Category Archives: Canada

Visit Ottawa

Admin days are expensive.

Table with laptop, notepad and coffee mug.
Admin Day

It is not uncommon for us to have ‘admin days’. We use these to catch up on the blog or keep us out of trouble on rainy days. This admin day started out as normal but took a very unusual twist. It led us to booking flights to Ottawa!

We were staying with our daughter at the time and it was just after Christmas. Louise and I sat down at the kitchen table, catching up with emails and blog posts. After a few hours, my mind started to wonder to travel (as it often does) and I started to look for last minute deals to Europe. I found some really good priced mid week breaks to Rome, Venice and Barcelona leaving in a month’s time. Eagerly I searched and priced up a 4 star hotel. Located in Romes city centre to include transfers, luggage and breakfast.

I looked across the table and asked Louise if she had anything planned for that week and she asked me why. Reasonable question as I was supposed to be sorting out insurance. When I told her that I was looking for a holiday she asked me to show her my screen. Louise then turned her screen around we were both on the same website but Louise was looking for flights to Canada!

From a mid week break in Rome to two weeks in Ottawa.

maple leaf
Maple Leaf

Louise has lived in Ottawa before and has lots of friends out there. I have never been but Canada is somewhere I have always felt a connection to. My parents and grandparents had been and told me so many tales of their adventures. I really wanted to explore Canada.

It’s clear how much Louise misses Ottawa and that she hasn’t seen her friends for a long time. I am not going to pass this idea up! We decide on dates go down to the travel agent in town to book the flights before we change our mind. We wonder if the travel agent will be able to get it cheaper than us so figure it can’t hurt to pop in.

Within no time at all we exit the travel agents with the confirmation in our hands. In just 4 weeks’ time we will be heading off for two weeks in Ottawa and we are so excited! Over the next few weeks we organise everything we need, from ski wear to travel insurance.  

Train problems

Suitcase
On our way!

Upon checking the train times to London, we find out that part of the line will be closed for a few days before we fly. This really puts a spanner in the works. There isn’t really anywhere down there we can leave the van so she needs to stay at home. My parents let us come to London a few days early and we hire a taxi to get to Heathrow. It felt like a crazy week just getting from the house to the airport.

Check In Time

an airport terminal
Airport Terminal

Our alarm went off at 5am, with the taxi coming at 6am. We bundled our suitcases in (bleary eyed) but were so excited to get underway. The journey was smooth and there was hardly any traffic. It was quiet as we went through the city centre before arriving at the airport. It was still dark when we arrived and unloaded our stuff onto a trolley before checking in.

We were able to check in digitally and print off all of our luggage tags and boarding passes. After dropping our luggage off and having our passports checked we decided that breakfast was in order. It was starting to get light out now. Once through check-in, there were plenty of shops and restaurants to choose from. The airport was still pretty quiet so we didn’t have to wait long. Our flight wasn’t for a while yet but I insisted we get there really early just so that we could really early. However 5 hours early proved to be a bit too much time. We spent ages just hanging around waiting for the announcement of which gate we needed to be at.

Fly Air Canada

Air canada plane
Air Canada plane

Heathrow airport is massive. Once we were told which gate we needed to get to, it was a very long walk! We walked under the runway to our gate which was equally scary and exciting for someone like me who doesn’t fly much!

It wasn’t long after we arrived at the gate that they started to let people board. We were surprised that the plane was very quiet, only a third full. There were plenty of empty seats around the plane. Covid hadn’t really affected much of the world at this point. It was still mainly contained in China but it was on the radar. Even still, it was nice to feel that you had more space on the plane.

The flight was smooth and the staff at Air Canada were absolutely amazing. It was a day flight and the meals were pretty darn good for aeroplane food. I would have had more if it was on offer but actually the portion sizes were great!  Drinks, including alcoholic and soft, were free and we were also given snacks of pretzels too.  The staff were very attentive but not intrusive. All were happy and smiling and just a pleasure to fly with.

