Our 2018 Vacation – Part 1: Ottawa

After our epic 2 week vacation driving to Newfoundland and back, my wife and I decided to do something different. But still within Canada as no offense to the Americans who are reading this, but your country isn’t exactly all that welcoming at the moment. Thus we’ll avoid going there until things change. My wife has been working on her cycling this year as we both belong to Velocity Cycling Club in Toronto, which led her to wanting to do a Gran Fondo which is basically a really large group ride in an highly organized environment. Now her target was going to be the PWC Epic Tour 80K event that I have done for a few years now. But I wanted to get her into something that would be a bit easier and with less people first. That way she could get used to a mass start cycling event without having 3000 people around her at the time. That led us to choose the Gran Fondo Ottawa as it has a 65KM distance that would be within her abilities, and it will have way less people which wouldn’t intimidate her. Plus the route only had about 1000 feet of climbing so that’s another thing that wouldn’t intimidate her. So we packed up our bikes in the Hyundai Tucson and made the five hour drive from Toronto to Ottawa. The route that Apple Maps took us on led us along the 401 and then on Highway 7 which was great because the latter was far more scenic.

Now I had made arrangements to stay at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata which is a suburb of Ottawa. Note that unless otherwise stated, all photos are taken with my iPhone 7 Plus:


Here’s the upside of staying here. It is the official event hotel for the Gran Fondo Ottawa. Thus we would be able to get a bit of a discount, there would be no arguments about keeping really expensive bikes in our rooms, and it was only a 1.4 KM ride to the start/finish area. Here’s the downside, It was way far away from downtown Ottawa by car or transit, More on that later.

Our room was a corner suite overlooking a golf course:


That shot was taken from the balcony which had these wooden chairs:


The room itself was spacious and came with a couple of neat pieces of tech:


Next to the bed was this EZO Power charging station. It has 4 USB ports and it acts as a cradle for your phone on top of having a couple of AC outlets. That was a very nice touch. So too was this:


The clock radio had a 3.5mm jack on it so you can plug your phone into it and play your tunes. Which is great as long as your phone has a 3.5mm jack. My iPhone 7 Plus doesn’t so I couldn’t leverage that. But it is way better than hotels who still think the Apple 30 pin connector is the height of technology. I should also mention that the WiFi is easy to join and very very quick.

In the underground parking lot, I spotted this:


The hotel has four electric car charging stations which you can use for a fee. The night we checked in the entire Tesla lineup was there. The Model S on the left, the Mode 3 in the middle, and the Model X on the right.

We arrived a day and a half early for the Gran Fondo. So the plan was to unpack, relax, get some sleep and go into Ottawa and see the Royal Canadian Mint as well as walk around the downtown for a bit. Now while the hotel does have great places to eat, and we did leverage that to go to breakfast, we decided to eat out. Since we were carbo loading for the Gran Fondo, we decided to go to Italian places that night and the following night. The first place we went to was Pocco Pazzo which was really close to the hotel. In short the wait times were short, the food was good and so were the prices and the service. Plus I had this:


This is a Big Rig Black IPA (India Pale Ale) which seems like a bit of an oxymoron to me. But whatever, it tasted great.

After a good night’s sleep and some breakfast, we decided head into Ottawa via public transit to go to the Royal Canadian Mint. Now we took the local transit service which is OC Transpo and it took us 90 minutes and two buses to get there. That didn’t factor in the almost 3 KM or walking at the start and finish of the bus trip. What made that easy for us  was that OC Transpo is one of a number of transit services that use the Presto Card which is best described as a contactless payment that works similar to the Oyster cards in London UK that allows you to pay for transit. We both have Presto Cards as this system is being rolled out (very badly) in Toronto as we speak. Apple Maps was able to navigate us from start to finish. But we found that we would have to coax the best routes out of it. For example, Apple Maps directed us to take a bus to a bus terminal and catch another one which would take us to our destination. Except that we missed it by a minute or two which meant we would have to wait 20 minutes for the next bus. Apple Maps at that point couldn’t figure that out and offer up an alternative. So we ended the navigation session and restarted it and it produced a route from our location that had us get on another bus that was leaving in five minutes and it got us there several minutes faster than our original route. That was strange, and it would get stranger later on in the day.

90 minutes or so later we were in Downtown Ottawa:


That’s the Rideau Canal.


Here’s a shot of the downtown core:


On our way to the Royal Canadian Mint we came across this Ottawa sign near Byward Market. I guess that because Toronto has made news for the Toronto Sign, I guess Ottawa has to have one too.


Along the way we passed the National Gallery.


And here is the Royal Canadian Mint. There’s actually two of them. All Canadian currency is made at the one in Winnipeg. Leaving this one which was the original one to make collector and investment coins. You can take a tour of the place and doing so is cheap at $6 CDN a person. Now if you’re expecting me to show you inside shots of the Royal Canadian Mint, you’re about to be disappointed. Cameras (and smartphones) are not permitted to be used inside the mint as they have a lot of proprietary hardware in there that they don’t want the wrong eyes to see. And apparently if you try anything foolish, it’s a one way trip to jail. The tour takes 45 minutes and is really informative. There’s also a gift shop where you can pick up collector coins.

After the tour of the mint we went to Starbucks for some refreshments, and then after some walking through the downtown, we went to a place called Scone Witch which my wife insisted that we had to visit as it has scones to die for. I’ll take her word for it as I didn’t have any. But based on the fact that she wolfed her scone down in short order, it must have been good. Along the way, I managed to get a shot at Parliament Hill:


Now we’ve both toured the place in the past so we didn’t stop there, but it’s a must see if you visit Ottawa.

