Travel Stories

Ottawa/Quebec with Manya

Ottawa/Quebec with Manya

June 6th to June 14th
New and old adventures were had during my last trip to Ottawa and Quebec.

Ottawa didn’t disappoint, contrary to my own biases about the Canadian Capital city. It is seated on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River while Gatineau on the other side is located in the Province of Quebec. 

I arrived late on June 6th because of the late departure of my Air Canada flight from Vancouver. I was lucky to travel in the front of the aircraft with a comfortable POD seat, and this made me forget the delay. The breakfast menu was less than impressive with choices of an omelet or pancakes along with coffees and teas and no alcohol. The inflight entertainment was great, with latest movies, TV shows, and a good choice of music and podcast channels. Ottawa airport is small and has clear instructions in French and English. 

Travelling with a carry-on, I was quickly out of the aircraft, and in less than 20 minutes I was checking into the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, my urban castle for the next 2 nights. With its privileged location in the centre of the city and overlooking Rideau Canal, it was the perfect starting point to explore the Capital City. 

Ottawa is home to the Parliament buildings and the centre of Canadian Politics. Visits are open to the public on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but unfortunately I was there on the wrong days for a tour. Sussex Avenue is lined with many foreign embassies, and pushing the walk farther down, you will find the Prime Minister's home (currently unoccupied, and perhaps never to be renovated) at number 24. Push the walk a little more to see Rideau Hall, the Government General’s lovely cottage. The latter is open to visitors when the G. G. is out of town.  

Ottawa is not only about politics. There are numerous museums, such as the National Gallery, that feature an exhibit of contemporary women artists. The modern architecture of the museum itself is a work of art and reminded me a little of the Institute of the Arab World in Paris. At the entrance of the building, you’ll see Louise Bourgeois’ iconic Spider sculpture she called “Maman”. 

Rideau Canada with its 50 locks is a marvel of engineering, allowing the passage of small pleasure boats to reach the Ottawa River. To this day, someone manually operates the locks, and it is recognised as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. In winter, Rideau Canal is also known for the 200 km long skating rink. 

The tourism office offers daily complimentary walking tours every day at 11am, and well narrated by local volunteers. Throughout the downtown core, you’ll meet hosts to help answer, in both official languages, questions you may have about the city. 

Staying at Fairmont Chateau Laurier is the perfect choice for a few nights in the Capital City. My room did not have a fancy view, but the comfort of the bedding and the warmth made a big difference in my stay there. Black and white pictures of the founders and of celebrities and Royals who stayed at the Chateau, line the walls of the Atrium lobby. 

The food, on the other end, was disappointing. Many other options can be found at the ByWard Market Place a couple of streets away. Most likely the best thin crust pizza I had in a while was at the Grand Restaurant/Pub. Happy Hour daily from 3 to 6pm, half price pizza and $5.00 beers! 

Another lovely eatery on Sparks Street that I highly recommend is the Ottawa Bike Café, a fun bike shop, an art gallery that serves excellent coffees and pastries in a funky, LGBTQ friendly and welcoming environment. And you can rent bikes too. 

Known facts about Ottawa:
-    It is one of the three most educated cities in North America, along with Boston and Seattle
-    The Canadian Government employs at least 40% of the population of Ottawa
-    In 1912, Charles Melville Hays had the Chateau Laurier built, as part of the extension of the railway. He actually travelled to Europe to select the furniture for it, and sadly he and his cargo drowned with the Titanic on April 15th of that year.  

After two days in Ottawa, it was time to leave for Quebec City.

Travel can be a lot of fun and can also be challenging, especially when one’s flight is cancelled at the last moment and one has to find a way to the next destination. Luckily our Concierge at the Laurier could book two train tickets on Via Rail that late afternoon to reach Quebec City for the next stop on my itinerary. The train ride was uneventful regardless of the two-hour delay. Food carts are available on board with limited choices, along with wine, beer and spirits for purchase. Definitely not the European trains, but comfortable enough for the six-hour ride to Quebec City. La Gare du Palais station is a short taxi ride from the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac.  

Quebec City (aka “Kebec” in the language of the Algonquin first nation) means where the river is narrow and is the capital of La Belle Province. With her history going back to the early 1600s, there are many sites to visit. The Plains of Abraham is one of them, the Citadel, and the Old City which is placed under an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

Place Royale is the hub of activities, with an abundance of arts and craft shops, restaurants, galleries. The city is visited all year around, especially for Winter Carnival, and Summer Cruise season. As part of the resort fees charged by Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, they offer walking tours of the city daily in French or in English. These tours are very popular and require signing up for them at least 24 hours in advance. 

