Saturday, July 17, 2010

You Otta Go To Ottawa!

I have been waiting almost three years to see a Canadian band called Arcade Fire. Don't ask why I love them. I just do. So, a few weeks ago I was thrilled to find out that they were touring in the northeastern U.S., playing in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and NYC (in Madison Square Garden no less!) Surely, I’d be able to attend one of those concerts. Not so. Sadly, the concert dates corresponded exactly with this year’s Mullenium gathering in New Hampshire. I had resigned myself to missing out on the entire northeast tour until Marilynn saved the day and bought me tickets to see them at the Ottawa BluesFest on July 13.

Ottawa is about 460 miles from Cranbury and the concert was on a Tuesday, so Marilynn and I had to take 3 days off from work. But we hardly ever go to Canada and know almost nothing about Ottawa (it's the capital of Canada?), so this sounded like a different and potentially fun vacation. That turned out to be an understatement. Marilynn and I spent four tremendous days in Ottawa. It felt like a mini-European vacation without needing an airplane or a power adapter. What follows may appear lengthy, but it's actually a very brief synopsis of why you really otta go to Ottawa.

Bed & Breakfast

We stayed at a B&B called the Alexander House, about a mile from the center of town, where all the action was. It was a small B&B -- only 5 total guests -- but talking to the proprietors and with your fellow guests is a great way to get a feel of a place (in my opinion). On top of that, the breakfasts were fantastic and we didn't have to clean up or leave a tip.

The ByWard Market

Named after John By (who supervised the construction of the Rideau Canal), the ByWard Market's claim to fame is that it's the oldest continuously operating farmers market in Canada. But it has become much more than that. There are bars and shops and restaurants of all types and varieties. And because of BluesFest, the entire market area was packed with people of all ages and nationalities. As such, it was the perfect place to watch the World Cup final between Spain and The Netherlands. The photo below is of an outdoor bar called "The Grand" where we watched the end of the game. If you look closely, you can just see Arjen Robben blowing by a Spanish defender (Sergio Busquets??)

After the game, Spanish supporters were riding around ByWard Market all evening, honking their horns and waving their flags. It was great to see!

Rideau Canal and Locks

I'm a lockaholic. I freely admit that. I love looking at canal locks! Luckily, I'm married to another lockaholic. As a result, Marilynn and I spent parts of three days looking at the locks of the Rideau Canal from every possible angle. We strolled along the side of them, we walked on top of them, we looked at them from above, and we kayaked up right to the edge of one and peered over. Hell, we even walked across the Ontario River and looked at them from Quebec! We just couldn't get enough! And since they're the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, they're also famous. Go see them.

Marilynn, showing off her back muscles during our three-and-a-half hour kayak ride on the Rideau Canal. What am I doing while she's paddling? Well, someone has to take the photos!

Parliament / Parliament Library

Marilynn has the uncanny ability to transform any conversation into a library story. Those of you who know her will agree that I'm not making this up. Well, in the case of Canada's capital city, the story of their Parliament turns into a library story! As you can see in the photo above, the Parliament building itself is extremely beautiful. (Unfortunately, in my desire to keep Marilynn in the photo, I cut off the top of the Peace Tower, requiring me to add a cheesy insert.) But, back in 1916, most of the Parliament was destroyed by a huge fire. Due to the ingenuity of the Parliament Librarian, however, the library was saved. Read all about the fire here. Below are photos of both the outside and the inside of the Library. Both are much more spectacular in person, believe me.

The free tour of Parliament was excellent and, in contrast to similar tours in the U.S., visitors were encouraged to take pictures and, believe it or not "touch the walls"!


I'm a little torn here. On one hand, I want to tell you everything I possibly can about Mosaika. On the other hand, it's best if you know as little about it as possible before you see it. I'll tell you this much, though: it's basically a sound and light show which tells the story of Canada using the Parliament building as its "canvas". But the technology they use and the effects that they are able to achieve are like nothing I've seen before. For those of you who can't stand the suspense, click on the Mosaika web page to get a taste. But be warned ... it's nothing like the live experience.

