National Pride

Trip Start Jun 12, 2012
Trip End Oct 18, 2012

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Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Monday, August 20, 2012

Howdy folks,

We got up bright and sparkly eyed for our first day in the national capital of Canada. It was a short 30 minute drive into the city centre to the information centre where we gathered our obligatory maps and things to do. We just missed the 10am changing of the guard at Parliament Hill. We braved the crowds to take a photo of one of the most popular landmarks in Canada although perhaps not quite as much as Niagara Falls. Most of the big tourist drawcards are located in one area of Ottawa so it was quite easy to walk down to the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Styled like a castle and now a century old, it looks in place with the parliament buildings and grand nature of the city. Having said that, the lobby looked quite plain and orderly compared to the Royal York in Toronto.

Across the road was a war memorial ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of a Canadian WW2 Raid. The place was buzzing with people in every direction. We walked down past the Rideau Canal which is a National Historic Site and still operates as a hand winch system. Each gate has to be wound open for the boat to pass through 1 of 49 locks which was interesting to watch. It was sad to hear that around 1000 people died during construction, mostly from malaria (in Canada!). We continued walking around the waterfront and up to Nepean Point which gave us a broad sweeping view of Parliament Hill, the St Lawrence River and Gatineau on the other side which also happened to be in the province of Quebec. Atop was the Samuel De Champlain Statue, a famous figure in New France colonisation.

It was time for lunch, so the three amigos walked to the Art Gallery steps to grab a bite. Outside the gallery is a giant spider akin to War of the Worlds. We had planned to go to the Royal Mint, but it was too busy so we walked past the enormous US embassy which was more akin to a bunker with bollards protecting the sidewalk and a list a mile long of prohibited items for visitors. Byward Market was brimming with shops and cheap eateries, so we made a mental note for dinner.

Back at Parliament Hill, all the tours were done for the day so we had to settle on going up the huge peace tower which is the name for the largest portion of the building. Going through security is always a pain and I'm not one for waiting in lines, but the view inside the Confederation Hall and from the top of the tower was worth it. It is 92m high, has a room where a carllioner can chime the bells and the first inclined elevator in Canada. Interestingly it was built in 1919-26 after the old one burned down after chiming at midnight whilst still ablaze.

Afterwards we didn't want to do much else and we had 5 hours until the sound and light show so we just hung around the shops and went for a bite to eat at a local pub. Finally at 9:30pm, we went back to Parliament Hill where they had projected onto the whole facade; the Canadian story. It was really good with the animation, interviews and effects and reminded me of the one at North Terrice only much, much better. It lasted for 30 minutes and then it was time to head back to camp.

The next day, Steffie's friend wasn't keen to do as much walking around so she just stayed at the camp to relax while we drove into town to rush around everywhere. We made it to the changing of the guard at 10am which was lengthy and quite ceremonial. You could definitely tell the British influence had on Canadian military because of the red jackets and bagpipers. We stuck around and waited an hour to do a tour of the peace tower and were amused by a few protesters. The bells were ringing in the tower to a tune played by the carllioner. Inside the building, we lined up again for security before being whisked away into the hallway outside and finally inside the House of Representatives. We also got to see a hearing room which was converted from the library and the Library of Parliament in a huge, ornate, brightly painted wooden structre at the back of the building. It was a pity that we couldn't take a photo inside, but you should definitely see it on Wikipedia -

We also had a brief view of the Senate and a Francophone room before the tour ended. With so many tourists coming to the capital to do this tour, you do feel that it is a bit rushed and crowded so it wasn't as enjoyable. Nevertheless, we went inside the building that most Canadians have only seen a picture of.

It was time for lunch so we went back to the markets before heading onwards to the Royal Mint for a tour. This time we got in, but unfortunately no photos were allowed either. It is one of two facilities in Canada that produce coins for circulation, although the bigger one in Winnepeg produces all of the legal tender, while this one only makes souvenir and collectable coins. Interestingly enough they also made the medals for the 2010 Winter Olympics although the design wasn't to my tastes. Many other countries have contracts with the Mint for coins and there were even a few Australian coins on display despite the fact that we have the Royal Perth Mint which rivals Canada. The big rolls of pure gold and silver on the shop floor were worth $2.4 million and $500,000 respectively so the place definitely wasn't short of a dime. The tour covered all aspects of production and would have been better had it not been for the confined corridor and large group.

Lastly we went inside the Notre Dame Cathedral across from the Giant Spider and had a look at the ornate woodwork and decorations on the ceiling. The whole thing was so overdone it just ruined it, but the stars were a nice finish. Unfortunately, we had a car reverse slowly into our bumper in the car park, got stuck in traffic on the way home and witnesed another car slam on their brakes to narrowly avoid rear ending the car in front. Needless to saw we were happy to get out of the car and go for a swim in the pool instead!

Next stop: Montreal!
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