Day trip to Ottawa!
Crossed state lines and dined out just a day before Ontario tightened restrictions
The first time I road tripped was in Summer 2019, and it was one of the best travel experiences I have ever had. We planned the route, spaced out the travel time between destinations, and took turns at the wheel.
However, there is only so much you can plan on a road trip before it starts getting stressful. Road conditions and the weather are unpredictable factors, and once you fall behind schedule, you start being hard on yourself.
Over time, I realized the best way to plan road trips—to me—is to know where you are stopping for the night but leave the rest to chance. We start each day assessing road conditions and checking Google Maps for any interesting spots. Whenever appropriate, we ask locals for recommendations that may not necessarily be known to most travelers. Otherwise, road signs on the freeway/expressway may also indicate places to visit. For instance, we ended up at a chocolaterie on our way to Ottawa!
ChocoMotive (Montebello, Quebec)
ChocoMotive is located in Montebello, a small town on the Quebec side of the Ottawa river. Montebello is midway between Montreal and Ottawa, and it was an unplanned stop. I loved how the shop had rows upon rows of chocolate bars, each with different toppings and chocolate intensity! The one pictured above is 80% dark chocolate, topped with sea salt. For those curious about how chocolate bars are made, the shop features a large glass window that overlooks the workshop.
ChocoMotive also stocks lavender diffusers, soap bars, and perfumes produced in Canada. I love how local businesses tag-teamed to market their products!
I took loads of videos for Instagram, but apparently, I cannot upload videos directly to Substack. That’s a bummer. I will be more mindful next time!
Exploring Montebello, Quebec
There was a signboard that demarcated the area next to the chocolatarie as a national heritage site. The park had fat bike trails, and we wandered in not knowing what secrets the park held. I should also add that we were unaware of what we were getting ourselves into, in part because the signs were all in French. Oops!
As it turned out, the park in Montebello housed Manoir Papineau National Historic Site. And I only found out because I had to Google the park's name for this newsletter! However, we came across La Chapelle funéraire Louis-Joseph-Papineau, the family chapel of Louis-Joseph-Papineau, a politician from Quebec in the 1800s.
The surrounding area was serene, and there were numerous photo opportunities without needing to venture far into the park. I am going to dump some of the photos we took here. We also made another Tik Tok dance video, but as Mitch suggested after my previous newsletter, I shall link it at the end. Check it out later on if you are interested!
I enjoyed every moment of the short hour that we were at Montebello. We definitely would never have thought to stop at Montebello if not for the signboard that led us to ChocoMotive. It is interesting how road trips bring you to the least likely places you otherwise never would have ventured.
Patrimoine et Chutes de Plaisance
Another unplanned stop was the Patrimoine et Chutes de Plaisance, a waterfall near Montebello. We rarely hear the sound of moving water in snowy Canada, and it was surreal to see and hear the water rush over rocks against a winter landscape. We did not venture far from the car, and the following pictures look nothing like what we found online. If we had more time, we probably would have trekked further, but daylight hours are precious in winter, and we were still an hour away from Ottawa.
We are in Ottawa!
As with anyone who travels during the pandemic, we always check on the latest covid restrictions in our destination. Covid restrictions may differ across cities and state lines, not just countries! I tend to skim through anything I read, and I saw that we could not dine indoors, although outdoor dining was alright in Ontario. In Quebec, all food establishments were closed for dining, with takeout as the only option. We were excited to be in Ottawa if we could dine out, even if we had to sit outdoors in subzero temperatures.
We parked the car at Market Garage, right next to Byward Market. Market Garage offers indoor parking with a maximum parking charge of $15 before 6 pm. There were cheaper options in the downtown area with prices beginning from $11, but the distance was a problem. The plan was to grab lunch and walk over to Parliament Hill.
