Ottawa and Mont Tremblant - January 2004 Megamail

Hey folks. I bet with all this wedding talk as of late you thought you would be exempt from such things as brutal as a Mega Mail. Well, surprise, surprise! Sam and I (well, just Sam actually and I tagged along for the ride) had to leave the country in order to renew her visa as part of the new laws since 9-11. It didn't matter what country she went to, and as Canada is a pretty friendly (and close!) place, we decided to go to Ottawa, renew her visa and then do some skiing at Mont Tremblant while waiting for the paperwork to clear.


As Sam's meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa was scheduled for 9:30am Thursday and they would not provide an estimate for how much time it would take to complete the paperwork, we felt uncomfortable to book any flights as we didn't really know a good return date. Thus, we opted to drive instead of fly. Before you say 'Yikes' well, go ahead, say Yikes. Thank you. I feel better about it.

OK, so a drive to Ottawa from Richmond takes about 10+ hours and includes such perilous metropolises as D.C., Baltimore, Harrisburg, Scranton and Syracuse. In order to avoid D.C. and Baltimore rush hours, we wanted to leave by noon Wednesday. We did and had a pretty uneventful drive up to Ottawa. We listened to a book on tape called Back Story. It was pretty entertaining and involved a detective trying to solve a 30 year old murder. All I'm going to say is 'Flipity Flop!'

It did start to snow once we reached Canada and it made for some slower driving but all in all, not bad. Along the way we munched on Lunchables and Sun Chips and slurped down Coca Colas. Mmmm, I love the road trip! We arrived some time after 10pm which is when we were expecting to.

One new thing for me was that a U.S. citizen can no longer get into Canada with just a drivers license. They want an actual passport, which fortunately I brought along. This seems to be a recent development so beware.


We stayed at the Quality Inn on Rideau Street. As far as location, we couldn't have done much better. It was within walking distance of the embassy and was located just outside the ByWard District which was a really happening place. It had underground parking (which cost extra) and was one of the cheaper options& under $100 (Canadian) per night.

We could have stayed at a cheaper place further away, but then we would've had to deal with driving and parking and we are glad we didn't because the snowfall the night before was still going strong the next morning and made for havoc on the roads.

So Sam had her appointment at 9:30. I escorted her in the unbelievably cold and snowy conditions and afterwards I meandered through the ByWard District to get a feel for what it had to offer. There were numerous restaurants and (unlike NYC) there were numerous pubs. I liked what I was seeing.

Before I knew it, Sam was back from her meeting and we had the entire afternoon to explore Ottawa. Ottawa, as you may or may not know, is the capital of Canada. Their 'Capital Square' is the best that I have seen personally. It sits atop a small bluff overlooking the river and the buildings are an awesome display of neo-gothic architecture.

We took a guided tour which lasted about an hour and was free. On the way to the tour, the bell tower was chiming away. I guess it does this once a day starting at noon so donut miss it! Unfortunately, the library portion of the capital was closed for renovation and will be for a couple more years. This was disappointing because it really looked like it would have been a nice place see. Besides the building, the tour was interesting because the guide gave a pretty good high-level description of how Canadian government works. There are definitely some pros over the U.S. system. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not touting revolution, I'm just saying...

Afterwards we took in a pint and delicious french onion soup at the Elephant and Castle pub a block away. The pub was also apart of the Rideau Centre, which is a large shopping mall in case the shoppers in the audience are interested. We did some quick shopping there for some souvenirs.

It being Thursday, the museums in town are open later. Bonus! And when they are open later, they also tend to be for free. Zounds! So we took the opportunity to go to the Civilization Museum across the river as the building itself looked pretty interesting. We opted to walk and it was, in a word, cold. But there is a pedestrian bridge (Pont Alexandra) that crosses the river and the walk, although cold, offered some nice views of Ottawa and the capital. We could imagine that if summer ever reached Ottawa, it must be a pretty nice place.