Approaching Canada

View of Greenland from the aeroplane window
Flying over Greenland

The screens in front of us displayed information about the flight as well as movies and radio stations. Eagerly wanting to land, we spent a large portion of the flight just watching our progress and looking out of the window at the view.  We flew from Heathrow centrally up England to where we could see both the east and west coastlines of Northern England at the same time. It was then we changed direction towards Greenland before coming down the east cost of Canada to Ottawa.

Apart from being very ticklish at altitude for some reason I found the flight to be very easy. Is this a thing? I would love to know if anyone else has this.

Video of our first two days.

Coming over Greenland we started to see the white snow laying on the ground. Over Canada the scenery seemed very much like a desolate plateau with rugged but uninhabitable land. It was a long time before we saw any signs of human settlement and then towns and cities started to appear. As we got closer to Ottawa we were lucky enough to have a clear sky as we descended under the snow filled clouds so we could see the snow on the roads and the city coming into focus.

Landing was gentle and we were able to get through customs quickly after a few questions from border control such as why were we coming to Canada and did we know anyone here etc. After collecting out baggage, Louise noticed that there was a Tim Hortons in the terminal. Before we had even left the airport I had my first taste of Canadian hot chocolate and Timbits! Tim Horton’s is similar to Costa and Starbucks but better! It was to become almost a daily visit as we travelled around the city exploring.

First days in Ottawa, Canada.

We left the airport and took in the cold air and snowy landscape. It took my breath away as we had the smallest sprinkling of snow as if a “welcome to Canada” from mother nature. After taking a quick airport selfie we bundled into a taxi and left to find our air B+B.  

Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, is located on the lower east coast of the country and is actually the fourth largest city in Canada. It didn’t feel much like a city as we took the short journey from the airport to Main Street in Ottawa’s Old Ottawa east. It wasn’t at all like I expected yet was exactly what I expected, I can’t explain it.

Everyone was really friendly and welcoming, Nothing was too much trouble and the atmosphere was very calm. We stopped off en route to buy some goods at the supermarket to see us through until the next day as we just wanted to get to the house and sleep. We had been on the go since 5 am UK time and didnt sleep on the plane.

Apartment

Our apartment was set smack in between Rideau River and the Rideau Canal. It was a reasonable walk or short bus ride in to the city centre. We found the property on Air B+B and were really impressed. It was a basement apartment easily accessible by both train and bus.

Entering the property via a door next to the garage, we headed downstairs. to the left o the stairs was the ‘spare’ room, a blow up bed for extra guests as well as the laundry machines but we would only be using this area for our suitcases. To the right of the stairs was the main room. It was U shaped with cupboards making up the middle wall. Bed around one side, table and chairs on the other and along the back wall was a couch and the kitchen. We also had access to outside however it was just under the decking for the above house. A bathroom also came off of the main room with a massive shower, toilet and sink.

We were not planning on being in the property very much as we had so many things to fit in. We found the Air B+B met all of our needs tremendously, we felt very safe and it was always warm inside.

Morning walk

Our body clock was at odds with the new time zone it found itself in so we were awake very early on our first day. So early that we decided to walk into the city from our lovely basement apartment and see the sun rise. As soon as we left the front door at 6:45 am, it was clear the snow-plough had been out and they had even done the pavement too! Ottawa is peaceful in the morning and the crisp air was refreshing.

Sadly, it was overcast and the sky was full of snow so we didn’t get much of a sunrise however we did see a black squirrel which I hadn’t seen before but apparently is seen as vermin here (Seen on our video). Louise took me for a tour of the city and wowzers did we walk some miles!

Built on a grid

Map of Ottawa
Map of Ottawa City

Ottawa was built on a grid system meaning roads are either going North/South or East/West. Louise taught me early to try and remember a couple of the streets in each direction so that I would be able to orientate myself and find my way home if we got separated. If you can find Gladstone Avenue and Bank Street, you can figure your way around from this intersection.

Using the Canal is also a great way to navigate as you can walk along the canal from Dowes Lake in the south to City Hall and to the Ottawa River in the north for views of the bridges and also see over to Quebec on a good day!

Parliament Hill.

