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Three Trains, Three Days - Two Lovers, Two Nights
By Train from Toronto

The early morning sun shattered off the windshields of the cars racing along the highway as the taxi weaved in and out of the traffic on our way to Union Station. Arriving a half-hour before departure we carried our bags through the towering great hall into the Panorama lounge. A glass of orange juice and a hot coffee later, we are called for priority boarding on the 6.55 to Ottawa. Settling into our seats, the train pulls away from the station picking up speed as we leave the city. With the sun still low in the sky, its beams turning to crystal as they bounce off the waters of Lake Ontario, we’re served a breakfast of fruit salad, juice, eggs, pastries and coffee. Squeezing my hand, she smiles as we relax into our first trip together in 3 years.

I don’t think either of us ever really knew why we broke up. It had been an intense affair, from the moment we met we made plans, we made love, we made mistakes, and suddenly we… were apart. A chance meeting brought us back together, and all the old feelings came flooding back. Would this trip be the start of something special? We both had our hopes and I’m sure we both had the same fears. As the train rolled along through small towns and into the spectacularly green Ontario countryside, we could only wonder where the journey would take us.

Arriving in Ottawa four and a half hours later we grabbed a cab to the Chateau Laurier. Approaching from the south the Chateau stands out against its surroundings like a fairytale castle. The hotel first opened its doors on June 1, 1912, since that time it has been host to Kings and Queens, Prime Ministers and Presidents, Film Stars and Rock Stars, and ultimately Me and Helene! Entering the Grand Lobby you realize this hotel is something special, and when we’re shown to our room overlooking Major’s Hill Park, it’s easy to understand why it’s rated one of 2006 World’s Best Places to Stay, and one of the 500 Greatest Hotels in the World.

We have lunch in the hotel’s outdoor restaurant, La Terrasse, overlooking the Rideau Canal and The Parliament Buildings next door. A couple of politicians I half recognize are having lunch with their aides, while a small cruiser enters the first of the canal’s locks. The hotel describes La Terrasse as “the best place in the Nation’s Capital to dine al fresco”, and after our lunch of Cobb salad, a chicken foccacia sandwich, a couple of glasses of wine and espresso to finish us both agree they are not exaggerating. Leaving the restaurant a couple of hours later, we wander over to the Parliament Buildings. Built between 1859 and 1927 on a tree-covered promontory overlooking the Ottawa River, the Parliament Buildings neo Gothic and Gothic structures with copper-covered roofs are much more impressive up close than the pictures you see on TV. We stroll through the grounds before taking a guided tour of the buildings, visiting the Senate Chamber, the House of Commons Chamber and finishing up at the magnificent library. The library is the only part of the original building and has recently undergone a four-year restoration. Leaving the grounds, we head to the ByWard Market, one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada. With close to 175 outdoor stalls, selling plants, flowers, fruits, vegetables, clothes, and arts and crafts, mixed in with clubs, bistros, coffee shops, and boutiques, the market buzzes with energy. We stop in at BeaverTails Pastry to sample an Ottawa delicacy; a whole-wheat pastry stretched to the shape of a beaver tail, cooked in Canola oil, topped with butter, a choice of Cinnamon sugar, Chocolate hazelnut or Apple cinnamon and served piping hot. We could spend many hours browsing the stalls and watching the people, but we have a dinner reservation at 7.30 so we return to the hotel to change, and freshen up.

I don’t know what women do in the bathroom when they’re getting ready to go out, but I do know the results can be spectacular, and tonight is no exception. I am sitting in one of the overstuffed armchairs as she comes into the room, dressed in a simple black dress. The woman, who was beautiful this morning, is stunning tonight! I would be happy to just sit and look at her for the rest of the evening, but she, being practical as well as beautiful, suggests since we have reservations, and it will be a long time till breakfast…

Across the road from the hotel is the Metropolitain Brasserie, a restaurant and oyster bar, modelled on the grand Parisian brasseries of the 1920s. We had hoped to eat on the courtyard patio but a soft rain started to fall so we chose a table in the “Paris and Ella Rose Room”. Cocktails were followed by escargot and crispy cod cakes. For entrees, Helene had an 8oz Filet with Bordelaise sauce, mashed potatoes and vegetables, and I had rack of lamb with red wine and cherry jus, mashed potatoes and vegetables. I had a glass of the house wine, a Cabernet/Merlot, Creekside, Niagara, and for dessert, we shared a Tarte au Citron with wild blueberry sauce and whipped cream. Finishing the delicious meal, we drank coffee and cognac.

We could have stayed much longer, enjoying the ambience and each other, but there was a sound and light show at 10.00 at the Parliament Buildings. The rain had given up and the skies cleared as we made our way arm in arm to Parliament Hill. “The Spirit of a Country” is a dazzling spectacle, featuring shimmering lights and giant images projected onto the Parliament Buildings. Accompanied by Canadian songs, poems and stories, it made me feel quite patriotic and I’m not even Canadian! Returning to our room at the Chateau, we ordered a cheese and fruit plate which we fed to each other on the big fluffy bed before I took her in my arms and turned off the lights.

