An Ode to the Cities I’ve Loved, Part 1: Ottawa

I’m a city girl. I love cities, and the bigger the better. I love the walkability of cities, the frenetic energy of  busy streets, the independent shops, and the yummy vegan bakeries and/or ethnic food restaurants. I love a lot of things about cities in general, but there a few cities that hold a special place in my heart.

In this Ode to the Cities I’ve Loved series, I’ll spotlight those places that I love and why you should love them too.

I thought it would be appropriate to start off with the city that I’ve loved and lost, a place I’ll be visiting next week for the first time since I moved away from it(!).

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The capital of the the Great White North, the home of dead-eyed politicians, and so much more.

I lived in Ottawa for four years of my life, and though I was skeptical of it at first, I learned to love that city despite the freezing cold winters. In fact, I miss it so much sometimes that I consider moving back, and who knows what the future will bring. For now, though, I’ll just visit my old haunts and old friends and tell you why the capital of Canada is one of my favourite places.

When I first moved to Ottawa in 2007, I was sure the buildings weren’t tall enough, the streets weren’t busy enough, the city simply wasn’t big enough to fit my big city tastes. Eventually, I realized that it was just big enough to spend years exploring and enjoying, and small enough to feel like it was mine.

Not long after I settled into my dorm room, I started to explore the city. The first area I found that started to ease my fears  of Ottawa was Byward Market. Sure, it’s touristy, but it’s got the independent restaurants and shops that make it intriguing and loveable. It’s also great in the summer, when the stalls full of fresh veggies and handmade goods line the sidewalks. Come weekend evenings, it’s also the place where young people from all over the city gather to drink and dance the night away. While I outgrew the Byward bar scene eventually, it was great to have several bars in close proximity full of people to meet and greet.

In my second year of University, I moved into an apartment in the Glebe area of the city. As most long-term residents of Ottawa will agree, the Glebe is one of the best neighbourhoods in the city, and the housing prices prove it. While the words “yuppie” and “hippie” are often thrown out in reference to the Glebe, it remains one of my favourite places to be. It’s got countless independent stores, vegetarian bakeries, and coffee shops galore.

On that note, Bridgehead is an Ottawa institution that has all the fairly traded coffees and organic treats you need. I still miss spending days working on homework in one of the few Bridgeheads in the Glebe, munching on sesame seed pâté sandwiches and sipping on lattes with fancy designs drawn with cream on top.

After hours of hogging a table there, I’d move on to Wild Oat for some delicious soup or Auntie Loo’s Treats for a vegan cupcake or three. If there is one thing I hate most about the suburbs, it’s that I can’t walk to a bakery. Auntie Loo’s was down the street from my apartment, so you could say I’ve been spoiled. Constant cupcake contact is totally necessary as far as I’m concerned.

To work off some of those sweets, I would head down to the Rideau Canal for some much-needed jogging. It’s a beautiful place (during Spring, Summer, and especially Fall), and that beauty gave me a little extra push to strap on my running shoes on those days when the couch was calling my name. Well, sometimes anyway. Okay, maybe the couch usually won out, but it’s the thought that counts. I actually competed in the Ontario Championships for cross-country running in Ottawa way back in grade 9, and the only thing I remembered about the city was the way the trees with brightly coloured leaves lined the canal that Fall as we ran and ran and ran.

As much as I would like to say that running played a big part in my University career, let’s just say it didn’t. On the other hand, I did spend a lot of time at places like the Mayfair Theatre and Patty’s Pub. The Mayfair is another Ottawa landmark, and it’s a great place to see movies you’ve never heard of and throw things (okay, maybe just hold them up) during The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s an old-timey movie theatre and it’s pretty common to see a huge line outside right before an especially popular movie or event. I spent part of my first Halloween in Ottawa there watching Rocky Horror while dressed as a transvestite, and it was a welcome introduction to the wonders of the Glebe. Patty’s was another kind of introduction, and it’s a great place to spend time with friends (and spot Professors).

While I love the Glebe, it was nice to head downtown sometimes. On my way downtown on the bus, I would pass Parliament Hill and I’d always smile as I watched the tourists gather to see our version of Big Ben. It’s especially pretty at night.

To be right downtown Ottawa is to be on Rideau Street, which is a sociological study in everything, well, um…crazy. There’s the infamous Rideau McDonalds, where my friend walked in on someone mainlining heroin in the bathroom. Never go into that McDonalds after dark unless you are either a) intoxicated or b) willing to deal with obnoxious, drunken 18-year-olds. It isn’t unusual to see multiple police cars lining Rideau Street, and don’t be alarmed if you see someone getting handcuffed. Rideau is kind of like the Skid Row for juniors, the Canadian version of the bad part of town. It’s not that bad, it’s just…not yuppie like the Glebe, I guess.

If you’re willing to face Rideau Street, walk down it a bit and head to Vertigo Records for some vinyl love. You’ll pass about thirty shawarma shops on the way, so you might as well pop in one of those and eat some shaved meat too.

I’ll be back in Ottawa in a few days, and I can’t wait. I can almost guarantee I’ll be visiting a least a few of these locations (dear stalkers: I’m lying?), and it’ll be a welcome throwback. If the weather cooperates, I’ll also be relishing in the sunshine on one of the multiple patios (probably James Street Pub). Yay!

If you haven’t been to Ottawa, go! Just avoid November-March unless you have Canadian/Viking blood in you and enjoy torture in the form of frozen eyelashes.

 

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