Earlier this week, I got a chance to visit one of my favorite cities, Ottawa, Canada, for the second time. Like many other places I travel to, my favorite thing to do is that I just like to observe what is unique to each place and its people. Howbeit, I try to keep and share only good and funny aspects! My goal writing this is that you will find humor or inspiration or both, in my writing.
Personally, I simply love Ottawa. Since the first time I visited in May 2007, I fell in love with the city. My travel adventure to any place isn’t necessarily as anyone would expect; for example, ancient ruins, historical castles, downtown, coffee shops, shopping centers, restaurants or museums don’t always spark my interest about a place, unlike normal tourists. When you read what I highlight below, you will understand.
When I booked my hotel, although I looked it up on Google maps first, I guess I overlooked the fact that I was actually staying in Quebec, instead of Ontario, where my work office was going to be. I didn’t find it a big deal though, since I was renting a vehicle to get around. I loved the Ottawa River that separates Ottawa and Gatineau; I imagine it’d be beautiful in the summer! At the time of my visit, it was mostly covered by sheets of ice. I also liked the bridge between the 2 cities with double lanes each way, one of them being a HOV lane.
- Ottawa’s winter, just like most of the country, is brutal!
Well, this is a given about Canada, but before you judge me for living in the south for so long, I have had my share of snow and cold. I lived in Rochester, NY which sits right below Lake Ontario, between Toronto and Ottawa, for about 4 years. It didn’t matter if a few feet of snow fell overnight or a monster blizzard descended over Rochester; schools didn’t close and we didn’t get a day off from work due to the inclement weather.
Besides being Canada’s capital, apparently Ottawa is also the 4th largest and the most educated city in Canada. Ottawa is also the 7th coldest capital in the world and apparently, nearly a half of its population is under 35 years of age! Very interesting! Although I really love the city, it is extremely cold there. My few days visiting reminded me how much I definitely do NOT miss the north!
- HOV lanes everywhere
I have not been to a place that is comparatively not large but has many high occupancy vehicle (hov) lanes practically all over the place. Seriously, even in a 2-lane bypass each way, I saw HOV lane signs. The funny part about it though, I noticed that most people don’t adhere to the rules. I don’t know if HOV means something else in Canada, but each time I glanced at cars moving to my left in the HOV lane, there was often a single person in the vehicle.
Also, ironically, I didn’t see any sign for traffic cameras in those lanes, so may be that explains why people just don’t follow those rules? Still, as a visitor, I played it on the safe side, and stayed in regular lanes. I am not as fearless as those people, or, unless HOV means something else up there on our northern border! Normally HOV lanes in the US are mainly in the major highways, not traditional alleys.
- No traffic law enforcement officers in sight
For 3-4 days I spent in Ottawa – Gatineau commuting for 30 minutes one way everyday, I didn’t spot a single LE officer vehicle, traffic or otherwise. Either, police officers there look different from those here in the US and I didn’t see them or simply people don’t violate traffic laws up there or the crime rate is extremely low. Either way, I was surprised.
- Extremely patient drivers
I travel very often but I have never been to a place where everyone drives below the speed limit, literally, almost everyone. For 4 days I was there, I only saw one or 2 people speeding but the rest drove really slow. While I used to speed, several years ago I decide to stop and be responsible about it.
While in Canada, as I juggled between remembering miles versus kilometers on my Canadian rental SUV dashboard, I often noticed that in a single lane road all drivers were trailing way behind me. Then I’d slow down, although I was not really speeding. Also, people don’t honk or tailgate up there. People drove as if it was for fun and not in a rush to be anywhere important.
- Small traffic light panels
Canadians have to have the best sight vision than the rest of the world! The green and yellow light panel holes are awfully small; in some locations though, I noticed that the red lights were mostly normal size. I will let you judge for yourself from the above photo. I think all other countries I have been to, the lights are often the same size but I could be wrong. I found it quite interesting.
- People randomly walking in the rain
When I landed at Ottawa International Airport, the weather was really damp. It was very rainy and very cold. However, what puzzled me was that I would see people, on several occasions, just walking in the rain; some had umbrellas, others didn’t. Some were walking their dogs on the side of the roads, others were just busy going to places. I thought it was quite interesting!
- Food Menu
Of course I would talk about food; albeit, not in a sense you’d expect. I found it hard to understand the restaurant menu at the hotel I stayed at in Gatineau. I didn’t anticipate appetizers to be called entrees (or may be because it’s really entrées in French?), and definitely not the main courses to have sodas on the list etc. Or, I am probably clueless and this is normal? I loved breakfast choices though. I am glad I was only there for couple of days, otherwise, I would have easily put on a few extra pounds.
- French & English
Well, thankfully I could understand both languages but apparently if you live in or travel to any part of the Quebec province, you are absolutely expected to understand or speak French. It reminded of Belgium’s Fleming and Walloon. Although I stayed with a Hilton hotel, an American franchise hotel chain, everyone introduced themselves in French and it seemed like they expected others to do the same. However, if you respond in English, they will switch to English too.
All TV channels, almost all of them, are in French. It took me a while to scroll through many channels to find ABC, CNN or anything that sounded a little American enough :). Also, you should have listened to my Google maps navigation lady trying to pronounce French roads: chemin, rue etc. I laughed so hard! But as soon as I entered Ontario, my lady would gain her momentum!
- Quebec, Je me souviens
Something that caught my attention and made me wonder its meaning was the Quebeckers vehicles license plates: the top said Quebec, obviously, but the bottom had the phrase “je me souviens” which means “I remember or I do not forget“.
It turns out that this is the official motto for the province of Quebec. Although its full significance isn’t known according to articles, but it can be paraphrased to past political memories (perhaps between French and English), ancient lineage and traditions, which is beyond the scope of my article’s intention. I was just curious when I saw that on all cars on the upper side of the Ottawa River.
One other thing I noticed a lot is that Canadians are openly vocal about their views of the current American politics. I am especially very uncomfortable expressing about my political opinions anywhere, live alone with strangers, and in another country.
In the overall, I simply love the people there especially that I got to stay a few days and drove around this time. The city is beautiful, even during a bitter cold winter, people are very polite, strangers will go above and beyond to make you feel welcome, with great intention. At the hotel, restaurant, work, everyone was extremely nice to me. I joked to my friends that I was thinking of staying there for good :). I hope to visit in the summer though!