Weekend things

January 11th, 2010

This weekend has mostly been about getting established. Yesterday I went for a brief stroll around the neighbourhood (Aylmer) and found the shops and a bank. Later, Kouassi gave me a lift into Ottawa and I spent the afternoon noodling round – but it was too cold (-15!) to stand around sightseeing for too long, and I had to keep going into shops and cafes to warm up. Next time I’ll put long johns on under my trousers… I did however manage to buy a pair of jeans, my first ever pair of Levis in fact, in a department store owned by the Hudson Bay Trading Company (yes, that one – established 1670!). They were in the sale and seem more sensibly priced over here anyway.

Today, Sunday, I woke up early, being still somewhat jetlagged, and considered going to church. A quick Google turned up an Anglican church within ten minutes walk. The church was warm and the people were friendly. Three baptisms and communion later, I found myself being made a fuss of over coffee and home-made cake. Very nice indeed!

After a bite of lunch, I decided to do two things – work out how the bus system works, and go and explore the centre of Gatineau. I should explain at this point that the Ottawa conurbation consists of Ottawa itself, on the south side of the river and in the state of Ontario. On the north side of the river, however, is French-speaking Quebec, and the city of Gatineau, which is actually federated from several smaller towns – the central business district of Gatineau is actually in the area known as Hull.

At this point I should explain that I am no stranger to the vagueries of bus systems. However, the bus system here reaches new levels of Byzantine complexity. Firstly, remember that we have two cities? That’s right, we have two bus systems! Buses in Ottawa and its environs in Ontario are run by OCTranspo, while those on the Quebec side are run by STO. Some STO buses cross the bridge and run into downtown Ottawa, while similarly some OCTranspo ones terminate in central Gatineau. Both bus systems operate the system that seems common in US cities – a flat fare to anywhere within the city, although sometimes with supplements to reach distant villages or for the use of express buses. Unlike in the UK, however, you can change buses without being charged for a second trip – you take a “transfer” slip from the driver when you get off, and present it as your ticket on the next bus. However, things get more complicated very quickly. You can pay your bus fare with cash, but you need the right money as you insert it into a coin slot and the driver can’t give change. Alternatively, you can go to a convenience store and buy a carnet of tickets, which is more convenient. STO’s tickets come in carnets of 6, and are cheaper ($2.85 vs $3.30) than paying cash. OCTranspo’s tickets come in carnets of 10, costing $1.15 each (as against $1.50 if you pay cash) but you need two tickets for an adult fare (=$3). Confused yet? To make things additionally complex, you can’t use an STO ticket on an OCTranspo bus or vice versa. But if your journey takes you across the river, you can take a transfer slip from either company and that is valid on the other firm’s buses!

Having worked all this out from the website, I went to the local “depanneur” (convenience store) and bought a carnet of STO tickets. Today being a Sunday, the bus service from Aylmer into Hull and Ottawa is reduced compared with normal. STO’s website says that I can take a 51 or a 53 bus from the little commercial centre of Aylmer towards Hull, but that I need to change buses at a Park&Ride site halfway down the main road. In fact, when the bus arrives at the P&R site, it simply changes its route number and continues on into town. This seems totally daft, but there you are. The same happens on the return journey!

Central Gatineau on a Sunday afternoon turned out to be a bit of a ghost town. I finally blundered into a little cafe-bar and drank several coffees to warm up, while the barlady who was short on trade, made helpful suggestions about things I might do in Ottawa, which was kind of her. Apparently the old Hull part of Gatineau is very lively in the evenings, but is dead on Sundays. Tant pis!

I left the cafe in time to just miss my bus, by about a minute. Bah. Faced with a half-hour wait for the next one, I found myself drawn into a fastfood outlet and experimented with that peculiarly Quebecois delicacy, poutine. For the uninitiated, this is a portion of chips with gravy and cheese curds. Tasty, and capable of keeping the harsh wind out… but I won’t be having it again in a hurry, I’m already conscious that I’m eating too much and exercising too little here so far!

3 Responses to “Weekend things”

  1. susz Says:

    Poutine, from what I remember, is basically pure calories with no actual nutritional value. Tasty though. Those buses sound fun, if a little insane, and I’m glad you’re staying warm.
    We had an exceptionally well-behaved baby baptised yesterday – not a peep out of him, although the fact that Joyce and I boiled about 12 kettles of water to fill the font before the service might have had something to do with it – it had cooled to a rather pleasant temperature by the middle of the service ;)

  2. Michael P-J Says:

    Susz: that sounds about right. As far as I can tell, the only purpose of poutine is to supply your body with the necessary calories required to stand around and wait for a bus in the Canadian winter!
    The baptism yesterday had over-hot water when the minister tested it, and someone had to nip outside for a snowball to put in it to cool it down…

  3. Cy Says:

    Back in the days of integrated transport, Newcastle had a Trans-fare which allowed you to use any 2 buses, metros, ferries etc. within 90 mins and cost a little more than a regular fare. The buses were timed to arrive at interchanges (a combined bus station/metro station) so that each bus could divest its passengers onto an empty metro train. Then it all got sold off to 3 individual companies and broke down completely.

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