Castles In The Land Up North

Kish and I have enjoyed a few very pleasant, albeit all too rainy, days in Ottawa at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier.  As a result, we have a bit of an idea of what it would be like to live in a castle — because that is what the Chateau Laurier looks like.

One of the common rooms

With its turrets and grey stone facade, sitting majestically aside a canal, the Chateau Laurier is a feast for the eyes, inside and out.  The hotel is one of a number of striking Canadian hotels that were built in conjunction with the Canadian railway in an effort to boost tourism and railway travel.  The railroads spared no expense, and it shows in all of the rich and varied details of these amazing places.  Two years ago we stayed at the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, another of those railway hotels, and it was equally extraordinary.  These hotels and many others currently are part of the Fairmont chain, and a quick look at their photos make me want to visit them all.

The view from our hotel room window

I love grand old hotels, and the Chateau Laurier definitely falls into that category.  The hotel is directly across the canal from the Canadian federal government buildings, and the view from the window in our room offers a commanding view of the Canadian Parliament.  The ceilings in the common rooms on the ground floor  seem almost impossibly high, and all of those rooms are uniquely decorated and well maintained.  The place reeks of history, and tradition, and recalls the days when teams of porters would cart steamer trunks through the bustling lobby while travelers made their lodging arrangements.

When you have a choice of hotels, why not select the hotel that lets you wallow for a day or two in the luxury of a long-lost era when travel was special?

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Canada’s Capital

The rear of the Canadian Parliament building

The last few days we’ve been in Ottawa, Canada for a conference.  Ottawa is Canada’s national capital, and it is worth a visit from Americans curious about our friendly neighbor to the north.

We are staying at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, a hotel that is directly across a canal from the heart of Canada’s governmental complex.  (More on the hotel later.)  The Canadian federal buildings are very imposing, gothic-looking structures, somewhat blackened with age, studded with gargoyles, and separated from the street by stone and black iron fencing.  Couple those elements with a gray, overcast day, such as we have had, and it feels as if you have stumbled into The Fall Of The House of Usher and Edgar Allan Poe will come springing out from behind a balustrade at any moment.

The federal buildings all are situated around a wide quadrangle of green grass, and the whole area has a decidedly British look.  The federal complex is capped by the Peace Tower, a large clock tower reminiscent of Big Ben that is dedicated to the sacrifices of Canadians who have fought in various conflicts.  The Peace Tower affords a commanding view of Ottawa and its environs and features a solemn, moving, and beautifully considered memorial chamber where the names of the fallen have been inscribed into large journals.

Ottawa is located on a wide river that divides the city into three parts, so there are lots of bridges and river views.  If you walk past the federal complex to the rear of Canada’s Supreme Court building, there is a good viewing spot that allows you to get a river perspective on the city.  In that view, the Canadian Parliament building appears framed by lush green trees, with the river sliding past far below.

In addition to the federal complex, we’ve also visited the Market District, which is a multi-block area of restaurants, shops, bars, and other businesses.  We’ve had two good meals there — including a terrific dinner at a nifty restaurant called Eighteen — and enjoyed walking around the bustling area.  Although we haven’t been there late in the evening, I suspect the Market District offers some good night-life options.

I’m ashamed to say that I am not well-versed in Canadian history or government, which is pathetic given our close proximity to this interesting and sprawling country.  If you want to start to learn about Canada, Ottawa is a good place to start.

Crossing The Border

Yesterday we drove north on I-87 and crossed the border into Canada.

Crossing the border was no big deal, which I found mildly surprising.  You drive up to the customs checkpoint and border crossing and wait in line.  (Interestingly, you wait behind a painted line, just like there are when you go through customs in airports.  There must be some kind of uniform painted-line rule among the brotherhood of international customs officials.)  When it was our turn we drove up to the booth where the customs official sat, he looked at us, he examined our passports, and he asked us a few questions.  The questions were pretty basic:  Where are you from?  Where are you going?  When was the last time you were in Canada?  Are you carrying any firearms? Why are you coming to Canada?  Our answers must have been acceptable, because he waved us through.

After we crossed the border into the province of Quebec the road number changed, and the signs were, for the most part, entirely in French.  We followed the instructions of our GPS, looped around the outskirts of Montreal, and then headed due west to Ottawa.