I’ve been to Ottawa a half dozen times at this point. A good chunk of my family lives there, including some of my cousins whom I’ve very close with. They’re more like sisters to me.
But Ottawa has always been a bit of a rollercoaster for me. I’ve done all the touristy things in the past, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them, but some visits were hard…like when I said goodbye to my uncle when he was sick with terminal cancer.
And other visits were…blurry. I celebrated one boozy birthday in Byward Market with some people from home. The bartender made a birthday tiara for me out of a coffee filter, and I wore that filter with pride.
(It was a good night, minus losing my cousin’s cat later.)
Another time, I celebrated Canada Day. In the nation’s capital. Things got sloppy.
But on this round, I extended my trip to three weeks. I hadn’t seen most of my Kendell family in three years or more, and so we tried to make up for lost time. There were massive breakfast spreads and shopping outings and yes, more boozy nights out. But I also took more time to get out on my own and explore downtown Ottawa.
I’ve missed that big city feel over the past few months; I haven’t really travelled anywhere since I got back to Canada in June (seriously). And as much as St. John’s is special and magical, it definitely lacks that anonymity factor. One day I hopped on the bus from Orleans and got off at the Byward Market for an afternoon of coffee drinking and laptop werkin’ and meandering the streets. Bridgehead was my first stop — an unpretentious coffee shop with locations all over the city. I immediately took comfort in the sight of bearded hipsters working the cash.
That morning was the beginning of my newfound appreciation for the city–sitting in a busy cafe, plucking away at my work, feeling nostalgic about being wrapped up in big city life again. I wandered the Byward Market, and Centretown, and Wellington West, and Westboro.
Aside from my amazing family, I’ve found some other good reasons to love Ottawa.
Downtown Ottawa is more than suits and government offices. I’m not exactly the kind of person who enjoys dress codes, rigid routines, tight regulations, and adhering to an office code. (Unless, like, you’re paying me a lot. Okay then.) But there’s a fun indie vibe down here too, and not just in the Byward Market. One night I found myself at a speakeasy in Centretown. Seriously. At Union Local 613, find out the password and enter a whole new world.
But men in suits = hot diggity damn. Yes.
There’s an awesome number of brewpubs. Obviously I judge a city based on the quality of its beer. I spent a good chunk of time perusing the brew wares, and Tooth & Nail came out on top as my favourite. Lowertown Brewery is a close second, but that might be because of the fun Irish bartender.
The food scene is way better than I expected. I stuffed myself on charcuterie and fine cheeses at Play Wine & Food, ate gnocchi at Fratelli’s, slurped pho at Pho Bo Ga La, and ate some amazing vegan dishes at Pure Kitchen. More details on that whole scene in this blog post.
There’s a ton of young people. Ottawa is a very transient city, thanks to government positions and a fairly strong job market. My cousin April and I hit up the Heart and Crown pub in the Byward Market one Tuesday night and were amazed to find it completely packed with people. (To be fair, it WAS election night. But still. On a Tuesday.)
I didn’t catch sight of Trudeau but I knew he was there somewhere. I tried to get close to the going-ons at Parliament Hill on Remembrance Day, but alas, there were too many people between me and Trudeau. But still, I’d like to high five him someday.
Downtown is unbelievably beautiful. As soon as you hit Parliament Hill and you take in the Chateau Laurier, the House of Commons, the Senate, and the Library, you kinda feel like you’re in Europe. Makes sense, seeing as how we’re a relatively young country not long out from underneath the thumb of Britain (but celebrating 150 years in 2017, baby). Years ago I did a cruise on the Ottawa River for a different but just as beautiful view of Parliament. It kinda just makes your heart swell with Canadian pride.
I met some Furries in the elevator of my fancy ALT hotel. That was a first. The door opened and two people in giant fox costumes casually came aboard the elevator at the ALT hotel. No one preps you for this moment. Where do you avert your eyes? Do you take a photo? Do you smile? Do you just pretend it just isn’t happening? I really wish I had taken a photo.
I got all sorts of Canadian pride. It’s hard to pinpoint a place in Canada that feels “Canadian” because the country is so diverse. And we’re not overly patriotic people, anyway. (Or we weren’t, until Trump got elected, and now suddenly everybody is like, “Canada is so much better than anything else! Woohoo!”) But I love the full-on patriotism of Ottawa. Also: Obama and Trudeau cookies at Moulin de Provence in the Byward Market.
Wellington West and Westboro are amazing hipster neighbourhoods. I love cities that have really distinct neighbourhoods, and so I booked myself into an Airbnb for a few nights in Westboro so I could better explore on my own. I perused maps at the World of Maps, drank coffee all day at The Ministry of Coffee, went for a beer with friends at the Tooth & Nail, hung out at a sleazy pub called Whispers. I’d totally live in Westboro.
It’s a little big city. One day, while sitting and working in Equator Coffee in Westboro, I heard someone say my name and turned around to see my friend Sara there. I mean, how freaking cool is it that I can spend less than a week in one part of town and run into people I know?
Ottawa blew me away with its multiculturalism. While shopping in Costco one day with April, I counted five different languages swirling around me. If that happened in St. John’s, everyone would take notice. Here, nobody batted an eyelash. I love that there’s Chinatown, and Little Italy, and endless shops selling schawarma. It takes me back to Berlin.
It’s close to everything. I never appreciated the fact that Montreal (my all-time favourite Canadian city) is a measly two-hour drive away, and Toronto just four. And you know what Toronto has? Lots and lots of really cheap international flights. Kaboom.
There’s cheap beer across the way. One night, I hopped in the car with my Uncle Brian and Aunt Josephine and headed across the river to the beer shop in Gatineau, Quebec. I bought a dozen of Belgian beer for about $16. I can’t even get a half case of shitty domestic beer in Newfoundland for that price. AND YES THIS IS A POINT OF CONCERN FOR ME.
Is Ottawa a liveable city? Yes, indeedy. I’m posting a blog about where to eat in drink in the downtown core tomorrow. Stay tuned!