The first tour was guided by Jean Gagnon dressed in period costume and took our group on a windy tour of the historical city with a round-trip ferry ride to the nearby Levis. If you want some exercise, while admiring the beauty of the city is to ascend some of the 300 stairs to the Citadel. Start from Chateau Frontenac and end at the Citadel, and be rewarded with a stunning viewpoint of the river and of the city. It is known as the Governors’ walk and can also be taken in reverse, for a less strenuous exercise. I chose the latter.  

Staying at the iconic Fairmont Chateau Frontenac is an experience in itself. Perched on a hilltop, it offers stunning views of the St Lawrence River. The grand lobby with its painted ceiling and luxurious furnishing is a hub of activities during the day and late at night. My room had a perfect view of the river and was very quiet. The food throughout the hotel was not very impressive, despite the cost. For cocktails and socializing though, Sam cocktail bar is the place to be! 
Although French is the official Language in Quebec, English is widely spoken everywhere you go in the city.

To get to my next stop in Quebec, a car rental is required. The train connecting Quebec City to Charlevoix would start running on June 27th, a few weeks after my visit. Renting a car in downtown Quebec City was a challenge. Avis Car rental office located in the Hilton in Place Quebec had one attendant on that Saturday morning. It took two hours before a car was made available. I would definitely encourage renting a car at the airport for faster service. From Quebec City it takes two hours to drive to Charlevoix region. 

Along the way, a stop at The Montmorency Falls is highly recommended. Only 15 minutes from Quebec City, the falls are known to be higher than Niagara’s but not as wide. The top of the falls can be accessed by cable car or by ascending some very steep iron stairs. However, the view from the bottom is also amazing.  

The next stop was at the quaint town of Baie-St- Paul, where the river looks and smells more like the sea. There are many walking trails along the sandy beaches, as well as facilities for family picnics. The town center is full of art galleries, souvenir shops, bed-and-breakfast inns, and a variety of pubs and restaurants. Well worth spending a few hours there. 

The scenic Route du Fleuve continues from Baie-St- Paul, along the St. Lawrence River, passing farm land, and pretty houses that are built very close to the road, until reaching La Malbaie and the Fairmont Chateau Richelieu. 

The first thing to notice upon arrival in this lovely town is the heady fragrance of the lilac trees in full bloom. Spring is always late in this part of the world. Parks and gardens are full of flowers, and houses and fences are getting a fresh coat of paint by the sight of it. The main centre is quiet, with only a few restaurants open. A visit to the Charlevoix Museum is well worth the detour to see some popular art exhibits. Outdoors, and all around the Museum Building there are many colourful animal sculptures made from recycled elements such as BBQ gas tanks, brooms, bottles. 

The Fairmont Chateau Richelieu is located on a hill overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Its location offers stunning views of the river, and many hiking trails starting right from the front door.  There are several indoor and outdoor heated swimming pools, Jacuzzi baths and a very nice gym.  The rooms are spacious and very comfortable. The décor is rustic and maybe a bit dated for my taste. The lack of restaurant options on the premises disappointed me. The casino next door however has a St. Hubert BBQ bar where I had a huge salad while watching the Stanley Cup final.  

Parking is complimentary at several lots on the property, some of them require a little bit of a walk. The closest lots to the hotel lobby rated at $12 per day plus tax. 

With the poor air quality still lingering, a hike in the mountains sounded like a good plan at first. The concierge suggested the Mont Grand Fond ski resort and only a 15 minute drive from Chateau Richelieu. After paying the $10 park fee, they handed a small map to me and the friend travelling with me. The trails are rough, treacherous and poorly marked. Signs mentioning to beware of hunters made the situation even more frightening. At one point, we had to call the attendant to get picked up, as we were kind of lost! Instead of a pleasant two-hour hike, it ended up being a rather scary four-hour hike.

Things to do at Fairmont Chateau Richelieu
-    Hike the several trails offered on the premises 
-    Play golf 
-    Play tennis
-    Spend an afternoon at the pool
-    Walk to town and visit the museum
-    Relax

The trip to Quebec Province ended early in the morning of June 14th, with a departure from Chateau Richelieu at 7:00am to arrive in time for a flight out of Quebec City at 11:00 am. My connection to Vancouver was scheduled for late that afternoon, with a couple hours delay, and with no access to any lounges, it was a very long day at Montreal Trudeau Airport.

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