When I arrived in Ottawa on Wednesday 18th June, I had two tasks to accomplish, first figure out where I would be staying and secondly where the BMW garage was to confirm that my bike was booked in for a service.
Having followed the TCAT through the city, it lead me past a Tim Hortons, so where better to stop and use the WiFi. Unfortunately, the friend-of-a-friend that may have been able to accommodate me, Lauren, had other commitments. Fortunately there are two hostels in Ottawa, one of which is in an old jailhouse. With the hostel and garage located I set off. First stop was the garage, and once they’d figured out who I was (I got Ingrid to phone ahead of me to book the bike in) they found that I was booked in for a service on Friday, so I’d have a day to have a explore Ottawa.
With the garage located, I made my way downtown to the hostel. The hostel is the old city jail, with the dorm rooms being the old jail cells. As well as being a hostel, there are also tours of the jail, so when I arrived there were lots of children being guided around the hostel on. school trips. I was a little worried that they may be staying in the hostel but thankfully they were just visiting. I was put in a for bed dorm but the other people weren’t around when I checked in… I’d meet them later! First mission was to get some washing done, I hadn’t done any since Norris Point and to be honest my clothes pretty much walled themselves to the washing machine! For the first time of my hostelling life I also used the kitchen to make some soup rather than heading out to find a restaurant, this was partly to save money but also to use one of the best features of this hostel – an on site open-air bar! That night was open mic night, they had a great line up of musicians and the bar was stocked with a good range of locally brewed ales. The only problem was that the bar was packed, I had a table and I didn’t want to get up to get another beer in case I lost my table.
Now, back to my dorm for some shut-eye and I got my first introduction to who I was sharing it with. Now picture this, you enter the dorm through an old cell door, there is a bunk bed to the left, a bunk bed to the right and enough space between the for two people to stand. With me so far? I was on the top bunk on the right and there was a French lady (Quebec?) On the bunk below me. She didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak much French. The other two weren’t back yet and didn’t return until I was fast asleep. When I woke in the morning, there was no one on the top bunk opposite me b me y the bottom bunk had a blanket hung across it as a screen. When I got back from the bathroom there was the French woman and two girls in the dorm. It appears that the two girls were her daughters and they’d x slept together on the bottom bunk with the blanket across to hide themselves. This happened again the following night too. I can only guess it was to protect them from the big hairy biker!
Another great thing about the jailhouse hostel is that you get breakfast included. It really is a bargain to stay there! So Thursday morning with a full stomach, clean clothes and a list of places to visit from Lauren, I set off into sunny Ottawa. First on the list were the government buildings, only a 15 minute walk from the hostel. The old buildings in Ottawa are strangely European looking but not quite. They’re a mix of English, French and German styles all mixed in together. I was amazed that I could walk right up to the front door and all the way around the building taking lots of pictures. Try that in the UK and you’ll probably be harassed by a policeman.
Next on my list was the Canadian National Gallery. This is only a 15 minute walk from Government Hill but goes through a small park with information boards about Colonel John By, who oversaw the construction of the Rideau Canal, connecting the Ottawa river to Lake Ontario. He also designed the layout of central Ottawa, or Bytown as it was known then. It took me an hour to get to the gallery.
The gallery was pretty cool. There was a special exhibition of works by Gustave Doré, various works by famous artists such as Picasso, Andy Warhol, Matisse and Pollock. Then there were all the pieces from Canadian artists. I was a little surprised that there was very little works from First Nation (native indian) artists but what was there was good.
Last on the list was ByWard market. This is where Lauren has a roller-derby shop so I called in to say hi. She recommended going to Bridgehead coffeeshop for coffee and something to eat, so that’s exactly what I did! If you happen to find yourself in Ottawa I’d recommend it too. I wondered around the market and could have spent another couple of hours mooching around.
Thursday evening I headed out of Ottawa to go meet up with Ted Johnson, one of the people behind the Trans-Canada Adventure Trail. He’s a really great guy and we spent a couple of hours chatting. He had some advice for the sections of the TCAT that I was going to be doing in the next few days and offered to put me in touch with several people who helped with sections of the TCAT. If you’re going to be attempting the TCAT, this is the man you need to make contact with! He also offered to ride with me for an hour or so when I set off on Saturday morning to make sure I got through one water crossing in particular that may be deep.
Next morning wasn’t a rush for me as I didn’t have to take the bike to the garage until about midday. So I spent a while unpacking the last bits from the bike and checking it over so I could tell the garage about any problems that I wanted them to look at. All morning I had a constant as dream of people coming over to ask about the bike and where I was from and where I was going. Most of these were prompted by the look of the number plate: on the bike silver numbers on a black plate luckily this has happened so many times on the trip that I carry my tablet computer with me to show them Google Maps as a visual aide when describing Guernsey and the route I’m taking.
When I arrived at the garage, I went to the service desk to hand my bike keys over. The guy there wanted to confirm what was being done to the bike. “An 18,000 mile (or equivalent kilometre) service” I said. He then asked if I wanted an oil change. This threw me a bit as I know the 18k service includes an oil change so I repeated that yes, I want the 18k service. Again he asked if I wanted an oil change. I figured this must just be the way Canadian garages work so agreed to having an oil change. Keys handed over I set about checking out the bikes for sale… for the next 3 hours as I waited for the service to be done.
Three hours and several interesting conversations with other customers later, I returned to the service desk. There was good news and bad news. The good news was that they had finished their work. That bad news was that when I asked if they’d reset the service indicator of the bike computer the service desk guy went to check with the technician only to return saying that it wasn’t reset as that’s only done for an 18k service…..???? It turns out that they had only changed the oil, washed the bike and changed the front tyre, not done the full service as I had requested!
After much discussion, including getting the service manager out of his office, they finally agreed that if I had the bike back at the garage first thing in the morning they’d do the service on the bike so I could get back on the road without too much delay. I wasn’t best pleased but what could I do about it. Back at the hostel, after a couple of beers and a chat with my new cell mate (the crazy French women had left) and the bike service problems seemed to fade away.
Saturday morning dawned and I was up early, breakfast eaten bike packed and I was back at the garage by 8:30am, eager for them to get working as quickly as possible. A couple of hours later they had finished with the bike and I was ready to set off again. Unfortunately Ted had other commitments by the time my bike was ready and couldn’t ride with me but some of his friends had ridden the trails the day before and they were in pretty good condition so I shouldn’t have any problems!