Ottawa

I don’t remember where the idea first came from. One of us must have read about the world’s largest outdoor skating rink, told the other, and the only natural conclusion was to get in the car. I’m sure Yen remembers and will explain, but the point is we went. And if the number of photos we post once we return is any measure, it was a very good trip. I’ve got 60 here, so I hope you don’t need to be anywhere soon.

Fact: You can still count using only fingers the number of times I’ve been ice skating. It’s a new hobby just this season. My skates (hockey skates, mind you – no toe picking myself (or at least not much)) are broken in by now, but I’m still missing fundamentals such as, ah, stopping. If I need to stop – and I always must at some point or risk becoming The God Who Skates Without Ever Stopping – I do so by hurling myself into the wall, Lucic style, only without any opponent who’s angered me. Yen says stopping properly is an advanced technique and I should probably save it for next year. For now, let’s focus on glide and possibly cross-over.

One way or another, we discovered that in the winter, Ottawa’s Rideau Canal becomes the largest outdoor rink in the country, and we wanted to skate it. We grabbed skates and passports and got in the car Friday night. Because driving is my super power, I took the first leg, which brought us to Burlington VT and a really great dinner at The Farmhouse. Very surprised to discover as we surveyed the menu that Yen had never tried steak tartare. This place boasts local grass-fed beef, so we figured it might be the safest context in which to open his mind. Of course he loved it.

When we got to the hotel, we found that someone on the top floor had started running a bath then settled in for a nap – which meant that three floors were flooded. Our room was one of the victims (luckily nothing of ours was in it at the time), so we were moved to an alleged non-smoking room on a smoking floor. We settled in for the night feeling like it wasn’t all that noticeable, but both woke with scratchy throats the next morning.

Breakfast was at Leunig’s, where I’d actually eaten a few times before. I managed to leave my mittens sitting on the chair when I left, so if you find yourself in Burlington, feel free to tell them you left a pair of nice grey hand-knit mittens and would like them back. I promise you won’t be disappointed. I, on the other hand, have some knitting to do. This has been a mild winter, but it’s not over yet.

After breakfast we stopped off at a little rapids right there in town and Yen snapped a few photos.

Oh, here’s me right before breakfast still in possession of the mittens. See them? See how cozy my hands look?

See this light jacket? And how it’s open? What a beautiful day.

Ok, enough stalling. We had to get back on the road. I wanted to take 2 for a bit because it cuts right through Lake Champlain. I’ve done the drive before in the summer with David, but never in the winter. Turns out the lake was completely frozen. We pulled over to take a look and ended up taking a little stroll on the ice. Sorry, Dad.

We finally arrived in Ottawa about 4:30, I think. Early enough that we set out for a little ramble immediately. Our hotel–

Wait, I need to make a plug for the hotel and for Yen’s skills at finding good places to stay. Ok, yeah. The place in Quebec had its… eccentricities. But it was a great place in a great location. In Ottawa, we stayed at the Albert Inn, which was simply adorable and staffed by really sweet people. Oh, and the toilet was behind a door! Score!

Where was I? We were walking – uphill toward Parliament.

I was pretty cold there without my mittens. And look! I’d left my scarf in the car. The winter has been mild in Ottawa too, but we’re talking about low 30s/high 20s. That’s still not great as the sun’s heading down.

I described this building as being covered in pillows. It’s the Museum of Canadian Civilization, which we did not visit.

You know, I’d looked at the map several times before we headed up for the weekend, but it didn’t occur to me that Ottawa is right across the river from Quebec. It wasn’t until we crossed the bridge accidentally and found ourselves back among “Arrêt!” signs that I realized it. Anyway, that’s it over there. Across that frozen water. That ice. That thick slab that you’d think would be suitable for skating on. And if the river is frozen solid, surely the canal is. But no. Skating is done for the season. In February. Don’t tell me there’s no global warming.

What do you do when you’re in a strange city and you’re hungry? You Yelp, of course. Our Yelping taught us that Pelican was a good place for dinner. We headed south and arrived at 7pm (after passing about a million crows sitting on the ground in front of a mall; I got unnecessarily excited when I saw them and startled Yen) and discovered that there were no tables to be had until 8pm. Though Yen was irrationally hungry, we decided to kill an hour by driving around. Which was when we discovered that Ottawa is a cute little city with some interesting little neighborhoods.

