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Hello From Ottawa: The Tulip Extravaganza At The Casino De Lac Leamy

After my historic train travel experience on the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train I decided to explore the surrounding neighbourhood. The Casino du Lac Leamy, located in Gatineau on the other side of the Ottawa River, is less than five minutes away from the train station and is one of the official locations for Ottawa’s famous Tulip Festival and this year, it is the main location for the World Flower Summit that is being held in Ottawa.

The Casino de Lac Leamy is right n...

Ottawa, Canada, casino, flowers, tulip, festival, Casino du Lac-Leamy

After my historic train travel experience on the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train I decided to explore the surrounding neighbourhood. The Casino du Lac Leamy, located in Gatineau on the other side of the Ottawa River, is less than five minutes away from the train station and is one of the official locations for Ottawa’s famous Tulip Festival and this year, it is the main location for the World Flower Summit that is being held in Ottawa.

The Casino de Lac Leamy is right next to the five-star Hilton Lac-Leamy Hotel, which offers an urban resort experience 10 minutes from downtown Ottawa on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. The hotel itself features 349 rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a luxurious spa with 17 treatment rooms, a fitness centre and a game room, a variety of meeting rooms as well as a restaurant with an outdoor patio. A conference centre, 24-hour room service, a cigar lounge and a number of boutiques round out the services at the Hilton Lac-Leamy Hotel. The city of Gatineau is the center of Quebec’s Outaouais travel region and offers quick access to a variety of urban and nature experiences in the immediate vicinity.

The Casino du Lac-Leamy is a regular official component of various Ottawa festivities, and this year again it is an official location of Ottawa’s Tulip Festival. Even more special is that this year Ottawa is hosting the 23rd World Flower Summit. This international event is organized by the World Flower Council, an organization dedicated since 1983 to furthering the cause of world peace through the beauty of flowers and the sharing of knowledge among those who have chosen the floral industry as their profession.

Juzaburo Sekiye, the founder of this organization and a citizen of Japan, had a dream of furthering the cause of world peace through sharing a love and knowledge of flowers..."making a flower the symbol of peace and culture without regard to country boundaries." His dream became reality in 1983 with the first summit meeting of the Pan Pacific Flower Culture Conference in Gifu, Japan. The conference was later renamed The World Flower Council, and has since enjoyed continuous growth. Since 1983, WFC meetings have been held in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, the United States, the Philippines, Latvia, and Indonesia.

As you know, Travel and Transitions dedicates itself to building bridges between people from different places and to fostering greater cross-cultural understanding and tolerance. So the notion of building peace through a joint love of flowers is intriguing to me and I was happy to see that this year Ottawa was chosen as the location for the international conference of the World Flower Council.

The programming form May 18 to May 22 features exhibitions, demonstrations and workshops with 300 delegates from over 30 countries. The World Flower Summit encompasses a variety of ceremonies and presentations by flower designers from different countries. A variety of flower conception workshops advance the craft of floral design and at the Casino du Lac Leamy flowers are the key attraction during the Tulip Festival.

A Tulip Tour of the World includes 100,000 tulips in 16 exotic varieties, named after destinations in 11 countries. The gardens at the Casino du Lac-Leamy are the second largest of the Festival’s tulip gardens, after Dows Lake. A schedule of flower related events called the Tulip Explosion ( May 4 to 22, 2006) is sure to entertain every flower enthusiast.

The festival offers flower and design shows, with scores of activities including live paintings, exhibitions, competitions, and a dazzling assortment of floral creations by master and student florists. This weekend the Tulip Explosion culminates with the XXIII Annual World Flower Council Summit (May 18 to 22).

In addition to the dazzling outdoor display of tulips, the Casino also features giant tulips with a height of about 7 meters indoors. Throughout the entire month of May the Casino du Lac-Leamy has been turned into a center for floral displays. In addition, special dress designs are being featured in the walkways between the Casino and the Hilton Hotel.

I took my time to explore the floral beauties outside the Casino and as well as the decorative displays inside the Casino and the interconnecting walkways to the hotel which featured a variety of beautiful exhibits created by talented designers. The Casino du Lac-Leamy offered a great opportunity for a hobby photographer like me to try to capture the beauty of the world of flowers.

