Of Capitals and Francophones: Ottawa to Montréal

  • 240 km travelled
  • 01 Canada Day hangover
  • 04 bicycles pedaled

We always believed “the more the merrier” was an idiom based in truth. So when our neighbours mentioned tagging along with us through Canada last summer, we were immediately on board. The plan was this: eat and drink our way through Ottawa during the Canada Day weekend, then hit the road with a vague goal of hitting Montréal. I say vague because our orienteering skills are less than stellar. Once in Canada’s French epicentre, we thought we’d get to know the city the best way we knew how: by bike.

Day 1
Culture by canal
We got in late the night previous, but Joey, always perky, had us up and dipping kayaks into the main city canal before most folks had decided what to spread on their toast. After a brief paddle, we wandered over to the Museum of Civilization before hopping in a water taxi bound for the stunning Ottawa Convention Centre. Being a bit of an architecture buff, Rob lectured us on angles and post-modernism — until we all needed a drink. And being just slightly past our 20’s, we added a fine meal to the aforementioned drink. The sun finally set over dinner as we laughed about the day, and Rob tried in vain to continue his now legendary architecture speech.
Day 2
Oh, Canada Day
Red and white and red and white and repeat. Anyone who thinks Canadians aren’t A) patriotic and B) partiers, haven’t been up here for the July 1st weekend. We saw the country’s British roots during the changing of the guard, and fell in love with Canada’s national heart-attack-in-a-cup: poutine. We walked off the snacks before grabbing some patio time with a side of local wine. Night came, and the afternoon heat waned just enough to be perfect. Crowds were bustling but oddly polite, and fireworks popped off above as music rang out below. Our legs were sore that night, but the show was well worth the aches.
Day 3
Floating along
Day three felt like a Wednesday… hump day as we call it. So we decided to take a breather from beating the pavement and start off at Spa Nordik. After hitting a few pools and enjoying a well-earned massage, we did what any rational adult would — we went for ice cream. After Rob cleaned the better part of his strawberry sundae off his shirt, we headed to the National Gallery for some culture that wasn’t wrapped in a waffle cone. For lunch, we stayed mobile, snacking through the Byward Market. After cookies and hot dogs and a good bit of strolling, we landed at a little Irish pub, where the beer drinkers of our group would have happily spent a few hours, or days.
Day 4
Planes and automobiles
Goodbye English, hello French. We packed up and hit the road for old Montréal. Of course, we didn’t get very far once Rob realized the Canadian Aviation Museum was nearby. So we made the stop and explored a little. Before we knew it, Rob had signed up for a bi-plane flight (a happier man I’ve never seen). We snooped around while he buzzed the nearby city, and finally pried him out of the cockpit. We stopped for lunch at a great little diner; then took a quick peek inside Le Château Montebello. We were too full to eat again quite yet, so we drove on to Parc Oméga — a wildlife reserve — with hopes of spotting a bear. After seeing all sorts of creatures from elk to chipmunks, we gave up our bear search and had a quick snack. As luck would have it, though, we got all the bear we could handle on our drive out. You’d be amazed how fast windows can roll up.
Day 5
A taste of Montréal
We began Montréal with a trip to the massive Biodôme, which is sort of like a futuristic sports stadium filled with all manner of plants and animals. The sturgeons were the size of my couch, and the puffins looked to be a classy bunch of birds. We moved on to the botanical gardens next, pausing for a little meditation, and round of killer sandwiches. Old Montréal was our next stop, and we were able to get there under pedal power using Bixi, the city’s pick-up/drop-off-anywhere bike rental system. We tucked into a few bars and gastropubs for cocktails and charcuterie. That led to more cocktails. Then more food. Then four adults laughing like ten-year olds in a tipsy cab ride back to the hotel.
Day 6
Mont Royal or Bust
After last night’s cocktails, we started a bit slower than normal by riding the Montréal metro to a quiet little park on Mont Royal for a picnic. Attendees? Us four, and one very curious squirrel. We got up high for some views, then toured Mont Royal’s shops and generally lovely scenery. We were all getting our second (or third?) wind at this point, and by chance, we wandered past a dinner cruise departing on the half hour. The grin on Joey’s face said it all. We got the last four spots and set sail. Truly, this was a floating photo op at its very best.
Day 7
Jazz Fest
Our last day came faster than we’d expected. We’d biked and hiked and ate and drank our way through these two incredible cities. Rob also got to ride in a bi-plane. I mean, seriously — who does that? We decided to hop on the metro again to start our final afternoon, but got off where our concierge told us we’d find a great scooter rental place. What a perfect way to get through throngs of jazz fest fans. Did I mention our last day landed on Montréal Jazz Fest? A handy bit of planning on my part, thanks. We parked our rides and found a spot to take in the show. Beers were cheered. Food was shared. Music was played. It was one of those nights that you just don’t forget.