My aunt and uncle were waiting for us when we landed in Ottawa. Although they've travelled to the UK quite a few times over the last few years, it's been about thirteen years since we were in Canada ourselves (we were actually there on 9/11 which was quite a frightening experience, but that's a different story) and we were very excited at the thought that we would see for ourselves the houses and places that they have only been able to show us pictures of before.
After finding our hotel and a good night's sleep, we started our week with a trip to a local park before heading off to meet up with the family. One of the things that has always struck us about Canada is how big it seems - not just because it is a huge country with a very small population - but because the sky always seems so open. It's not the same all over the country, but the part that we visit is very flat so the sky seems to go on forever as there are none of the tall buildings you find elsewhere to break up the horizon. You can get an idea of what I mean if you look past the lighthouse and the fisherman, but a photo doesn't really give you that sense of open-ness in quite the same way. It's quite extraordinary.
Then it was time to catch up with the family. It's strange to think that these people are connected to us, and yet we don't see them often and don't really know that much about their day-to-day lives at all other than the condensed versions of events that you exchange in emails and phone calls.
Within minutes, however, it felt as if we'd seen them only yesterday. Chatting to my cousin in the kitchen as we prepared dinner was like chatting to an old friend. My husband was involved in an animated conversation with my uncle and other cousins which came to us through the kitchen window amidst burst of uproarious laughter. My girls were immediately caught up with throwing toys for the dog in a game with their younger cousins (and later shucking corn which is the picture below) - and the three-year-old twins who we were warned were very shy with strangers gravitated towards small daughter and held on to her hands as if they never intended to let her go. It was one of those moments when you feel your heart swell and you never want it to end.
The rest of the week was spent sight-seeing and "hanging out" with the family. In fact, we spent very little time in our hotel at all! We ate breakfast there every morning before heading out; small daughter had a ritual of eating the same things in the same order, but in such a way that involved her going back to the buffet to collect it as many times as possible. I think she just liked being able to go and help herself; she's always been an independent type of girl! Big daughter loved the pancake machine which produced breakfast pancakes to order - she did suggest we might like one at home but I'm not convinced! My husband smiled every morning at the coffee cup. He said he imagined people dragging themselves out of bed and across the floor to get to the coffee station!
We visited the Governor's residence, we went to a water park, the National Gallery of Canada (lovely cafe - well worth a visit!); this is the ceiling - isn't it fabulous?
We saw the Parliament Buildings, which look so very similar to our own ...
... considering that it was supposed to be a quieter week than our Disney week, we never stopped! We had our own personal tour guides in our family which was great as we got to see even more of them, and they got to look at their city from a visitor's perspective, which reminded them how much they liked the city they lived in.
And then my aunt said that she wanted to show me her local yarn store, Wool-Tyme, which it turns out, is the largest wool shop in Canada. Local - ha! It was a 40 minute drive! It was one of those places that you could easily have missed from the outside, but inside - goodness me - there was more yarn than I think I've ever seen in one place and definitely worth the journey!
Racks and racks of it of all colours and makes -a lot of it was English yarn which surprised me as I expected far more of it to be locally produced. There were sample garments hanging from the ceiling, books and books of patterns, shelves of buttons and displays of needles, crochet hooks and any other accessory you could think of.
I've never been anywhere quite like it.
And then I spotted the sock yarn. Big daughter, who had come with us, actually asked me if I was drooling. This picture isn't even half of it, so yes, I think I probably was!
The surprise again was that hardly any of it came from Canada and what they did have was very expensive and more suited to shawls than socks. I found that a little disappointing -having come all this way I wasn't going to return empty-handed and some Canadian sock yarn would have been nice. However, I did manage to find another couple of balls to tempt me ...
All in all then, a wonderful week in Ottawa. We were very sad to leave, but at least had the excitement of a few days in New York to look forward to. The good news is that our visit has pulled our family closer together again; emails have already been flying backwards and forwards, we've spoken on the phone, Skype calls between the children are planned and there's even talk of a holiday together. It was definitely worth the time it took us to get there.
Our holiday's nearly over - just a few days in New York to go. Are you coming?