 

Hello From Ottawa: The Wakefield Mill Inn & Spa

To experience the charms of the quaint village of Wakefield, I combined my unique transportation experience on the Hull-Chelsea Wakefield Steam Train with a lunch experience at the historic Wakefield Mill Inn and Spa. Ali, the Mill’s maitre d’, came to pick up a number of passengers from the steam train, all of whomwere going to spend an entire weekend in this famous country retreat. I on the other hand had barely an hour and a half to acquaint myself with one of the most his...

Ottawa, Canada, spa. McLaren, River, Wakefield, historic

To experience the charms of the quaint village of Wakefield, I combined my unique transportation experience on the Hull-Chelsea Wakefield Steam Train with a lunch experience at the historic Wakefield Mill Inn and Spa. Ali, the Mill’s maitre d’, came to pick up a number of passengers from the steam train, all of whomwere going to spend an entire weekend in this famous country retreat. I on the other hand had barely an hour and a half to acquaint myself with one of the most historically significant places in Wakefield.

The Inn’s origins date back all the way to 1838 when a Scottish immigrant by the name of William Fairbairn decided to construct a stone mill in order to mill local grains for farm families in the Gatineau and LaPêche river valleys. After the sale of the mill to James MacLaren, the mill was expanded to include a saw mill, woolen mill and general store.

The whole complex was ravaged by fire in 1910 and a flour mill was rebuilt, but the woolen mill stopped operating. The flour mill continued until 1939 when larger mechanized flour mills started displacing smaller-scale local mills. It was converted into a grist mill to produce livestock feed for local farmers and operated until 1980 when it was turned into a heritage museum by the Gatineau Historical Society.

In 2000, a local husband and wife team, Robert Milling and Lynn Berthiaume, realized their life-long dream and restored the vacant building and turned it into today’s inn, spa and conference centre. The renovation project was extensive and required the approval of a variety of agencies, including the National Capital Commission which owns the land on which the mill is located.

Several unique features of the original building have been preserved: the heavy wooden beams in the reception area were used to support the grain silos above, and several guest rooms (numbers 205, 206, 306 and 307) are now located in the former grain silos.

The dining room downstairs is the former “engine room” of the mill and underneath it used to be the location of mechanical and electrical turbines propelling the milling process. One turbine room is today’s Spa and the other turbine room now features the inn’s wine cellar. Several old mechanical components are now used as decorative elements in the outside garden surrounding the mill.

The Mill’s restoration has indeed been very successful, and the new addition on the east side of the building integrates seamlessly in the pre-existing historic structure. Ali took me downstairs into the dining room which features stone walls, an open-hearth fireplace, billiard table and bar. A variety of historic pictures adorns the walls and illustrates a cross-section of the personalities behind the mill over the years. To have lunch, I sat down in the 45-seat Solarium that provides the most magnificent view of the MacLaren falls.

I had a delightful Moroccan lentil soup and capped it off with a very savory tomato and eggplant dish that just melted in your mouth. I looked out the big picture windows at the impressive waterfall and even on a grey day like today I was impressed by the scenic beauty of the mill’s location. Since time was very short before I had to get back on the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train, I asked for a quick tour of this establishment and we briefly went outside into the garden that is located between the MacLaren River and the mill. A wooden deck with deck chairs would provide the perfect vista of the falls in better weather.

I had a quick walk through the spa facilities which all contain the latest top-notch equipment, perfect for relaxation and rejuvenation. The Spa features Swedish, Californian and chair massages that range from 15 to 60 minutes. The Spa’s facial therapies are based on the Reflexothermal Method, a relaxing, de-stressing and healing treatment. Two types of body therapies are offered and as well as different choices of pedicures and manicures. Men receive special attention with specialized facial skin treatments, relaxing body massages and back care treatments.

One of the treatment rooms faces the falls head-on and I could picture myself having a pedicure, sitting back in the state-of-the-art treatment chairs and enjoying the astounding vista. A year-round outdoor hot tub is available on the outside deck for complimentary use for all Spa and Inn guests.