Lunch at Metropolitain Brasserie
After getting out of the car, we noticed people were dining in at food establishments. What was going on?! We later found out that the day we visited Ottawa was also the last day for dining out in Ontario! By sheer dumb luck, we got to Ottawa in time to dine out for the second time since arriving in Canada.
For lunch, we dined at Metropolitain Brasserie, a French restaurant opposite Fairmont Château Laurier. When we entered the restaurant, the staff greeted us with 'Hi!' instead of 'bonjour.' After struggling with French and repeatedly saying Je parle Anglais or sorry, English please while in Quebec, it felt great to finally be in Ontario where people mostly spoke English. Before you roll your eyes at my ignorance, please know that I am still working on my French daily using Duolingo. I am trying NOT to behave like Emily in Paris!
In Singapore, we could only remove our masks when the food arrived, and we had to don our masks again once we were done eating. Even if we had a drink, we still had to keep our masks on. Once we were seated, we were pleasantly surprised when the server told us we could remove our masks as long as we remained seated. I wonder what ran through his mind when he saw a group of Asians obediently keeping their masks on even when browsing the menu.
The first dish we ordered was poutine! The first time we had poutine was at A&W on the night we arrived. Not the best place to try poutine for the first time. The one at A&W lacked gravy compared to subsequent servings of poutine we had. Of course, the poutine we had subsequently improved my impression of the local delicacy. Almost every other outlet we have tried so far was way better than the one we had at A&W.
I ordered codfish as my main course, and it was pan-fried to perfection. However, my friends who ordered the cheeseburger and fish and chips did not enjoy their meal as much. If you are ever contemplating a trip to Ottawa, maybe avoid those two dishes at Metropolitan Brasserie. Or perhaps, avoid this restaurant entirely since TripAdvisor has some mixed reviews about this place, too. I believe the phrase one of the reviewers used was ‘tourist trap.’ Your call!
Parliament Hill and Fairmont Château Laurier
Under normal circumstances, visitors could tour the neo-Gothic buildings that house the Parliament of Canada, the Senate, and the House of Commons. When we were there, every building was fenced up for restoration works.
Nevertheless, the square was magnificent, and we made it in time to snap some pictures before sunset! Days are short in winter here, and it is almost always a race against the darkness.
The Fairmont Château Laurier is a hotel that overlooks the Rideau Canal. Everyone who has visited Ottawa will usually pose in front of Fairmont Château Laurier, and of course, we did as well. I have never seen a grander hotel, and pictures do no justice to how stunning the building was. I wonder how the hotel was furnished on the inside, but as the subject header of this newsletter says, we were on a day trip. We had warm beds to get back to, two hundred kilometers away in Montreal.
Unfortunately, we arrived in Ottawa in the middle of winter, and there was no sale of fresh produce. It would have been fun to explore the market and observe how it compared to other farmers’ markets I have been to elsewhere. Perhaps next time if I am ever back in Canada in the summer months!
Dessert at Zak’s Diner
By the time we returned to the market area, the sky was already dark. We walked past an Archie comic-themed diner, and we popped in for dessert. We each shared a brownie with ice cream, and the staff kindly offered to help us split our milkshakes into four cups. After looking at the menu, we wished we had dined here given the atmosphere! Also, the average prices were at least 20-30% lower than Metropolitan Brasserie. Oh well, now we know.
As with all themed cafes, almost every angle was a social media moment. Even mirrors!
After dessert, we bade goodbye to Ottawa and began our long drive home. I confess that I am not the best driver. Picture the worst driver you know, and I am probably a few levels below him/her/them. It was all thanks to my housemate, who endured dry eyes, massive trucks, and zero street lamps to ferry us home safely.
Alright, that’s it for this update. Substack alerted me that this newsletter is approaching the length limit. I did not know there was one! On a side note, I have decided to stop keeping track of the days starting from this newsletter update. Frankly, I am losing count of the days. And if we are here for the next four months, it probably will stop making much sense anyway. Let’s talk soon!