We had an early buffet breakfast in Wilfrid’s restaurant just off the hotel lobby then picked up a car at National Car Rental on Queen St. and drove across the river into Quebec for a trip on the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train. The train, one of Canada’s last remaining authentic steam powered trains, makes a 64km round trip along the banks of the Gatineau River. The Gatineau must be one of the most scenic areas in the country, and as the train slowly rolls through the landscape, the sun filters through the trees, which alternately hide and reveal the river gently flowing behind. On-board tour guides and musicians entertain us through the hour and a half journey from Hull to Wakefield. Arriving in Wakefield, the train runs right down the main street before coming to its final destination at the end of the town. We have an hour to explore the town, nestled on the banks of the Gatineau, before climbing back on-board for the return journey. We promise ourselves we will make this journey again later in the year to see the spectacular Fall colours.

Back in Hull, we take the short drive to Camp Fortune. Camp Fortune is a ski resort in winter, but in summer is home to the Camp Fortune Aerial Experience. The Aerial Experience is a course of aerial steel wires, rope bridges, suspended walkways, net gangways and giant zip lines. I’d seen the website and, forgetting my fear of heights, thought it would be an interesting adventure! After a short introductory lesson, I climb the ladder into the first tree. Looking down reminds me, I really do have a fear of heights, but Helene was down below, impressed at my daring so there was no turning back. I took the first step “don’t look down!” I took a second step “God I must be nuts!” A third step “she’s got the camera you can’t wimp out now!” Until I took the last step, hooked on to the final zip line, and flew to the end. Tired but exhilarated I had completed the course. We returned to the Chateau for a well-deserved rest. Tonight we were going to the casino!

Another hour in the bathroom, another stunning transformation, and we’re driving back across the river to Hull. We have dinner at Banco, one of five restaurants in the casino, and then make our way to the Theatre Du Casino for the Cabaret U-Mano. Described as puppets for a mature audience, the ninety- minute show, mixes life-sized puppets with puppeteers and dancers performing to a mixture of jazz, blues and popular music in a sensual and hilarious tour de force which never lets up from opening curtain to closing bows. No visit to a casino would be complete without at least a little bit of gambling. So after a half-hour of slots in which I lost $10 and Helene won $15 we went back across the river for a late night drink at one of Ottawa’s most stylish and elegant lounges, Zoë’s. With its warm decor, glowing chandeliers, plush carpet, and beautiful atrium Zoë’s is the perfect spot to end a perfect day.

Entering our room I take her in my arms, her lips meet mine as we slowly move together. Later as she lay sleeping, I hold her close feeling the curve of her spine, the softness of her skin, and watching the flutter of her lashes as she dreams.

We sleep late the next morning. It’s raining again and we wait in vain for the changing of the guard on Parliament Hill; cancelled due to weather! We drive to Rideau Hall and watch the Ottawa Cricket Club, one of the oldest cricket clubs in the world, play a match on the park-like grounds. Sheltered under a big umbrella, borrowed from the hotel, I try to explain the rules, but seeing her eyes glaze over, suggest we tour the Hall instead. The Hall is home to the governor general, who apparently isn’t home today. We take a considerably shortened tour (four rooms) as the Hall is currently undergoing renovations, then watch a changing of the guard ceremony at the entrance gate.

Returning the car, we make our way to Prime 360 for a spectacular brunch, which we finish off with fruit and a serving of their freshly baked pastries. It is still raining and we have a couple of hours before our departure so we stroll along the Sparks St. pedestrian mall and back to the ByWard Market to pick up some gifts for friends back home.

Returning to the station, we have another coffee in the Panorama lounge before boarding the 6.15 to Toronto. As the train gets underway, we’re served a complimentary threecourse meal with wine, followed by truffles and a choice of liqueurs, a final touch of luxury to take us back home. And as the day slowly turns to night, the gentle rocking of the train and the lights of the small towns racing by she lays her head on my shoulder and I think maybe this time…

http://www.ottawatourism.ca/  (1 800 363 4465)
http://www.viarail.ca/ (1 888 842-7245)
http://www.fairmont.com/ (1 613 241 1414)
www.parl.gc.ca/vis (1 613 996 0896)
www.canadascapital.gc.ca/soundandlight (1 800 465 1867)
www.byward-market.com/ (1 613 562 3325)
http://www.beavertailsinc.com/ (1 613 241 6321)
http://www.metropolitainbrasserie.com/ (1 613 562 1160)
http://www.nationalcar.ca/ (1 800 227 7368)
www.steamtrain.ca (1 800 871 7246)
www.campfortune.com (1 819 827 1717)
www.casinos-quebec.com (1 800 665 2274)
www.ottawacricketclub.ca (Prime 360 / 1 613 782 2422)


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