Thursday, August 15, 2013

Calgary -> Ottawa

My flight arrived a good half hour before the ETA which wasn't quite what I needed as 5:30am isn't really a convenient time to turn up at your first couchsurfing host's house. However we flew in just as the sun was breaking over the horizon and I was feeling surprisingly fresh for having had less that three hours sleep.

Your first couch surfing experience is a combination of excited anticipation and fear as you find your way to a random location in an unknown city to stay with -essentially- a complete stranger. I was going to be staying with Dean Shivij who is a 46 year old muslim who would have filled every stereotype that they tell 20-year-old single girls to stay away from. Except, as I found out, stereotypes are rarely true.

That bloody Fairmont at it again. at least
it fits in here. 
I got on a bus from the airport only knowing roughly where to get off as my sweaty palms had washed the address away from the back of my hand. I arrived at Dean's house which was already draped in scarves and wind chimes singing in the wind and I could already smell the faint musk of incense. It was still only 7:30am so I knocked timidly but I was still greeted by a slim man who didn't look much older than his mid-thirties and who looked like he had an ancestry more diverse and complicated than Canada's itself. And this was true, this was Dean who is Indian but born in Tanzania but with Mongol descent - and that's the easy way to put it.

The Canal gates
Although he'd only gone to bed at 3am he still greeted me with a hug and a smile and although I felt terrible for waking him up he had no need to feel bad about going back to bed as I did the same. The term couchsurfing gives connotations that you'll be sleeping on a sofa but this is not the case at Dean's house: you get your own room which contained the first thing I'd seen to resemble a real bed in a few weeks.

I crashed out for an hour or so but woke up to Dean making some coffee, toast and smoothies down in the kitchen. This was the first proper look I had of the house, which didn't really look like a house at all but a home. There were hidden treasures everywhere from some far corner of the globe and hammocks hanging from anywhere they'd fit. We had breakfast in his back-garden and had an insightful conversation about trust over our toast - something that was to be common practice over the past few days. We discussed how trust should be instinctive. For example typically British girls wouldn't usually go stay with a 46 year old male stranger because of the things we've been brought up to believe but I had chosen to stay at Dean's because of some instinctive reason that it would be a good idea. The idea that trust shouldn't be earned but trust until that trust is broken.

I decided to go a walk into the city which took me through Chinatown- which were all starting to look the same and considering I am not the biggest fan of Chinese food it's never that much of a pull for me. Ottawa looked very similar to Toronto in most respects until you got to the government buildings which were like a splodge of architectural beauty hidden behind curtains of skyscrapers. It was like if London sailed into France. Ottawa is situated bang on the border between Ontario and Quebec and all you have to do is cross the Ottawa River and you in Quebec. Every second person was speaking French and it was strange not being able to understand people again - I mean at least in Tanzania I looked like a tourist and so they were ecstatic I could speak to them but here it seems almost expected to be fluent in French... Sacré bleu.

Across to Gatineau
I went a walk along the canal but Gatineau skyline isn't as scenic as it's neighbour. However the walk did offer a glimpse into Ottawa's population which seems to made up entirely of runners and school children on a field trip. After the canal I took a trip up to the Parliament building and booked myself in for a free tour half an hour later but until then I passed the time by sitting next to one of the several statues of Queen Victoria scattered across the city. If that didn't make me feel at home then the endless queuing to get in the buildings did. The source of the queuing was some intense security searches which were much more strict than airports so you have to take out all your electronics- which for me was a lot.

After that you are sent to a waiting area to do more waiting but after several bus loads of school children had headed out on their tour, myself and a gaggle of old women got concerned and had to be shuttled off to catch up with our tour which had left without us. We got a whistle-stop tour before the library where we were reunited with the rest of our group and all we seemed to have missed was the house of commons. We had to be silent in the library and we weren't allowed to take photographs as real librarians were working - something I didn't know actually existed. I spent most of my time trying to spot one of these librarians in their wild habitat.

Then we shuffled through to the Hall of the Senate which had huge portraits of every monarch since Queen Victoria on the walls. I still find it bizarre that they refer to Queen Liz as the Queen of Canada but in Canada there is the Governor General who takes on the role of Head of State in the Queen' absence and so would give royal assent to a law as well as other duties. The roof of the hall is painted with Canada' emblem as initially they had the name of each Speaker of the Senate but inevitably ran out of room. In the corner there were the four shields of Canada's four original provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Upper and Lower Canada - Quebec and Ontario respectively). The walls had gargoyle-esc heads sticking out of Canada's Vikings to commemorate their rule but on one wall the sculptors had carved their own faces - unknown to anyone else at the time!

Hall of the Senate
The senate was filled with red seats with a space for thrones at the front for the ruling monarch and their spouse - or the Governor General. The roof was painted with the emblems of nations with links to Canada - the British and French. The final stop was, obviously, the gift shop but we were allowed to wander free rein up to the Peace Tower and Memorial Chamber - both built to commemorate those who lot there life in World War I but now used for those who have died while doing service for their country.

After my tour it was time for my second coffee of the day and after went a walk with no real plan and just walking from street to street. I ended up in Byward Market which was perfect for a little food boost and people watching session but I was getting so tired that a third coffee was in order. I took this as an opportunity to sit and have a long overdue skype conversation with my flatmates. I suppose being by myself was starting to hit me - after only one day.

As evening arrived I went to the National Gallery and since it was also free I thought I should absorb all the free culture as possible. Their special exhibit was on aboriginal art and the trials of aboriginal life - which was a good to relate to my studies in anthropology back in Guelph but there are some pieces of modern art I will just never understand. The other part of the museum was European art and so I played the game of 'Guess the artist from a distance' and I was proud that I haven't lost all of my higher art knowledge. You can maybe tell that I was just a bit too tired to appreciate art that wasn't made with down feathers and designed by ikea- so that was my next stop. Bed, not Ikea.

Main Hall of Parliment

View from the Peace Tower across the Ottawa River to Quebec

Parliment and some bales of turf!

Outside the National Gallery

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