Finally we arrived and were treated to one of the best museums we have ever visited. They had an exhibit on the Dead Sea scrolls which was interesting, but pretty typical in its presentation. But where the museum really shines is in its permanent collection on the upper floors which discusses Canada's history. One enters the exhibit on the top floor and the ceiling is lit and curved to give the illusion that you are outside. It is very cool as the exhibit is basically laid out as Canadian towns and outposts that have existed over time. So it is very open and just a pleasure to promenade through the exhibit.

The one problem with the exhibit is that it is huge! There is far too much interesting material to give it a fair shot in just one evening. But we did the best we could and soon our stomachs were rumbling so we headed back across the, now much colder, bridge to the ByWard District for some eats.

We settled upon an Italian place called Cafe Spiga Trattoria on Dalhousie St. We were immediately seated but were not offered a wine list. When the waiter came and realized that we didn't have a wine list, he disappeared and soon returned with one. I opened it up and saw& blank pages. Hmmm, 'Quite a selection you have here,' I offered. He said, 'Yes, one of the best', he stopped when he saw the empty pages. He looked flushed, grabbed the empty wine menu and disappeared once more. Finally he returned with a wine menu actually filled with selections. Whew, what a production!

I opted for the fettuccine special which included duck and pheasant. It was quite stellar. Sam had the veal marsala. Lately this has been her usual. I'm very disappointed by her daringness. Overall, it was really nice place, but perhaps a little more expensive than what we were looking for.

Afterwards we walked down the road to the Highlander Pub to absorb a pint or two. The Highlander Pub, at the corner of Rideau and Dalhousie was a pleasant enough establishment. All the waiters either wore kilts or similarly styled skirts. Very fetching for both boys and girls! And then they had a pretty good duet playing tunes that did not overpower the conversations being discussed& and we were sitting right next to the band! The have a well advertised dinner special too so don't pass up the Highlander!

And so concluded our pretty much only day in Ottawa. In summary, it was a very pleasant city and we would recommend visiting it sometime in the future if you have chance.


We got up somewhat early, had breakfast at hole-in-the-wall deli a block away (they had a cheap breakfast special of eggs, bacon and toast for $4), packed the car, checked out of the hotel and proceeded to determine that the car battery was dead. Bummer! As the garage was indoor, regardless of how cold it was outside, I really didn't expect the battery to be dead. Later, we discovered the dome light was left on and that is what drained the battery. Doesn't that happen like every time you go on a road trip?

Fortunately, at that particular moment, a car came down the ramp scoping for a parking spot. I offered our spot if they would give us a jump (I had jumper cables in the car). They accepted and soon we were off to Mont Tremblant.

Seeing the Canadian countryside in the daytime reminded me a lot of Wisconsin. Fairly flat land with lots of farms and an occasional village here and there. The 2+ hour drive to the ski resort was uneventful except for the winding, two lane road about half an hour before Tremblant. It was still snow covered in parts and so it made for a more nervous drive than hoped.

We checked in at Le Lodge de la Montagne in Mont Tremblant Village about noon. Our room was ready and so we proceeded to change into our ski gear, rent Sam some skis and test out the slopes. We were soon confronted with the coldest weather I have ever skied in. And although I had my long underwear, a turtle neck, a fleece sweater, and then my ski jacket, I was not warm. I wasn't cold, but I definitely was not warm. The temperatures during our trip were hovering just above -30C, which translates to about -20F. That deserves a well vocalized Yikes I think!

Overall, I felt adequately prepared except that my face needed some sort of coverage. I had the first signs of frostbite after only a few hours of skiing that first day. So that evening I went and bought a face guard. The only other problem we had skiing the remainder of the weekend was that the goggles and/or glasses would continuously fog up. It was directly related to the face masks we had that directed some of our hot breath upwards, but given the choice of not being able to see or having frostbite; I opted for not being able to see. So much of the weekend I skied without my glasses, which made it a lot more interesting let me tell you. If in the same predicament, just avoid the colorful darkish blobs with flailing arms!

