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.
In the front seat of a float plane, I enjoyed a breathtaking view of Vancouver as I descended into its harbour. For such a densely populated city, I’d arrived somewhere small and friendly.
After eight days exploring North America, it was time to visit its more westerly extremities, starting with Saltspring Island.