This trip started off a little rough, and by rough, I mean we celebrated my birthday the night before and there was definitely more beer and tequila than anticipated. But hangover aside, there was nothing that could slow down my first trip of the year. I’m still trying to figure out whether I prefer a backpack or a duffle bag, so I picked backpack for this trip and headed for the GO Train station to get me to Toronto. Once in Toronto at Union station I switched from the GO Train to the VIA Rail.
I’ve taken the Amtrak to NYC twice before but I’ve never actually taken VIA so I had no idea what to expect, but it was the cheapest option to get to Ottawa, and only took about 4.5 hours. Also due to aforementioned hangover, I forgot to pack a meal, but luckily there was a vegan wrap option so I at least got some food on board. This part of the journey was uneventful and I just watched movies on my laptop, even though I told myself I would do school work.
Ottawa has a great public transit system and there were plenty of buses from the train station to downtown (which is where my hostel was), and the one I took let me off right in the University of Ottawa campus; I told myself I would come back and explore the campus a little at some point but never actually made it back.
HI Ottawa Jail Hostel
This whole trip really was based around the fact that I wanted to stay at the HI Ottawa Jail Hostel; yes, it was a legit jail. There’s going to be a whole other blog post about the jail, but the brief history is that this was a fully functioning jail right up until 1972, and 6 months after closing it was reopened as a hostel. There are a bunch of room types including normal style dorms, or you can opt to stay in an old cell, ranging from 3×9 solo cells, to larger and more private options. The hostel itself has 9 floors, with the basement being the kitchen and dining area, and the 8th floor being mostly historic with tours through the old death row cells.
When booking I just picked the cheapest option which ended up having me in a 4 person tradition dorm. There wasn’t anything exciting about this room, it was on the 9th floor, and there are no elevators so I definitely got a leg workout. It was actually kind of spooky because my room was right beside death row and you could hear people touring around. I was the only person in my room the first night which also was spooky. Fast forward a day, I ended up changing into a single person cell and paying the difference for my last two nights because I figured, where else would I be able to do the same thing, without having my parents forever disappointed in me.
After I had dropped off all my stuff, I headed out into town to grab some dinner, and I picked a vegan restaurant called Pure Kitchen. I’m usually all about taking public transit when an option, but at this point I was so done with large, crowded vehicles, so I “splurged” and took and Uber. At Pure Kitchen I had the most amazing vegan poutine with coconut “bacon” and a beer from Flying Monkey Brewery called Juicy Ass. Like actually that was its name and the waiter laughed just saying it so I knew I had to try it. Name aside, it was a very good beer.
Pure Kitchen was only about a 25 minute walk back to the hostel so I decided to take the scenic route and walk down to Parliament before heading back. Got back, texted my mom that I was back alive, and called it a night!
Day two was a very gross and rainy day outside; perfect for museum hoping. A tip when travelling is to look for discounted passes for attractions and transit, both of which I opted in for today. Ottawa museum’s have a passport that’s good for 3 consecutive days and gives you access to your choice of 3 of the 6 museums, and costs about $35. Ottawa transit also has day bus passes which give you unlimited rides for $10.50.
Canadian War Museum
The first museum that I visited was the Canadian War Museum. The last time I was at this museum I was on my grade 8 school trip, and as interesting as it was then, it didn’t really have the same impact that it did now after actually understanding what’s going on in the world. This museum is set up in sections by war era and details both Canada’s and the world’s impact. There were two major points that I realized from here: 1) although Canada is a peacekeeping country now, they’ve done some very questionable things in previous wars, and 2) there has never been a time of total world peace in my entire lifetime.
There were also two special exhibits on; the first is called Canadian Forces Artists Program- Group 7, which showcased art (mostly photography) from active members of the Canadian Forces during deployments and training missions worldwide. The second was one of my favourite, and I actually did it first and then again at the end of the museum; called She Who Tells a Story and showcasing photography from 12 women from Iran and then Arab world. The photos tell storied of life for women in the Middle East, the highs, the lows, and the changes. Unfortunately this exhibit is over now but the works are available in book form.
National Gallery of Canada
After the war museum, the rain stopped so I decided to walk to my next museum, the National Gallery of Canada; Google Maps claims this is a 37 minute walk, but I am easily distracted by buildings and anything that I can take a photo of, so I’d say I was at least an hour. (Side note: I wasn’t wearing my FitBit but I could estimate that I was reaching 30,000 steps a day easily). I don’t know what I was thinking there would be in the National Gallery, but I honestly was not expecting that much old art (clearly I don’t read websites), and I definitely am not a person who appreciates this kind of art the way it should be. BUT, there was a super cool exhibit on the history of photography and the gold and silver that used to be used to develop photographs, as well as showcases of some of the first photos every taken, so that was really neat. And there’s also an extensive section of modern art, so when all else fails, you can find my staring at straight lines on a wall; this part I actually did enjoy. I was not raised to appreciate art, so I apologize for anyone reading that thinks I’m absurd, but basically my views on old art is ‘yeah you’re really talented and that is a very realistic painting or a person/tree/fruit/etc.’ but when it comes to modern art, while I still don’t understand at least I appreciate that someone’s brain had to come up with this super complex concept. And if you’ve ever been to this museum before, you will know that the whole thing is basically a maze and I only got lost about 6 times.
Something that I really appreciate about this museum was the massive amount of Indigenous art they showcased. From contemporary art by Indigenous peoples to traditional painting styles from groups all over Canada, there’s so much to see and learn about here.
I got back to hostel after my two museum adventures to find out that a bunch of the hostel staff were heading to a local trivia night, which they do every week, and anyone from the hostel was welcome to join, so I went along with them. The bar that was hosting (Kat & Kraken) actually was next door to Pure Kitchen where I was the night before for dinner. I somewhat successfully contributed to three answers: 1) about something medical related, 2) a Harry Potter reference, and 3) A Kardashian reference; just trying to make my family proud. We ended up coming in third and I convinced someone in out group to try the Juicy Ass beer from the night before also, so I’d say a pretty successful night over all.
After trivia a few of the group was heading to a local open mic night as one of them was performing so I tagged along with them to the really cool upstairs, local bar, called The Rainbow Bistro. They only stuck around for the first few acts but I stayed until about midnight just listening to the local talents. Before leaving the host asked my where I was from, and when I told him Hamilton, he responded with “ooooh like the Arkells hometown!” so there you have it, our one and only claim to fame!
More posts to follow including:
- Day 3/4
- All About the Jail