About two weeks ago, I randomly saw something on Twitter that announced the American Embassy would be open to 500 people as part of the Open Doors Ottawa weekend. I thought it sounded cool, so I signed up. Apparently thousands of people applied that first night, and they had to close the application process almost immediately after announcing it. And since I am writing this blog post, you can probably guess that I was one of the lucky 500 with an invitation when all was said and done!
I've always found the American Embassy to be a bit of an eyesore. The exterior is cold, modern and monolithic, and only mildly attempts to blend with the surrounding historic buildings.
I arrived at 3:15 (I don't know how I wasn't late) as requested. I left my phone, camera, iPod, etc. at home as requested. We met a very tall security guard at the gate, they checked IDs, and they let me in. A quick metal detector scan later, I was given a burgundy card with the number 1 on it. I was the begging of a new tour group! Woo! haha. I was offered the chance to use the washroom. I didn't have to go, but I went just to check it out. It was very clinical and beige. One stall, one urinal, a small bench in front of a full length mirror. Good water pressure and deep sinks, just how I like 'em.
We moved into a little theatre area which is likely used for small press confereces. We watched a short video about Canadian-American relations, and the short history of the embassy (which only opened in 1999). I noticed that The walls are a good 2 feet thick. Between the windows and me, there was a set of blinds, and then thick wooden shutters that could be opened or closed. They clearly have something to hide.
Darryl forfeited his invitation because he went to his brother's graduation, so there were just 9 on our tour. The last of the day! We were on the second floor [which is technically the main floor in terms of the entrance we used, but I won't judge). We stood in a rotunda and stared up at the spectacular atrium which looks like the inside of a blue Faberge egg. Very cool. We learned that the fabric on the chairs throughout the place is Canadian mohair, dyed a purplish blue, with a faint stars and maple leaf pattern unique to these chairs, naturally. They urged us to sit in them, and they were comfy!
They explained how everything was designed to bring in as much sunlight as possible, including wire mesh on the risers of the stairs to let light through, and there are several mirrors in the roof which are repositioned twice each year to reflect the best light for winter or summer conditions. Each of the four floors has an identical layout. The walls are lined with light Canadian maple panels, and all accents are Ontario steel. Its all very art deco-ish.
We moved up to the fourth floor, and got to go into the beautiful offices of the Ambassador, and someone else. It didn't catch it. Whoever the next most important person is. You can Google it. Those offices were all dark maple, and were pretty swanky with leather furniture. the Ambassador has a beautiful globe next to a hockey stick and a curling broom. I think we'd be good friends.
There were a few choice pieces of artwork throughout... nothing too exceptional. Its all fairly barren, but impressive. There was of course lots of information and other things that I don't remember now. But it was wonderful to see how different the inside is from the outside. And the staff seem to love working there.
The tour lasted about half an hour (Ten minutes more than promised! Woo!) On the way out, they gave us all a bag of Embassy M&Ms. Awesome. But then once we got outside, it took 4 guards to eventually get us out because one gate wasn't working. It was a bit hilarious. But it was the first time an American Embassy has EVER let the public in, and it was a great opportunity!