Winterlude, Ottawa

When I booked the weekend to Ottawa, I had no idea that it was the Winterlude Festival.  I found out last week that I would be arriving on the opening weekend.  My hostel was only a two minute walk from one of the venues as well which was perfect.

On my first visit to Centenary Park they were still setting up, so it was nice and quiet and I could potter around seeing what was what.  The one block ice sculptures were amazing.  There were log fires and lots of places selling pizza, Beavertail, hot chocolate and maple taffy.  The maple taffy was delicious!  They heat up maple syrup and pour it onto snow/ crushed ice and then put a lolly stick in it roll it to make a sticky chewy lolly.  It was super tasty.  I had a few this weekend.  The lady let me roll my own as well.   

 Centenary Park also had a big tent where huge ice sculptures were being made.  The guys had all sorts of tools, water sprays, saws, chisels and drills. It reminded me a little of Dexter.  

 I went back in the evening for the opening ceremony.  A canadian chap was hosting and everything was being said in French and English.  There were people banging drums with flaming drum sticks and lots of cover music such as Elvis songs.  The host guy also sang the song off the Trio advert.  The actual song.  All I heard in my head is “Triiiio, I want a Trio and I want one now”.  There were some dancers in the crowd banging drums and making some sort of noise that I assume they enjoyed making. They wore masks like Wrestlers.  It was fun and entertaining, but a little confusing.  I had a hot chocolate in a little cafe built out of ice blocks with ice tables and seats.

Jacques-Cartier Park – this venue was called Snowflake Kingdom.  It was the site for the snow activities.  It had so many ice slides which were great fun, though obviously I was the person that stopped before the bottom and had to be pushed down the last bit.  Big walls of carved ice.  Hot chocolate, Beavertail, maple taffy.  I went on the zip line and watching the huskies pulling the sleds, though they reminded me of the dog that killed our Larry which made me sad.  No other sheep will ever compare.  There was a strange refuge tent to get out of the cold filled with tables – it was horrific and full and busy, and noisy. 

 The final site I visited was Lansdowne Park where there was an attempt to beat the world record for most snowmen built in an hour happening. They did beat the record and 2069 snow people were built!  There was a farmers market near here so I had a potter about and bought some food and tasted samples.  I had elk, it was really chewy. 

 Before I left, I went back to Centenary Park to see the finished ice sculptures.  It was nice that I got to see these at different stages and completion.   

 Unfortunately, as I was leaving lots of ice sculptures were starting to melt.  One of my favourite one block sculptures – a bulls head with horns had lost his horns by the time I left.  

  There were some guys dressed in stereotype lumberjack gear called the Kettle Boys doing branding on wooden slats for people and showing wooden toys they had made.  They brand a piece of wood with a maple leaf for me as a souvenir.   

 A fantastic festival to visit and I would definitely recommend it.  The maple taffy, lots of hot chocolate, ice and snow are some of the things that drew me to Canada and had me looking forward to winter.

Nordik Spa, Quebec 

 Today, I had the treat of going to the Nordik Spa in Quebec.  It is about 30 minutes from Ottawa and is made up of a number of outdoor pools and saunas with treatments and restaurants.  

I arrived early hoping to get some extra time in the hot pools before my massage, but there was a 30 minute queue out of the door.  On the bright side, it made me a bit more stressed and cold before my treatments!  The spa was surrounded by trees and covered in snow, with it at the side of the pools and walkways making the place picturesque.  As it got dark, they lit fairy lights and candles everywhere.  The temperature was -5, feels like -8 and the steam coming off the hot pools made it like something from a film. In fact, when I booked it, the pictures reminded me of the last hostel film where she falls asleep and wakes up in the hot pool on her own, and then the bad guys appear…. 

The different areas have signs on the doors saying if you can talk.  After some pointed huffing, sitting up, glaring and adjusting my towel – two guys still didnt be quiet.  I went out, checked the sign, came back in and asked them to be quiet.  I never thought this day would come.

The restaurants all had log fires burning and I went in in my robe and had a chilli.  Delicious and what a great food for the weather.  You get a wrist band connected to your credit card, so you can get drinks and food whenever.

I did the hot areas (an endless array of saunas, steam rooms and hot pools) and decided that there wasnt too much point going in the cold pool when you are walking between areas on crunchy snow and ice barefoot in the minus degrees.  As a token effort, I did ensure I submerged myself up to my neck once in the cold pool.  It was breathtaking.  To give an idea of the cold, after my towel got wet and I left it hanging by one of the pools, it was crunchy when I got out!