Ottawa's Parliament building
Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings

On the northern side of the city, next to the Ottawa River, the Parliament buildings sit upon a hill overlooking the city. Although there is some refurbishment work going on at the moment it doesn’t take anything away from the grandeur and elegance of the buildings. With a Gothic feel to them and some resemblance to our own parliament building in the UK, it is unmistakable and unforgettable. From it’s lawn stretching from the centre block down to the Centennial Fountain, even under they grey snow clouds, it still looked amazing.

Before Covid hit, you could take guided tours of the buildings however these are currently suspended.

Centennial Fountain Ottawa
Centennial Fountain

The Senate of Canada building.

Ottawa Senate building
Senate of Canada building

Completed in 1912 and just across from the House of Commons used to be the main train station in Ottawa for over 50 years although the first train ran in 1854. When the line was opened, Ottawa was then called Bytown, named after Colonel John By who was instrumental in the construction of the canal. Bytown became Ottawa in 1855 and then the names were changed to match. The first trains ran along an 84km track to Prescott. Initially used to transport lumber to markets in the US and Montreal.

Sadly the railway line saw decreasing numbers over the years and the rails were pulled up in 1966. It wasn’t until 2019 that a new rail line was opened which we will talk more about in future posts.

The Senate of Canada building became a conference centre before housing the Senate whilst restoration work continues on the Centre Block. 21 Senate offices and three committee rooms were made to house the government officials during this time.

Chateau Laurier

Ottawa Chateau Laurier
Chateau Laurier

Across the lock system from the parliament buildings is the Chateau Laurier, a luxury hotel often referred to as Ottawa’s Castle. It sits rather proudly in the centre of Downtown Ottawa. Boasting 429 guest rooms in 660,000 square meters of style and sophistication. It was build between 1908 and 1912 and although the city had changed lots since it was built, it almost seems like the focus has always been on the chateau and the Parliament buildings next door.

We had a little peak inside and were blown away by its grandeur. Lots of pictures line the wall charting the history of the building and some of it guests as well as documenting the history of the capital city.

View from restaurant window
View of the parliament from the restaurant
inside chateau laurier
Public areas in Chateau Laurier

City Tour

Ottawa city sign

Louise then took me on foot all around the city, showing me places of interest and pointing out that from lots of different locations you could still see the chateau and the parliament buildings towering over the city from up on the hill.

We saw parks, museums, Bywood market, the spider statue outside the National gallery of Canada and of course another Tim Horton’s!

After that, we allowed ourselves a well earned rest when we got home that day after walking miles and miles and look over the maps to plan the rest of our holiday. We also had a lot of organising to do in order to meet up with some very special people.

Coming up!

We had so much to cram in to our visit to Ottawa that we didn’t know how we were going to manage!

Find out more about Winterlude, Skating on the Rideau Canal, Skiing, Beaver Tails, Hockey, Navigating the city and so much more!

We will be back soon with more about our adventure. Don’t forget to subscribe to the website and also to our Youtube Channel to keep up to date!

Ice Skating on Rideau Canal

The Canadian capital city of Ottawa is a stunning destination to visit. Full of history, culture and beautiful architecture. Winding through the city is the Rideau Canal. Although beautiful in the summer – in winter Rideau Canal turns into the world’s longest natural ice skating rink. Ottawa’s canal system is 7.8 km (4.8 miles) long and weaves along Downtown Ottawa. You can walk alongside the canal most of the way on Queen Elizabeth Drive. It is a popular route for joggers and dog walkers and beautiful in the fresh snow.

The canal was originally built as a supply route from Kingston to Montreal and was finished in 1832. It is the oldest continuously operating canal system in North America and has been named a UNESCO site. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the Rideau Canal opened for ice skating. Every year nearly one million people experience skating on the Rideau Canal!

Skateway Statistics

Rideau Canal UNESCO

The Rideau Canal ‘Skateway’ includes the canal and ends Dowes Lake. The total skating surface area is 165,621 square meters, larger than 105 national hockey league rinks or 90 Olympic sized hockey rinks! Underneath the ice rink, the water is frozen between 1 and 4.3 meters thick. The Rideau Canal Skating rink is checked regularly by safety teams and Froster’s.

What is a Froster?

A Froster is someone who is charged with maintaining the surfaces of the lake, 24/7 throughout the season. They will flood the top layer of the canal with fresh water. This will then freeze on top of the building ice. This repairs damage by skates and helps to thicken the surface.

