Transcending America’s Pacific coastline aboard Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.
After four days in Washington, it was on to another North American capital, Ottawa.
Arriving late in the evening, with a wallet full of foreign currency, and my accommodation (the brilliant Benner’s B&B) several miles away from the airport, finding some Canadian Dollars was my first order of business. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem, but I endured a moment of panic when the only ATM (or ABM) in the small terminal building wouldn’t accept my debit card. Thankfully I found a Bureau de Change where I could exchange enough US Dollars to pay for a taxi. Mental note: always carry the correct currency!
After checking into the bed and breakfast, I headed out for some food. The city I encountered was cold, creepy and continued to provide no ATMs that would accept my card. First impressions weren’t great. Having finally found an ATM and then some Pizza, I headed back to my accommodation and hoped the following day wouldn’t be as stressful.
With little time to explore the city, I started the day with a wonderful breakfast prepared by the owners of Benners. I chatted with them a little about Toronto and Vancouver, and listened to a debate about which is more interesting as a neutral observer. In a few days time I’d be able to decide for myself.
After breakfast, I headed to Parliament Hill. Looking to make comparisons between this and another Commonwealth legislature I’d toured in Wellington two years earlier, I heard a similar history of original buildings be destroyed by fire. The current complex — completed in 1927 — is split into three blocks (East, Centre and West) yet the distinguishing feature is the Peace Tower, built to commemorate those Canadians who had lost their lives during the First World War. The only surviving section of the original building is the Library of Parliament. Inside this circular building, an ornate room with a three story bookshelf surrounding a brilliant white statue of Queen Victoria. Impressive.
I was struck by the continued presence of monarchy and other holdovers from the country’s former dominion status, especially when compared to the Parliament in New Zealand. The lobby outside the Senate chamber is covered by a beautiful stained glass ceiling that includes references to England, Scotland and Wales — in addition to crests representing Canadian provinces and territories.
Canadian Museum of Civilization
In the afternoon I crossed the river to visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The most interesting exhibits were to be found in Canada Hall, where I could explore Canada’s history from Viking settlers to the near present. Exploration was aided by full-scale replica rooms and buildings (my favourite being the ‘North Star’ print shop). The curved, layered exterior of the building fascinated me most; besides Parliament Hill, this is possibly the only building in Ottawa worthy of mention.
Sat in the front seat of another float plane, I enjoyed a breathtaking view of Vancouver as I descended into its harbour. For such a densely populated city, I felt I’d arrived somewhere small and friendly.
After eight days exploring North America, it was time to visit some of its more westerly extremities. Flying out from Toronto, my first stop was Saltspring Island, via Vancouver Airport and a float plane.
Some cities are best arrived at by air; only by flying over Sydney, London or New York do you get a sense of their scale and majesty. San Francisco is best approached by car, with some of the best views of that city seen as you cross the Bay Bridge. Others are best suited to arrival by train. Toronto is one such city.
My North American adventure started in Washington DC; ostensibly so I could attend an edition of this year’s An Event Apart conference. Yet it was also a good excuse to catch up with Shannon, who graciously planned a tour of the city for me and Andy.
Having tried so diligently last year to reduce the amount of flying I do, I hoped to keep this year’s long-haul flights to one. With an important part of my family now settled in São Paulo, and some of my best friends based in San Francisco, maybe such lofty goals are foolhardy. Before I write about my most recent travels, I address the hypocrisy in taking such a trip.