That night we walked though Tremblant village to do some shopping and eating. The village is very nice. It is much larger than Snowshoe (which is near us in West Virginia) and has a lot more restaurant options to choose from. It isn't as large as say Whistler or Vail though. In all, I would say it was just perfect for the size of the mountain that it supports. There were never any lines at the restaurants, yet they all seemed busy.

After doing some shopping and noting that the village had movie theatre, we stumbled into the La Diable brew pub for some dinner. I had the sausage platter which was excellent and Sam had a burger which she said was pretty good. Sam drank the wheat while I kept with the strong trappist ale. Both, also, were excellent. Donut miss the La Diable brew pub!

Having room for dessert, we walked across the street to the Creperie Catherine for something sweet. Sam got her usual, nutella with banana while I got the extremely decadent banana split. Wow! The thing was huge! If there, the banana split crepe is a definitely a two person conquest! Donut underestimate it!

Having stuffed ourselves, we rolled back to our room.

Saturday and Sunday

Both of these days had much of the same schedule. We would get up, get dressed, ski down to the gondola at the base of the village, ride it up to the base of the ski hill (top of the village), and then proceed to freeze our butts off while skiing. We took frequent breaks due to the cold and generally kept to the south side of the hill to stay in the sun. The hot chocolate in the cafe at the base of the south lifts is excellent. However, the place is really, really small.

Mont Tremblant is in Quebec and that means it is in the French heavy portion of Canada. Sure enough, the majority of the people there are speaking French. Though, also, just about everybody is bi-lingual and so we had no trouble communicating. However, we did witness some extremely French cases of rudeness. Like people not saying thank you, or please or excuse me, etc. Minor stuff, but once you handicap them as being partially French, it is understandable.

Immediately after skiing we parked our now frozen butts at the La Forge restaurant for some cold ones and some appetizers. After warming up we would ski back to our hotel, shower, change, and then mill around until the movies started. The first night we saw Cold Mountain, which is about an hour longer than it needs to be, trust me. It is a good film, but it just kept on going, and going. The second night we saw Big Fish which was far more of tearjerker than I thought it would be. The movie theater at Mont Tremblant is in a word, cute. But donut expect much in the way of concessions.

After the movies, we went and got some dinner. The first night we went to Le Shack, which has normal TGI / Applebees type food. The next night, Sunday, not much was open and so we settled for Pizzateria. I bet you can guess what they served.

All the restaurants at the ski hill, as you might expect, are overpriced, but not outrageous. Or, at least there are other options to the outrageously priced places. The actual town of Tremblant also has restaurants, but we didn't feel like leaving the ski village.

Saturday after dinner we returned to the La Diable for a nightcap. It was extremely crowded and smoky and rocking. We decided to call it night after just one as our bodies were sore.

The skiing at Tremblant was not as good as out west, but certainly the best I've seen east of the Rockies. There were dozens of runs of a variety of difficulties covering a lot of territory. There was a mixture of long runs and short runs. It wasn't crowded (I'm sure the weather had something to do with that) neither on the slopes or in the lift lines. According to the locals, the temperatures warm up after Valentines Day so if you are interested in going, I would recommend not visiting until late February.


With a long day of driving ahead, we got up early and made our way to Ottawa to pick up Sam's passport and new visa. And then we continued on back the way we originally came. Weather was a lot more of a factor this time around though as it started to snow north of Scranton and pretty much stayed that way all the way home. The windshield kept freezing up and made the whole drive a lot more interesting. But in the end, we returned just fine. We consumed another book on tape during the trip back. This one was a Nero Wolfe novel. It was good, but the narrator rushed through the reading in my opinion.

So, in summary: donut pass up Ottawa, and while in Ottawa, donut pass up the tour of the capital, the Civilization Museum and the ByWard District. Mont Tremblant has good skiing and a good village, but can be cold before Valentines Day. Now if only I would have said that at the beginning, you could have ignored the rest of this

Eric and Sam


Sam shivers while listening to the Canadian capital bell tower.


Atop Peace Tower in Canada.


The Civilization Museum viewed from the Capital.


Sam shivers in front of the Capital library, currently under construction.


Cool looking building on Capital Square.