On March 22nd 2015, my husband and I were all set to leave for the capital city of Canada, Ottawa. It was our first time visiting this portion of the ‘land of maples’ (we’ve previously been to beautiful Whistler, to see the most amazing fall colors, and Vancouver too!). The purpose of our visit to Ottawa was most importantly, to get our US visas renewed and stamped. But of course, since we were going for five days, we made plans to do a little sightseeing, a little shopping for souvenirs…basically everything touristy you can think about, albeit freezing cold, with real feel temperatures lingering around -25 degrees Fahrenheit!
So Sunday morning arrived and my husband, who has an OCD with time and planning, came up with the idea of leaving home early for our road trip to Ottawa. And so we did, at 6:45 am!! My husband estimated that the journey would take about 8-9 hours, including stopovers for food, at the border and so on. It was the first time that we were on the road, in our car, so early in the morning, and it was actually very calming to see the daylight gradually pour in, like brush strokes to a painting…ah, nature’s beautiful canvas of art! Very soon though, the constantly hungry me needed some breakfast to tame the ferocious growls from my tummy. And so we made our first stop of the trip at good ol’, convenient McD’s, for a couple of their breakfast muffin sandwiches. What a relief! Now I was ready to be on the road for a good number of hours, without feeling starving hungry…or maybe not! Because in about a little over three hours, my tummy was slowly nudging me for lunch!! Funny enough, my husband and I planned exactly where we would be eating each of our meals for a majority of the trip! The faithful ‘Yelp’ers in us did all the prior research, and so we head off to Lotus restaurant for lunch, in Watertown, New York. The restaurant is known for it’s special house pho and boba tea, aka the bubble tea. Now I’m a big, big fan of bubble tea, and I also love all versions of noodles in soup. So without any delay or confusion, my husband and I ordered the house special pho and honeydew boba teas. By far, it was the best pho and bubble tea I have ever had! Absolutely yumm! The pho was so comforting, with a flavorsome beef broth, brisket, tendon and meatballs, along with fresh basil and bean sprouts. And the boba tea was simply a delight. Sweet and refreshing! Craving for some pho now…After a lovely, heavy Vietnamese meal, my husband and I headed off the border and on the way, we visited Thousand Islands. If you click on the link here, you’ll see just how gorgeous these islands are, especially in the summer. As the name suggests, there are over a 1000 islands, 1864 to be precise, all around the US-Canada border. We visited Alexandria Bay in New York, which is also known as the heart of the Thousand Islands. It was nice to get a glimpse of the houses on the islands from a distance. Wouldn’t be surprised to find out if the properties were worth a million dollars each! Since it was off-season and a Sunday, Alexandria Bay seemed very isolated! We hardly saw anyone on the roads. All the shops were closed for business. It was like visiting a spooky haunted town during the day…We ended up just driving around for a bit, before we made our way to the border. We saw some bridges in a funky green color like what you see in amusement parks, and we also caught sight of a dainty deer, which sadly got alarmed as we parked the car. Nevertheless, I clicked away pictures of the little one scramming and leaping away to safety. Also saw a group of large birds on the snow. Not sure what birds these were though…(that unintentionally rhymed by the way!) Shortly after, my husband and I reached the border for our passport checks, which barely was a couple of minutes. And then off we went to our accommodation for the trip, which was through the online service, Air B and B. My husband and I have used Air B and B about five times now for various trips and it is always such a convenient, affordable option. Better yet, our accommodation at Ottawa included breakfast! It was a great deal for our five-day stay and it was the first time we booked a single bedroom instead of an entire house for a larger group. Surely it was an added plus that we hardly saw the house owner around, and so it pretty much felt like we had the place to ourselves. We just stayed back at the accommodation for a bit and napped for a little while after the long journey on the road. And soon enough, dinnertime arrived, and we head off to a Mexican restaurant called El Camino. I’m generally not a big fan of Mexican food to be honest. At the most, I’m fond of tacos and on looking up in Yelp, lo and behold, El Camino had rave reviews about their fish tacos, particularly! So we got to El Camino and one needs to climb down a stairway to get to the restaurant, and the setting reminded me of Spot Dessert Bar in East Village, Manhattan, where I fondly remember myself thoroughly enjoying their famous chocolate green tea lava cake! Drool-worthy stuff! So at El Camino, my husband was adventurous and he went ahead and ordered the ox tongue tacos. That’s right. Ox tongue! I had a bit to taste and the meat reminded me of beef. It was nice. But I ordered the crispy fish tacos and those were amazing!! The best tacos I’ve ever had, hands down!! The crispy fish didn’t feel greasy at all and it seemed so freshly made. We also ordered drinks with our meal. My husband had this spicy drink called El Fuego! Definitely not for the faint-hearted like me. I definitely have a low threshold for spicy food. It’s gotten better over the years, but this drink actually left my lips tingling for a good number of minutes with just one sip to taste! The drink had a little red bird’s eye chili smashed in, and boy, it sure was spicy! My husband in fact stated that it was the best mix he had ever had! The drink that I had was alright, nothing exceptional. It was called Camino Club and I went for it because it had pineapple, which is one of my favorite tropical fruits. It will come as no surprise but with two tacos, I wasn’t feeling sufficiently full enough. So on Yelp, I also found out that the shrimp dumplings here are supposedly fantastic. I thought it was interesting to find such an item in a Mexican menu and ordered a plate of the dumplings. However, this was the sole disappointment of that meal. I didn’t quite enjoy the dumplings. Didn’t find it flavorsome, but the rest of the dinner was fantastic! The tacos left a lasting impression on me! And with that my husband and I left, off to retire for the night…That wrapped up day 1 in Ottawa!
