Ottawa, in the province of Ontario, is only a 2.5 hour drive from Montreal, so it was a short hop to the next stop – Canada’s capital city. It’s strange to most people to think that I had never been to the nation’s capital before….upon reflection, it’s strange to me too! After living in London for so long where all the important national decisions are made in Whitehall, I almost forgot that I had never seen Canada’s Houses of Parliament in the flesh.
Ottawa is nice medium sized city, dominated by government buildings, as one would expect. It actually sits on the Ottawa river, which divides the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and in terms of the tourist trail, it’s often overshadowed by the behemoths that are Montreal and Toronto. But after doing some research, Ottawa has a lot to offer, other than the Parliament and the newly elected PM Justin Trudeau.
However, our timing for the visit could have been better – I thought I was being smart by getting to Ottawa before the Canada Day long weekend. Canada Day is a massive party in the capital and I knew things would have been booked up for months in advance. But I didn’t bargain on the ‘Three Amigos’ holding a meeting in town and virtually shutting down the city.
The Three Amigos are the leaders of Canada, United States and Mexico and they were congregating in Ottawa, at exactly the moment we arrived. Again, living in London, there are always big heads of state popping in and out, and the city in so vast, you wouldn’t even know it, but when Obama comes to Ottawa, it’s a big deal.
My hopes for visiting parliament were immediately dashed – no way we were getting in. Justin Trudeau and Obama were continuing their bromance in there, with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto probably feeling like a third wheel and wondering if he really was an ‘amigo’ The National Art Gallery was closed as well, and all streets surrounding the parliament area were bloc off. Even parts of the Rideau canal, the famed waterway the runs through the centre of Ottawa were off limits; it was going to be tricky to get around.
Thankfully, we found a few museums that were open – The Canadian War Museum is housed in a beautiful building a few kilometres west of Parliament and is absolutely worth every penny of the entrance fee. We spent most of a day in there – the exhibits are informative and interactive and most importantly comprehensive – they even had one of Hilter’s cars on display.
The Museum of Canadian History is another must see, it’s across the river on the Quebec side and offers amazing views of the Parliament buildings. The exhibitions inside were also tremendous, focussing on so many different aspects to Canada’s history.
I liked the laid back feel of Ottawa (despite the security for The Three Amigos). It was easy to walk everywhere, and there are nice trails around the city. Byward market is right downtown, offering loads of places to eat and nice shops. And it’s very affordable. I think I may have to go back someday….I just better check Justin’s schedule first.