Canada, Day 3: Blizzards & Throat Bonbons

LogDate 17th January 2017

Yikes! The day was starting to freeze. Finally leaving the house at around 4pm, we popped into Carlton university to get my student cousin some books. The university resembled pretty much any campus around Birmingham. Yet, Carlton doesn’t have enough class to make it into Manchester’s league I’d argue, but it certainly held it’s own.

Then I saw the thing that defined Canada for me last time. This thing!

the 710ml bottle!

Now, as someone who is rather large and frustrated with the lack of… well…. anything… that fits my size and proportions well, from suits to T-shirts, to sweaters, to jeans to drinks (I drink a lot of fluids in the gym), I am very aware of the space I take up. I’m constantly worried about knocking things over, bumping into objects, turning and inadvertently turning into someone at speed etc. So to see a 710ml bottle compared to our 500ml ones, is a breath of fresh air, mixed with a feeling of having visited the land of the giants. It’s a standard drink size here, which is just a ridiculous infusion of calories.

OK, Let’s be Serious.

The latter half of the evening I spent at the Fox and Feather pub in Ottawa.

Fox and Feather downstairs bar. Foreground: My 1664 with an orange in it!?!

My evening was dedicated to Ottawa’s CapCHI event. Very good format for startups to get feedback and advice from 3 mentors in the industry but also the audience. Great idea, I have to say! You can find out more here.

“No, I did not come back here for the ice cream!”

Before attending the CapCHI event, I popped into a local McDonalds, which is a lot duller than the McDonalds we have back home. The franchise was exceptionally dated and was a cross between a half-ar*ed McDonalds and a truck stop.

I approached the counter and ordered my Big Mac meal. It took a while to get, though they use an order numbering system where they give you a number. Coming from a city in the UK who’s McDonalds are bright, full of light, offer WiFi, phone charging, tablet use and use giant touch screen systems to take your order and give you the number (part of a leaner process), to be confronted by a real person was a bit of a confusing position. I had to access that corner of my brain in which I had filed that information.

The lady that served me, the manageress, was very pleasant but obviously didn’t believe I just ate one Big Mac meal [Thanks for the observation missus]. Kept trying to sell me…

Manageress: “A pie?”
Ethar: “No”
M: “How about an ice cream?”
E: “What? It’s minus 10 outside!” [Like she wouldn’t know]
M: “Are you sure you don’t want an ice cream?”
E: “Positive!”
M: “Big Mac meal, that’s it?”
E: “Yes”
M: “Sure?”
E: “Yes”
M: “I can’t tempt you with anything?”
E: “No thanks. Big Mac meal. I’m a simple guy”

Yet, she was very courteous. So much so, my cousin commented that it was “quite a rapport we had” signalling, that this turned into a flirt and in fairness, it did feel that way a bit. He commented that he’s never seen that happen before, though I am aware Canadians are way way more friendly than we are on average in the UK. So that is another thing that will need recalibrating in any event and my flirtometer start from a position of it being off in England. Being the sort of guy who doesn’t know flirting if it slaps me in the face and spend a lot of time wondering ‘What just happened?’ though, I think I can probably consider I’m not missing much.

Getting Home

I was warned Uber was expensive and the accommodation didn’t have a bus route nearby. Buses only took us half way, to South Quay, then you had to make your way back the rest of the way somehow. The same distance away again.

A blizzard had started whilst I was at CapCHI and it had caked the roads with a layer of snow. Given I was roaming, I didn’t really have much in the way of data and it wasn’t obvious where to catch a cab. So I had to find WiFi and Uber my way out.

I popped back into the McDonalds where that waitress/manageress had been trying to cross sell me an ice cream earlier in the night. The first thing she tried to do was sell me a damn ice cream a second time. It’s like my reputation proceeded me.

M: “You’re back for that ice cream aren’t you?”
E: “No. Just a hamburger”
M: “You sure?”
E: “Yes”

Her colleague on the till rang the order in and we started chatting. He asked where in the UK I was from and I told him Manchester. To my absolute surprise, the chap explained how he had a friend that was really into Morrissey. He explained how he’d watched a documentary with his mate and just couldn’t believe the passion folk had for the Smiths and then Morrissey when he went solo He was very informed about it, that’s for sure. Morrissey is an acquired taste, but if you’re in it, you’re loyal. Ottawa is a long way for a name from Urmston to come. I have to say.

Whilst eating my “I must buy something so I don’t look like a freeloader using the WiFi for free” hamburger I used the WiFi to order an Uber. Surge charging took it to 2.4x which is probably the highest I’ve ever experienced. After wondering if I was going to be bankrupt because of it, the price came up at 69 Canadian dollars, which yes, was expensive. However, when considering the total distance of around 35 kilometers, this is absolutely nothing! A cab in London to travel that distance would cost around 1.5 times that if not more. So I was actually pretty relieved to receive that price.

More About Roads

In any event, driving in Ottawa is going to take some getting used to. Even if it’s just to understand the myriad of signs that greet you at every downtown intersection. The signage follows the US style system and it is very user unfriendly.

Plus, walking around in the blizzard was definitely an experience. It was cold and it gets to your skin through your clothes, but it wasn’t altogether unpleasant. Not like wind chill and rain, which takes 5 degrees or more off the temperature by itself. Though I hear that this year it was a mild winter. We can’t comprehend Canadian mild winters in the UK!

As mentioned in a previous blog, car parking is free after 5pm, depending on the times associated with the signs. Signs are extremely verbose when driving around. Plus, parking wardens are over zealous, but apparently they have a better record of overturning fines on appeal than in the UK.

Canadian parking signs present both English and French instructions. The topmost sign indicates where to pay during the parking hours shown in the bottom sign. Here, it’s 7am to 7pm, you can’t stay for more than 2 hours and you can only park to the left side of the sign, not the right (as shown by the middle sign). Very inefficient use of a pole.

Takeaway: Always pay attention to road signs and park on the same side as the direction of travel. Some Canadian driving laws may come as a surprise to UK folk, especially if they’ve not even driven in Europe, which is definitely closer to the north american/Canadian system than the UK system is.

Still, tomorrow is going to be interesting. I have another tech event booked, so will see more of the city then.




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Ethar Alali

Ethar Alali

EA, Stats, Math & Code into a fizz of a biz or two. Founder: Automedi & Axelisys. Proud Manc. Citizen of the World. I’ve been busy