Field Report:
Travelogue: Sixth Day - Ottawa, Ontario
Rosie, Beeotch, Dancing Queen, Peeps

Ottawa is the capital of Canada, chosen by Queen Victoria. It was a mere logging camp, but it was located not only between Montreal and Toronto, the two top contenders, but it was also as far away as they could get from the US border without really being in the tundra. At the time, the biggest perceived enemy was the Americans, who had a history of eyeing the land north of the border. Besides with, there are more differences east and west of the country, rather than north and south; in fact, some Canadians are still convinced the US is planning an invasion! Whether they are or not, that was part of the decision to make Ottawa the northernmost capital in the world.

As such, it's planned very well and has beautiful buildings. There was nothing really to destroy in the wilderness, but Colonel By of the British Engineers built miles and miles of locks to overcome the waterfalls and rapids that riddle this area of Canada. Thanks to his efforts, many miles of northern wilderness are navigable by water.

The stones By's men quarried also supplied building material for many of the Victorian-era buildings, like the Parliament Building with it's original clock tower, called the Peace Tower. We watched the changing of the guard -- you do feel like you're in a wilder, more spacious version of London seeing this very British tradition. It was so hot and humid that one of the "bearskinheads" fainted! Without missing a beat, a couple of uniformed men ran up with a stretcher, tossed the man on, took him away, the ranks closed, and all went on as if this was normal.

On a cheerier note, the men stood at attention for photos and were nice to everyone who came to ask questions. We found out the hats really were made of bear skins, it wasn't just a nickname! No wonder that man passed out -- it was from the heat! One of the Hutties is a former military person, and explained that if you lock your knees, the blood pools in your feet -- blood goes back to the heart via veins, which require muscle movement to flow, unlike arteries, which moved blood via the pumping of the heart. So keep those muscles moving! The famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the RCMP of Dudley Dooright fame) were also in attendance and the well-trained steeds didn't mind being pat on the flank or on the nose.

In fact, Canada is an eclectic mix of American and British stuff. They use Americanisms, but British spellings. Kilometers for roads, pounds for food. American slang and Francophone accents. It was actually charming, and not really a contradiction. It even has an interesting French Canadian/Irish variation of the "wets" previously reported in Chicago, which is french fries and gravy. This is "poutine" which is french fries scattered with soft, stretchy, white cheese chunks, then ladled over with gravy. It sounds stodgy and awful, but it's great! Love at first bite, as it were.

The area is more correctly called "La Outaouis" and is comprised of many smaller towns and villages. Some of these are just now historical remnants, like the former camp area of "Bytown," which is now the equivalent of the "old part" of downtown. Every day during fair weather, the Byward Market is held, where farmers and craftsmen of everything from tomatoes to flowers to wooden toys to maple syrup are here hawking their wares. Bytown itself has many small stores, including groceries, butchers, fish mongers, alternative clothing and stuff, kitchenware, music, clothing, and lots of little funky restaurants popular with the college crowd.

The Rideau Center is a large mall that borders the eastern end of Bytown. Now, you may think "Ugh, a mall!" but in Canada, malls make sense. The winters are brutal and long, but the summers are short and humid and way too hot! A mall lets you walk around and shop in relative comfort; it seems every mall has a supermarket too, so it's really like shopping in a weather-controlled town.

But we were not about to hang out at any mall, no matter how muggy it was outside! The OC Transpo bus system had an all day $6 all you can ride bus pass (individual rides were $2.50 each), so we opted for that. We had an amusing time figuring out the coins and bills (they take folding money on the buses here), and were grateful for the air conditioning. We stopped at an Information Centre (note British spelling!) and got lots of maps and information; it was well organized and there was lots of free stuff for the asking. There was also a scale model of every building in the downtown area and parts of Hull, across the Ottawa River.

One of use used to live in the Dow's Lake area, which is where the city canal starts. In winter, the canal is flooded nightly with water so that residents can skate all the way to the university on the other end of town. In summer, the gardens are planted with tulips and later other cutting flowers. A million tulips come every year from the Netherlands as a thank you to Canada for offering refuge to Queen Margarethe of Holland during the second World War. She was pregnant with Princess Christina, who was born in a private wing of the Albert and Victoria hospital nearby; the Canadian government had decreed the wing to officially an extension of the Dutch embassy, thus the princess was born -- as is proper -- on Dutch soil.

This area butts Preston Street, the "Little Italy" of Ottawa, and we managed to get incredible little pastries and drinks. There was Preston Hardware, where you can get just about anything and everything you'd imagine a big Italian Mama would need to do her kitchen proud -- foodmills, huge pots for processing tomatoes, wooden spoons big enough to scoop up a baby with, pasta rollers, ravioli presses ... and everywhere, the houses had gardens with vegetables and fruit growing. A big contrast from the lawns we normally expect to see.

We took a bus to the Glebe -- so named because it once belonged to a religious order. But in real terms, it's where the BIG family homes are -- not huge estates, but 3+ story wonders built in a semi-Victorian style. Many neighborhoods were planned in a similar manner, but the houses on the Glebe seem really stately. And since Canada is so cold so much of the year, there aren't the airy porches and high ceilings we see in southern states.

The shops in the Glebe are more upscale but very quaint. We loved Mrs. Tiggywinkles, a toy store of the kind you might have read about or imagine remembering from a childhood. The toys are out of the boxes, and children (and some way past childhood) can play with them, not stacked and racked like in megastores. The Emporium sells kitchen and housewares, and the displays are cluttered and friendly looking. You can pick stuff up, even try a few things. These days, we'd call them "boutiques" but without the coldness that this word sometimes implies. We're in Canada, but it feels like the ideal American town of bygone days.

We drove down to the Hogsback, which is the name for the sharply formed rapids of the Ottawa River. The sedimentary rock was rapidly and violently uplifted, resulting in them falling over sideways. It's a beautiful feature, and its no wonder Canada has so many geologists. It's inspiring to see! Then we toddled over to the A&W - the fast food standard here, maybe like White Castle in the US. Between them and Tim Horton's (the classic place for donuts in Canada), Canadians can get plenty of cheap eats and drinks. We had a lot of drinks at A&W throughout the day.

We went to dinner at Tucker's Marketplace back at Bytown. We actually looked at a lot of places, including one with a bagpiper out front! If it had been cooler, and some of the more conservative eaters hadn't sworn to expunge, that might have been our choice for the evening. But another Huttie had recommended a place called "Mother Tucker's" - in addition to its rather provocative name, it had an all you can eat salad bar and cheese board! The cheese presentation was huge full wheels of the stuff that is the essential part of every Huttie diet. Alas, Mother Tucker's was no more, but was revamped. Very similar, but minus the cheeseboard, major bummer! But the food was good and plentiful.

We drove around across the river to the neighborhood of Rockcliff, where the "aristocracy" and ambassadorial heads live. The houses in the Glebe were mere townhouses compared to the ones here, and they had gorgeous views of the river. We also drove around the Ottawa River, and found out about the car races that take place here when the river is frozen. Some cars do break the ice the looks of surprise on the driver's face must be a bit freaky to see. We also saw the Rideau Canal from bridges above it.

We think we will be back for Winterlude, when Canada looks like what Americans perceive to be Canada, and it might be less hot and humid here! We did take advantage of the pool back at the hotel never had wallowing in a cold puddle been so well-earned or refreshing!

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