10 Reasons My First Day in Halifax Will Be (Really, Really) Hard to Top

1. This city smells so, so good.  Even as far out as the airport, your lungs and nose are filled instantly with the ocean breeze. I wish I could bottle up and take it with me.

2.  Seduced by the scent, I headed down to the Halifax boardwalk right after checking into my hostel. I had a book with me, thinking I might be able to find a place to read. Instead, I was greeted by crowds and music and stages. Halifax Buskerfest was in full swing! Fact: the only thing better than a magic show is a magic show with a lively East Coast audience and a beautiful ocean backdrop.

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3. Okay, so it was only day one, and I’m not usually inclined to feel homesick, but…if I do get to missing Ottawa, turns out the taste of home isn’t too far away.

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4. Public transportation rocks out here. Besides having the world’s nicest driver on the bus downtown from the airport, Halifax also offers a ferry ride across the harbour as part of their public transportation for $2.24 (take that, overpriced Toronto Island ferry). I was extra spoiled yesterday, because for the Natal Day festivities the ferry was free!

5. Oh yeah, Natal Day. Totally didn’t see that coming, either. The day I arbitrarily chose to fly in (because, honestly, the plane ticket was the cheapest) turned out to be right in the middle of Halifax’s birthday party. Natal Day, a huge commemorative festival for Halifax-Dartmouth, is on all weekend. I had no idea! And a kickass festival “created with a commitment to provide low cost/no cost activities wherever possible”? Basically a backpacker’s dream.

6. All this came together when one of the buskers, a percussionist, pulled out his drumsticks for an impromptu performance on the ferry ride to Dartmouth.  Using everything from seats to the ceiling to a woman’s wheelchair, street performer Peter Rabbit spontaneously took over the boat with his drumsticks as everyone watched in awe. I got a clip of it on my phone for you; Check it out:

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6. Seafood is obviously a staple of any coastal visit. I kicked mine off with something called “Maritime Poutine” from a street vendor. It was just like any other poutine, except topped with some way-too-good breaded fish. Amazing. Possibly heart attacking inducing, but amazing.IMG_0184[1]

7. Thanks to last night’s Natal Day festivities, I was able to check out some awesome free music, including the end of a free Joel Plaskett show and Slowcoaster (check them out in the video below). I’m always a sucker for a great concert (or two, or three…). It probably goes without saying, but the energy of the audiences out here is just amazing.

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8. Fireworks, you guys. On my first day in town, they were putting on an epic fireworks show off the bridge. So much luck.

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Obligatory blurry fireworks picture.

9. On the ferry back to Halifax after the fireworks and the music, I got to talking with an outgoing group of people–two of whom, I learned, had lived in Ottawa for a solid chunk of time. They invited me to come out with them for a few beers at a patio bar along the boardwalk. The live music and completely mixed crowd (everything from college kids to middle aged couples) was absolutely perfect, and my new friends couldn’t have been friendlier.  I wasn’t even allowed to buy my own beer that night; “East Coast hospitality,” they argued, ensuring I always had a Keith’s in my hand.

10. After splitting a cab with my unexpected hosts, I returned to the hostel I’m staying in. I really, really like hostels. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I know I kinda have to like hostels. This one is kind of divey, small, and old, but…I really like it. The couch I’m sitting on as I write this is soft and springy from overuse, and the walls are marked lovingly with pen and stickers.  It might not be luxury, but it’s a great place to lie my head (though I might need some earplugs to sleep through the snoring roommate tomorrow night!).

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Alright, day two. Hit me with your best shot!

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20 Things to Do in Ottawa this November

I know the exact conversation we will ALL be having in exactly two days. It’s the same conversation we had last year. And the year before. And the year before that. You know, this one:

“Wait…wasn’t it just Halloween? Why is there Christmas music on? Why is there tinsel on that cash register? It’s NOVEMBER FIRST, you guys! What gives?! ”

I’m a big ol’ holiday season nut, I’ll admit it, but the commercial transition between seasons is always a bit over-the-top. Truth be told, I find November pretty boring. It’s a bit too far from Christmas for decking any halls, so I just see it as the mellow spot between Halloween season fun and Christmas season fun. Mellow is alright, I suppose, but…I kinda like my fun.

Luckily, Ottawa is full of fun no matter what.  I know this.  I know this firsthand. I know this in spite of people telling me it isn’t, because after living and breathing this city for a few years I can assure you that it’s anything but boring.

My proof: A calendar-esque list of 20 things happening in throughout November that are worth checking out.  I’ll also be tweeting these out each day as a reminder that cool stuff is happening.

Yep, that’s right, cool stuff in Ottawa. In November. Don’t even question it.

November 1: Thursday nights from 4 to 8, admission to Ottawa’s national museums is FREE.  It should be an interesting time to check out the Museum of Civilization, as it (controversially) prepares for rebranding into the Canadian Museum of History.