I had two treatments.  A massage with a lady called Andreanne and an exfoliating body treatment with Rachel, who turned out to be from Derby.  The massage was brilliant, it went on and one and felt like I was lying on the hot bed for hours.  I was so sleepy when I trotted off for my second treatment.  For this, she exfoliated and moisturised my whole body and face.  There was also lots of putting of really hot towels on me which I very much enjoyed. We shared stories of how Canadians dont always get our British humour and which TV shows we miss.  My skin is crazy soft right now

There are a couple of things I will remember for next time…. Take flip flops – the floor was silly cold, get there early enough to account for the queue, take a book to sit by the fire in the rest areas, and I would probably book my treatments with time between and end on the massage before going home.

I left the spa at around 10.45pm.  It was fantastic. I cant wait to go back.  It was the perfect treat to spend some Christmas money on.  Other than the annoying queue to get in, I genuinely cant fault the place – brilliant, relaxing, stress relieving. 

 

Static

One of the weirdest and most unexpected things about Canadian winter is the static.  I was not prepared for this at all.  My hair is static a lot of the time. It flies in the air or sticks to my face.  It makes crackling sounds and is incredibly annoying.  There is static in the air making me get electric shocks sometimes if I touch other people and a few times a day at work when I sit in the chairs in the group room that have metal on them. 

Research tells me that this is due to the dry air not having enough moisture in it.  I bought some anti static hair stuff but it seems easier to just tie it up.

The Dentist: A Rematch

After my previous foray into the world of Canadian dentistry, I thought I was ready for the filling. I prepared myself for the injection, the drilling and the overall unpleasant experience that fillings usually are.  The first problem arose when the dentist thought that offering a teddy to hold instead of gripping the arms of the chair was a good idea.  I explained that I would prefer it if he ignores any scrunched up faces, wiggling toes or tears on my part and continue to get the job done unless I raise my hand.  I said I like to know whats going on and have it explained as we go, but he kept trying to hide the needle.  Anyway, we got through the check up, the numbing gel and a series of injections and he then whipped out what looked to me like a bit of a balloon stretched over some paperclips bent into a rectangle.  It had small holes that I assume meant I was supposed to be able to breathe and it was a deep green to support the theory that it was actually a balloon.   He referred to this as a dam and said we could not proceed without it.  It was put in my mouth with bits of elastic between my teeth holding it in position and something uncomfortable clipping it to my tooth.  Apparently, in Canada they dont do fillings without dams as patients swallow bits of metal and debris.  Now, I dont know what is going on here, but I have never had this problem when having dental treatment in the UK without a dam. 

Anyway, not long after the dam was put in place, the action began. Due to the large balloon/ paperclip contraption I found it difficult to swallow my spit.  In addition to saliva, the water being used to clean out my tooth was coming through the holes in the balloon to my throat underneath.  I soon began gurgling, the gurgling and feeling like I was going to choke induced panic.  At this point, the situation got a little out of hand and luckily the dam was soon removed.  The dentist said that my stress caused him stress and that he could not give me a filling as he felt like he was torturing me and he doesnt like to do that to people.  These Canadians and their niceness.  Despite all attempts to get it done, after all it was already numb, I could not convince him to proceed without the dam.  He gave me a temporary filling – this seemed like a bit of putty being put in my tooth and suggested that I be put to sleep for future dental work.  It is actually cheaper to fly back to England and get the good old NHS to get the job done that pay for the sleeping butcher.  I thanked him for my temporary filling and explained that I would not be entering any places that may attempt to put a dam in my mouth for the foreseeable future.  I have never had the experience of being tortured using the method of waterboarding, but I can only imagine that this balloon and paperclip business is the next best thing. 

It is safe to say that, a once nervous patient, I have now become terrified of the dentist and will not be returning.  Even if my Dad comes.  The only thing that stopped me shaking was eating some mini cupcakes from my favourite cupcake place – Life is Sweet, on the non-numb side, whilst walking back along the beach.  I couldnt go to the gym as I couldnt pull normal faces with my numb lip, and eating dinner was not massively enjoyable.   

 

Icicles  

My Saturday afternoon walk before the roast through threw out some nice surprises.  Firstly, as I came out of the ravine and through the park at the bottom, I was excited to discover there is a little ice rink there!  Trust the Canadians to just throw a random rink on the grass at one end of a little park.  It was so random, and so nice to see. 