Finally, I had a chance to have a look at a couple of the Inn’s rooms and they are decorated in light wood and tasteful colours, many of them featuring stone walls and some of the buildings original features.

Well, believe me, at this stage I wished I was one of those Steam Train passengers who were going to stay overnight at this beautifully restored inn, but I had to get back on the train to complete my historic train trip. On our way back to the Wakefield train station, Ali quickly took me on a side excursion up a little hill where there is an old cemetery. One of Canada’s most famous prime ministers, Lester B. Pearson, is buried here. Another piece of evidence of the history that surrounds the Wakefield Mill Inn & Spa……

 

Hello From Ottawa: Tulips On Majors Hill And A Nerve-wracking Television Interview

My day today so far had been completely dedicated to exploring nature: first I visited the Fatal Attraction Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Nature to learn about the art of seduction in the animal world. Then I had a chance to explore nature in a real-life setting in Ottawa’s nature playground: Gatineau Park.

At about 4 pm I headed back into the city, got changed and checked my messages at the beautiful McGee’s Inn and got ready to head out to my next stop: Major’s Hill,...

Ottawa,Ontario, Canada, Tulips, Interview, festival

My day today so far had been completely dedicated to exploring nature: first I visited the Fatal Attraction Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Nature to learn about the art of seduction in the animal world. Then I had a chance to explore nature in a real-life setting in Ottawa’s nature playground: Gatineau Park.

At about 4 pm I headed back into the city, got changed and checked my messages at the beautiful McGee’s Inn and got ready to head out to my next stop: Major’s Hill, one of the official locations of Ottawa’s Tulip Festival. From the leafy neighbourhood of Sandy Hill I strolled through Ottawa’s ByWard Market area and explored a local landmark: the asymmetrical spires of St. Brigid’s have been inspiring Roman Catholics since 1890.

Just a few hundred metres northwest is one of Ottawa’s most magnificent edifices: the Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral, Ottawa’s oldest surviving church. Its site is the location of the first Catholic chapel accessible to both Anglophones and francophones of Bytown.

Right across the Street from the impressive Notre Dame Cathedral is another architecturally imposing structure: The National Gallery of Canada, a masterpiece of modern architecture, designed by internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie and opened in 1988 to develop, maintain and make known, throughout Canada and the world, a national collection of works of art with special but not exclusive reference to Canada. Part of its mandate is to further knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of art in general among all Canadians.

Just oustide the National Gallery and facing the Notre Dame Cathedral is a monumental sculpture of a spider, created by French-born sculptor Louise Bourgeois. This sculpture, entitled “Maman”, features a sac of 26 pure white marble eggs protruding from the spider’s belly. With a height of 30 feet this enormous outdoor sculpture was designed in 1999 and cast in 2003, and it is the last in a series of six environmental sculptures by this artist. These sculptures have been seen in numerous high-calibre locations, including New York City’s Rockefeller Center and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. I also saw a copy last year together with a smaller version in Havana, Cuba.

From the plaza in front of the National Gallery all I had to do was to cross busy Sussex Drive and I found myself right in Major’s Hill Park. This public space dates back all the way to 1874, although it was originally named after Colonel By, the creator of the Rideau Canal. As a matter of fact, the park is the site of the former residence of Colonel By who was succeeded by Major Daniel Bolton who ended up giving the official name to this public space.

Major’s Hill is indeed one of the most prominent spaces in Ottawa, with perfect views of the Parliament Buildings, the Rideau Canal, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, and the National Art Gallery. It is just steps away from Sussex Drive, location of the Canadian Prime Minister’s residence, as well as Ottawa’s prime entertainment district, the ByWard Market. Today the park is managed by the National Capital Commission and one of the main venues for many of the city’s festivals and special events.

As one of the official events for the Tulip Festival, Ottawa’s largest festival, and the largest festival of its kind in the world, Major’s Hill was hosting a number of special attractions: the International Tulip Friendship Village, the Artisans Marketplace, strolling entertainers, the Family Zone and the Get Out! Ottawa Citizen Concert Series. I particularly enjoyed the 150 five-foot tall tulips, all of which are unique, painted by local artists. These sculptures were a great addition to the thousands of real tulips who were already a bit past their prime, considering Canada has had an early spring this year.