The next morning, my husband and I had the appointment at the consulate. On the way, we were very amused to find roads under construction with bright, almost neon, orange markings, rather than the standard yellow markings. How interesting?! It was FREEEZING cold that morning! We had never experienced anything of the sort, ever! My husband, who is teased for having thick skin and normally doesn’t cringe with cold, found this day harshly cold. The wind was too much to handle. But my husband and I were very fortunate. We found a parking area the previous night itself, and lucky enough, we found the same spot vacant the morning of the appointment. The parking was just a couple of minutes away. So we didn’t need to be outside the consulate for long and suffer in the cold! The interview at the consulate was a breeze and got over soon enough. Next, we head off to the popular Byward Market, one of the oldest and largest public markets in Canada. On the lampposts, I saw Byward market and underneath the words, Marche By, in French I assume. We were reminded of our time in Boston and our visit to Quincy Market. There were varied kinds of cuisines on offer from Mexican to Indian. But my husband and I settled for a good ol’ Bento box, which was sufficient for each of us. An adorable old lady served us our lunch that afternoon. The food had a lovely homemade vibe and we even got miso soup along with our bento boxes. In the Byward market, while exploring around, we did come across a store which had all these local products on sale such as syrups, jams, souvenirs like magnets and so on. My husband and I did purchase a magnet from here, one with the picture of a duck. One of our collections is of magnets, whenever we go somewhere new together. We also bought a jam, a jelly and ice wine syrup for the first time, which definitely got us all excited! What I most remember from visiting this store, is the lady, who I assume is the owner of the store. On speaking with her and asking her for recommendations, she went out of her way and took her time to make us aware of all the attractions around Ottawa. She provided us with a map around the market and fed us with so much information. We were ever so grateful to had come across her. She even contacted the lad at the information booth to find out if some of the museums she mentioned about to us would be open or not. A wonderful lady. After lunch, my husband and I visited the Notre Dame Basilica. It is a work of art. Beautiful! Words would not do justice to describe the beauty. My husband and I just sat there for a few minutes and took it all in. Just opposite to the basilica, we saw the science and technology museum, and also caught sight of a giant spider! Really huge! We decided to make use of the cold day to visit museums in which we could seek shelter from the freeze outdoors. So we head off to the Diefenbunker Museum, which is Canada’s Cold War Museum. We read the many reviews online about the museum and the visit lived up to the hype and expectations. What made the experience a great one was the sheer enthusiasm of our guide, who made us feel like we were actually facing a day underground, in this cold war bunker. My husband and I were also distracted many a times with three little adorable Asian girls, who were cuteness personified, each. Especially the youngest one in her bright pink fluffy onesie! They were the only kids in the group and were given the task of a scavenger hunt from the museum. It was a wonderful experience at the cold war museum, the first of its kind for me. Soon enough, it was dinnertime, and we went to Zaki Broast and Grill. I’m trying to remember if I’ve had broast chicken before… I don’t think I have. It was a simple combo meal, like the one you find in a regular KFC, with a bun and fries on the side. But the chicken was quite amazing. Even though it was fast food, it was nice, crispy, and piping hot! Felt fresh! I would love to go there again someday, hopefully! My husband and I really enjoyed the dinner. On our way back to our Air B n B, we stopped by Select, the convenience store with Shell gas stations. It brought back fond memories for us, as my husband and I, were both raised in the Middle East, in Oman to be specific. It’s the place, where growing up, we would go for buying a little something to eat. Maybe a sandwich, or something sweet. We bought a bottle of water and got back feeling warm and fuzzy inside, reminiscing those good ol’ memories…