Dinner was great, by the way. Yen had mussels (of course) and I had a mixed seafood over pasta. As we paid, we asked the waiter about the canal. He gave us the bad news: they may say that they’re watching the conditions and will reopen it if they can, but his entire life he’s never seen them reopen it after closing. Bad news, Americans.

Next morning? Well, it’s us, so we looked for a waterfall.

Did you see that scarf? I’m also wearing a base layer under those khakis. Gloves borrowed from Yen. I was ready for a day out.

We drove into the city and suddenly found ourselves crossing the bridge into Quebec. Once there, we discovered part of Winterlude in progress. The park was full of snow sculptures and kids in snow pants. Right before we headed in, Yen grudgingly photographed this statue of Maurice Richard.

Ok, so all of these things are carved from snow. Awesome.

Well, not the beaver.

Up next we checked out the Portrait Gallery. Yen was really only interested in the building, so we didn’t go on inside. I was drawn to the spider, as usual.

Guess what we did next. That’s right! We ate bánh mi. Then we headed to the War Museum.

Here’s another great lesson in trusting Yen’s judgment. A war museum? Seriously? How uplifting on your vacation! I won’t say it was uplifting, because it most certainly was not. But it was fascinating. I learned a lot and am very happy we went.

One of the things I learned was that Queen Victoria was about as talented at crocheting as I am at knitting – which is to say she got the job done but missed a stitch here and there. This is one of eight scarves she made to honor war veterans. How matronly, eh? Just picture Middleton doing that.

This freaked me out some. It’s Hitler’s parade car. I kept staring at the backseat thinking, “Hitler sat right there.”

Here’s Yen about to go for a ride in – what is that, a Sherman? Like I know.

The museum is really careful not to glamorize war even for a moment. You’re spiraling through the exhibits, getting dizzy and overwhelmed until finally you come out into a large, dark, quiet cavern. It’s stunning after so much information and sadness. You walk down a staircase and end in a little hallway full of sculptures depicting grief, sorrow, the emotions you’re feeling. It’s beautiful and appropriate.

And then you find that you’re in the tank room.

This one I do know because I think it may be the whole reason we came to this museum in the first place. It’s a Panzer (that’s a big deal if you’re into military history).

Update from Yen: “Actually the Panzer is a Panzerkampfwagen V Panther. Panzer refers to armored vehicles in general.”

Noted!

Here’s the final corridor as you leave the museum. Like a bunker, I suppose. I loved the architecture of this place.

As we came outside, the light was perfect and Yen got this shot of the skyline.

Here’s a look back at the museum.

You know what you need after reading about the manner and reason for the deaths of millions over the last 200 years? Fried dough.

Even Mr. I’m So Healthy Kate Could Scream got into it!

Thus fueled, we headed down to the canal to see what was so mushy about it that we couldn’t skate.

Not a damned thing if you ask me.

You probably could tell from those photos just how cold I was. It was below 20 by then, and Yen knew what he had to do: Mongolian Hot Pot.

This place was different from other hot pot joints I’ve been to. Yes, you still cook everything yourself. But what do you cook? Anything you want! They have a big wall with shelves, and you march up there and grab anything you like. You want 70 shrimp for dinner? Fine, load up. You want nothing but fish balls? Ok! Lotus root? Beef stomach? White fungus? Baby bok choy? It’s all there and you can take as much as you like. We were focused on getting warm and filling our poor bellies, and so were surprised when I went to pay and discovered the bill identified us as “the affectionate couple.” We hadn’t even held hands! I guess they could smell it.

Next morning was time to go, only Yen had one last request. Pretty please? The Aviation Museum? Who am I to begrudge a cute boy some airplanes.

See me here, blending in with the paint on this helicopter? What you can’t see is how profoundly grumpy I was because I’d stubbornly not eaten breakfast before we left the hotel. I don’t know what was wrong with my brain, but I stomped through the museum dreaming of oatmeal and chai.

And meanwhile here’s Yen, happiest boy on the block, flying a fighter jet with a baby. Sometimes I’m such a jerk.

At last we headed out of town (yes, we stopped and filled my belly first). We took one last swing through the surprisingly large Chinatown so Yen could photograph the gate.

And drove home, napping, eating cashews, and being happy and relaxed. One last photo of the trip, this as we swung south from Burlington. I didn’t mention that this was the first trip for Yen’s new lens, which managed to capture this through a filthy windshield at 70mph. Impressive, eh?