 My surprises did not end there.  I went down to the boardwalk for a walk along the beach and was amazed to discover that the rocks and piers I was walking on only two weeks ago were covered in a thick layer of ice.  The piers had slippery coatings of ice and the sand at the waters edge was frozen.  Along the edge of the piers were icicles.  In amongst the rocks, there were so many different shapes and sizes of icicles sparkling.  It is amazing how it stays frozen even during the sunshine in the day time.  I was mesmerized by all the ice and spent ages walking around admiring the formations.  A walk that I expected to give me the usual sights and comfortable familiarity through out surprises that I couldnt stop admiring.  The waves were lovely crashing onto the beach and in among the rocks.    The pictures just do not do todays simple pleasures justice.   

   

Tattoos and Goodbyes

My weekend has been full, but I havent done much!  It began with a visit to a tattooist on Friday after work.  I have wanted a new one on my foot for some time and I finally got it done.  I went to a little place in Kensington Market, Reactive Ink.  The guy was so friendly and did a great job.   I ended up getting two of the tattoos that I wanted – a quote on one foot and a star on the sole of my other foot.  I love them and cant wait for flip flop weather! 

 I hobbled off with my feet wrapped in plastic to a farewell party for one of the Brits.  It is so hard when you meet someone you just get on so well with, and can be completely yourself with and have to say goodbye so soon.  She heads to British Colombia in a few months after some time back in the UK, so hopefully I will get a chance to head West at some point and have a tour guide waiting at the other end.  It is strange to feel so sad when you have only known someone for such a short space of time.

Saturday day time came and went with little to report.  I find that the amount of travel I am doing in the week is making me exhausted and my weekends are spent mostly catching up on sleep and recharging my batteries.  I did manage to grab a hot chocolate at The Bean and have a stroll on the beach.  Oh, and I also wore heels for the first time in Canada!  My ankle did me proud and I happily pottered around the beach in heeled boots!  

Saturday night was spent at the pub.  I had a lovely evening socialising with so many people that popped in and out.  It was nice to catch up with some locals I havent seen properly for a few weeks.  There was lots of 80s and 90s cheesy pop music on the juke box, singing, dancing and laughter.  I had a few malibus and then spent the evening on cups of tea – lovely!  Home at 1.30am after only planning a couple of hours down there.  I had a lovely evening.  One of my pub buddies got me a Maple Leafs Toque which was a nice surprise.  I am under strict orders to behave like a Canadian and call it a toque, not a hat.

Sunday night brought me 3 Brits to visit for a Sunday roast!  We spent an hour and a half cooking and troughed it so quickly we could barely move.  Beyond well fed to the point of greediness.  I am proud to say I was the only one to finish my plate full.   

 

The Fox 

Since living in the beaches, I keep meaning to go to The Fox Theatre.. It always looks so cute and old fashioned – there is even a little booth out at the front for staff to sell tickets!  They also sell alcohol which is unusual in cinemas.  There has always been something stopping me going – too hot to leave the beach in the summer, no films I want to see or just too busy.  This weekend, they were finally showing the last Hunger Games film, so off I went. As an eternally cold person, I wrapped up warm in preparation for the fridge like atmosphere most cinemas create with their air con.  It was warm! And cosy!  I was able to take my coat, scarf and even winter boots off and curl up on the old fashioned fold down seats, both comfortable and warm and enjoying my Kit Kat.  It was only $11 (around £5)!  The concession stand closed 15 mins into the film and the cinema was actually dark like I remember them being when I was little.

It was so welcoming and cosy that when the film ended, I could have stayed curled up in my seat for another one.  It was a much needed escape into a secret little world free from any outside people, social media or other things that I felt I should be tending to.  I cant wait to go back – though they only do plain popcorn so I may need to take a sugar shaker next time! 

 

Not in:  Gone to the Gym

The past two weeks have brought with them a renewed motivation for the gym and portion control.  I havent done a great deal else if I am honest, but the gym has been keeping me occupied and happy.  I have already beaten my best distance run in 15 minutes… twice, I have lost 5 pounds, I have signed up for a 5k run in March and I have made a new gym friend through Facebook.  It is so nice to have someone to go to the gym with again!  I have felt a lot of good gym aches, and some not so great gym aches after I went a little overboard with leg day!

Whilst I have been at the gym, my landlady has been sprucing up the apartment.  Each day, I have come home to something different that has changed – repainted ceiling, retiled kitchen, steam cleaning, a new sofabed, new lighting, new chairs.  I even came home to some cushions and, because she knows I like Canadian themed things around, some tea towels with a Canadian flag and a moose on them.  I have extra space with a big double cupboard in the hallway and a chest of drawers in my room now.  It has been exciting coming home and noticing different little changes each day.  I sat and watched a film in the living area for the first time.  My new room mate bailed two days before he was due to move in and I have had a nice couple of weeks with the place to myself, though not much is different as I just hang out in my room after the gym most of the time. 

