Tag Archives: tourism

The Canadian Tulip Festival, plus “super-boring” Ottawa

First, an update from last post: I’ve heard back from VitaEarth and can now inform you that the built-in insert is made from bamboo, not cotton, and that the diapers are indeed designed to be a cross between an all-in-one and a pocket diaper. Also, it looks like the VitaEarth site is more or less up and running for those curious about other prints of theirs. Oh, and I’ve been informed that they will be trying out other styles/designs coming up.

In other news, it seems that Ottawa has completely skipped spring and gone straight into summer, just in time for the annual tulip festival. I used to live within an easy walk of Dow’s Lake (or is it Dows Lake?) and so had a nice look at all the tulips last year. I haven’t done anything this year so far as I’m a little further east and OCTranspo (ie the bus) makes it difficult to get around Ottawa’s core–having been mostly designed to get people in and out of the suburbs, apparently, but that is a rant for another day. Plus I’m not that up to walking these days. I did see some of the tulips in front of parliament this morning, from the bus window, and they looked nice enough. I know not everyone is into flowers, but it is pretty impressive to see so many variations of the same basic type. Aside from the variety of colours, there are other delightful nuances as well. Some petals look feathery, some stems are long, some blooms are tiny. A delight! Anyway, it is pretty much Ottawa’s claim to fame, so it is worth seeing at least once. I like all the flowers. They class up the place.

Speaking of classing up the place, I came across the most unintentionally dismissive quote about Ottawa the other day while (who knows why?) reading the National Post. It is so dismissive, it wasn’t even really about Ottawa, just using it as a filler for “lame place no one cool would want to be.” This particular piece (“Be cool, Toronto: Ontario’s capital having a moment as world’s latest ‘It’ city — which even Montrealers admit”) is a sort-of review of a recent guide to Toronto by a Montrealer. It is also a sort-of meditation on how Montrealers are suddenly realizing that hey, Toronto is a pretty fun place to be (no blame–I used to live in Montreal and had the same vague impressions of Toronto as a stodgy polluted culture-less wasteland before moving there for grad school). In the course of the article, the author recounts a random meeting with another Montrealer he knows:

“In Montreal people always compare Toronto to Ottawa. You know, super-boring, everything closes at 9 p.m. When I got here I was shocked. It’s not like that at all — it’s totally great. I think in Montreal the past 10 years people have been really depressed, with all the corruption and bridges collapsing. They lost their pride. Toronto doesn’t have that problem. It’s full of pride.” (Maripier Isabelle, PhD candidate at UofT)

As you can see, Ottawa’s boringness is taken for granted in the same way Toronto’s once was. To be fair, this impression is not limited to Montrealers. I had never really even considered Ottawa’s existence while I was in Montreal (sorry!), and when I moved to Toronto I picked up the habit of dismissing the place in much the way Montrealers dismiss(ed) Toronto.

To be even more fair, I myself go through bouts of despair where I believe, whole-heartedly, that Ottawa is the biggest waste of potential in Canada; is boring, bureaucratic, and short-sighted; and that if I don’t somehow make it back to Toronto, I will waste away and die a lonely death. I exaggerate only slightly. So who am I to judge someone else’s casual assumption that Ottawa = limp, boring, and lifeless? Well, I live here now and will for at least the next two years, so I don’t really have a choice but to seek out the pleasant aspects of the city. Perhaps it is Stockholm syndrome. Perhaps it is that I have become steadily more boring myself (a very important factor that should not be dismissed out of hand). Perhaps it is that Ottawa really does have some nice things, they just aren’t immediately obvious to the casual visitor.

Here is what Ottawa thinks people should do:

  • Tour parliament
  • Visit the Museum of [History/Civilization]
  • Visit the National Gallery
  • Arrive in February and do Winterlude stuff (skating on the canal, etc)
  • Arrive in May and do Tulip Festival stuff (walk along the canal, etc)
  • Visit Byward Market and Sparks Street

The problem with most of those activities is that having done them once, there isn’t really any compelling reason to do them again–or, from a tourist’s perspective, to return to the city. I’m sure many would disagree, but let’s think about it:

  • Once you do the free tour of parliament, you realize just how lacking in substance the tour is. Okay, nice architecture, but it isn’t like you can just walk in off the street and sit and enjoy the atmosphere; the only way to gain access is to be shuffled along in a group. The grounds are nice, I’ll give you that, but you have to like that kind of thing. Fortunately, I do, but not everyone does.
  • When it was the Museum of Civilization, the newly-renamed Museum of History was one of the most appallingly disappointing museums I’d ever visited. I would recommend it to no one. Reworking it might actually have been a good thing, though I haven’t had the guts to check it out yet.
  • I can’t really complain about the National Gallery. I like that it exists and have an annual membership. Some of the exhibits could be better curated, but then what couldn’t? My biggest complaint is that is closes far too early. It would be so nice to wander around there after sunset, seeing the city, parliament, and the river all lit up. Closing so early is such a waste of all that nice glass.
  • Maybe it’s because I lived in Quebec City as a child. Maybe it’s because I am neither a child nor have a child that is not currently ensconced inside me. But I don’t enjoy Winterlude. I don’t enjoy February as a whole, so I appreciate the effort to make it bearable, but all the interesting “grown-up” activities are, for the most part, too expensive for me to bother leaving the house during the dark and cold.
  • As I mentioned, the tulips are nice. But you have to like tulips. And they don’t, as far as I know, scream hipster fun. Though they should. Absolutely.
  • If you like hippie (not hipster!) sweaters, overpriced restaurants, frou-frou boutiques, and ugly parking complexes, I guess Byward Market has something to offer. If you like perpetual construction zones and stuff that closes at 5 pm, Sparks Street is okay. Both have a lot of potential; neither offer much at the moment.

So…

What is the alternative? Or, rather, what non-boring things do I like about Ottawa? I will be a tease and leave that for another post as this one is already over 1200 words. In the meantime, enjoy wondering what possible fun there could be in “super-boring” Ottawa. Also, to my husband: happy anniversary!

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