Monday, 2 July 2012

Canada Day in Ottawa

Here's a weird thing about Quebec: all leases end June 30th. So on July 1st, everybody, and I do mean everybody, whose lease ended and who didn't renew it has to move. Also, July 1st is Canada day, but nobody in this province celebrates it anyway because everyone's too busy with the giant clusterfuck that is moving day. You may think that's a parade down the street? You think you see some floats coming? Well lemme get all Chuck Testa on you and say NOPE! That's just a bunch of trailers loaded with furniture racing down the street with people shuffling to get to their new flat. Then, late in the evening and during the night, you have a bunch of people driving around picking up whatever scraps that people left behind on the curb to be picked up by the garbage collectors like old TVs, tables, dressers whatever. That day really is a huge mess. And if you're lucky enough to be blessed with a pick up truck, then it's your chance to make a lot of dough helping people move.

Anyway, I wanted to run away from the chaos on that day. I've been on the down for quite a while and needed a change of scenery too. Sooo, this weekend I decided to do something of myself and invited my sis and her boyfriend to spend the day in our nation's capital, Ottawa, for Canada day and run away from the crazy moving circus in Montreal an go partay! It turned out that a little cousin of mine and my sister's boyfriend's sister (sister in law?) wanted to come as well. Hey! The more the merrier! It's also going to be a fun experience for the kids. Plus, I'll finally get to show my sis and her boyfriend the town I lived in for 3 years. They never had the chance to come visit while I lived there, which is very sad. There was so much I wanted to show them there and it would have been such a pleasure to have them over. Well, it's all in the past now and I was happy to finally give them a little tour on such a special day.

O Canada!

To drive there I took the scenic route via highway 17 passing through all the small towns along the Ottawa river or rivière des Outaouais. It's a really nice road to take because you get to see beautiful quaint little farming towns with your typical country houses. When you get close to the city of Ottawa, you drive along the river itself an you have a beautiful view. Everyone in the car really enjoyed their ride and that made me really happy.

When we finally got in town, it was lunch time but no one was hungry yet. So I decided to start slow and show them the spots I used to go to, to see the ducks and geese. There's this little park where the Rideau river passes through and it's usually filled with birds. So we stopped there and everyone was amazed. Even I couldn't believe how many geese there were. And so many young goslings too.

No, no, no! Not him!

As we went down the riverbank, they congregated around us. It was obvious that they were used to being fed by visitors.

Just behind us, up in the grass, a tall blue heron landed and slowly made his way down to the river to soak his feet in the shallow water. What a beautiful bird! By the way, here's a funny story: I once almost hit a heron on the highway on my way from Montreal to Ottawa. It came flying out from behind a patch of trees and was going to cross the road right at the level of my car's windshield just as I was passing by. I had to suddenly swerve away to the left  to avoid the bird as it made a sudden dive to its right and we both looked at each other while we were side by side with the dumbest look of surprise on our face. But anyway, here's what the heron looked like.

As it strutted it stuff in the shallow water, two royal swans came to say hello. Yes, they are ROYAL swans and here's why: 
"Queen Elizabeth II gave six pairs of mute swans to the City of Ottawa in 1967 in honour of Canada’s 100th birthday. The Mute swans you see in the river today are descendants of these original six pairs." - Green Living Ottawa
 One of them is a white swan and the other is black. They are beautiful, calm big birds and they're always amazing to watch. They're really friendly too and they will come close to you without any fear.

After playing around with the birds long enough it was time for lunch. I drove around a bit to show my peeps the Rideau Canal and a few other sights and we headed to Bank Street in the Glebe where we stopped at Nicastro's to get a tasty fresh Italian porchetta sandwich and a bunch of olives. Nicastro's is one of the best places in Ottawa to get some good sandwiches and paninis. Another great spot is Babbo's on Main street at the corner of Hawthorne near the highway 417. In both these places the staff is super friendly and their sandwiches are amazing. You can get them with a nice Sanpelegrino fruit soda and a little dessert if you want. Babbo's has some really good desserts by the way! Unfortunately I don't have any pictures as we were super hungry and we were just focused on eating. Oh well.

Once we had our lunch I took the gang to Little Italy. I really wanted to show my brother in law this pub that sells a gazillion kinds of imported beers from around the world. They literally have a book of beers! The place is called Pub Italia. It's a bit of a weird place because it's probably the main attraction in Little Italy, yet it has nothing that looks Italian about it. In fact, their sign is a big Irish Shamrock filled with the colours of the Italian flag. The inside of the place looks like an old medieval church too. But, it's a great place with great food and, of course, awesome beer! So after showing that place to my brother in law we kept on walking in that part of town and entered a few places to check out desserts and gelatos in a little bakery called Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana. This is an excellent place to get an espresso while enjoying some incredibly delicious desserts or getting a big cup of gelato.

Finally, we went back to the car and headed to Dow's lake just down the street for a little afternoon break. The bro and I sat on a patio at Malone's Lakeside Grill while my sister and his sister went for a paddle boat ride. We just chilled there for about an hour and I got to enjoy a fresh cold delicious Steamwhistle. Steamwhistle is my most favourite beer EVER! I swear, I had dreams about that beer! I don't know what it is about it, it's just so delicious! When I crave beer, I crave THAT one. it's a damn shame it can't even be sold in Quebec because of stupid protectionist laws. Steamwhistle is a microbrewery located at the foot of the CN tower in Toronto. They only make the one pilsner and they are really proud of it because they do that one thing really, really well!

