Sunday, 6 May 2012

A day off

There are times when I rail against the stodgy government town I find myself in. Those times are usually March.
Ottawa in the winter is lovely.There is skating on the canal (longest ice rink in the world- represent!) there is cross country skiing in Gatineau Park and excellent downhill less than two hours away. The snow is thick and white on the ground-- none of the half hearted slush you find in other cities -- and the sky is often a crystalline blue with sunshine so bright it makes your teeth ache.  Even the two weeks when it is -30 C (that's -22 F for you Yanks) and it's so cold that your eyes water and then your eyelashes freeze together, even those two weeks are perfectly manageable because as you scurry from house to car, you get to feel like some kind of hardy Viking warrior braving the bitter chill in a quest for adventure and glory, or at least a pay cheque and groceries. 
What doesn't make you feel like a warrior is when it's mid March and the sky is grey and there is another god damn 20 centimetres (7 inches)  of snow and you're sick of shovelling, and you're sick of your salt-stained winter boots, and you're sick of your fingertips tingling with cold and you wonder why the god damn Vikings even bothered coming to this benighted country because who would ever choose to live in such a cold damp nightmare when they could be in Florida, or at the very least, Northern Maine?
All that to say, that at times Ottawa (the second coldest capital city in the world after Ulan Bator, Mongolia) can wear on the nerves.
But, after a hard couple of weeks, I had a good day, which reminded me of all the reasons I love this place. Skipping work, the kiddo and I waved her daddy off for the day, lolled in our PJ's for a couple of hours, then hit the road. I climbed onto my bike, attached the trailer, and sped along the city's amazing network of kilometres and kilometres (miles and miles) of bike paths. The trail we took wended along the mighty Ottawa River, a big, obnoxious and aggressive body of water, probably better suited to some city with major attitude, like New York or London, than apologetic Ottawa. Still the River is ours and it gives us something to strive for and live up to (and curse when the bridges are inevitably gridlocked).
The path took me past a ton of Ottawa's main attractions. We zipped by the National Archives, the Supreme Court and the Gothic looking parliament buildings. You see all of this history and culture, not from Wellington Street, which is how you're supposed to view the buildings, but from the path, which is far below, at water level. It's kind of fun, like Peeping Tom-ing on National Heritage, but without the illegality or feeling of skeeviness. 
We parked at the locks, a series of dams that regulate the Rideau Canal. The Canala allows access from the Ottawa River to the even mightier and more aggressive St. Lawrence 200 km (125 miles - for God's sake, people, go metric already!) to the South. 
We crossed the locks on foot, then climbed the big hill up to the promontory where the National Gallery gleams like a crystal palace. It's an amazing building -- all glass, with soaring, Gothic elements echoing the parliament buildings you can see from its windows. 
The kid hadn't been there in a year or two and we spent a lovely hour wandering around, trying unsuccessfully to touch paintings, cuddle camel sculptures and shouting at any portrait featuring a man with a white beard (away, Santa, shoo! -- Little Lady doesn't dig the Claus) until we had a restorative rice cake and peanut butter snack in the cafe.
Cycling back, we passed a goose and her five yellow, fuzzy goslings. Little Lady was tunelessly singing in the trailer, there was not a car or a hill to be seen on the path, and I thought the Vikings may have been on to something after all.

1 comment:

  1. Love your description of Ottawa, warms my little expat heart, but I love even more your metric comment as I am now forced to convert celsius to fahrenheit, kilometres to miles, metres to feet, and on. I find myself more determined to cling to our neighbours, colours, and centres - I've actually found myself shouting at D when he ends the alphabet song with zee, or says soda, of all things.The most annoying word. What will become of our little B? I'll have to send her to you in Ottawa for some sensible Canadiafying.