Date of Trip: July 2010
I had a wonderful time in Ottawa, Canada, home exchanging in the western part of the city in July 2011. I had a fine location in a lovely townhouse near the intersection of two main roads. I took a girlfriend on this one and we stopped both coming and going.
Going we stopped in Auburn, NY, to see the home of William Seward. Seward was the Secretary of State during the administrations of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. He was nearly killed as part of the assassination conspiracy on the night of April 14, 1865. Most people have totally forgotten about him. The house was wonderful with lots of furnishings and items that had belonged to Seward. The familysome of whom still live in Auburnturned over the house virtually intact. We also stumbled upon the house where Harriet Tubman spent her last years and visited that as well.
In Ottawa, in addition to doing all the tourist sites (Changing of the Guard at Parliament, tour of Parliament Hill, tour of the Parliament building, Museum of Canadian Civilization, Canadian War Museum, sound and light show at the Parliament building, Byward Market, Rideau Hall, National Gallery of Art, Mint, etc.), we also went white water rafting on the Ottawa River northwest of Ottawa (a bit rough for my taste, but still a blast as always). We were surprised at the various cultural offerings of this smaller city and certainly did not exhaust it in the week we had there. I would highly recommend Ottawa as a tourist destination to all of you. The Canadian dollar is worth slightly more than the American now, so it was sort of expensive for usespecially since taxes on everything (including gasoline) are more expensive in Canada than in the US. I came home with a can of Tim Horton’s coffee as a souvenir. My girlfriend bought an array of the more conventional (t-shirts, mugs, etc.). We both had the much ballyhooed beavertails in the Byward Market (fried dough usually with cinnamon and sugar, but occasionally with very highly caloric other toppings such as oreo cookie) but passed on the place with the “Obama cookies” (cookies supposedly purchased by President Obama while he was there).
We loved the museums and spent hours in the museums we chose. I especially liked both the Museum of Civilization (full of Canadian history) and the War Museum (great seeing the other perspective on the American Revolution and the War of 1812 [which Canadians view as the war that founded Canada!]). We also enjoyed the occasionally very funny Caravaggio exhibit at the National Gallery of Art.
On the way home we stopped first in Gananoque on the St. Lawrence for a boat tour of the 1000 islands. We stopped at Heart Island for 2 hours to tour Boldt Castle. We had hoped to do the tour of the totally amazing castle and then have a leisurely lunch on the island, but were disappointed that there was no sit down restaurant. The Castle, which was never completed is being restored by the state of NY as a tourist attraction (bring your passport if you visit from the Canadian side as we did!). It was abandoned when Boldt’s wife died. He made his money is the hotel trade; he was the manager of the Waldorf-Astoria when it was the place to stay in NYC (not the newer hotel by that name). He also reputedly invented 1000 Island salad dressing. This cruise can be done as a day out from Ottawa, but we chose to do it on the way home as it was almost adjacent to our border crossing point on the way to Rte 81.
We stopped for a night at a really awful motel (which will go unnamed) because all the decent places were booked solid as people meandered home after the July 4th holiday week. Then, the next day, visited the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA. This museum will give you a good overview of the Civil War and has an interactive bit where you can discuss it with Lincoln and various other figures in his official family. This was a place we found as a result of road signs. Because we arrived before the museum opened (at noon on Sunday!) we meandered around Harrisburg, PA, and eventually stopped at the “231” restaurant downtown where we had our best meal of the trip. My girlfriend and I are not “foodies”, so many of the meals were just eaten where we ended up and not in specific (and expensive) places loved by gourmets.
The National Civil War Museum was very interesting to the two of us as we are both tour guides in DC (and I sometimes tour direct in other North American locations). However, if you are on your way to DC you would not want to miss the Gettysburg, PA, battlefield. We did stop in Gettysburg with an idea of visiting the Eisenhower Farm (we had been to the battlefield many times as it is only 1 1/2 hours out from DC). We were too late and ended up visiting the David Willis house (where Lincoln stayed the night before delivering the Gettysburg address) and having ice creams next door before heading home.