Here are the pictures, so here are the stories.
I had a good time with my week off in Ottawa and Montreal. After being dropped off at Calgary International Airport the customary one hour before domestic flights, I saw there were huge lines both to drop off bags and to get through security. I made it to my gate with minutes to spare before boarding. But aside from that, the flight was uneventful, typical Air Canada. I had a connecting flight in Toronto, and arrived at Ottawa International around 9:30 PM Sunday night. And the place was dead. Since that a lot of restaurants would be closed by the time I made it to the hotel, I grabbed a burger at the airport Harvey's before it closed and made my way to the shuttle buses. However, it appears that the hotel shuttle bus had completely disappeared off the face of the earth. No signs, no ticket stand, and the phone number lead to a full voice mail box. Fortunately, thanks to my magic travel companion I found out how to get to the hotel on OC Transpo. One of their Transitway routes went straight downtown.
For my first day in Ottawa, I made my way to the Canadian Museum of Civilization. I wanted to see the exhibit on Japanese design and it didn't disappoint. The artifacts were from the Edo period (1603–1867) and the present (1945–today) and grouped into five categories: travel, robots, shopping, society, and entertainment. The juxtaposition between centuries-old wall scrolls and Sailor Moon anime cells was striking. I also got to interact with a baby seal robot. There was also a samurai sword on loan from the Glenbow, a lacquered Gundam robot model, and USB thumb drives that attach to your bag like a suitcase tag so you can easily get to your files.
I already went to the museum the last time I was in Ottawa three years ago, but I wandered through the permanent exhibits afterwards with the museum's app as a tour guide. I spent the rest of the day at the museum, then made my way to ByWard Market for dinner. I had the bison burger at Blue Cactus, and did the President Obama thing and went to BeaverTails for dessert.
I then had plans to go to the Mosaika sound and light show at Parliament Hill that night, but it was cancelled due to rain. Since that my hotel was across the street from a shopping mall with a movie theatre, I instead decided to catch a late showing of Captain America: The First Avenger instead.
For my second day in Ottawa, I went on a guided walking tour. The tour started just as the changing of the guard was beginning so we got to see that as well. The tour went around downtown Ottawa and pointed out not only the major sights, but also some insider local stuff as well and it did not disappoint. The tour ended at ByWard Market just as a big rainstorm hit so I wandered around there for a while and grabbed some sushi and watermelon gelato.
That evening I was booked on a short bus tour, but a misprint on their website and literature meant that it left an hour later than scheduled. But it was short and sweet: driving by some of the big highlights of Ottawa and Hull including 24 Sussex Drive and Rideau Hall. There was also a stop at Rideau Falls.
After the bus tour was over, I was going to make another attempt at seeing the Parliament Hill sound and light show. But before that, I grabbed dinner at a place I saw on the walking tour: D'Arcy McGee's Pub. We were told that it's where the MPs, senators, and reporters all hang out Thursday nights and you can overhear all kinds of gossip.
The light show went ahead as scheduled, and this video pretty much sums up my last night in Ottawa:
Wednesday was my train ride to Montreal. VIA Rail was having a 60%-off sale on tickets so I paid for a Business class ticket instead of cashing in my frequent-rider points. With the post office still iffy after the strike, I didn't want to take any chances with a free ticket getting delayed in the mail before I had to leave. But the train ride was calm and uneventful. Two hours of watching the Ontario-Quebec countryside go by, a cold lunch, and free wi-fi! (And yes, this post did come from the train courtesy of a piece of kit from my gracious blog host.)
Thursday I wandered around Montreal until that afternoon, as I was going to the Fantasia film festival at Concordia University for a screening of the Japanese samurai movie 13 Assassins. Good bloody fun. That night I went to the Club Soda cabaret for Just For Laughs' AMP'D musical comedy show, hosted by Weird Al Yankovic. Al stole the show, and it was all hilarious.
At the show, I got seated with a guy who was visiting from Yorkshire, and he recommended visiting the Montreal Biodome and Botanical Garden and I did just that for Friday. They were amazing places, seeing the replicated natural environments with native animals and the vastness of the gardens which just kept going on and on. It was a neat place to get lost in. Good thing I had a map of the grounds and a fully-charged iPhone so I could find my way out. But I took a pass on seeing the Insectarium that's part of the garden, I just knew it would irk me out.
That night I ate at m:brgr, I wanted to try it out after seeing their $100 burger featured on Epic Meal Time. But that was way out of my league, so I had their Little Big Zak and it was one of the best burgers I ever had. And their chocolate cake comes with a shotglass of milk. I wonder if I did the right thing by knocking back the milk in one gulp and turning the glass upside down on the bar.
I then made my way to Place des Arts and back to Just For Laughs for their A Tribute to Nerds gala. A comedy show tailor-made for me: a night of geek humour hosted by Simon "Howard" Helberg and Kunal "Raj" Nayyar from The Big Bang Theory.
Saturday was my last day in Montreal, so I went to Parc Jean-Drapeau which is the old Expo 67 site. The Osheaga music festival was on so it was pretty bustling. Eminem played there the night before, so I saw quite a few people at breakfast and around town wearing t-shirts and hats. I went by the Biosphere, and went to the Casino de Montreal. I went in with $60, hit the penny slots, and walked out with $101.75. I'm a low-roller.
After the park, I went back downtown as I wanted to see the Ubisoft building as the Assassin's Creed games are made there. But the address that Google fed into my phone led me to a building that looks nothing like the picture so I gave up. Maybe the address was that of the corporate office and not where the designers are. It's probably for the best, too. Maybe they've contracted their security to Abstergo Industries and if they saw someone like me taking pictures they'll grab me and strap me into an Animus to see what they can learn from having me relive the lives of my ancestors through their memories encoded in my DNA. And with my luck, it'll be a Scottish pig farmer.
That night I went back to Concordia for another movie at Fantasia: Karate-Robo Zaborgar, and it was pure, giddy, utter insanity. The trailer does not do it justice. Where else can you see a robot karate master with a machine gun in its mouth change into a motorcycle and fight cyborgs?
I decided for my last night in Montreal to take my casino winnings and put it towards a late dinner at a fancy sushi bar near the hotel. I tried one of their specialties, sushi pizza, and the rice was fried so it had the consistency of pizza crust.
Sunday morning I left real early on the express bus to the airport for my flight home. I arrived with lots of time to spare, so I miscalculated with the hassle on the flight over and the fact that Quebec doesn't have an August holiday Monday. I thought the airport would be a lot busier. But I made it to Toronto okay for my connecting flight, and it left at least an hour late due to the plane having to be cleaned up from a trip to Cuba and it had to sit on the tarmac until it could take off.
So aside from some flight aggravation, I had a good time out east.