By Sophia Oldford
Sophia Oldford is a writer and dedicated list maker living in the Ottawa Valley. Read about her efforts to find the more in less at her blog GiftOfLess.com
Are you still saving up to travel around the world so you can cross some of those bucket items off your list? Want to take an engraved lock to Paris’ Pont des Arts Bridge to padlock a statement of your love? Sip on a cocktail while sailing through the locks of the Panama Canal? Pop over to San Francisco to sample the real deal in Asian food in Chinatown? A great alternative to jet lag and credit card debt is Ottawa, Canada, where you can do all of those things and more.
1) Corktown Footbridge
If leaving a lovers’ lock on the railing of Paris’ Pont des Arts Bridge was on your bucket list, you’re out of luck. This month Paris officials began removing the locks for safety reasons. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still make the romantic gesture of snapping on an engraved lock with your initials entwined with those of your beloved and throwing the key into the river. The Corktown Footbridge in Ottawa is fast becoming the location for declarations of love, marriage proposals and yes, lovers’ locks on the railing. Authorities in Ottawa say there are no safety concerns so you can snap that lock shut secure in the knowledge that your symbol of love will remain intact, regardless of how long the relationship lasts.
2) The Rideau Canal
If you’re cruising the oldest continuously operating canal system in the New World, where are you? Hint: It’s 202 kilometres (125.5 miles) long, was built in six years in the early 1800’s, takes 3 to 5 days to travel one way, has 47 locks, 16 lakes, two rivers, and a 360-foot-long (110 m), 60-foot-high (18 m) dam. If you said the Panama Canal you’d have to guess again. The Rideau Canal beats out the Panama Canal on all counts but one. It’s longer by 125 kms (77.5 miles) and makes the Panama Canal’s 20 – 30 hour cruise time look woefully short. All that and the Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot. Getting a deck chair and a cold one on the Rideau Canal is easy and affordable. The one thing the Panama Canal has on the Rideau Canal? It’s open year round, while the Rideau Canal closes for the winter.
Move over, Rockefeller Center. If you missed sailing the Rideau Canal in summer, then there’s a winter treat in store for you. The Rideau Canal naturally freezes every winter and the Skateway, with over 7.8 kms (4.8 mi) of groomed ice surface, becomes the world’s largest skating rink. For an idea of just how long it is, imagine 90 hockey rinks set end to end. Along the way you can stop in at a warming hut or an open air fire pit, enjoy a hot chocolate and munch on one of the Canal’s best treats, a BeaverTail pastry. The Winterlude Festival in February brings music, a triathlon, a massive pond hockey tournament, street entertainment and one of the world’s most exciting ice sculpture competitions. Most events are free and there’s no charge to slip on the skates and head for the ice.
4) Stop and smell the tulips!
Holland has its tulips but Ottawa does too. Ten days of all things tulip with the Canadian Tulip Festival. But it you’re thinking random stalls of papery dry brown bulbs and fanatic folks arguing over the merits of an “Absalom” versus a “Lac van Rijn”, you’re going to be surprised by the reality. Music? Check! Kids’ zones? Check! Special events, like a Royal Tea Party, tulip painting and photography workshops, and evening fireworks? Check! And, of course, the tulips. Along the Tulip route and at “Tulip Central” on Rideau Canal (see #1) you’ll see over a dozen varieties of tulips but I’ll bet you can’t smell them all. There’s over a million blooms each year. Dutch Queen Juliana’s gift of tulip bulbs every year for 25 years has definitely made Ottawa the place to be in May!
5) CityFolk Festival
Ah, Coachella. Two weekends of fun, sun and music. And people. 579,000 last year. A place to see celebs and check out new rags. Comes at a price, though. $375 for each weekend and if you really want to see those celebs, you’ll probably need to buy the VIP pass at $899. And did I mention the crowds? 579,000 people. That’s a lotta crowds! I have a better idea. Ottawa is truly the city of festivals and the CityFolk Festival is definitely worth putting on your list of Must Hear’s. This festival used to be called the Ottawa Folk Festival but CityFolk announces its step up. Five days in September for $129 with a pretty damn respectable line-up, good food and a great site at the recently re-furbished and re-energized Lansdown Park in the heart of the city. Pull out those lace shorts, cowboy boots and get your indie-boho on!
Living like a Cold Warrior. Like the Pont des Arts, going deep underground in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs is an experience you can’t have anymore. After 9/11 the would-be nuclear war control centre for Canada and the U.S. was closed to the public. If you still have a hankering to know what a Cold War post-nuclear underground government hub feels like you can visit the Canadian Forces Station Carp, now known as the Diefenbunker. The idea was that in the event of a nuclear attack the government bigwigs of the day (most notably, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker) would be whisked away to one of several underground bunkers across Canada and would run the country – or whatever was left above ground – from this secure facility. The bunker goes four stories down with 100,000 square feet spread out over 300 rooms. Now it’s a popular museum that offers everything from conflict resolution training to birthday parties. Boom!
Ottawa’s own culinary Silk Road. Walk, drive, bus or bike along Somerset Street between Rochester and Preston and you’ll experience the scents and flavours of China, Viet Nam, Thailand, Korea, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Officially known as Chinatown the area boasts a diverse population and all the foodie delights that go along. Fancy some pho? Dying for dim sum? Going for ga bun? (We’ll stop now before this gets silly!) The restaurants are generally very affordable, the focus is on food not décor and the more locals eating and the less English spoken is often a pretty good sign. Don’t worry that you’ll end up ordering monkey brains because you can’t read the menu, though. Menus are usually in two or three languages, including English, and English is the language of service everywhere.
8) The National Gallery
Say Cheese! Once you see photos by Julia Margaret Abbot, August Sander or Yousef Karsh you’ll never look at a Snapchat quickie the same way ever again. The National Gallery of Canada’s contemporary photography collection includes works by these famous photographers and many, many others. My favourite photo is Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange, quite possibly one of the most iconic photographs of the last century. You could visit the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York for its collection of 25,000 photographs or the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) in Chicago for its collection of 10,000 photographs. Or you could visit the National Gallery of Canada’s permanent collection of 125,000 pics. That’s a lot of “Let’s take another one, you blinked again.”
9) Bells Ring-a-Ling.
A carillon is a musical instrument consisting of at least 23 brass bells fixed to a frame, played by keyboard and pedals. It’s one of the largest musical instruments and the largest of these is the 78-bell carillion at Hyechon College in South Korea. At 53 bells the Parliament Hill Peace Tower carillon is no slouch. The current Dominion Carillonneur, Dr. Andrea McCrady, has an eclectic taste and her daily programs show it. This summer you could hear her Out of this World program, with Shubert’s Die Sterne, George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun, and the themes from both Star Trek and Star Wars. I’m looking forward to picnicking on the front lawn of the Hill while listening to the Keeping Time program with Coldplay’s Clocks, Handel’s Sonata for a Musical Clock, and Max Freedman’s Rock Around the Clock. Rock On Dr. McCardy!
10) Fountain of the Centennial Flame
Three Coins in a Fountain. As the movie tells us, throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome and you’ll come back to Rome. As wishes go it’s not a bad one but throw a coin into the fountain of the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill and you’ll be contributing to a research award fund. The small award is given to a disabled Canadian to complete a project showing the contributions of the disabled to the country and to Parliament. The Flame itself is natural gas from Alberta that was lit in 1967 to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday. It burns in the centre of a low 12-sided fountain, a great place for the much-loved “I was here” tourist photo. And go ahead and make a wish anyway. I’m going to wish for more experiences I can cross off my bucket list while in Ottawa!