After many months of the lockdown, I finally went on a short trip to Ottawa. Since I have been to Ottawa many times, I went for a food, wine, and culture focus for this trip. Use these tips and observations as a resource to plan your next trip to Canada’s capital.
Train Travel: The VIA Rail Business Class Experience
For many years, I’ve enjoyed train travel. On this trip to Ottawa, I went for a business class ticket. It was a comfortable way to travel. I liked that there were power outlets at every seat to charge my devices and plenty of legroom. If you travel with mobile devices, the option to spread out and get comfortable is fantastic.
From a wine perspective, Via Rail includes two wines in their business class package. The selection is limited: a red or a glass of white wine. I had some of both and liked it. As I understand it, Via Rail usually serves Canadian wines. If you are planning a wine tasting trip to Canada, traveling by VIA Rail can be a fun way to start your exploration of Canadian. Despite the instability of a moving train, there were no spills. I did appreciate that lunch included a small piece of dark chocolate, which paired well with the red wine I had. For more insight on pairing wine with chocolate, read my post, “Wine Chocolate Pairing” which gives you seven easy steps to pair chocolate and wine.
From a travel experience, I had a pleasant train trip. I alternated between listening to an audiobook (Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power) and a novel. Alas, the train arrived in Ottawa nearly an hour late. Such delays are pretty common on VIA, so keep it in mind when you travel on VIA. I also found that the VIA Rail WiFi was somewhat unreliable in some places. On the return trip, I took better notes on the wines. The white wine was a Pinot Grigio, while the red wine was a Cabernet-Merlot blend.
The National Gallery of Gallery: Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition
I also enjoyed seeing the Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. There were mask requirements in place, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the exhibit. I found it interesting to see how Rembrandt and his art students interacted with each other. I also liked the exploration of how international trade influenced the Dutch art industry. Some of the points made in the exhibit about indigenous topics and Rembrandt didn’t quite add up. At times, it seemed like two themes – Rembrandt’s art and indigenous topics – were being forced together in a way that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t work.
After seeing the exhibit, I went shopping in the boutique and then released with a coffee outside the gallery. It was fun to read a short biography of Rembrandt while sitting a coffee from the Happy Goat Coffee Company. The biography was “A Short Biography of Rembrandt Van Rijn,” by Michelle Brenner. It had the virtue of being a short overview.
Alas, the book did not include any illustrations or further reading. Still, there’s something to be said for reading a short introduction to an artist you’ve just seen an exhibit on.
During the visit, I had an excellent opportunity to dine at different restaurants and offer a few thoughts here.
El Camino Byward Market (81 Clarence Street)
This casual restaurant is the perfect place to enjoy the start of a weekend. If you love tacos, I would recommend this place. I stuck to water while dining here because I had had wine on the train coming to Ottawa. In particular, El Camino offers excellent guacamole and a selection of hot sauces. I liked that the restaurant offered a selection of three hot sauces on the side so you could pick and choose which ones you wanted to enjoy.
For planning purposes, note that they do not take reservations.
Aina Restaurant Collective (50 O’Connor St, Ottawa)
Aina is a relatively new restaurant in Ottawa. According to the newspaper, “Aiana makes a compelling case for luxurious dining in downtown Ottawa.” Having dined there myself, I would agree. Of all the places I dined in Ottawa, Aina gets the best review for its wine selection. You get two wine menus: one menu offers wine by the glass while the other offers wine by the bottle.
In terms of food, expect rich foods with truffles and other high-quality ingredients. I had the striploin steak, bread plate, and a selection of chocolates. Of the wines I had had, I particularly enjoyed the Madeira wine. Like port wine, Madeira is a well-known fortified dessert wine, and I have been looking forward to trying it for a long time.
If you are planning a wine tasting trip to Aina, set aside an entire evening for Aina. In my case, the whole dinner service took about three hours. It’s lovely to have the time to linger over an excellent meal.
Sidedoor Restaurant (18b York Street, Ottawa, ON)
Sidedoor offers an exciting combination of cuisines – tacos, Asian-inspired dishes, and gourmet donuts. While enjoying the tacos, I enjoyed a nice glass of Chianti red wine. The tacos were excellent. In contrast to El Camino, there were no hot sauces on the side. Overall, the Sidedoor tacos offer a more upscale experience. The must-have item at Sidedoor, in my view, is the high-quality donuts. I had the white chocolate donuts for dessert, and they were terrific.
Note: Sidedoor does accept reservations, so you can easily plan a lunch or dinner there.
During my stay in Ottawa, I stayed at the Auberge des arts. This centrally located bed & breakfast is less than a 10-minute walk from the National Gallery and Byward Market. Don’t let the mid to late 20th-century décor put you off. The B&B is clean, has WiFi throughout the property, and has an excellent breakfast service. That’s not all. The B&B owner even offers drives to the train station sometimes, which was a wonderful surprise.
Wine Tasting Trips: Not Limited To Wineries
When planning a wine tasting trip, most people think of visiting a winery or flying to the Champagne wine region. Indeed, meeting winemakers is a fun way to explore the wine world. Yet, that is not the only way to include wine in your travels (or wine tour things to do). You can also weave wine tasting into your urban adventures. All it takes is some planning to find restaurants with an exciting selection.
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