We pulled into Ottawa with little knowledge of the place, except that we had to visit MosaiCanada – a giant botanical sculpture park in honor of the 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding. Spending an afternoon seeing the government buildings was a no-brainier, especially since we were going to try to catch a glimpse of the Trudeau (our hopes were not high, we were’ kidding ourselves) on our walks.
Driving in from the South, we opted to skip the faster highway 417 and take the meandering route 38 as it followed the Ottawa River into the city. This drive was a treat as Ottawa slowly worked its way into our line of sight. We saw just enough glimpses of the city to get excited before we turned North towards our AirBnb in Gatineau, directly across the river from Ottawa proper. We had the remains of the afternoon and our AirBnb turned out to be two blocks away from MosaiCanada, so we popped over for a visit.
This was a treat. It was hot, busy, and we were tired but we still managed to have a great time. The displays are massive and range from trains to animals to, of course, hockey. Each province created a display and other, smaller displays we scattered about the grounds. The whole art style has been a thing in Ottawa for a while and was introduced to them via CHina, so the organizers nicely set up space for the displays from China as well.
This is one of those things where words don’t do half the work of pictures, so here you go.
Government Buildings (Watching the Man Watch You)
The next day we took a ferry across the water to see the government buildings, because you just have to see any government that operates in something out of a Harry Potter book.
We hopped on a water taxi (which was a blast) and then trudged uphill to see the spires and stonework. The place burnt down in 1916 (no one still knows why, but they suspect rascally Germans), but the central tower in the forefront survived, hence the different architecture. We were both enthralled by this central building, wonderign what wizardry obviously occurred behind its walls.
Lo and behold, it is the library. So, wizards, then.
We arrived too late in the day to go inside any buildings, but walking around was fun enough. The construction of each building is extremely sturdy, but looks rough. The pillars and foundation are made of standard, cleanly cleft stones masterfully pieced together, but the walls in between each support have stones sticking out of the and look very much in a mumble. I’m so used to smooth walls all around that the walls here really made an impact. Neat stuff.
Close by to the government headquarters, the Byward Market is Ottawa’s take on the bustling market. Anyone who has ever been to Seattle knows that Pike Place Market and this is Ottawa’s Pike Place (or Pike Place is Seattle’s Byward. Either works.) Lots of flowers, neat food, loads of tiny restaurants, and more maple syrup than you’d care for: it was awesome.
Byward Market hosts two must-stops. The first is Beaver Tails, a truly Canadian tourist food. It’s tacky, it’s cheesy, and you must absolutely have one when you visit Byward Market or you’ve failed.
Stop number two is a little bakery right in the middle of the market. They sells lots of stuff, but are known for one thing and one thing only: Obama cookies. Yes, right down the street for Headquarters Canada is a bakery touting cookies for a former US president. It’s lovely.
The place does this because Obama’s first international visit as president was to Ottawa and he of course toured the market. He bought a cookie and said that it was good. Apparently, that’s all it takes, because the Obama cookie was born.
He did also say “I love this country” while visiting there. He was smooth.
The place plays news-footage of the trip on a loop behind the display, which begs the question: how long are they going to milk this?
And don’t worry, Trudeau, you got your cookie, too.
The rest of our time in Ottawa consisted of pleasant walks in parks, arranging the van, and planning. It was really nice and relaxing.
On the way out to Montreal, we took care of one very important item on our Canada check-list: eat poutine. We waited until Ottawa because the government buildings are here, so why not have a heart attack in the heart of the Canadian government?
We did it properly, though. We found an unassuming little shack made of wood – a place that lived on the lunch crowd – and got good old basic poutine. The woman behind the register spoke French first and English second, but enough English so that there were no problems. She gave Fin lots of curds to munch on while our poutine was getting ready, so he was happy. After a heavy meal, somehow I was craving ice cream, so I hunted down an ice cream store and walked into more than I bargained for. We entered a place that meant serious business.
Hand-dipped soft serve with crazy toppings in ridiculous sizes. For a second I thought we were back in the US.
Like any self-respecting adult, we went out of our minds with options, gave our kid some dried fruit to snack on, and made a huge mistake by each getting our own instead of splitting one cone.
I’d love to say the hurt was so good, but it was mostly just hurt.