Two days in Ottawa

I once spent a couple of days in wintry Ottawa. I don’t recommend it; my hands were very cold. Here’s the story.

Snow was falling and I had to use the wipers to get the snow off the windscreen. We were driving from Montreal to Ottawa, where we would spend a night.

We made it to Ottawa and to the hotel. The corridor from the underground car park resembled a Mexican prison, though Mexican prisons probably have better standards.

But the hotel room was amazing. There was a kitchen about five times larger than our kitchen at home. The mattress on the bed was about a foot high. There was a computer, a printer, two large television sets, and a balcony. There were four rooms in total, but perhaps there were more rooms that I hadn’t found yet.

The TV was difficult to setup. I didn’t want to watch TV so I don’t even know why I was trying to set it up. When I finally got the TV working, inane chatter instantly started coming out of it. Annoying adverts and pointless drivel. I hate TV.

Then a program about the Canadian border control came on and we laughed at that. There was a man who got in trouble at the Canadian border because officials found bestial drawings on his computer. Drawings of people fucking animals (or animals fucking people; the program never went into detail about the pictures). Then the TV froze. Grrr.

After a shower, we set out for an evening stroll. My hands began to feel uncomfortably cold. I was wearing leather gloves but they somehow made my hands colder, not warmer. As we walked down the street, I noticed that the steet signs were a curious mix of French and English. For example, one street sign said “Rue Andre Street” which translates to “Street Andrew Street”. There was even one street sign that said, “Av Park Av” (Avenue Park Avenue).

We glimpsed the Rideau canal, a 200-km canal that connects Ottawa with the Saint Lawrence River. The canal was frozen over. I saw one skater, then two, and I said, “Hey look, two skaters!” And then I saw two more. And as we kept walking across the bridge, the view unfolded: the canal was very long and there were dozens of skaters on it.

“This is amazing!” I said. “You could get to work by skating along the canal!” We saw two people walking on the canal, so we decided to go down and walk on it too. The ice wasn’t slippery because there was snow laying on top of it.

Eventually we walked off the canal and back onto the road. We found ByWard Market, another one of Ottawa’s famous sites. There were rows of lights and it looked pretty.

We ate at a mussels restaurant. The restaurant wasn’t worth writing about. The only thing worth mentioning is that the waitress was Australian.

When we left the restaurant, the air was even colder. We were planning to go to Parliament Hill next (the Canadian equivalent of the Palace of Westminster) but I said, “Can we just go back to the hotel?” So, we headed back to the hotel.

But we came across Parliament Hill anyway. It had a formidable clock tower that looked like Big Ben. It was shrouded in snow and lit from above. It reminded me of the scene in Peter Pan where the kids are flying around the Houses of Parliament. Impressive.

As we walked back to the hotel, I was in high spirits thanks to the wine. We finally got back to the hotel room. It was nice to get back. The bed was thick and comfy and the duvet was white like a cloud. We went to sleep around midnight.

The next morning, we ate breakfast in a small room with large windows on the third floor. There was the usual fare: bacon, eggs, bread, cheese, cereals, more bread, muffins, apples, tea, coffee, and juice. But I’m on a gluten and dairy free diet so all I could eat was fruit. I had three plates of fruit.

There were some annoying Canadians. (Or were they American? I can’t tell them apart.) They asked obvious questions and they thought out loud. This one Canadian woman pointed to some fruit and asked, “Do you serve this every day?” The worker behind the counter said, “Yes, and I chop it all myself every morning.”

Before we left the breakfast room, we stole a load of fruit and two breakfast-sized packets of Frosted Flakes.

We went back to the room and started packing. Yep, we had arrived only the before, and yet it was already time to pack. I wanted to steal a pillow as it was very soft. My girlfriend was worried because she thought someone would see me carrying the pillow.

“I’ll take it straight to the car,” I said.

“It’s best if you leave it,” she said.

I chose to ignore her and I put the pillow in a Dollarama bag.

We went to the hotel’s car park. I stuck our belongings inside the car, along with my new pillow.

We drove to Parliament Hill and parked nearby. Then we started walking towards ByWard Market again. Last night it had looked nice as there had been pretty lights. But today all the shops were closed because it was a Sunday. We walked up to a government building and I went inside because I was cold. My girlfriend tried to stop me but failed.

Inside, a guard said, “Puis-je vous aider?”

I said, in English, “Is this open?”

He said, “I can’t hear you.”

I said, “Is this open?”

“What? I can’t understand you.” The guard got up from his desk. He was like a policeman, official, with a uniform. Probably he had a gun too I imagine.

I said again, “Is this building open today?”

Finally, he understood me. He said, “You can’t look around here. You should go to Parliament Hill.”

I said, “Oh, right, okay, sorry. I guess I got the wrong building. Thank you!” and left.

“You went in before I could stop you!” my girlfriend said to me.

We walked up to Parliament Hill again. In the daylight, it looked like something out of Harry Potter. Outside the building was a field of untrodden snow. My girlfriend made me pose for pictures and I took a few of her. (I think the photos I took are better).

