Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery is one of Canada’s most prestigious and historic cemeteries. Designated as a National Historic site, it is open to visitors, who can stroll through the meticulously maintained grounds. It is the final resting place for over 75,000 Canadians including many important figures in Ottawa’s development during its early years as Canada’s Capital. There are also sections dedicated to the RCMP and Canada’s Military. Former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden also lies at Beechwood.
During autumn, the leaves on the century old trees change colour, making for some wonderful scenery within the city. Walking through the cemetery and reading the plaques that chronicle the accomplishments of the people buried there is inspiring. The legacies left behind by those who now rest at Beechwood invites reflection on one’s own life.
Here are some of my favourite scenes from the cemetery.
From Vienna, I boarded a Flixbus for 15 Euros and headed to Prague. This was my first visit to the Czech Republic. I spent a week here and found a city centre that is jam packed with tourists. By Central/Eastern European standards the city feels a little bit more affluent than most. While it doesn’t have the sprawling views, magestic Parliament and large boulevards that you’ll find in Budapest, the old city and the surrounding areas are quite attractive. Cobblestone streets are lined with colourful buildings. There is impressive architecture throughout.
Overall, the city is pleasant and not very expensive. I can see why many westerners choose to vacation or even relocate here.
Szeged is a city in the south of Hungary, close to the border with Serbia. It is Hungary’s third largest city and is home to a well-regarded university. The influx of students gives the small city an international flavour. I often heard English being spoken on the streets and in the shops. English comprehension among locals is high.
A small, attractive city of about 170,000 built along the river Tisza, the city centre is has many interesting cafés, restaurants and some impressive architecture. There are many large squares and wide boulevards. The public transit system is excellent for a city of its size.
I spent five nights in Szeged. These are some of my favourite photos.
For many centuries, Esztergom was the most important city in Hungary, acting as the capital from the 10th till the mid-13th century. It was here that the coronation of Saint Stephen of Hungary took place, in the year 1000 or 1001. With his ascension to the throne, Esztergom became the political, cultural and religious centre of the Hungarian nation.
Today, the city is home to some 30,000 people. It lies on the banks of the Danube river, across the water is Slovakia and the town of Štúrovo. The two towns are connected by the Mária Valéria bridge, which has no border control.
You can easily reach Esztergom by train from Budapest. Trains leave the Nyugati train station every hour and a round trip costs about $10 Canadian or 7 Euros. The journey is slow, with many stops through the Budapest suburbs and small country villages, but the train is modern, making for a pleasant enough trip.
Esztergom’s basilica and castle are built atop a hill with sprawling views of the surrounding countryside and the Danube river.
Across the river is Štúrovo, Slovakia. It’s a small town, with a mostly ethnically Hungarian population. You’ll hear Hungarian spoken on the streets and you can even pay for your food and drinks in Hungarian Forints at the local restaurants and cafés.
The convenience of cheap and hourly trains running between Budapest and Esztergom makes for a fun and easy daytrip. Esztergom is a nice enough town, with an impressive history to merit a visit on its own. Being able to cross the border and visit a different country only adds to the novelty. I enjoyed my daytrip to Esztergom and Štúrovo and would recommend it to someone looking for a change of pace during a longer stay in Budapest.
Typically when I fly to Europe from Canada, I almost always depart from Montreal and land in France. Considering the geopolitical situation in Western Europe right now, the idea of spending time in the airports and train stations of France or Germany is not particularly appealing.
Thanks to WOW airlines, a low-cost airline operating out of Iceland, there are now very cheap flights departing from Montreal and Toronto to Reykjavík. The overnight flight from Montreal, crossing Labrador and Greenland’s rugged terrain, takes about four and a half hours.
Once your plane finally does land in Iceland, you’ll find yourself in a EU country that is part of the Schengen Zone, with plenty of other budget airlines flying in and out of destinations from mainland Europe. When you add up the cheap flight out of Montreal, the short distance (4.5 hours instead of 7 or 8), the access to other European budget airlines, and the appeal of an adventure so close to the arctic, flying to Reykjavík, Iceland becomes a very intriguing destination.
My flight touched down at Keflavik Airport at a little after 5am, local time. The airport itself was a bit chaotic, with duty free zones and passport control stations criss-crossing all over the place. In the centre of the duty free section, was a juice stand blasting techno music, in what I imagine was an attempt to amp up the energy level at 5am.
Keflavik Airport is a 45 minute bus ride outside of Reykjavík. The scenic journey takes you through Iceland’s treeless tundra. The bus dropped me off at the main terminal in the south end of the city. When I first got off the bus and looked around, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. The terminal is a run down building that looks like it belongs in the the poorest regions of Eastern Europe. Surrounding the terminal are fields of grass. There is no hustle and bustle or the grandiose architecture that you gear yourself up for when heading to the capital city of a European country.