Now here’s where we had an epic Apple Maps #Fail. We plotted a return trip to the hotel using my wife’s iPhone 6 because mine was down to 20% battery life which was weird. But I accounted for that due to the Apple Maps usage to get us downtown. In any case, I made a mental note to bring a battery pack with us along with a cable the next time we did any sightseeing. Apple Maps told us to walk to a bus stop and wait for a #63 bus which was supposed to arrive at 3:07 PM.

Except it never came.

We found that to be weird. So we ended the navigation session on her phone and re did it. And it still insisted on us waiting for the #63 bus even though the time for it to arrive was in the past. So I took out my iPhone 7 Plus and did a navigation session with that and it offered up the #64 bus which arrived on time and took us to within 800 meters of our hotel. That was strange. But what was even stranger is that no matter what we did, we could not get my wife’s iPhone 6 to consider any other route options other than the #63 bus. Even a reboot wouldn’t do anything. It makes no sense why two people with two iPhones standing in the same location would not be able to generate similar directions. I have no logical explanation for that.

Fortunately, dinner was more straightforward as we went here to load up on carbs as the Gran Fondo was the next day:


The mob like theme of Tony Capone’s starts with the words “we feed the mob” and continues inside the restaurant. It’s a bit dark and looks like something out of The Godfather. Again, the pricing is good and so is the food. One thing that stood out is a slice of chocolate cake that my wife and I split. It was home made and incredible.

That night we went back to the hotel to check over the bikes to ensure they were good to go, and to pin our race numbers on the back of our Velocity Cycling Club jerseys:


I got race number 443 which gave me a bit of a chuckle as from a computer networking perspective, secure communication takes place over port 443. My wife however got race number 444 which in Cantonese culture is bad luck because the number 4 sounds like the word death. To combat that, I did an old bike racers trick which is that if you get the number 13 in a race you wear it upside down to ward off any bad luck. I did the same thing with her number to make her feel better.

I also had to attach my timing sensor to my helmet:


The start/finish line had overhead sensors about 10 feet in the air. When you start, you ride underneath them and the sensors pick up who you are from this unsightly piece of hardware. Ditto for when you finish. Then we went to sleep.

Now we have the big event which is the Ottawa Gran Fondo. After getting up at 7 to do the final check of the bikes as well as get some breakfast, we made our way over the start line. Each of us had two water bottles. One with regular water, and one with a Hammer Nutrition electrolyte replacement mixed with water. We were using that because on a 30 degree celsius day, you want to make sure that you don’t cramp or dehydrate. We were also each carrying an energy bar from Skratch and some energy chews from the same company. The logic is that your muscles need energy and if you’re constantly eating, you won’t run out of energy or “bonk” as they say.

Then we lined up for the start of the 65K. Here’s a shot of what the start line looked like:


You can see the overhead sensors at the actual start line as well as the couple hundred of people in front of us. The organizers divided us into two groups. The fast group (35 KM/H or faster) and the slow group. We took the slow group. Now I can hang with the 35 KM/H group but I didn’t want to blow the doors off my wife by putting her in amongst people who were riding a race pace. Though about 6 KM after the start which took us out of Kanata onto some country roads, we figured out that maybe we should have started with the fast group as we broke away from the slow group and started to catch those who had been dropped from the fast group. That encouraged her to push herself a bit harder and by the time we made it to the first of three aid stations, we were doing a good pace. We mostly kept that pace up to the second aid station. Though now the distance was starting to set in for my wife as I was easily riding away from her and she was having trouble pacesetting. Especially on the hills which for the most part were under 3% gradient. By the time we got to the third aid station we were dealing with head and cross winds. Now I very used to dealing with those and I can keep a speed of 30 KM/H or higher in those conditions. But for my wife it was a problem as she’s still learning how to cope with those conditions. That led to me dropping her and then having to wait for her on several occasions. The sprint to the finish over the last 17KM had a hill that was 5% which was a shock to the legs after riding on hills that were 3% or less over the last couple of hours. I had no issues with the hill in question as I regularly ride steeper hills than that. My wife to her credit managed to ride her way to the top but I could tell she didn’t enjoy the experience. A lot of rolling hills, and one redneck pickup truck driver who was clearly not thrilled with all the cyclists on the rode who told us to do something that I can’t repeat here, we were at the finish. Though I have to admit that in the last kilometer I dropped my wife and hammered the pedals to get across the finish line as fast as I could.

Here’s what fitness app Strava said I did:

Ride 1

Then I waited for my wife to finish. Which she did a couple of minutes later. I have to admit that though she had to overcome some adversity along the way in the form of winds, she did pretty well for her first Gran Fondo. Thus she earned the massage that she got from a local massage company that was set up at the finish, as well as lunch that was pretty good. And it included a glass of beer from Clock Tower Brew Pub. Because everything is better with beer.

A shower and some rest (For my wife who was exhausted. I however was perfectly fine), we went out for dinner. One of the things that I had to do to get her to come and do this Gran Fondo is to agree to go out to a place called Das Lokal. According to her, it’s a must do for foodies. I am not a foodie so I am simply humoring her. In addition my plan was to sample the extensive beer selection made up of a variety of German beers and a couple of local ones as well. For those of you who are foodies, here’s what we had:


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Well, I must admit that the food was good and so was the beer. As far as my wife was concerned, it was totally worth the trip into downtown Ottawa.

Our next stop is Gananoque Ontario which is the gateway to the 1000 Islands. We’ll be there for a week before heading home. Tune in tomorrow to see what we’ll be up to.

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