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CANADA Summer 2000 (4)
We took highway #40 north of the St. Lawrence River to Ottawa, a distance of about 450 kilometers (270 miles). It was a lovely day for the five-hour drive.
The Canadian Pacific Hotel in the nation's capital is the Chateau Laurier, located at 1 Rideau Street. It sits majestically in the center of Ottawa's most famous attractions and sights with Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal, the Ottawa River, the Ottawa Convention Center, the Government Conference Center and the Byward Market clustered all around it. Our excitement grew as the hotel's graceful towers, dormers and steep copper roofs came into view. As we drew closer, the beauty of the French Renaissance architectural style awed us. The Chateau Laurier opened its doors in 1912 and in 1920 an east wing was added to form the present U-shape. We pulled into the hotel garage right from Rideau Street and after parking, rolled our luggage up a ramp into a world of regal beauty. It's no wonder this hotel is a historical monument. The high ceilings, marble floors and pillars of the wide corridors and large reception hall are graced by exquisite furnishings. The reception and services of all the staff was exemplary, a fact that we have come to expect and appreciate at Canadian Pacific Hotels.
We really hated to leave the reception hall but were equally elated when we stepped off the elevator at the fifth floor to a wide, bright, nicely decorated corridor leading to our spacious and elegantly furnished rooms with king beds and comfortable seating areas. Located in the center of the U-shape of the hotel, we had gorgeous views of the Ottawa River. There are 426 guest rooms in this old-world charmer to accommodate all tastes and requirements. Want to get married or hold a special business meeting? There are four ballrooms and twelve meeting rooms to choose from.
We didn't have time to use the fully equipped health club or take a dip in the lovely Art Deco pool, but we did manage a late afternoon cocktail in the sophisticated, relaxing Zoe's Lounge at a table in the atrium overlooking Rideau Street. This we enjoyed while Paula and Warren shopped on the last afternoon before their flight home. Visiting and shopping in Canada is a genuine travel bargain for Americans at the present currency exchange rates.
Ottawa is the meeting place of Canada's two founding cultures. It has small town ambiance while playing host to an international clientele. It is a city of great physical beauty. We got a rich taste of this incredible diversity and plan to devote more time to our nation's capital in the future.
A few minutes walk east of the hotel is the historic Byward Market. Established in 1826, it is Canada's oldest, continuously running farmer's market. Today the old world charm of its busy streets and cobbled courtyards is a hub of eating, drinking, entertainment and shopping. The place was bustling and not a seat was to be had on the numerous outdoor patios. The boutiques were filled with shoppers and the menus posted in the restaurants' windows had people, two and three deep, reading them - decisions, decisions. This was late in the afternoon and when we returned in the evening, it was even more packed.
We had spotted Cafe Spiga, 271 Dalhousie Street, in the Byward Market area and the concierge at the hotel had included it along with several other suggestions. It is a smart, contemporary-style trattoria done in shades of green. Two of the appetizers were quite excellent, Caesar salad and grilled vegetables with goat cheese. The mixed salad was limp. The veal Parmigiano was ordinary and the tomato sauce disappointed both Linda and Paula, as it was too thick and acidic to the point of bitterness. A trio of grilled salmon, trout and tilapia on a bed of spinach was excellent as was a hearty seafood stew. My baccala (salted cod fish) cooked with a sauce of tomato, onion and herbs served alongside roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables was superb. Our Russian waiter was affable and quite helpful.
Across the Rideau Canal from the hotel is Parliament Hill, the heart of Ottawa and the Canadian government. The magnificent neo-Gothic center block and Gothic east and west wing Parliament buildings with copper roofs were built between 1859 and 1927 on a promontory overlooking the Ottawa River. We were just in time for the 10 a.m. changing of the guard ceremony, a military tradition since the 19th century. Linda's camera kept clicking away.
The aforementioned Rideau Canal runs 202 kilometers from Ottawa to Kingston. In the summer, as we observed, it's a boaters' paradise and along the banks the walkers, joggers and picnickers were enjoying the outdoor splendor and come winter they will don their ice skates to enjoy the longest skating rink in the world (7.8 kilometers). By the way, the dock for canal and river cruises is located right across the street from the Chateau Laurier.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day so we decided to take the Gray Line Double Decker Sightseeing Tour, which enables sightseers to get on and off all day. We found it to be quite worthwhile as we passed all the major sights, enjoyed an excellent commentary and saw the beauty of the waterways, parks and residential areas. We sat in the upper, open-air deck of the bus, which was a great vantage point for taking pictures.
Near the end of the tour as we approached Little Italy on Preston Street and Chinatown on Somerset Street West, we had to make a fast decision on which cuisine to pick for lunch. Chinese won and we got off on Somerset, a few blocks from Preston in the heart of Chinatown. We chose a small, family-run restaurant Ben-Ben for a light lunch of noodle soup, fried noodles with barbecued pork and vegetables, and rice with barbecued pork. After lunch, we walked back to Little Italy to scout out restaurants for our next visit.
A walk along the Rideau Canal and that relaxing cocktail at Zoe's Lounge gave us an opportunity to reflect on all that we had seen and highlight a few destinations for our next visit such as the National Gallery of Canada, a beautiful structure of granite and glass that houses the world's largest collection of Canadian art as well as collections from around the world and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which traces Canada's development from the Vikings to today.
Ottawa.com is the place to start planning your visit or call 1-800-465-1867 or write to Ottawa Tourism at 130 Albert St. Suite 1800. Ottawa, K1P 5G4, Ontario, Canada.
On the drive back to Toronto, we stopped in Brockville, Ontario, a cute historic city on the St. Lawrence River. We were looking for a quaint local restaurant for lunch. How about a wooden shack with people coming and going with the name Don's Fish and Chips. It's at 40 Water Street West and if your diet can handle deep fried, thick cuts of cod in a tasty batter, this is worth a detour. The incomparable fries, a perfect match for the fish, are freshly hand cut every couple of hours. We planned to take our newspaper-wrapped order to a nearby park but we never made it - fortunately. The large order, consisting of two pieces of fish and a generous portion of fries quickly disappeared even before we started the car to drive to the park. Halfway through we winked and nodded and knew we would need a refill. With plans to start our diets tomorrow, we headed home.
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