Yesterday I took the afternoon off to spend time with friends in Ottawa. It was a seize the moment sort of thing. They are relatively new to the area. Their children are on spring break. Ottawa is a perfect destination for a diversion, even for half-day, any time of year.
Technically, we were headed to the Canadian Museum of Civilization, in Quebec, just across the river; specifically, to the wonderful Children’s Museum. But we needed to pass through Ottawa to get there. I dug out my maps and refreshed my memory, eager to show them the “back way” and lovely drive in and out, hoping it would encourage them to return often.
Canada, in general, feels very safe and Ottawa is almost as comfortable as home. It is a beautiful city, flush with the arts, architecture, and diversity of culture. Activity flows on and around the canal and rivers all year long. We have enjoyed day trips and weekend getaways for decades but continue to make new discoveries. Not long ago, my daughter-in-law introduced me to delicious dim sum in Ottawa’s Chinatown. Who knew?
The Hubs and I have often enjoyed Ottawa together, starting with our honeymoon at the Lord Elgin hotel whereby they promptly lost power and he suffered throughout our brief stay with pneumonia. But we have more than made up for it since. My favorite was a truly lovely birthday surprise, ensconced in a corner suite fit for a queen at the Chateau Laurier with exclusive “gold floor” privileges. From our private turret, we watched boats navigate the canal locks and admired Parliament Hill architecture.
That weekend we enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of the changing of the guard, an Ottawa River boat tour, and Mosaika, the fantastic sound and light show visualizing Canada’s history from the beginning of time. With plenty of fine dining, good wine, time to slow down and unwind, it was magical.
Over the years, most of our interactions with Ottawa have been much more modest. Sometimes we go just for dinner, maybe also an IMAX show at the Museum of Civilization. Sometimes we wander around Byward Market, stopping by Moulin de Provence for pastries and hot chocolate, or people-watching at Dow’s Lake. Though it is no longer advantageous to shop much, a trip to Ikea is always worthwhile.
When we were young, my older sister got orthodontia in Ottawa. My little sisters and I tagged along to enjoy museums and a taste of city life. When my children were growing into young adults, we traveled often to Canada for hockey games and tournaments. Many events were near Ottawa. The Museum of Science and Technology, the Canadian Mint, the Children’s Museum, and the Agricultural Museum and Farm were all big hits. In February, we’d visit during Winterlude for ice castles and beaver tails. In May, for the amazing Tulip Festival. In summer, we might go for a concert.
I’ll always be fond of Ottawa for her influence on my family. One most memorable day, my darling daughter selected a gorgeous wedding dress in a bridal shop there. It was the first, the last, and the most expensive gown she tried on. I bought it gladly. Some of our all-time best visits have been simple, spontaneous girls’ days out. There’s nothing like a warm springtime stroll midst the tulips followed by dinner and drinks at an outdoor café or cozy a Italian bistro…
… Perhaps La Terrasse at the Chateau Laurier? Mamma Grazzi’s Kitchen or Vittoria Trattoria in the Byward Market? Maybe, on our way out of town, we’ll stop by the Canal Ritz? For awhile it was often Mexicali Rosa’s at Dow’s Lake for an order of sangria and deep fried zucchini. (Now that’s GuadalaHARRY’s. We shall see…)
Family life became too busy as the chids took on their own interests. Among my regrets in parenting is failing to carve out more time and finances for cultural experiences, especially outside of the U.S. I know we didn’t go to Canada often enough, as close and convenient as it is, for non-athletic excursions. But now there is really no excuse. We can easily go for an afternoon or evening with just a little bit of planning.
Soon enough we’ll have grandchids in tow, exploring the city through the eyes of wee ones once again. We’re ready! And every now and then, we are fortunate enough to tag along with North Country newcomers and visitors. Always a treat!
So, how about It? Ottawa! What are you waiting for?
~ René Morley