After thinking it was a good idea to drag the 21kg Beast from the bus station to my hostel, I arrived in Ottawa not in the best of moods.
Finding out that I was sleeping in an ex-prison, however, lifted my spirits enormously. Taking the free tour, I saw the depression in the wooden beam where the guards tied the rope to hang prisoners, the former cells and the anti-suicide grates on the stairs.
Anti-suicide grates in the HI hostel
One night, my roommates wanted to check out the haunted floor, so we crept up there while one girl told us ghost stories and another chipped in with actual prison facts (which, to be honest, were scarier than the stories). So engrossed in the story-telling, we forgot there were dorms nearby and all shat ourselves when someone unexpectedly shushed us, thinking it was a ghostly ex-inmate.
Most days I spent by the canal locks (there’s not an awful lot to do in Ottawa, despite being the capital city of Canada). The sun blazed mercilessly, rendering me unable to do anything but read. The locks were pretty, especially with the backdrop of the Fairmont hotel that resembled a small castle. In winter, the canal becomes one of the longest ice rinks, causing me to create the ridiculous image of serious business men and women skating furiously down the frozen canal on dainty ice skates, performing the odd pirouette to manoeuvre themselves to work.
My evenings saw me visit the oldest bar in Canada, The Laff. Having been around since 1849, the bar is older than the Confederation, which turns 150 next year. The bar-filled Elgin Street was also thoroughly inspected, as buying alcohol outside of a bar is a feat, found in booze-only shops, since no supermarkets are allowed to sell it unlike in the UK.
I got up early one morning to see the changing of the guards at Parliament, which is a bizarre spinoff of British Parliament, but worth seeing, especially when paired with the free tour.
Canadian Parliament, Changing of the Guards
Leaving Ottawa turned out to be an event. After waking up late, I ran to the bus and got on without cash. Luckily the driver believed my harried looks and let me off, and I arrived in Montreal without much more ado.
Montreal is lovely, with a mixture of Canadian and French influence (albeit with a touch too much aggression in the application of the latter). The pockets of the city, the bohemian, the classy, the hipster, were interesting to explore, and the nightlife was incredible, particularly the Brutopia bar and Foufounes Electriques.
While in the city, I visited the Musée des Beaux-Arts, with the Rodin exhibition I had seen in Paris a few years previous. I’m not sure I like Rodin, yet there is something enthralling in the rawness of his work, like he has just captured chaos and at any moment it will burst free. I draw a parallel with travel, for although travel throws you into the uncontrollable and unknown, it is within this chaos that you feel like you are truly living.
I didn’t take to either Ottawa or Montreal, because I could see influences from back home and nothing captured my imagination. Nothing personal, maybe I should’ve stayed longer in either city, but I felt like I hadn’t left my comfort zone. A quote from Rodin himself might clarify my feelings:
“We descended into Hell, like Dante…The horror controls itself, imposes order, and this order reassures us…The unknown is the mystery of that spectacle….The frightful bulk of night, feebly pushed aside for a moment, as quickly, and with an irresistible violence, regains empire…I am in terror and in rapture” (Auguste Rodin, Cathedrals of France, excerpts of chapter 10).
And so I left for the Rocky Mountains.