Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ottawa: Full Day #1

When I had arrived from Toronto the night before, the weather was very warm. I still had memories of being sun burnt my first day in Toronto though, and so I stayed inside my dorm all night. That meant today was my first day out and about in Ottawa.

No sooner had I walked one block, when some sketchy guy on an old mountain bike tried to sell me a "new shirt" and an mp3 player for $10. I thanked him politely for his offer, but told him I wasn't in the market, and then went on my way.

A little later on down the street I came across a small, family owned bicycle store on Murray Street called Peccos. I had been doing some research on road bikes in Toronto, so that I could buy one for transportation when I got to Halifax, and to participate in a three day bicycle tour around the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton in September. I decided to pop my head in and take a small peak at the cost of bicycles here, to see how they compared with those in Toronto.

One of the sales staff who greeted me, Audrey, was a fast talking woman from the other side of the river (the French side). She made me pick up and try all of her favourite bicycles in the store. Within the hour I had been sized up, fitted, and "accessorised" with my own custom-made road cycle. It was the best fitting bicycle I had ever tried, and I put $600 down to have them keep the frame colour and ship it to me in Halifax in a month.

The whole bike, including component upgrades cost me about $1500, but in every other store in Canada a bike of that calibre would retail for $1700 or more. Audrey was so happy with my purchase, she threw in a bunch of her favourite colour coordinated accessories for free, and the owners gave me a 10% discount on shoes and SPD pedals for the bike. Unfortunately, this meant I had to walk around all day with a bag full of new shoes trying not to lose them, and also figure out how to get them to Halifax with me (the pedals were to be shipped with the bike).

As I walked along Murray Street, eventually I got to the end (well, technically the start) where I found the National Galleries of Canada. As I explained in my blog about Scotland, "Royal" galleries and museums feature art/artefacts from all over the world, whereas "National" galleries tend to focus on items from that country (Canada in this case).

(The National Art Gallery. Look a little closer at what's in front of the building though...)

(That's right, a giant metal spider. This is the same metal spider that was on the roof of the Leeum Modern Art Gallery in Seoul, South Korea.)

Growing up, I only heard one thing about Canadian art: The Group of Seven. It seemed that all Canadian art started and ended with this group of artists (if you count Tom Thompson, The Group of Seven's mentor, there were eight all together). Of course, this is not the case as one might imagine, and this gallery proves. That said, the highlight of the visit for me was still seeing the original works by Tom Thompson and The Group of Seven, in all their full size. Particularly fun was looking at the original wood board paintings the artists would have done out in the wilderness, and then trying to find the corresponding full-sized studio version on the walls.

When I finished viewing all of the paintings it was only 2:45 PM, so I thought I might as well walk across the Ottawa River to visit The National Museum of Civilization. Perhaps I should have done a bit more research though, because I was not aware at the time that the Ottawa River also marks the border between Ontario and Quebec; meaning I was literally walking from an English speaking city to a French speaking one (Hull).

(Looking back at Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Ontario.)

(The National Museum of Civilization on the other side of the river in Hull, Quebec.)

Normally this would not have been an issue, since I knew the Museum would still be able to service me. However, I had not eaten since the previous afternoon, and so I was very worried I would have to order lunch in French.

The first restaurant I saw said it served "fine French Cuisine". I looked at the waiter in his suit, and the customers looking very business-casual. Then I looked at my T-shirt, and my old running shoes with "extra ventilation", and I decided to keep looking. Eventually I came across a small deli and ordered a sandwich by holding up two fingers for the #2 option on the menu.

The National Museum of Civilization was very large, and had an impressive selection of artefacts from Canada's history. There were so many exhibits in fact, that I wasn't able to finish them all before the museum closed.

Much of the museum seemed to be set up to tell the history of Canada, which is of course important. However, unless you managed to sleep through every class of grade eight Canadian history, there probably isn't a lot of information for the average Canadian to glean.

Speaking of grade eight, it seems that every grade eight class in the country decided to hold its graduation field trip in Ottawa, on the same day. It didn't matter where I went today, there was always some group of annoying junior high school students there disrupting my peace and quiet.

This came to a head when some lazy teacher let her (I know it was a her) students run all throughout the Canadian Museum of Civilization, with no supervision whatsoever. It was a nightmare. Every time I thought, "oh, I'll just wait until they pass," another group came along right behind them. It almost makes me not want to be a teacher.

It wasn't a total loss though, for it just so happened that the IMAX theatre in The Museum was showing a 3D viewing of Jean-Michel Cousteau's documentary "Sharks". Jean-Michel is Jacques-Yves Cousteau's first son, and like his father he is also an environmentalist, conservationist, and film maker.

While I more or less knew everything in the film already, the 50 or so aforementioned Junior High students also in attendance did not. They also all seemed very interested in the film, which is a positive sign. It means that even if these punks never stop annoying me, hopefully they learn that sharks are important and need to be saved. If they can do that, it will have been worth it.

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