After our little break, we went to check out a little fair that was happening in a nearby park. We hung out and the girls tried a couple of rides that were like those spinning cups that you sit in. There was this one called the Ring of Fire that looked like a Stargate. Riders sat in this caged cart like a bunch of chickens as the the whole thing went full 360 around the inside of the wobbly ring, held upright by a few cables. I think I'll just go get some cotton candy, thanks.

No, that's not a young Stargate fan convention,

Then we headed downtown to join the real festivities, walk around and take some pictures. As usual, for Canada day, the parliament hill and the surrounding streets were packed with people. Sparks street, a pedestrian street, had street performers and every restaurant had a large patio where people could sit and eat while enjoying the great weather and the festive vibe. It was hard to navigate through while trying to keep everybody together. But, it was nice to be able to show the gang all the monuments and statues and the locks connecting the Ottawa river to the canal, etc.

My sister insisted that we go see "the spider" named Maman, French for mother. I HATE that thing. It creeps the hell out of me! I don't know why, but every time I look at it I get the feeling it's going to start moving like one of those frame-by-frame animated monsters from the movie Beetlejuice and stab everyone to death with its sharp legs. To top it off, the godawful thing has an EGG SACK under it's belly!



Thankfully, we didn't hang around there for too long and we headed into the Byward Market for dinner. We were on Murray street, talking about what kind of food we were feeling like having and I was giving the gang some viable options that are good for everyone when suddenly, there was a light that came from heaven and angels were signing.

Fatboys Southern Smokehouse. Wait... SOUTHERN? Does that mean....

That place was new because I never saw it before when I was living in Ottawa just a year ago. Fatboys Southern Smokehouse. The word Southern caught my attention and we crossed the street to check out their menu. SWEET LAWD ALMIGHTY! THEY HAVE SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN! I don't know if you remember, but I've been craving some good real southern style fried chicken for a long time now. Of course, Montreal didn't have anything to satisfy this craving. Sure enough, I had to go to another city, in whole other province to accidentally stumble upon such a wonderful place. So in we went.

This place is AH-Mazing. When we came in we were greeted by a couple of super friendly smiling employees. We could hear some live music from inside the restaurant and as we walked further in we noticed there was a stage inside the restaurant for live bands and there were a couple of guys playing guitar and singing rock songs. The whole place was well decorated, but the icing on the cake was the statue of a colonel greeting you in the entrance to the dining area. I was psyched!

There was a really good crowd at the restaurant that evening too. There were lots of people from the States who were there. Some of which were from Georgia such as this one dude who was the life of the party at his table. The dude and the band kept interacting back and forth and were entertaining everyone in the restaurant. The band kept calling out for people in the crowd who had a musical talent and of course, the dude goes up to the stage with his harmonica and started playing with the band. They were a lot of fun to watch and the band kept on playing some really cool songs and everyone was singing along. It was great!

What was even better was the menu. Good God! It all looked so good! They served chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork, ribs and a lot more, plus a surprisingly awesome list of sides. Finally, real, authentic, southern food! I was so happy! THIS is what we're missing in Montreal!!! Here's a part of the menu.

When the waiter arrived, I placed my order: GIMME SOME FRIED FUCKING CHICKEN!!!!!!!11 with a side of creamed corn, smoked bacon mac n cheese and the cornbread. I will need to go back there to try the mash and gravy and the collard greens. The rest of the gang all got the ribs with fries. When we got our food, I took the time to admire my food. Looked at it, smelled it. It looked and smelled delicious.

The picture doesn't do the creamed corn any justice.

Mmmmm-mmm! I wish you were there to taste this.

I grabbed a piece and sank my teeth into it. Sweet Jesus! This is what I was yearning! This was the perfect combination of spices and herbs and the chicken was the juiciest chicken I've ever tasted. If this is good, I can't imagine how amazing the real deal must be like down south! The creamed corn is home made and was delicious. The mac n cheese was amazing as well, with the bechamel sauce and the bacon. The cornbread though was super moist and sweet and reminded me of the corn bread muffin mix you buy at the grocery store. I wasn't too impressed by that. Good cornbread is the next thing I need to get. My sister and I traded a piece of chicken for some ribs and I gotta say, the ribs were not the fall off the bone smoked ribs I've been used to, but man they were tasty! Next time I'm in town, I'm definitely making this my go to spot. Sorry The Works. Your burgers are still thunderbitchin', but they can't beat southern fried chicken. We can still be friends and meet from time to time though, right?

After an awesome meal accompanied by great entertainment, we headed out to find a spot to squat and wait for the evening Canada day fireworks to start. When the clock hit 10, the show started. I gotta say, this year they really put on a great show. The final was deafening and absolutely crazy. Our day couldn't have ended any better.

When the fireworks were over, we squeezed through the crowd and fought our way back to the car and left the city to go back home. Everyone was pooped and the whole gang fell asleep in the car, except for my little cousin who was still way too excited about her day to even blink. I filled up my car on cheap gas right before the Quebec border (CAN $1.17/L or US $4.42/gal) and it's a good thing I did, because gas in Montreal was more expensive at CAN $1.32/L or roughly US $5/L and I barely used any gas.

What a day. Canada day celebrations with great people that I love, FRIED CHICKEN and ending it all with a big bang! It couldn't have been any better!

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