Ottawa: I came, I saw, I left
I had been to Ottawa several times before, but only to visit various consulates, so the last time I went I decided it was time to stay for the night, take a look around and see what Ottawa's really like.
One thing I discovered is that Ottawa in the summer is a scorching hell. The heat can be absolutely suffocating, with not even a suggestion of a breeze from the St-Lawrence river. And despite your good intentions to discover some secret exciting places in Ottawa, you will end up doing the same things as the other visitors. (Which makes me wonder, just how interesting can the Canadian government be?)
The tourist routine seems to be taking a picture or two of the Parliament building, visiting a few museums, wandering from one pub or fast food joint to the next, and presumably getting a haircut more than once while in town, judging from the extraordinarily high number of barber shops. Visitors also seem keen on getting rid of their spare change, straight into the cups and pockets of the many (and I mean many) waiting panhandlers.
To summarize, unless you're visiting some government offices (hmmm... is that *really* your idea of fun?) Ottawa is probably not the place to be for more than a few hours.
Museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Photography and the National Gallery are not bad, and you can spend a couple of hours at each, but other than that, everything about the city is a fleeting distraction or mild annoyance not worth mentioning.
When we asked the concierge at our hotel about things not to be missed in Ottawa, she looked genuinely puzzled and rather dumbfounded. After composing herself, she mumbled something about the Market being a fun place to go out for a drink, especially in the summer when you can sit outside.
Even with these remarkable memories, the best part I remember about Ottawa doesn't have much to do with the city itself. One evening we were wandering around after having spent an hour trying to get out of a giant mall, when we ran into a beautiful sunset. It was as if the sun had melted and permanently colored the horizon with flaming clouds. It was bedazzling and scary at the same time. Even the evening news crew showed up to film it – further proof that there's next to nothing going on in Ottawa.
Later we realized that the dramatic sunset was the prologue to a terrible thunderstorm. But luckily at that point we were safely inside, partaking of an enormous all-you-can-eat-lobster feast.
The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography
1 Rideau Canal, P.O. Box 465, Station A
Tel: (613) 990-8257
National Gallery of Canada
380 Sussex Dr.
Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4
Tel: (613) 990-1985