Looking up the hill towards the city, I could see the top of the Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík’s dominant church steeple. With my suitcase in tow, I negotiated my way up the quiet city streets at 6am. I stopped at the Hallgrímskirkja and snapped a few photos. My airbnb apartment wouldn’t be open for check-in until early afternoon, so I had time to kill.
I walked downhill, into the commercial district of the city, looking for some breakfast. The city was a ghost town with barely any people out and about and even fewer businesses opened. I finally found a Dunkin Donuts that was open. I grabbed a bit to eat and studied the tourist map I picked up in the airport.
The good thing about Reykjavík being such a small city is that it is extremely walkable. After I left the Dunkin Donuts, I set about to explore the city on foot. After a few hours, I had seen pretty much all of the important tourist sites. I was fortunate to get what is pretty much perfect weather for a Canadian tourist during my entire visit: sunshine with highs in the teens.
Nightlife in Reykjavík
A word on the nightlife in Iceland’s capital. I had read before my trip that in Reykjavík, the weekend nights get crazy and that I was going to see some things. This turned out to be accurate. I’ve done a fair bit of traveling and have enjoyed nightlife in places such as Bangkok, Budapest and Berlin. Reykjavík was as memorable as any of those cities. Here is what I witnessed in just two nights:
∙ Fall down drunk men and women. Women were falling down drunk inside bars and the security people paid no attention to it. Business as usual. It wasn’t just young people getting drunk. I saw a woman in her 40s or 50s fall down and collapse ass over tea kettle at around 4am on a sidewalk. Guys were staggering all over the place.
∙ People openly doing cocaine in the middle of the city’s main street.
∙ Thug pimps offering me up girls. One offered to have me meet a girl on the street at around 5am. At a bar another purposely pushed a working girl into me inside a bar, in the hopes that I’d be drunk enough to go along with it.
∙ People smashing beer bottles all over the streets and smashing their beer and wine glasses inside the bars. I had chards of glass wedged in the soles of my shoes that I had to dislodge with my keys.
Like other European cities, Reykjavík allows you to open carry alcohol which I quite like. There are 24 hour convenience stores that sell beer all night. You can run up and down the street with a cheap beer in hand while you decide what bar to visit next. Bar hopping is easy, with just about every venue being within walking distance.
The party goes on until well into the morning. Think 6 or 7am. Most people don’t even bother getting to the bars until after midnight. A good nap is key before heading out.
Rest and Recovery
With all the walking I did, by day with my camera and in the evenings exploring the nightlife, I was pretty drained by the time Sunday arrived. I decided to spend the day relaxing at one of the city’s many thermal pools which have water temperatures of 36C-40C, heated by the thermal energy underneath Iceland’s rocky terrain. I ended up at a small neighbourhood pool called Vesturbaejarlaug. It has four hot tubs, a steam bath, sauna and a gym. From what I could hear, most of the people there were locals, but there was still a fair number of American and German tourists taking a dip as well.
I also tried out a few coffee shops. A local chain called Te & Kaffi had some nice locations. One was on the third floor of a bookstore and souvenir shop on Austurstraeti, right in the city centre, featuring a huge rooftop patio and an open concept that gave way to lots of natural light. The coffee was pretty good too.
Hot dogs are a popular snack in Iceland. They are larger than your typical baseball style dog you see in Canada and the US, but not as large as some of the Wurst type sausages you will see in Germany. According to one article “the hot dogs are made mostly with lamb (and sometimes with a little pork) and traditionally topped with mustard, ketchup, fried onion, raw onion and remolaði, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish.” The sweet relish is a really nice touch.
I really enjoyed my weekend visit to Reykjavík. There is natural beauty everywhere you look, which is great for a hobby photographer like me. I definitely plan to return. With the convenience of the short, cheap flight by WOW airlines, it’s too good an opportunity to pass up. Flying to mainland Europe takes a lot more planning and you need to block out a significant chunk of time (weeks instead of days) to really make it worth your while. The shorter distance to Iceland is a game-changer. I expect visits to Iceland will be a regular occurrence for me in the coming years.
On July 5th, I attended a CAN-AM League baseball game between the Rockland Boulders and the Capitales de Quebec.
I was particularly interested in checking out the Capitales home park, the Stade Municpal. which dates back to 1938. Under the government of Maurice Duplessis, construction was ordered to build a new baseball stadium during the great depression, creating 900 jobs during that difficult era.
The stadium is designed in a “Streamline Moderne” style, which conjures up an art-deco impression. Hank Aaron (who hit a home run) and Warren Spahn played here on exhibition tours. Gary Carter also spent a portion of his minor league career playing in this park.
Over the weekend, I visited Laurier House, which was open for this year’s Doors Open Ottawa event. Laurier House was the former residence of two of Canada’s most important Prime Ministers, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Rt. Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie King. It was here that they conducted much of their work and entertained heads of state from around the world.