5 pm was still a bit early, but people were starting to come in to get ready for some of the concerts that were going to be held here tonight. I admired the real-life tulips, the artist-painted man-made versions and various photos and paintings of tulips in the Artisans Marketplace. The sun was peeking out occasionally and a beautiful view presented itself on the west side of Major's Hill, overlooking the Parliament Buildings and the Rideau Canal’s lock system.

One of Ottawa's most distinguishing features, the Rideau Canal is a designated Canadian National Historic Site and was recently nominated as a World Heritage Site as well. Connecting lakes and rivers between Ottawa and Kingston, the Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America. Its locks have been open for business since 1832. Several tourists were enjoying the view until all of us got distracted by an oversize groundhog that was sitting quite relaxed on one of the walkways, chewing away on some leafy branches that had been blown down by the wind. He was not at all deterred by our fascination for him.

Well, my serene afternoon was going to come to an end shortly since I was scheduled for a 3-minute live appearance on Ottawa’s primary news channel, CTV. This might not be a big deal for someone else, but for me personally it was my first television appearance. To be beamed live through Canada’s capital on the 6 o’clock news was a very exciting, yet nerve-wrecking experience.

Max Keeping, CTV Ottawa’s news anchor and Vice-President of News Programming, had suggested that we do a live interview from Major’s Hill Park where he would ask me several questions related to travel in Canada. He would of course be located in CTV’s Ottawa studio. Max and I had met earlier this year at the 26th Annual Bedzzz Race where he was the emcee of this charity event.

Indeed, Max is renowned all throughout the National Capital Region for his community involvement and he has helped to raise more than $100 million for important causes over his 34 years at CTV Ottawa. He makes appearances at more than 200 community events a year and is a recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Order of Canada, the Ontario Medal of Good Citizenship, a 2003 Gemini, the 2004 Ottawa United Way's Community Builder of the Year, and dozens of other awards.

No wonder I was nervous in anticipation of a city-wide televised interview with such an illustrious personality. As time drew closer to 6 pm I had to make two nervousness-induced trips to one of the port-a-potties on Major’s Hill. About 20 minutes to 6 pm I located the CTV satellite news truck and I went up to the camera man to introduce myself. He outfitted me with an earpiece and a miniature microphone that went on my jacket with a transmitter box mounted to my back. Once I was wearing this equipment I realized there was no turning back, I was going to be on TV, no matter what.

I have to admit I was hugely nervous as the camera man started to position me in different locations in front of the bright spotlight he had set up. From about 6 pm onwards I started to hear the live newscast in my earpiece and the producer of the show occasionally came on to fill me in as to how much longer it would be. She had a surprisingly calming influence on me. Time seemed like an eternity, but finally at about 6:15 pm I was live on the air, with Max Keeping, Ottawa’s most popular newscaster.

He asked me several questions about travel in Canada, and in particular whether I thought that higher gasoline prices would or should have an effect on travel in Canada. I answered frankly, stating that despite higher gas prices it still only took me about $60 in gasoline to drive to and from Ottawa. Canada as a whole and Ottawa specifically, is a great travel destination, since there are always so many things going on as evidenced by my own tight schedule during the Tulip Festival and it is still very affordable to travel and explore destinations within Canada.

Well, the butterflies started to subside and a few minutes later my on-air interview was finished. I felt exhilaration and relief at the same time and thanked the camera man profusely for the professional support he provided to me. I also thanked the producer who came on one more time to let me know that things had gone okay.

By this time it had started to drizzle a little, so I put my rain jacket on and headed for another round of excursions around Major’s Hill. The place was getting busier. A local singer was creating renditions of various Avril Lavigne songs and a young band, the Diableros, took to the stage who were going to be followed by two more musical performances as part of the Get Out! Ottawa Citizen Concert Series.

I crossed the street and strolled through the ByWard Market to my dinner destination, Bistro 115, where I would get to chat with the owner and find out more about another one of Ottawa’s hospitality entrepreneurs. At the end of this exciting, action-packed day I was looking forward to a good conversation and a nice quiet dinner.

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