 At the weekend, I had a nice little walk around The Beaches.  One day, I might go somewhere different, but I did my standard favourite walk around the area – The Ravine, Kew Gardens and The Boardwalk.  I love that I havent got tired of this walk, despite doing it most weekends.  I also love that I often notice something different.  This time,  we (me, a Brit and a Texan) walked up the crazy steep set of steps that I have never tackled in The Ravine.  With post leg day muscle dramas, this was horrific.  My next challenge is to tackle them without stopping for a pain break and a breather!  The view from the top was a new different, but equally lovely view.  Of course we fed my buddies, the squirrels, in the park and had gallons of cups of tea in The Remarkable Bean. 

 Oh, and yesterday, my OHIP card came.  This means I can now go to the doctor or hospital and flash my Canada card rather than my credit card.  This is a relief after the costs and hassle associated with my ankle when I got here.

What does minus 13 feel like?

On Sunday night, there was word on the street that Monday was going to be a cold one.  On Monday morning, I woke up to lots of Facebook posts about how crazy cold it was. The weather forecast said -13, but with the wind, feels like -22.  I was somewhat concerned as I the person that is always cold.  I have hot water bottles in the summer.  I put on long thick socks, winter boots, my winter coat with a vest, a tshirt, a long sleeved top and a hoody underneath, a thick scarf and I dug out the uber warm winter gloves I bought a while ago.  By the time I got to the bus stop – my breath on my scarf had frozen and there was a layer of ice on it!  This is crazy! I walked past a group of school children wearing normal footwear and heard them complaining their feet were cold.  I looked down smugly at my winter boots. COn the flip side, I think I went over board and had a perspiration level that the treadmill would be happy with!  

Given that this is by far the coldest weather I have ever been exposed to, I am impressed with how I didnt curl up in a ball and hide!   Yes it was cold, yes any exposed skin tingled and my legs went red, however, it was bearable.  As they told me in Girl Guides, “Be Prepared” – this seems to be the key.  

I have found it to be colder inside as I am not wearing my warm coat and boots.  I potter around at work with my hot water bottle and try to get the apartment to a tropical level of warmth when I get home.  I have no doubt that there is worse to come, but for now, I am happy that this is not too bad.  

As a side note, the snow from last week is still at the roadsides – one thing that I just dont seem to be learning is not to kick it! It is now rock solid and hurts my foot.  

Toronto Islands #3 

Yesterday, we planned to head to Niagara Falls for a day out.  One friend overslept, so we missed the 10am bus.  We went to cafe where they served tea in a pint glass and croissants without butter?! We went for the 11am bus and they wouldnt let us on because I didnt have ID with me.  What a start to the last day of the holidays.  As it happened, it all turned out for the best as I think our impromptu plan b was much more fun than if we had got on the bus.

Not wanting to waste the day, we decided to head for Toronto Islands.  We purchased supplies from Tim Hortons and hopped on the ferry.  A somewhat different ferry to the big summer one. This one was  tiny car ferry with a couple of rooms with seats.  Lovely warm rooms.    

  The ferry was only running to Wards Island.  We found somewhere slightly sheltered to eat our lunch (Tims Chilli) and the headed for the beach, followed by a cup of tea in the cafe to warm up.  We walked along the wooden path by the water to the pier at Centre Island and found a maze to play in.  I dont know how the children find the middle, as we tried for ages! Even with gaps in the trees allowing us to see the middle through the fence, we couldnt get there.  

  The whole place is different in the winter with the businesses boarded up, the decorative pools and fountain empty and a distinct lack of people.  I really enjoyed the lack of people and how we could just potter around as if it was almost our own private island.  

The pond with the ducks in was partially frozen and there was still snow on the ground in places after last weeks mini snow storm.  Throughout the day, there were short flurries of snow, but nothing too much.  

   

   We went to Far Enough Farm, the little zoo that I visited in the summer.  It said it was open 24/7, so we got to see the the rude ponies that wouldnt come and say hello now or in the summer, the geese that honked angrily at us as we walked past, and an anti social jersey cow.  Luckily, we spotted the indoor area and found the massive pig that was there before, a baby llama and a small cow with a hump on its back.  The cow was a Brahman/ Zebu breed of cow – apparently lives longer than others and more friendly.  I loved being able to pet the cow and the llama.  I miss animals!  I could have stayed there for hours.  If they would have let me, I would have sat in the stable with the cow and a book enjoying the companionship.   

  By this point, cold was starting to take its toll on us and we headed back to the cafe for a hot chocolate, with cream on top obviously.  

  Back on the ferry and home for a hot bath.  It was a cold end to the day, but just a taster of what todays weather had in store.