Friday, February 12, 2010

Blogging in Transit...

As I speed (aboard a VIA train) towards Montreal and then Quebec City, I can catch up on my blogging! I do have quite a few hours of travel today but the train certainly beats the hassle (and cost) of flying and I'm too accoustomed to mild NJ winters to even think of trying to rent a car and drive myself to Quebec. With my luck, I'd probably drive straight into a snowstorm... or perhaps would hit a caribou (I think there are caribou up here... or maybe moose. Either way, big animals + me driving= just asking for trouble, I'm also enjoying the chance to rest after two days straight of motion.

Yesterday started out with a breakfast stop at Tim Hortons (c'mon, does this surprise anyone anymore?) and a little bit of shopping at Roots (the one by the hotel carries Second Denim Company Yoga Jeans, a Canadian-made brand that isn't readily available in the US. I already have one pair and they are the coziest things ever-- you can do a split in these jeans!). Then, it was off to Parliament Hill.

To begin, it's an impressive walk up the hill, past an undying flame in the middle of a running water fountain that contains the shields for all of the provinces and territories:

And beside it, a pro-life protester (complete with triangle-board signs and everything). No pics of him, sorry.

I had arrived a half hour early for the next tour, so the security guard at the door suggested that I take that time to go up the Peace Tower-- the tall tower with the clock in the center-- and the Memorial Chamber. Through security I went and up the staircase. The Parliament interiors are very european in feel, the carved stone archways, walls, and ceilings, not to different from what one would find in a gothic/baroque building over there-- lovely and impressive. And as I waited for the elevator up to the tower, I overhead one tour guide mention that her group was very lucky-- they were going to be able to observe the ceremony where the pages in the Remembrance books of the memorial chamber would be turned, a ceremony that very few visitors to the Parliament get to see (more on that later.) After hearing that, I was reluctant to get into the elevator up to the tower. The view from the observation deck, though, made that reluctance fade as I looked over Ottawa and (across the river) Gatineau (Hull), The river was semi-frozen over, a fun sight.

And, as I waited for the elevator to come pick me up, the security guard joked about keeping me (an American) hostage up in the tower, pointed out the American Embassy, and offered to take my picture.

(Quick digression... we're currently rolling past the snow-covered farmlands of Quebec. So pretty)

I did manage to get back to the entrance of the memorial chamber to catch a glimpse of the tail-end of the page turning. What this ceremony does (at 11am daily) is honor those Canadians who died in service to their country. There are five books in the chamber, each page filled with names. This daily page turning allows each name to be on display at least once a year. The chamber walls are inscribes with poetry, quotes, and psalms in English and in French ("In Flanders Fields" is one of those poems.)

Then, I made my way back downstairs to start the tour. Our guide was fun and funny and very helpful in explaining the Canadian political system to the four of us foreigners in the bunch. Me, being a geek, piped in with questions about the prorogation currently occurring and the powers of the Governor General (the crown representative who is, apparently, pretty much functionally a social director.) The building was amazing. I wish that we could have taken pictures in the library, but this will have to suffice-- those walls are all carved white maple.

The red chamber entrance was equally grand:

(and this sort of architecture is normal throughout the Parliament)

All in all, a beautiful building, informative tour, and well worth the visit. And to add to my geekiness? Looks like all of my LMM fandom helped in my Canadian history knowledge-- when I saw the 1st Parliament plaque with the first Prime Minister John A. MacDonald's name, I remembered her mention of meeting him on her train ride west when she was just a little girl.

A walk around Parliament Hill revealed the stray cat sanctuary (where I pet the sweetest little kitty named "Brownie") and a nice view of the river. BTW, the cat sanctuary? It's listed in the Lonely Planet guide as one of the "wierd Ottawa" places to visit.

Next up was a walk to the Supreme Court. I hadn't reserved a tour, so I couldn't go in *sniffle*, but I did take the time to snap a picture of the statues out front, especially my favorite one:

(Justice. Eerie, no?)

Up to the National Library and Archives-- no real exhibits were up to see there at the time, so I hightailed it down Sparks Street-- past the CBC radio offices (another geeky moment! I felt this incredible urge to run up there and say: "I LOVE your radio programs!!! Got any "As it Happens" mugs?"

But I restrained myself, like a good public radio listener.)

I did get a chance to stop by Zellers, where they actually had the coveted "Red Mittens" for sale (and must have gotten a fresh shipment, from the number of people buzzing around the bins!) This is, apparently, -the- Olympic Souvenir to get and, though I'm not Canadian, I can now try to blend in (like when Joey wore red and green to the Greece-Portugal Euro cup finals-- it's a matter of survival *grin*) Plus, they're outright cute.

Another side note: anyone else loving the Olympic fashion this year? The US uniforms (courtesy of Ralph Lauren) are awesome and stylish, ditto for the Canadian, and I'm coveting the outfits designed for the medal presenters (see them here.)

Next up, Bytown Museum, "Where Ottawa Was Born." This little museum is located at the base of the Ottawa locks, in what used to be the Commissary. First thing that I learned at the museum is that the (UNESCO- designated world heritage site) Rideau Canal and its famous locks were built during the War of 1812 to defend against the Americans. How incredibly ironic is it that this canal now draws in so many Americans through tourism? The museum, itself, is small with only a few exhibits, but informative. For someone who loves antique clothing and accessories, my favorite part was the exhibit on Victorian life on the third floor, complete with hair jewelery, mourning hats, and one of the prettiest gowns I've seen from the period.

No rest for the weary. This intrepid traveler next hightailed it over to the mint, stopping in transit to go into the Basilica of Notre Dame, the seat of the Catholic Church in Ottawa.

(That roof? Nickel-clad, I think. It shines so bright in the sun)

It's another building that could have easily been picked up somewhere in France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and dumped right in Ottawa. The star-painted ceiling is more than enough excuse to go inside.

Next up was the mint, where they made the medals for this Olympics-- they had three of them (and three of the Paralympics) medals temporarily hanging in a display case-- that was a once-in-a-lifetime sight to see.

After the mint, I hiked back over to the hotel and changed for a quick late afternoon skate on the canal. The lights on the canal were starting to be lit and (having not eaten anything since a muffin top at breakfast) I was craving another Beavertail.

After skating and walking so much over two days, I have to admit that my poor feet hurt so much that I only lasted about a kilometer and a half on the canal before giving in and hiking over to the Rogers Crystal Garden, which also had beavertails and the ability to walk amoungst the lit ice sculptures whilst devouring said beavertail:

(pairs nicely with a maple-butter beavertail!)

I wasn't done yet! Next up was a hike back up to the National Art Museum (free from 5-8 on Thursdays, whee!) where I took in the Canadian and Inuit art galleries... and a perfect appetizer for dinner at the Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro. And when one eats at an Aboriginal Bistro, it's a shame if one doesn't bother to try foods one has never eaten before!

I cheated with the potato-leek-bacon soup, but I was sooooo cold that I needed something to warm me up. I followed that with the wabush (rabbit) dumplings (yum!) and then the Elk 2 ways-- grilled and braised. Everything was good, though sooo much meat (when I usually don't each much, particularly red meat) finished me for the night. Full and happy, I waddled back to the hotel and called it a night.

Next up: The Olympic opening ceremonies (on TV or perhaps in a theatre!),the nighttime dance party at the Carnival de Quebec, and another long and tiring day. Wheee!

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