Up at 5am to shower, dress, eat, finish packing, and get to the train station for our 6:41am train. That early hurts. Terrible and overpriced VIA Rail coffee didn’t help much. 🙂
By the time we hit Guelph, we were awake enough to be amused by the sign reading “THIS PREMISE IS UNDER VIDEO SURVEILLANCE” on a building next door to the train station. That is a seriously shady premise…
The remainder of the trip was pretty uneventful. Chatting, eating, napping, reading. Rinse and repeat. Hunted down decent and more-or-less-edible food in Toronto during our hour-long stopover. Eastern Ontario scenery reminded Sherry of Al Purdy poetry and me of Group of Seven paintings. One thing that bothered me is that trains run through two kinds of urban areas: old and industrial. Both are disgusting. People just throw shit out. Anywhere. Anything. In rotting piles. It’s disgusting. Thank God for the swaths of uninhabited country.
Got into Ottawa a little after 2pm, and the weather was glorious. Over 20C and sunny. Jackets were tied around waists, sleeves were rolled up, windows were rolled down. Caught a cab to our hotel in Hull (essentially a twin city of Ottawa, but across the river and in Quebec – we were in the Gatineau area). I LOVE how people in “Lower Canada” switch between English and French so effortlessly, and how Franglais rules. Sorry, Mr. Hotel Desk Guy, we didn’t know “‘ull” very well…
The hotel was within spitting distance of the Museum of Civilization, so we wandered out to the river and down the trail behind it and took some pictures, before returning to the hotel for Smarties and a nap.
Headed out for dinner in the Byward Market area around 6. We dined at E18hteen, which was very tasty but tried to be a bit too hip and modern in the old building in which it was situated. For me: Thai pumpkin bisque, grilled Alberta beef, milk chocolate espresso creme brulee, coffee, and Black Bush, neat. For Sherry: organic greens with a blue cheese crostini, venison with risotto, coffee, a scotch flight (Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Macallan, and Talisker) and cheese flight (which I nibbled at, too). We both had a quite nice Cotes du Rhone with dinner. I now know what King Eringi are (mushrooms). And I am not amused, since my meat was perched on a bed of them. I deconstructed my soup enough to figure out how I’d make it (and improve it), and I think I prefer traditional creme brulee. The amuse bouche of melon salad with fresh basil I will definitely be making. After dinner we walked back to the hotel, stopping to take some night shots. The rain had just started drizzling down, and in the warm air the spring-like smell of damp earth and wet pavement was wonderful.
Weekends are for sleeping in, right? Wrong. Not when you travel with Sherry, who is sick. Awake at 6:30am, oot and aboot before any decent hour. Because the weather was crappy and we had no idea where to find food, we breakfasted at the hotel, which actually wasn’t half bad. Pretty good coffee, and sausage and eggs – rather more sustaining than the previous day’s fare. I had a voicemail from my brother waiting for me when we got back upstairs from breakfast. Car troubles. I contacted my parents, since I couldn’t get through from my cell to his, and they sorted things with him as best as could be managed at the time (given I was in Ottawa and they were heading out for their cruise). Put me in a bit of a downer for a while (being incommunicado would be nice, for once, but isn’t feasible yet), but c’est la vie.
We headed out into… rain. Cold and rain. Poncho time! We looked like walking blue tarps, but we were mostly dry. The view over the river was pretty cool, with the fog whatnot. (Pictures over yonder at Flickr.) We hit the Parliament buildings first. They confiscated my Swiss Army knife and let me keep my cell phone, and we got to hang our stuff up to dry, which was handy. We headed up the Peace Tower to check out the view. Alas, not speaking Japanese, we couldn’t reap the benefits of the tour that was going on when we were up there. We enjoyed how the tour guide told us about the lean of the elevator when we came down. Nine degrees, I believe – you can see it if you look up into the shaft from between the doors. After a brief sojourn in the Memorial Chamber, it was time to go line up for our tour. (As Sherry noted at the time, it was interesting to see how the surnames in the books recording the war dead changed over time.)
Our guide was Martha, a nice girl from even smaller town Ontario than myself. She quite enjoyed our group, which was small, lively, asked plenty of questions, and got into our own debates. Whee! (Blame Sherry…) Our tour group consisted of Sherry and myself (Ontarians), a couple Albertans, a couple British Columbians, and an American couple from Hawaii, who’d been across the aisle from us on the train the day before. The husband of the American couple asked a lot of good questions, which Martha answered, and then Sherry took over from there, saying the things Martha wasn’t allowed to say. I added footnotes. It was good fun that he just kept asking things about controversial subjects – minority vs. majority government, lobbying, an elected Senate, Canadian voting strategy, you name it. And, of course, hockey references were used for clarification. 🙂
After the tour we collected my contraband and headed back outsie, where, mercifully, it had stopped raining. We moseyed down Sussex to Rideau and went into the Rideau Centre to hunt down some lunch and see if tacky souvenirs were to be had. Both were. Following lunch we procured a necessary Timmy’s, and then headed back up town to take pictures of the giant arachnid out from of the National Gallery. For those of you who are cool, you may recognize the Gallery as the Canadian stop for British Antiques Roadshow. We decided, though, to do the Museum of Civilization properly, we would have to head there and forego the War Museum or the Gallery. I’d been to the Gallery, and possibly the War Museum, so I was cool with that.
