Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

After visiting Montréal, Québec, Canada, Lillian and I took a train about 2 hours to Ottawa, Ontario, the capital of Canada. It was a beautiful train ride through mostly wide open farmland.

We stayed in a hotel near the train station, and on the first evening walked a mile or two in the park alongside the Rideau River, where lots of people were out walking, biking, running, and playing:

We came across a surprising church, the Melkite Catholic Church, labeled in Arabic and English:

As the monument explains, they tie their history back to the establishment of Christianity in the Middle East in Antioch, then in Syria. We later looked it up on Wikipedia, and found an interesting history in the article Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

An interesting first church to see in Ottawa!

The next day we took the bus to see Parliament:

Nearby was the American embassy:

And down the street from that we visited the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica:

Across the street toward the Ottawa River is the Royal Canadian Mint, where we took a tour, and got to lift a 28 pound gold bar currently worth around US $525,000:

Outside of the photo frame were two armed guards keeping a watchful eye on the gold.

This location of the mint is where they make bullion and collectible coins of precious metals (gold, silver, platinum, and palladium). The circulating Canadian paper currency (actually plastic as of a few years ago!) and coins are made elsewhere. This mint currently makes the highest purity coins in the world, some now being 99.999% pure, in contrast to the 99.9% and sometimes 99.99% purity that is common at other mints.

Across the street is the National Gallery of Canada, a nice art museum:

Yes, there were even what looked like spider eggs in the sac of that spider sculpture. Lillian didn’t like me standing under that.

There were many great paintings, some sculpture and some multimedia. The one that made laugh the most was this painting by René Magritte from 1951, “Perspective: Madame Récamier by David”:

Lillian’s favorite painting was “Das Mißverständnis” (The Misunderstanding) by Daniel Richter from Germany in 2003:

The description reads:

“I am interested in more of a hysterical, paranoid view of the world,” says Daniel Richter, whose paintings are recognized for their evocative figures, often of conflicting scales, and vivid, saturated applications of colour. Issues of contemporary geopolitics and conflict are represented through allegorical references to the history of art. Here, a grey concrete cityscape sprawls under tumultuous skies, evoking an urban world on the brink of destruction. A tense, expectant atmosphere permeates the scene in which several figures in bright costumes approach birds perched in a tree that they mistake to be a threat. However, explains Richter, “the people do not see the cat. The cat is out to kill the birds, and he smiles knowingly at us. This is our drama. It’s called Das Mißverständnis.”

Behind the art museum is this sculpture, about which Lillian said on Instagram: “I’m not sure Canada knows how to do this street light thing...”:

Near Parliament Hill are these old steep canal locks:

We walked across the Pont du Portage Bridge back into Québec to the city of Gatineau, formerly called Hull. There we spent some time loitering in the large lobby of the Canadian Museum of History and walking around Jacques-Cartier Park, from where we had a good view across the Ottawa River to Parliament Hill:

Then we walked back across the Pont Alexandra Bridge to Nepean Point behind the art gallery:

It was great to finally visit Canada’s capital!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Montréal, Québec, Canada

After attending my company meeting in New York City at the beginning of October, Lillian and I took the Amtrak train "Adirondack" from New York Penn Station to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was scheduled to be an 11-hour ride, but was delayed at several points (at least once, they said, due to stalled freight trains on the tracks), so it was about 3 hours late to arrive, making it a 14-hour ride total! It was a nice time to travel through upstate New York, especially along the west side of Lake Champlain. Here's one small town where we got to get out during a delay:

In Montreal we stayed at the YWCA (Y des Femmes) hostel, which allows men to stay there too. It was a nice place, where we had a private 2-person room, and were able to use the shared kitchen for meals. We immediately liked the nearby Mont-Royal, the hill the Montreal is named after, which is very broad and has walking paths all over it. I read that it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York's Central Park. It has a beautiful view of the city near a chalet:

The plaque notes the place where French explorer Jacques Cartier visited on October 2, 1535. Montreal's history of European exploration and settlement goes way back!

We saw several beautiful Catholic cathedrals, and one Anglican church:

We enjoyed walking along the waterfront of the St. Lawrence River (le fleuve Saint-Laurent):

That domed building across the river is Bonsecours Market (Marché Bonsecours) across the river in Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal). A few more views of its dome:

Old Montreal has cobblestone streets, some open market areas, and lots of interesting old buildings. This is the city hall:

The second flower arrangement to the right commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Armenian holocaust:

This church is nicknamed the sailor's church, and has little model ship candleholders hanging all around. We got to hear a mid-day organ concert there:

We walked through the campus of McGill University and took a break the field where students played frisbee and chatted:

We walked through part of a huge cemetery and found many graves of eastern Europeans, including many Armenian ones like this:

Next we took a long walk to St. Joseph's Oratory, the largest church in Canada. We read that some pilgrims ascend the stairs on their knees, and the middle staircase is reserved for them (and has smoother steps, not the normal rough concrete). It is a huge church, beautiful, and has interesting modern artwork:

Its view over the city at sunset was very nice too.

Lillian enjoyed (or at least tolerated) my intentionally overly-literal translations of French phrases. This street sign "Trottoir barré" I rendered as "trotter barred!", with a sidewalk being something people trot on (but in this case should not):

There were lots of barred trotters around town. We trotted elsewhere.

We found a shop with a name that fits a running family pun on eggs in words with the ex- prefix:

We left from the central train station (Gare Centrale), which had large socialist-realist type art on the walls above the words to the national anthem "O Canada" in French on one side and English on the other:

We really enjoyed our two and a half days in Montreal! We walked 8.2 miles on day one, and 14.5 miles on day two. There was a lot we wanted to see, and it was mostly adjacent, so it didn't make sense to take a bus or the metro most of the time. The weather was pretty nice too, so we enjoyed being outside.

Our next stop was Ottawa, which I'll write about later.