Balanced Rock Sculptures

On Monday afternoon, after three and a half hours of kayaking, Marilynn and I were looking for some down time. We decided to take a scenic drive along the Ottawa River Parkway and find a place to rest, read, and watch birds. Instead, we stumbled upon the scene above. It turns out that the National Capital Commission (NCC) has been sponsoring an artist by the name of John Ceprano to create "balanced rock sculptures" for over two decades. We ended up spending a couple of hours walking around the beach, checking out the sculptures, and talking to the artist. A few additional photos are below, but you might want to check out his website here for some truly stunning creations.

The artist himself (shown above in red shorts and white tank top) was a pretty colorful character as well. He was born in the U.S. but headed to Ottawa during the Vietnam war to avoid the draft. AfterI joked with him about the SDS, he claimed to know Jerry Rubin personally. He might have been blowing smoke, but he appeared to be the real deal: an ex-hippie who has found his niche in Ottawa and is living life on his own terms.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Bluesfest! The actual reason that we decided to go to Ottawa in the first place! I had never heard of the Ottawa Bluesfest before this summer, but it has apparently been going on for over 15 years. This year, it began on July 6th and ended today, July 18th. Now, I like to think that I'm fairly up-to-date regarding music, but I have to admit that I recognized less than 10% of the artists that performed. That being said, here were some of the major groups that were there over the 12-day event: Iron Maiden, the B52's, Santana, Taj Mahal, Joan Jett, The Flaming Lipps, Rush, Crowded House, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Weezer, The Moody Blues, Hole, Steve Winwood, Kevin Costner, Jimmy Cliff, Passion Pit, The Cat Empire, Derek Trucks, Renaissance, and, of course, Arcade Fire. Marilynn and I only went for one day, July 13th, but managed to see two other groups besides Arcade Fire: "The Aggrolites" (a ska band) and "Steve Dawson’s Mississippi Sheiks Project" which was just superb. If I ever go back (and I might!) it will be for multiple days!

"Mississipi Sheiks Tribute", "The Aggrolites", and "Arcade Fire"

One last thing: Arcade Fire is appearing live on the Jon Stewart show on August 12. Click here to see their performance on Letterman a few years ago. Man, I love these guys!!

Lake Ontario

OK, technically Lake Ontario is not in Ottawa. But it is partly in Canada and you skim right by it on Route 81 in New York just before crossing into Canada. So, for the purposes of this blog, it counts. If you've never seen a Great Lake, find an excuse to do so. They're mind-blowing. As you can see from the above photo, it's like looking out into the ocean. Keep in mind that Lake Ontario is one of the smallest of the 5 Great Lakes!

Wrap Up
Yeah, this ended up being longer than I intended, but I was truly impressed by Canada in general and with Ottawa in particular. Not only was it a very clean and safe city, but you got the impression that everyone was extremely proud to be Canadian. And well they should be. If it wasn't for the extremely cold weather ("Portage and Main 50 below") and Reynaud's Disease, I could easily imagine living there.

Further Reading:

Discovering Canada's Cool Capital
Arcade Fire Concert Review
Arcade Fire and Charity Work for Haiti

Audrey Ryan Ferguson Has Arrived!

I'm a Grand Uncle again!

Audrey Ryan Ferguson was born at 4:13pm on July 15 to Katie and Ryan Ferguson. Audrey weighed in at 6 pounds 7 ounces. Both mother and daughter are doing fine. Below is a photo of the happy Ferguson family:

Audrey, Katie, Chelsey, and Ryan Ferguson

But this blog entry would be woefully incomplete without a photo of the proud Grandma, my sister, Karen McGarvey:

Congratulations! Now to update the Mullen Family Tree ...

Charlotte Leary: My Newest Third Cousin Once Removed

Congratulations to Avril and Tony Leary on the birth of their first child, Charlotte. The Mullen Family Tree grows ever larger! Below is an excerpt from an email written by Avril a few days after Charlotte's arrival:

Hi all,

Just a very quick note to let you know that our beautiful baby girl, Charlotte Mary Leary, arrived safely into the world on Friday, 25th June at 8.20am, weighing in at 6lbs 13oz. It was a bit of a traumatic entrance for her after 28 hours, but she made it eventually and is a happy and content little girl, who sleeps a lot so far anyhow!! She is so perfect and we are absolutely in awe of her! Thanks to you all for all the good wishes.

- Avril, Tony and Charlotte Leary

In the event that you need a refresher as to what "third cousin once removed" means, click on the diagram below.

And here's a shot of the happy Leary family:

Tony, Charlotte, and Avril Leary

Can't wait to see you guys again!!