Ottawa: Cold Day in the Capital

We woke up early to watch the sunrise in Ottawa at Nepean Point. Sunrise wasn’t until 7:45 a.m. that morning so we knew we could get ourselves out of bed for it. After some breakfast and necessary coffee, we ventured toward the city center. It was less than a 10 minute drive from our hotel to Nepean Point yet the road to where we were going was closed. We kept circling around the city to find a close parking lot yet we couldn’t find anything. Finally we settled on a lot in the ByWard Market. It was cold, even in the car. The windows were foggy and iced over to the point where we couldn’t see out of them. We all had on so many layers. I felt like a kid who can’t put their arms to their side in their snow suit. I had on leggings, jeans, two paris of socks, a long sleeve shirt and a sweater, my winter coat, boots, a hat, scarf and two pairs of gloves. I actually tried to put on an additional pair of leggings but my jeans didn’t quite fit with them on. I thought that maybe I put on too many layers, that I would potentially be warm. But I was so wrong. The cold cut through my many layers. At first, I didn’t realize how intensely cold it was with my excitement to see the city and the sunrise.

When we got to Nepean Point, the view of Parliament was beautiful yet the sky was still dim. We climbed to where the statue of Champlain stood behind the National Gallery of Canada to get a better vantage point. From here you could see the surrounding water ways and the bridges bringing people back and forth from Ontario to Quebec. There were no cars out at this time yet the factories along the water’s edge were admitting smoke since dawn. We waiting in the freezing cold as the sun slowly crept up over the horizon. This had to be the slowest sunrise I have ever witnessed. As the sun made its way above the horizon, the Parliament was bathed in its light until the wind sent a thick sheet of fog over the building, obscuring the view. The sunrise was beautiful yet we were literally starting to freeze. It was -2 degrees, not calculating the wind chill. I couldn’t feel my extremities and my dry hair had begun to freeze. I followed as my friends began slowly walking away from Nepean Point. I couldn’t physically stand to be up there any longer.

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The car seemed so far away so we searched for warmth in any building we could find. We first tried the National Gallery, it was closed. We scurried to the Notre Dame Cathedral, thinking it must be open and somehow it was closed. I thought churches were always open. We then saw the U.S. Embassy and to our disappointment it was closed. Even America let us down. We walked as fast as we could to the car, trying every door on the way. We couldn’t bear to be in the cold yet there were so many Canadians running before dawn. I’m not sure how they were even able to breathe in the negative degrees. We finally made it to the car where we could slowly thaw. Once we warmed up, we thought maybe we could drive and find a spot closer to Nepean Point to see the Parliament in full light. Yet, we couldn’t find a closer spot and there was no way we were going to walk up there again. It was far too cold.

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It was time to get a closer look of Parliament Hill. Even though offices were closed today, it was nearly impossible to get a parking spot close to the Parliament. However there were a hundreds of empty reserved spots. By a stroke of luck, we found street parking. It took us a while to parallel park onto the snow bank. Once the car was in the spot, we noticed that it was only 10 minute parking. Though our parking spot was conveniently located next to the tourism office, where you can get free tickets for a tour of Parliament. We got our tickets and directions to a parking garage that is free on weekends. Everything seemed to be free in this city! After parking, we made our way to the Parliament. We first took a moment to warm up by the centennial flame before heading in for our tour.

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Before we could even enter the building, security made us unzip our jackets. I understand that it’s for security measured but no one should have to unzip on a zero degree day. The next level of security was inside, where they took our belonging through the scanner. Finally, after being deemed unthreatening, we could begin our tour of the Canadian Parliament. The lobby we entered through was modern yet the rest of the building was pretty spectacular. I was most amazed by the woodwork in the Parliament, its details depicting images of importance in Canada. Each foyer had a ceiling with beautiful designs. I love a building that even has detail on the ceiling tiles, you can tell how much though was put into the design. One of my favorite rooms in the Parliament was the library. The library is the only remaining part of the original Parliament that was burned down. Someone thought to shut the large wooden doors to preserve the library.

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For living so close to Canada, I really don’t know much about the history of government of the country. To think, I know so much about other countries around the world but I don’t know a thing about my neighbor to the north. We learned all about the working of the Canadian Parliament and their political connections to the UK and the Queen. I now know so many fun fact about Canada, such as the reason Ottawa was chosen as the capital of Canada. It was chosen due to its distance from the U.S. border and the fact that it is a bilingual city.

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Once the tour was over, we took the elevator to the top of the Peace Tower. Here you get a 360 view of the city below. The view from the Peace Tower is not to be missed. There is nothing I like more than a birds-eye view of a city. After exiting the Parliament, we took a walk around the quiet centre block. We took in the views across the Rideau and of the political buildings in the city center.

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To escape the cold, we searched for a restaurant to get lunch. There is no better way to see a city than be seeing its food scene, right? We strolled down Spark Street, a historical pedestrian cobblestone street we had accidentally driven down earlier that day. We stopped by several restaurants yet no where seemed to be open. It was past 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday, don’t they believe in lunch? Finally we stumbled on the 3 Brewers. The atmosphere was nice and the large windows offered a view of the Parliament. We all settled on trying a different beer cocktail and I had the flammekueche, which is basically a healthier version of pizza. Once we were done eating, we headed to the ByWard Market. The city was finally picking up. The lot we parked in earlier was filled to capacity now and the market was flooded with people. We wandered around the market for a little which, wafting in the aromas of the various vendors. I wished I wasn’t so full from lunch. I would have loved to try one of the BeaverTail pastries. To continue our drinking around Ottawa, we headed into the Highlander Pub for a flight of beer that was only $6 CAD. We took a cozy corner by the window to people watch.

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Warmed by the heat and a few drinks, we headed for the outdoors. First to the Redeau Falls, where I was warmer than I had been outside all day. While the falls were near frozen, the sun aided to warm us. After seeing the falls, we were craving the outdoors. We crossed to Quebec to check out Gatineau Park. We had no idea where we were going or what would be there. I don’t think we were quite prepared or the activities available in the park. Though the park looked enticing with its snow-covered trees, we only took a quick walk around before heading back.

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We decided on doing dinner and drinks to finish what felt like our Anthony Bourdain tour of Ottawa, eating and drinking our way through the city. We headed straight to ByWard market which we were told had a great bar scene. Our first stop was Chateau Lafayette. The music was load and there wasn’t a spot to eat, we left as quick as possible. Next, we stopped at the Brigg Pub. I’m not sure what constitutes somewhere as a pub yet this didn’t have quite the pub atmosphere we were craving. The food seemed more decadent than we were looking for yet we stayed for what was the best cocktail I have ever had. After our pre dinner cocktails, we headed out to find the pub food we were craving. Finally, we ended up at Earl of Sussex Pub. Here there was good food, a good bartender and a great atmosphere. We stayed at Earl of Sussex all night, talking to all the locals about the best places to go in Ottawa. There were so many winter activities that I wanted to do, that I knew I would have to come back when it was colder out, when the Rideau Canal was frozen over. Apparently it gets colder in Ottawa. I will come back for Winterlude, for skating on the Rideau and for BeverTails.


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