We arrived at the Museum shortly after 12, having just missed the start of the IMAX showing of the film we wanted to see, on ancient Greece. So we bought tickets for the 2pm show, I set the alarm on my cell, and we headed off into the exhibits. Mostly we covered the First Peoples (aka First Nations, Indians, Aboriginals, or Natives…), which was quite interesting. Very telling to see the changes in their art, textiles, and whatnot before colonialism and in the periods over time after it. We hit the Canada Hall, too, which was basically an interactive history of the country, from the Vikings to nearly the present day. It was very cool in that they built life-size dioramas of life onboard ships, or in a general store on the Prairies, or up north. Fortunately, the 18th century furniture was behind glass, preventing any licking or caressing by Sherry. Cod originally were rather large fish.
My alarm went off when we were about 80% of the way through, so we rushed through to the modern era and ended off at the Wildcat Cafe in the Yukon, complete with snowmobile outside. At this point we’d been on our feet for a number of hours and walking a lot, and the dogs were barking, as they say. So waiting in line for a good 15-20 minutes for the movie felt like hours. We saw Greece: Secrets of the Past, which was largely about Santorini and the volcanic explosion there in the 17th century BC. However, it was warm and dry and dark and the seats were comfy, and so I became the victim of some fairly wicked headbobs. No outright sleep, but man, staying awake was brutal.
After the movie we patronized the gift shops, and I picked up a few quite nice things. I was most amused by the child-sized Haliburton Dinner Jackets on offer. We headed back over the bridge for some napping (and delicious chocolatey snacks, procured at the ever-so-slow express kiosk at the Museum).
Back into Ottawa around 6pm, and once more into the Byward Market. We decided to try the Blue Cactus, which came highly recommended by a co-worker of Sherry’s (who’s from Ottawa), and the American couple on our morning tour. The odd decor seemed to be a local thing, because the place was sort of southwest… but not. However, the lime margaritas were tasty, and that’s what’s important. Popular spot, saw everything from a first date couple to a high school reunion to a hens party. Service was slower than molasses in January, presumably thanks to the volume. Food was alright, but I can’t say I agree with Mrs. Hawaii that the fajitas are the best ever.
Most entertaining was the local colour in the women’s washroom. A woman, well into her 30s, dressed like a woman well into her teens, was standing in front of the (very narrow) sink/mirror area for quite some time, yapping away quite loudly and dramatically in French on her cell. She alternated between preening and gesticulating, and was clearly coked up. She also prevented anyone else from properly washing their hands or touching up their makeup. The miniature dildo tucked between her breasts, and quite visible, was a classy accessorizing touch. And she wasn’t even with the hens party…
We wandered the Market a bit after leaving the restaurant, but given the biting cold, we weren’t too adventurous. The Market was also oddly dead. Not sure whether the party gets started later, or it’s more of a Friday night place. We had a drink at a bar called The Brig (between that and the Blue Cactus, my hair smelled like I’d done a full waitressing shift by the time we got back to the hotel), then headed back across the bridge to the hotel. And my God, when it’s warm and fragrant outside, it’s a glorious nighttime walk. When it’s cold and wet, I swear the bridge lengthens. NOT FUNNY. We got an awesome tip about a breakfast joint for the next morning, then headed up to our room. We saw the tail end of the Senators/Capitals game, which we had not (obviously) attended. As it turned out, the Sens lost 1-0. A little reading and relaxing, and it was time for bed.
Last day. Up again at the butt crack of dawn, despite daylight savings, which I despise. Weather was clear and bright, though rather colder than Friday had been. Headed back across the bridge into the city for the last time, and located Cora’s,which was a place so saccharinely decorated it would have gagged my mother. 🙂 However, the hotel desk clerk was true to her word, and the food was tasty and it was ALL about the fruit. The menu frequently notes dishes coming with “a mountain of fresh fruit”, and they’re not kidding. The place must employ an army of fruit preparers. I had a waffle that was some interesting grain mixture, topped with custard and about a pound of grapes, nectarines, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, mandarin oranges, and other fruits I forget. Delicious. Sherry had ham and eggs and fruit on the side.
After breakfast we purchased snacks and water for the train, and headed back across the bridge to the hotel for the last time. We relaxed for a bit, watched some edutainment Sunday morning tv, packed up, checked out, and called a cab. Got ourselves a pure laine Quebecois cab driver, and I had to crack a window to survive the lingering presence of cigarette smoke. Got to the train station and realized the “line up” game fairly early. The order in which you get on the train is apparently serious business. As is running a snack kiosk, which is highway robbery. Sandwiches were purchased, nonetheless.
Headed out at 12:30, and spent the return trip in much the same way as the first train trip, eating, napping, chatting, and reading. When we got to Toronto, they were boarding our train immediately, so we just got on, rather than hunting down more food. (It was shortly before 5pm at that point.) There was a group of children in our car, who, blessedly, weren’t too rowdy. I got the voicemail from my aunt regarding my Grandpa’s seizures that morning, which threw a bit of a spanner into the relaxing works, but what can you do?
I called Andrew from Guelph, and he was, conveniently, both home and not busy, so he agreed to pick us up at the train station, saving us a cab ride. We dropped Sherry off first, and when he asked me where I wanted to go, I said Dairy Queen , and I would buy. Andrew was most amenable to that suggestion. First DQ of the season! And my annual reminder that my stomach hates Blizzards. Do I care? Hell no!
Andrew dropped me off after that, thus bringing our Exotic Weekend of Adventure to a close. Good times, and Sherry and I still like each other enough to travel together again. 🙂