Using a special drill, they dig into the ice and examine the core that is removed (about the diameter or a can of pop). They do this at various points along the canal and if any parts are not safe, they simply won’t open that part.

To get a really nice surface on top they then use a machine, commonly called a Zamboni after the inventor. They are specially made for the purpose of flooding the canal and have a reach of 60ft wide. It takes just one minute to fill the Zamboni with water, making the machine between 15/17 tonnes in weight! The machine floods around 400 meters of canal at a time and levels the surface. This practice is commonly done after 11 pm when the canal is quiet.

Services

When you are skating on the Rideau canal, you don’t have to worry about food or drink. Concession stands are at hand selling Beaver Tails (like a flat donut with toppings, not actual Beaver!). Fast food, skate rental, sleighs and rest areas line stretches of the canal. Skate rental is reasonably cheap at around $11 an hour (plus a $50 deposit) and the atmosphere is amazing. Children of all ages, and adults, learning to skate with friends and family. Once open, the skateway is available 24/7 and totally free to use. If you have your own equipment, you can enjoy skating on the Rideau Canal for free all season.

During Winterlude festival, all sorts of other activities can be seen on the Rideau Canal or Dowes lake other than Skating, including a winter triathlon and dragon boat racing! We also spotted a mobile DJ booth and disco on the ice!

Check out the official Canadian Tourism page for more!

We go Skating on Rideau Canal!

Snow settled on the ice

We had planned our trip to co-inside with Winterlude festival and we were desperate to go skating on Rideau Canal. We had some setback with our planning as we had so much to fit in. If we were off doing something else, the Canal was open and the weather glorious. If we had a day in mind to go skating, the Rideau canal was either closed due to strangely mild temperatures melting the surface or it was snowing so heavy you couldn’t see!

We walked or took the bus past the canal every day whilst we were exploring the city of Ottawa. We were always on the look out to see how it was doing and amazed at the more advanced skaters. Commuters would just be zipping down the canal to and from work! How many people can say they ice skate to work – it is breathtaking.

A couple of days before we flew home we were lucky enough to find a break in the weather and our schedule where we could actually have a go.

Face your fear

Stood at the edge of the canal, rented skates in hand… we looked at each other and took in the enormity of what was about to happen. We had always been told not to stand on frozen water as it could crack but here we were, about to join hundreds of people along the canal, and all stand on it  at the same time. I was feeling nervous but the fact there was a 4×4 parked about 100 meters away on the ice filled me with some comfort that I wasn’t going to be too heavy etc.

We sat on a bench in a marque that had been erected, children of school age are being rallied together to get their skates off. A family with a toddler only just used to walking, is being fitted with his first skates by his Canadian parents. They are blue just like his all in one outfit to keep him warm and his crash helmet to protect his head. I look at him and wonder if he is as scared as I am and know he will be skating better than me by the end of this session!

It is then, once the boots are laced, that I remember I haven’t skated in about 20 years and have completely forgotten how to stand up – this is straight onto the ice, there are no matts or carpet like in Streatham ice rink!!!

Step and Glide!

Cautiously, I stand up, and move to the poles holding the marquee up. They look sturdy enough for me to hang on to for a second and then I remind myself there are little kids watching and try to look confident. I step and glide, step and glide, catch some ice, stumble about looking like a windmill and manage to stay on my feet. Once we get past the area by the marquee the ice smooths out nicely and there are less jagged patches to catch.

There are no railings to hold on to, and people are slipping and sliding about all over the canal but the air is full of laughter. People of all ages and abilities are there mixing and enjoying the sunshine even though it’s -14 today. Markers lining the canal tell you the distance from the city centre in kilometres and we aim to get down to one of them.

Once we finished skating, we took our boots off for some well deserved relief and then went for refreshments. We were so tired from trying not to fall over and can report that we stayed upright the entire time!

I can’t believe we can say that we have Skated on Rideau Canal. Something I never thought we would do but had the most amazing experience doing it. Honestly – it will be a memory we will treasure forever!

Beaver Tails on Dowes Lake

Check out our other Ottawa posts!