Outside the building was a fire. I tried warming my hands but it didn’t work.

“I need gloves,” I said to my girlfriend.

“You have gloves,” she said.

“I need better gloves. These gloves are leather and they’re only making my hands colder.”

We went to the Parliament building. A sign said FREE TOUR, so we went inside. If something says ‘free’ then we don’t need telling twice.

The tour was actually quite good. We saw a library straight out of Beauty and the Beast, the rooms where the parliament is held and the room for the judges.

There were seats reserved for Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. On either side of these seats were tiny seats for the Queen’s and Duke’s helpers. We didn’t see Steven Harper, nor did we see the Queen of England and the Duke of Edinburgh.

After the tour, we walked around outside aimlessly. My hands were getting cold again. We went to Dollarama so I could buy some gloves but I couldn’t find any. I did buy some nuts though.

Some holidays you enjoy, and some holidays you can only enjoy several years later when you are wearing a pair of rose-tinted glasses. This holiday was one of the latter. It was -10oC and my hands were numb, and both my girlfriend and I were both walking around aimlessly. “Are we going anywhere in particular?” I asked my girlfriend. “My hands were cold.”

“No,” she said.

“How about this then,” I said. “Right now we do what I want to do, and then afterwards we can do what you want to do.”

I dived into the first pub I saw. It was an Irish pub and it looked warm. We sat next to the window in the sunlight. And by god, it felt nice. The warmth and sunlight felt like summer. Irish music was playing; I love Irish music. The sense of comradery, belonging, and acceptance, of happiness despite hardship and depression.

We couldn’t stay there all day though. When we eventually left, we went back to the canal because I wanted to skate on it. There, we learned that the price to rent skates was $17 for two hours. My girlfriend thought it was too expensive, but thought, “When will I have this chance again?” So, we paid $34 for a pair of skates each. There were no lockers to put our shoes, so we had to stuff our shoes into shelves which were already crammed with other people’s shoes. A good place to steal a new pair of shoes, I thought.

We went out onto the canal and started skating. I saw one guy whose feet were in an upside-down V shape. Obviously, his skates were too big or weren’t tight enough. His feet should be straight, not bent. I laughed at him in my head. HAHAHAHA! What a loser. It was impossible to skate like that. He practically had to walk; it was like he had to drag his fucking skates.

My hands were cold. We had to keep popping into these little huts so I could rewarm my hands. Another problem was that my own skates weren’t tight enough and it made skating difficult. I realised that I was a bit like the loser I had seen earlier.

Later, I fell over while skating. As I picked myself up, I heard a voice that said, “HI, my name’s Anabel, what’s your name?” I turned to see a little girl standing next to me.

“Come on now, Anabel,” said her father, who was standing nearby.

But Anabel repeated herself – “Hi, my name’s Anabel, what’s your name?” She said the words in exactly the same way as the first time, without any change in tone.

“My name’s Paul,” I said.

I put out my hand. She shook it. I got up.

Afterwards, while taking my skates off, I watched a guy expertly putting on his skates. He took like twenty minutes putting on his skates, being really careful to tighten them. Every time he put his laces though a new set of holes he pulled the laces tight, really tight. Then he saw me watching him and he looked uncomfortable. I tried using my eyes to say “Thank you, now I know what to do.” He didn’t understand me though.

After the ice-skating, we walked back to the car. My hands were freezing. My girlfriend let me borrow her gloves. After five minutes without her gloves, she began to realise how cold it really was. She said to me, “How have you been able to go without gloves the whole day? You’re my hero today.”

We got in the car. The cold wasn’t funny anymore; my hands hurt. I turned on the car’s heating system. This made cold air blow into the car. Once we had the engine on though, the air started to warm up.

As we drove back home, the car slowly grew warm and the cold left my fingers. It took about half an hour for the cold to leave my fingers completely. My left index finger was the last to unfreeze, and it was still cold long after the rest of my body had warmed up. My girlfriend held my index finger to warm it up. Her touch was painful, but it worked: warmth came back to it.

On the expressway home, I had to take an exit but there was a police van to my right. I had a choice: either dslow down to get behind him or speed up to pass him. I chose to speed up. I hoped he didn’t mind that I was temporarily going over the speed limit. Then he flashed his lights at me.

“What the fuck?” I said. “Maybe he was just warning me.”

Then he flashed his lights again. I decided to ignore it. I turned off the expressway. He followed me. Then he flashed his lights at me a third time. There were red traffic lights ahead so I had to stop. The police van pulled up alongside me. The policeman inside motioned that he wanted to talk. My girlfriend wound down her window.

“Turn on your lights!” he shouted, then drove off. My headlights had been off during the entire trip! I hadn’t even noticed how dark it was.

We eventually got home. We parked the car in a car park (after getting lost and driving round the block twice). We walked the rest of the way to our apartment. My girlfriend’s back was hurting. My hands were cold again.

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