As I start this entry, according to noaa.gov, it’s 94 degrees Fahrenheit in Birmingham. That’s objective data. I ran a few errands earlier and I can tell you that it’s really hot outside. That’s subjective but I think most people here would agree with me. It’s been over 90 degrees every day this week, so I have naturally been thinking about snow.
Snow is how Canada gets tourists to visit in February. They have so much that they sometimes take snow for granted, judging by large swaths of it that were completely untouched when we were there. When I was a kid, during the rare snows that we got, we wore out the stuff. Canada invites people like me to visit so they can give their snow away.
I’ve been looking at pictures of a trip we took several years ago to Ottawa to their big winter festival, Winterlude. If you’ve been to Ottawa, you no doubt remember the Rideau Canal which flows through the city and passes just below the Parliament Buildings. A lot of the Winterlude activities center around the canal, which is a natural winter sports magnet as it freezes over and becomes the world’s largest skating rink. Some of the locals skate to work, and even if you’re not a skater, it’s fascinating (for somebody from the American South, at least) to watch others who take maneuvering on ice for granted. I had never given much thought, for instance, to the mechanics of toddler transportation in a world where strollers are of little use. What you do is bundle up the kids so only their little eyes are showing, strap them onto a sturdy little sled, and tow it behind you as you glide across the ice or trudge through the snow. I’m proud to say that PJ and I skated on the Rideau Canal, having taken some lessons in preparation for our trip.
We were there the weekend that the festival opened and attended the opening ceremonies, which took place outside, as do all the shows and activities. They had a spectacular light show depicting the history of Canada, and the Governor General chopped the ceremonial block of ice in half. That was the only time I got really cold as we found a place early so we could see everything, and had to stand for a couple of hours. On the whole, we were well prepared for the weather and as long as we were moving, I was OK. There’s a mall close to the canal and we went inside there to warm up when we needed to, in addition to making extensive use of the food court.
Eating fried dough is generally a worthwhile experiment anywhere you go. In my neck of the woods, it’s usually in the form of a funnel cake. At a county fair in Ohio, it’s an elephant ear. In Ottawa, it’s a BeaverTail and in February it’s made especially delicious by virtue of the fact that it’s hot and you’re cold. They’re available all over the place, and when accompanied by hot chocolate make for a memorable culinary experience.
Confederation Park is right beside the canal and that’s where you’ll find the ice sculptures. There are different competitions that give the artists varying amounts of time to complete their sculptures, and it’s really interesting to watch them work. They all start with the same size blocks of ice which they stack and cement together with a little water as the starting point for some truly magnificent works of art.
At night, the sculptures are illuminated with colored lights. We went back several times, both during the day and a couple of evenings, to examine the sculptures. One or two of them didn’t survive the creation process and lay on the ground in pieces, and after a couple of days, the weather moderated and some of them started to look a little melty, but the creativity and artistry were amazing.
Probably my favorite thing, though, was the winter playground set up at Jacques-Cartier Park, a couple of miles away. (There are shuttle buses between the venues.) There were ice slides of varying widths, so you could choose to go down as a single or lock arms with up to half a dozen other people and slide down together. We acted out our snow-deprived childhoods and slid, and went snow tubing, and had a wonderful time watching other people doing the same thing. We also made two interesting observations on our dog sled ride. Dogs can run and relieve themselves at the same time, and only the lead dog gets a change of scenery.