Day three arrived, and my husband and I set out for a cultural experience. We decided to hang around the Little Italy and Chinatown of Ottawa. Found interesting graffiti under a tunnel, with figures that resembled shadows of people from an olden time. There was no parking nearby per se and it was rather cold to park the car a little further off and walk to the tunnel. So my husband, very sweetly, offered to go up and down the road, through the tunnel a couple of times, just so that I could get a few photos of the graffiti! We just drove around and then visited Chinatown next, where we planned to have a dim sum lunch that afternoon. There was a beautiful, oriental arch on the road to mark the beginning of Chinatown, I guess. We didn’t enter through the arch at first but we knew that we had to find the arch after having read about it online… We got into Hung Sum restaurant. Again, based on the reviews online on Yelp, we went ahead and ordered one of our favorites – pork bun, and we also ordered a few other items on the menu as well. The pork buns were not the best we have ever had. I’d say the best so far have been the ones from Ippudo in New York! Those pork buns were not just yummy, but so cute and gorgeous to even look at! Coming back to Hung Sum, what my husband and I liked the most was the shrimp shumai. And there were these coriander shrimp dumplings, which were also nice too. My husband wasn’t very fond of the turnip shortcakes but I quite enjoyed them. On the whole, lunch here was as always the case with dim sum, cleansing and light! After lunch, we decided to visit the Royal Canadian Mint. It was the first mint experience for both my husband and myself. We had to wait for about half an hour for the next guided tour and so to while away our time, we walked around the gift shop at the mint. We came across all these different shiny coins of varied sizes, in silver and gold. Photography was not permitted but we were allowed to take a photo of this ridiculously heavy gold bar that weighed 28 pounds!! Soon enough, the tour began and it was actually very interesting to learn about the entire process of making coins. The tour guide often included little sessions of trivia, trying to test the group’s knowledge and it was a fun experience. Museums always make me feel like a student again and remind me of those old trips from the school with the entire class! Sigh… The guide showed us a coin with Swarovski crystals, and also showed us the unique winter Olympic and Paralympic medals with designs of the orca and raven, respectively. I found the story behind the medals very interesting. Each medal was a cropped piece from the complete artworks of the orca and raven, much like putting together the pieces to a puzzle. And why were orca and raven chosen? Because orcas are highly social animals and show strong sense of community, much like athletes of a nation coming together to represent a strong team. And the raven was chosen for the artwork of the Paralympic medals, because raven is a symbol for overcoming challenges. How fitting?! After the tour, our tummies were growling a tad bit, because of the relatively light lunch that afternoon. So my husband and I went to this place called Cacao 70. It is surely cocoa heaven, with items on the menu such as chocolate pizza! It seemed like a charming, cozy place to catch up, and was occupied largely by students. I ordered a simple old school American hot chocolate. But yumm! It was probably the best one I’ve had so far… But I’m now remembering the amazing Gu hot chocolate that I used to love while studying in London…We had to take pictures of the world’s largest natural ice skating rink, the Rideau Canal. So we drove by, parked and walked around for a bit, to get a good view of the canal. At the time, there was no one skating on the ice. Probably the ice was slowly melting away with the onset of spring. We walked for a bit, clicked a few pictures and then head for an early lunch. My husband and I went to Shaan curry house for some comforting Indian food. And it was every bit comforting! We had those big bonda-sized samosas, naan, rice, lentil curry and also chicken, beef and lamb curries. Everything was spot on, delicious! I especially enjoyed the rice and lentil curry, or as they say in Hindi, the dal-chaawal!
