Spontaneous travel is now a rarity around my house. With the kids, work schedules and other obligations we find it difficult to pick up and abandon our routine. But, I’m always willing to change. Being the new year, we thought we’d take a chance and drive up to Ottawa. A short road trip during one of the coldest months of the year to a colder city than our own.
It’s been 15 years since I lived in Ottawa. Some things have changed (our cheap hangouts and bars have new names; public transportation has improved; the Mayfair Theatre was deservingly declared an official heritage building) but the city remains beautiful and charming in its historic glory. New and innovative restaurants and bakeries mingle with my trusted standbys. The city is preparing for many events in 2017 as Canada celebrates 150 years since confederation so changes continue to happen.
Our ways of travelling have changed as well. When I first started travelling on my own, I would book (or just walk into) the cheapest accommodations, usually a hostel. I prepared to spend little time at the hostel other than sleeping as I wanted to explore all day. Now, we chose places that we will spend time at. Places that are comfortable for the adults while the children nap. Hotel or apartment rentals that have pools are always a bonus, especially in the winter months when walking outdoors can only be tolerated for so long.
This time we stayed at the Fairmont Château Laurier, a grand historic hotel in the heart of the city. Our girls loved exploring the corridors, sitting in the large chairs, the giant revolving doors, the doorman and swimming in the pretty (but cold) swimming pool. The hotel provided mini robes which made them feel quite special. It is the ambiance that captured us. Experiencing the elegance of tradition and at the same time feeling cozy and welcomed.
Ottawa is glittering in the winter as when it is not snowing, the sun is shining. Our walks outside, to the market, the cafes and around Parliament Hill were always met with relief when we stepped back inside to enjoy a warm beverage. We took full advantage of slipping inside the cafess and bookstores during our adventures outdoors. Below are a few highlights and recommended places to check out when you visit Ottawa.
We were one of the first customers at Continental Bagel in the ByWard Market. Before we arrived at the shop, we could smell the wood burning oven. The smells of baking Montreal style bagels wafted down the market alleyway. There were many choices but in the end, I wanted something simple so I went with a seven-grain bagel with cream cheese. It satisfied my craving – a slight crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. I was surprised to find a bit of a sweet taste in the bagel as well. My husband ordered his usual- the BLT, without tomato. Also delicious. Going out for bagels is always a treat for me. Somehow, the cream cheese is creamier. The bagels are fresher and there seems to be a special way that they prepare them that I cannot seem to replicate in my home. I have not tried to bake bagels before or researched a recipe as I prefer to leave it to the experts.
A trip to Ottawa is not complete without a stop at La Bottega Nicastro. Opened in 1972, it is a combination Italian grocery store and deli. We always time our visit around lunch time so we can stock up on staples (cheeses, olive oil, pasta sauces and meats) and then leave with a delicious sandwich topped with spicy eggplant, provolone and olives, to mention a few. Being a baker, I also visit for the biscotti and if I happen to be there on the weekend, the cannoli’s are to die for.
I first heard about SuzyQ Doughnuts in a 2014 Chatelaine Magazine article while home for the Christmas holidays. The story behind the founding of the shop by Susan Harmer is inspiring and I love that she’s envisioned the bakery to continue to be a family affair. The shop offers both a clean and comforting design which was perfect for us on a cold winter day. Small wooden tables take up much of the space with a large, family style table along the window. The outside is hard to miss with its vibrant yellow paint. Oh yes, and the doughnuts! Where do I start? Well, my girls were giddy with excitement when they spotted the Froot Looped topped Blue Vanilla Fruit Loop Doughnut. They split a large doughnut. Having very little self-control at the counter, I also ordered the following: Boston Cream, Earl Grey, Cookies and Cream, the Mocha Chocolate Truffle and the Peanut Butter Chocolate plus a small box for our friends back home. The Boston Cream was the first one that I tried and I admit, I am hooked. The doughnut was still warm so it was also the messiest doughnut I have eaten (even my children noticed!) but it tasted so good. The doughnut itself is light and tasty, filled with pastry cream and topped with a chocolate glaze. Unfortunately, the famous, Sugar Munkii was sold out during our visit so I guess we’ll have to stop by again to try it!
We’re hoping to make it to the tulip festival this spring and weather permitting, we may try to go again this winter to skate on the Rideau Canal (this is a rite of passage if you live in Ontario). Where are your favourite places to visit in Ottawa?
PS! As we were returning from Ottawa, I was pleased to read that Canada had been ranked the number one place to visit The New York Times 52 Places to Go in 2017! So go on, plan your visit!
Update on January 12, 2017: I subscribe to the New York Times and receive it on Sundays. It takes me all week to read it so I just came across a very appropriate article for this post. The travel section featured Ottawa in their weekly column 36 Hours column. It is a great article so check it out: 36 Hours in Ottawa.