November 2: I’m all about those Halloween leftovers, like Pheonix Players’ presentation of The Death of Dracula. It’s only $15 for students, and is on until November 3rd.

November 3: Last day of the Haunted Walk Halloween season! If you want one last taste of Halloween, take a special evening tour of Ottawa’s creepy past. The 3rd is also the last chance for the Zombie Adventure at the Diefenbunker. Yeah. Shooting Zombies in the Deifenbunker. Amazing.

November 4: If you have never seen the Ottawa burlesque scene, here comes a chance to check it out! Ottawa Burlesque Playground Presents Movember Mahem at the Elgin Street Yuk Yuks.  These shows are always such a creative, brilliant, sexy, entertaining time–and a portion of your $10 ticket goes to a Movember drive!

November 5: Hit the market for some local talent with The Rainbow Bistro‘s Monday night open mic.

November 6: Get your hockey fix!  The Ottawa 67s play Kingston at Scotiabank Place at 7 pm.

November 7: My favourite local improv troupe, GRIMprov, holds a show on the first and last Wednesday of each month at The Imperial on Bank Street.  $5 is a small price to pay for some side-splitting hump day hilarity.

November 8: Check out WWII play, Padre X,  at the Canadian War Museum. $7 for youth, $10 for adults. Runs from the 8th to the 11th.

November 9: Opera Lyra’s presentation of Cinderella promises to be a great introduction to Opera for performance fans young and old. I’ve heard great things about OLO lately! (Note: If your budget’s too tight, or you want to introduce a young’un to the scene, a 20 minute excerpt of the opera for kids will be performed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization on the 25th.)

November 10: Mayfair Theatre on Bank Street presents its monthly late-night showing of The Room, aka the worst movie of all time. This also makes it, of course, the best night out with your friends of all time.

November 11:  Remembrance Day in the capital is always a big deal. Be sure to go early to get an okay view of the national ceremony and pay your respects at the War Memorial.

November 13: Back to the Mayfair for an epic double feature tonight: Kill Bill Vol 1 and Kill Bill Vol 2 hit the big screen at 7 and 9:15, respectively.

November 14: I feel like Wednesday night karaoke at the Bytown Tavern is Ottawa’s best kept secret. There are always a handful of really fun, spirited, off-key singers from all walks of life every time I go. Not too full, not too empty.  Cheap drinks and a total judgement-free zone? It’s a party.

November 15: All Gershwin, All Pops is the latest installment of the NAC’s Pops series. I have gone to see Pops shows several times since moving here–$12 student Live Rush tickets for the best seats in the house are hard to resist. World-class talent backed by the full NAC Orchestra always makes for a brilliant show.

November 17: Photojournalist Louie Palu will be at the Canadian War Museum from 2:00 to 3:30 to talk about his experience in Afghanistan.  Admission to Kandahar: Photographing the Frontline is free.

November 18: The Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show is happening at the Convention Centre all day Sunday. If you’ve never been to a show at the Convention Centre…it’s awesome. So is vintage. So, this is double awesome.

November 20: Tuesday is open mic night at the Laff. I know the place had quite the rep back in the day, but as far as I can tell the 2012 Laff is one of  the chillest, cheapest places for a beer and some tunes…places really don’t get any more come-as-you-are than this.

November 24: Saturday Night Drag @ the Lookout. ’nuff said.

November 28: Wednesdays are Pro/Am night at Absolute Comedy. I’ve been to Absolute on a Wednesday more than once, and I have to say…a solid comedy show for $6 makes eternally grateful that I don’t have classes Thursday mornings.

November 29: Anyone else down for geeking out to old war stuff? The Canadian War Museum is hosting a special presentation of Hamilton and Scourge: Archaeological Exploration of Two War of 1812 Shipwrecks. The illustrated talk starts at 7 pm, and it’s free!

There you go, Ottawa–twenty things to keep your November exciting.  Hopefully, this will tide me over until Christmas spirit can be in (guilt-free) full swing. I promise you, come December, I will be outrageously jolly. Till then I will just be…well, out!

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November Events Added by Readers (aka YOU!):

November 2: Shannon Lecture Series presents Dr. Barbara Lorenzkowski’s “Sensing War: Children’s Memories of Wartime Atlantic Canada, 1939-194.” Dr. Lorenzkowski will be at Carleton University (303 Paterson Hall) at 3:00.

All month: Mo’vember is here.  Personally, I’m not usually a huge fan of the mustachioed look…but, hey, it’s for a good cause right? Register now!

November 15 to December 2: 27th European Union Film Festival presented by the Canadian Film Institute.

November 21-December 8: Pride and Prejudice, part of the NAC’s English Theatre series, hits the stage for 2 1/2 weeks starting November 21st. Live Rush tickets available.

November 29: The Rotaract Club of Ottawa presents the Roaring Twenties Cocktail Fundraiser with proceeds going to rebuilding an orphanage and daycare centre in South Africa. Awesome awesome awesome!