It’s that time of year for us – when the new issue is closing and we’re working feverishly around the clock to layout the photos, edit the articles and close our ad space, all while attending events, taking business meetings and planning for the NEXT issue (yes, we like to work in advance). With an ambitious launch planned for this, our tenth issue of Corduroy, we’ve been craving a quick getaway in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, to take our minds off of work if only for a weekend. Enter the beautiful city of Ottawa…
Just a quick 45-minute flight from New York (or a scenic 4.5 hour drive from Toronto, as we did this time around), Ottawa is no longer the staid, sleepy tourist trap you grew up visiting with your parents. Sure, the familiar cultural institutions are still there – among them, the stately Parliament Hill (home to Canada’s federal government), the Canadian Museum of Civilization (located across the river in Gatineau) and the grand Fairmont Château Laurier – but the city won us over this time around with its beautiful green space, waterways and surprisingly spirited shopping and dining scene. From its delightful local vendors and artisans, to its soaring architecture and hidden alleyways, Ottawa has the eclectic feel of its neighbor Montreal, with the small-town charm of a New England getaway.
We stayed at the Hotel Indigo, a cosy boutique hotel located in the downtown core, within walking distance to almost everything (we parked our car for free on the street all weekend and never once took it out). Our room was clean, elegant and simple, with hardwood flooring and birch-forest wallpaper mirroring the hotel’s natural style.
After a restful night’s sleep, our first stop for the weekend was The ByWard Market – one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada. We grabbed a coffee and fresh pastry and made our way through the hundreds of outdoors stalls selling plants, flowers, fruits & vegetables as well as art and crafts (including enough dream-catchers to ensure that even your wildest fantasies will come true). We hated being all touristy and stuff but we caved and bought an “Obama cookie” from Le Moulin de Provence bakery. The bakery and its Maple Leaf-shaped sugar cookie gained international prominence after President Obama bought one for himself and Mrs. Obama during their visit to the city in 2009. Now, the cookie is available in a customized Obama tin and advertised in large banners that surround the store windows. We bought the cookie in the tin for my roommate. Two days later he finished the cookie and now we have a random Barack Obama tin container lying around the apartment. Regardless, the market and its surrounding neighborhood merited a return visit on our last day in the city, as we sat down for brunch at The French Baker (We heartily recommend the Gravlax Maison, with a sunnyside egg over smoked salmon, warm lemon, caper & fingerling potato salad and a perfectly-spiced olive tapenade).
One of our favorite neighborhoods in Ottawa was The Glebe. Though some described it as the “Park Slope of Ottawa,” the leafy, lively main street had its own unique charm, with a mix of mom and pop storefronts, clothing stores, cafes and a great book shop, where we spent almost an hour browsing an impressively-curated selection of novels, zines and non-fiction.
We felt the “Brooklyn beat” a little closer to the market on Dalhousie Street – a blossoming fashion district filled with local designers selling their creations, which spanned a mix of vintage-inspired garments and accessories to boho-chic handmade dresses and one-of-a-kind art. Our favorite shops on the street were Workshop, Victoire (photo at left) and Milk. We bought a few knick-knacks for our friends, though we kept for ourselves a selection of black and white, typewriter-inspired images we found at Workshop, that had been screen-printed onto pages from an old dictionary.
Though we wanted to explore the neighborhoods more than the traditional tourist attractions, we had to stop by the National Gallery of Canada. With its luminous Great Hall and stunning interior gardens and courtyards, the space in itself is worth the visit, but we were there for the art, particularly the Van Gogh exhibit, “Up Close” (which runs until September 3rd). We always say that good art is only as beautiful as the space in which it is presented and the Gallery did a tremendous job showcasing the Dutch painter’s work. Of course, one of the National Gallery’s latest acquisitions is its iconic landmark—Louise Bourgeois’ Maman, a mammoth 9.25-metre bronze spider (complete with 26 marble eggs) located in the plaza. You can’t miss it. And yes, there were a lot of photos taken (and sent to our arachnophobic friends).
The best part of Ottawa for us though, was the expansive waterways which weaved in and out of the city. The Rideau Canal is 180 years old, a Unesco World Heritage Site and part of a 125-mile-long waterway that links the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario. In the winter, the canal is frozen over and some residents use it as a method of transportation, preferring to leave the car at home and ice-skate to work instead (a fact we’ve verified with our friends in the city). In the summer, it was a nice and breezy stroll along the canal, with an iced coffee (and yes, a Beaver Tail) in hand and the sounds of buskers in the background. As the sun set, we boarded a boat for a scenic cruise along the River. The passengers included a newly married couple from Nova Scotia, the obligatory Japanese tourists, art students from Italy and an all-boys choral group in town for a competition.
Toward the end of the boat ride – after we saw Parliament Hill from the back, after we looped through the river-side villages near Gatineau, and after we peered (from a safe distance) at the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive – the all-boys choir suddenly rose from their seats and began serenading us with a song. It was one of those vaguely Gaelic melodies that swooped more than it soared and some of the singers seemed understandably indifferent about the impromptu performance, and yet, as the sun was setting and we were in the middle of the river with Ottawa at our back, it seemed like the most perfect ending to our much-needed weekend getaway. It reminded us that sure, Ottawa has always been around and will always be around, but each visit from now on will bring about new experiences to talk (and blog) about, new sights to see and new surprises to discover, whether you’re strolling the pretty city blocks or on a boat, with a boys choir singing and the sunset feeling like it’s slowly guiding you home.