Home > Literature, Travel > To cap it all

To cap it all

Having not done enough sight-seeing in Montréal, I fully intend to make better use of my stay in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa. And, in fact, I’m already off to a reasonable start in my first half a day.

This morning I said goodbye to the funny and friendly Frenchwoman, Blandine (I’ll send her an e-mail when I get the chance; I may also get in touch with an Indian man she met on the bus who is from the former French colony in southern India which is approximately where I’ll begin my sojourn in India later this year) and walked off to the coach station (bus station, whatever – I’m not entirely sure which I should use; I get the impression Canadian English treats the two as interchangeable) – where I just missed the eleven o’clock coach (bus), probably because I forgot the difference between Ottawa and Toronto and went to the wrong bay (quay) (it might not have made much difference, though).

When I normally get onboard an elongated passenger vehicle I wait while and watch the world go past for a while before I turn to my book. This time, however, Reaper’s Gale was in my hands within a moment (two moments at most). I read for the first half of the trip, then slept for the second half, waking up about ten minutes before we arrived at Ottawa elongated passenger vehicle station.

Consulting my map, I set off for the hostel. It was a good couple of kilometres on foot (and probably about the same by any other means of transport), but the walk along Rideau Canal was pleasant enough. I arrived at the hostel and found two young women folding sheets in the reception area. Although I was standing right there with my backpack on my shoulders, neither of them seemed to be about to greet me, so I asked, ‘Is there anyone on duty?’ The reply was, ‘Yes – we are.’ And they thereafter performed their receptionly duties.

I handed over $110 dollars for the five nights I’m going to be here (the other three hostels I’ve been to in Canada wanted paying one day at a time), filled in the guest logsheet (I wasn’t asked for any ID, either) and was shown around. There is free tea and coffee (and milk to go with said beverages), but no free breakfast. There is wifi provision, but using the internet on the hostel computer will cost you a dollar for ten minutes and $4 for and hour. The bathrooms – well, the one bathroom I’ve been in is immaculate. There’s also a shoes-off policy (and shelves by the front door for the storage of taken-off footwear). And – best by far of all – there’s a cat.

Throughout the day the weather had been overcast, and it was the same when I went out shortly after arriving to get something to eat. After maybe 45 minutes in a nearby Quizno’s the weather was transformed. Late afternoon sunlight blazed into my eyes as I walked westward along the road. The sky was almost cloudless. So I took the opportunity to wander round taking photos of things.

There seem to be lots of impressive building in the centre of Ottawa. I don’t necessarily know what they all are, but foremost among them are the buildings on Parliament Hill. The Parliament building and its two fellows stand on a bluff overlooking the river. The main building was rebuilt, sometime in the 20th century, I think, after a fire, and you can see the difference between it and the others – the other two structures are dirtier, but this dirt gives them a wonderful grainy black and brown texture.

The highlight of my walk round Parliament Hill was the Cat House. Apparently maintained by a convict and supported entirely by donations (the goverment doesn’t pay for it), it’s a home for stray cats. It looks a bit like a dovecote, or at least that’s what I thought it was a first glance. I only saw a couple of cats behind the railings – a well-fed ginger who was lazing just inside the railings and a white and grey-brown who was a bit more active. At one point, I saw movement below the decking and assumed there was another cat down there. However, when the creature hopped up on to the platform, it turned out to be a raccoon. The raccoon helped itself to the plentiful catfood, and seemed quite at ease with all the slack-jawed gawkers gawking (slack-jawedly) at it.

On one of Parliament Hill is a row of (at least) seven locks that form the conclusion of Rideau Canal (and I finally learnt what ‘écluse’ means). On the far side of the canal, on its own promontory is a small area topped with a statue, beside which are seats and a podium … which seems kind of odd, but fair enough. Also of interest is the National Gallery and the gigantic spider sculpture beside the entrance, and the revenue agency building, which is essentially a castle.

After a good while of peregrination and photography I made my way to a mall, got tea and read. And finished Reaper’s Gale – woohoo. Now I don’t have to lug that massive tome around with me. Next on the list will probably be R A Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard, which was given to me by Vince, Pete’s housemate. Never read any Salvatore, and I have the impression that he’s basically a hack , but we’ll see how it goes.

I also stopped in a large bookstore – Chapters, or something similar – and saw a Frank Herbert book that I don’t have: Hellstrom’s … something. And the new Stephen Donaldson book, Fatal Revenant. I have within me two conflicting instincts (and mentioning this is particularly apt as The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are all about paradox): the instinct for consistency, and the instinct for variety. So I want to both wait to get the British edition to satisfy the former and buy the American edition right now to satisfy the latter. I was pleasantly surprised to see a selection of Iain M Banks and Robert Rankin books on the store’s shelves – author’s I’d assumed were both relatively exclusive to Britain.

After that I went to a supermarket – Loeb, I think it’s called – to get some food (and wow, milk is fucking expensive – $2.79 for a litre carton (halve that for the GBP value)). And then it was back to the hostel. Not a moment too soon, either, as not long after I got back it started pouring. Since then I’ve eaten (cheese and cucumber sandwiches and bran cereal) and written this and my latest book review.

I’m quite happy to have moved on from Montréal (banter with Blandine notwithstanding). Although it has a number of interesting buildings and attractions, it just didn’t seem as worthwhile a destination as the immediately preceeding and proceeding cities. Ottawa seems a lot nicer, somewhere I’d be happy to spend time not just sight-seeing, but hanging around. I suspect Toronto will be more in the Montréal camp, and Niagara Falls more like Québec City, but we’ll see.

Categories: Literature, Travel
  1. savasana
    13 October 2007 at 6:16 pm

    I think Ottawa and Quebec City will definitely be the highlights of your trip; I enjoy both cities immensely. As for Niagara Falls….well….the falls of course are magnificent and should definitely be seen by all but the city itself leaves much to be desired. The surrounding countryside (ie/the vineyards and fruit farms etc.) is however quite lovely. As for Toronto and Montreal? They are just big cities. I don’t really find much that stands out about them other than their size (and the fantastic museums that can’t be found in smaller cities).

    Of course, I live here so you may find novelty in those places that I don’t. I live about two hours southwest of Toronto, just for a reference point.

  2. 15 October 2007 at 12:12 am

    You’re right – the historic buildings in Quebec and Ottawa, and the view over the river Ottawa have been the stand-out sights of my trip. I’m looking forward to seeing that big waterfall as well.

    Montreal was just a city, with a few nice buildings near the docks – the Latin Quarter and the shops along rue St Denis were pleasant to stroll by, though.

    And tomorrow, I’m off to Toronto.

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