The next morning, my husband had some work to take care of. So we stayed indoors till lunchtime, while he did work. And then for lunch, we decided to have shawarma, what we grew up on, back in Oman! So the place we went, which was Castle Shawarma, offered something we had never come across. They had three different kinds of garlic sauce! Until that day, I had only come across the white garlic sauce. But here, there was a white garlic sauce, an orange spicy garlic sauce and a green garlic sauce with oregano! Amazing! So from the ever trustworthy Yelp reviews, we went for the orange sauce. I kind of wish that I had ordered one with the spicy sauce and the other with the oregano. But to begin with, ordering two shawarmas was a big mistake! Each chicken shawarma was massively stuffed with filling and by the time I finished with one, I was ready to burst! I couldn’t eat anymore. So I actually packed the second one and had it on the way, a couple of hours later…I quite liked the shawarma, but I think I’ve had better ones back in Muscat… Those ordinary ones with the not so ordinary taste with French fries included…Anyways, after that heavy lunch my husband and I needed to just get moving to digest all of that food and so we decided to drive for a couple of hours, to visit Mont Tremblant, in the city of Quebec. We walked around this ski resort, where there was a bunch of small stores with souvenirs and clothes, and little cafes too. The place was so charming with cobbled pathways and brightly painted, cute little shops. My husband and I got into a Christmas store, where we bought an ornament in the shape of a spoon. And we also got it engraved in the store for that personalized touch and now, my husband and I have decided to make this a tradition and a new collection. That when we travel to somewhere new, we will visit a local Christmas store, and buy an ornament for our collection, which we will hang up on our Christmas tree every year! So in many years time, we will get to see a number of ornaments on our tree, with many trips and stories to revisit… In the ski resort, there was this one snow-covered slope on which a sledge ride competition was taking place. That was fun for us to watch! And then later, my husband and I just sat for a bit in this open area with many wooden lounge chairs. That was so relaxing… Just watching people go by, dogs playing around in the snow, cute little children giggling and running around…Ah! We walked around some more and came across this little shop that sold everything related to maple syrup. And just outside the shop, they were selling maple taffy on snow! My husband and I had never come across something of the sort and we found the whole experience very exciting. So the man at the shop poured some steaming hot maple syrup on a barrel of snow, and gave each of us a stick. Then a minute later, the syrup hardened and after winding it on to the stick, we had our very own maple taffy on snow, on a stick! And oh! It was so yummy! We felt like bears just licking away honey off a stick! I look forward to having that experience again! Soon, we drove back to Ottawa but on the way, we stopped at Pho Truc Lien for dinner. I had the regular pho, while my husband tried out a Vietnamese chicken curry with sweet potatoes. Ever since that trip, I’ve been a big fan of pho. I love most foods with noodles. Pad Thai, ramen, … And now, pho. The pho at Lotus Restaurant was, however, much more flavorsome than the one I had here. Not to say that the pho from here tasted bad or anything of the sort. I still enjoyed my dinner thoroughly because it still had the wonderful, cleansing power as always.
The next morning, my husband was yet again stuck with work!! But not for long though. So we started our day out with lunch at Brampton Meats. Now this place didn’t look one bit fancy, It was a fairly big space divided into two parts – one where people made their orders for takeout or catering, and another section with Indian sweets. There were about three small tables for people to sit and eat, but again the place is probably one of the least fancy places I’ve been to so far for a meal. However, the food from here was fantastic and felt so homemade and fresh! I still remember the naan I had from there. One of the best I’ve ever had to date! That good! My husband and I ordered a non-vegetarian thali each. Even something as simple as the raita tasted special, for some reason. The curries were just lip- smacking good! Oh, it was all good! The owner of the place mentioned that he was thinking about starting a venture here in Jersey. I really hope that works out soon enough! After the heavy lunch, the two of us decided to visit an art gallery and a museum. We first went to the Cube art gallery, to view an exhibition of Daphne Odjig’s works. Now my husband and I had no idea who Daphne Odjig is, up until that morning. We found out that she is a celebrated Canadian First Nations artist, who is presently 95 years of age and has been honored with many awards over the years. She still lives to this day and we were able to see some of her artwork that were dated as recent as 2014, last year. Her artwork is very interesting, with a lot of the recent ones being with color pencils. All the characters in her artwork are linked seamlessly with each other, just flow into each other. One piece that I especially remember is the one of a girl dreaming about some disturbing looking being. And there were a few adorable ones depicting a family welcoming a newborn baby. The choice of colors was mostly red, blue, green and orange. So the artwork was mostly chirpy, bright hued except for a handful, couple of them maybe, done in black and white. We went on to see the other works on display in the gallery. And I must say, the collection there was highly inspiring and beautiful! I was impressed and loved pretty much every piece there in Cube gallery. Exquisite! I secretly wish I had a house with all those paintings adorning the walls all over! There, not so much a secret now…Anyhow, after that wonderful visit to the gallery, we head off to the Canadian Musuem of History. We were able to go in for free as the museum is open for general admission to the masses from 4 to 8 pm. This is definitely one of the best museums I’ve been to. Very well put together, with so much of history about the Aboriginal Canadians. My husband and I were most definitely intrigued. On another floor, there was a special presentation of the Empress of Ireland, which was a ship that unfortunately sank years ago, in 1914, with over a 1000 in number of casualties. Out of about a 1500 on board, thousands didn’t make it and so only, a few hundreds survived, making this the worst disaster in Canadian maritime history! Again, all the information here was well put together, with the aid of all kinds of media, whether audio or video, and at times we really felt like we were on the ship, or in the water trying to escape, in the midst of all the chaos… We came across letters, handwritten notes, china, everything that can be considered as memorabilia to give us a real sense of those times, the ship, the crew, the passengers, their families and the tragedy that ensued…
And just like that, our time in Ottawa was soon coming to an end. Later in the evening, we went to Sushi Village for dinner. We shared a sushi combo and tried out crispy mango sushi for the very first time… It’s been a while since I’ve had some good sushi… Think I’ll go get some in the near future ☺ And with that, that’s the end of this very long blog… To many more adventures!