum closed. We looked at the energy section, physics exhibits, and a car section. There were cool little simulations, including one where you rode on a snowmobile which would turn and move with the video on the screen in front of you. It was far from actually riding a real snowmobile, but my little brother enjoyed it. He enjoys anything that, in any way, shape, or form, could possible resemble a motorcycle.
I had to stop at the gift shop before leaving. We had about five minutes, which I used wisely to buy a Star Wars shot glass. I collect shot glasses (which is ironic because I can’t even legally drink yet), and now I had one from Canada.
We headed back to the hotel driving underneath the hot Canadian sun. For some reason, I always thought that Canada would be a lot cooler than Maryland around this time of year. I was wrong. It felt like the same temperature – if not warmer. Having lived my whole life in a place that experiences all four seasons, though, I didn”t mind the heat that much. As long as I had my water, I was set for the day.
After dinner, I went to a small fitness / exercise room conveniently located on my floor. It had one dumbbell, an elliptical, two bikes, some mats, some posters, and a treadmill. Seeing how I needed to get my miles in, I went for the treadmill. The room had a ceiling-to-floor glass window in front of the cardio equipment, so I was able to watch the sun set as the minutes passed by.
It didn’t take long for me to remember why I often called the treadmill the “dreadmill.” I thought wistfully of the clean, open air, the energy of nature, and the pavement passing beneath my feet. The longer I spent on this make-me-over-stride-and-mess-up-my-form machine, the more I hated it. When half an hour was up, I jumped off the dreadmill, stumbled to the hotel room, and swore that I would never set foot on another one of these horrible contraptions for as long as I live on this Earth.
Day 3: Tuesday 07/16/2013
We got up, got all our things, and checked out of the hotel. Today would be our last day in the capital city of Ottawa, and our last stop would be Parliament Hill. At 10:00 am was the Changing of the Guard. The Guardsmen, in their sharp red uniforms, marched on the Parliament and stayed in their formations to the end of the ceremony. The band played, they conducted an inspection, and after 20 minutes, the ceremony was over. They marched out of the lawn while one Guardsman stayed so that us tourists could take photos with him.
It was now time to say goodbye to Ottawa. While it would be nice to stay longer, we had Quebec to look forward to. We got in our car, turned the key, and started on our way to Montreal.
To be continued …
(Part 2 is found here)