The Real Montreal

Trip Start Mar 15, 2008
Trip End Oct 02, 2009

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Flag of Canada  , Quebec,
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

*Apologies for the lack of photographs, but we have had to burn many to disc and delete from our computer to save space. Photo's will be added in the near future.*

Ben Reporting: We arrive in Montreal the week of the Grand Prix. That being considered the city seems surprisingly subdued. We've almost come to the end of the French leg of our Canadian journey, although Montreal doesn’t feel any less French than the supposedly more French Quebec. Everyone around the city speaks French all the time and it’s really quite surprising to hear such a language spoken in a place like North America.

We spend about four days in Montreal. By this point in the journey our budget is shrinking and we are tiring a little, so from Montreal to Toronto I admit we’re a little less inspired to pack the days full of activity.

The hostel we stay at is fantastic, specifically because we get our own private room and our own shower and toilet! Holy cow that doesn’t happen very often. They even have free breakfast, although it’s just toast every day and by the last day the bread is the same as that which was available the first and hence has gone stale.

We wander around the city centre for a while, getting a feel for the place. It’s a nice city; modern and clean, but not cold and antiseptic. It’s particularly green with a lot of trees and parks, though the main centre doesn’t stick in one’s mind too much. We wander to the city outskirts where we find Montreal’s main public park.

Mont Royal is a huge 101 hectare park, the peak of which is the cities highest point. And so, starting at the bottom of the park, we 'hike’ up to the top. I can say hike, because by the time we’re half way up Leah needs a lung transplant and I’m as sweaty as Pat Rafter half-way through the first set. It’s quite humid, in our defence. And, more the point, the park is steep. It’s so steep, in fact, that for much of the climb there’s stairs, since clambering up a 90 degree incline for most people would cease to make it seem like a park and more like a rock climbing expedition. It makes you wonder doesn’t it? Why put a major city park on such an incline? You can’t bring your kids to Mont Royal for a kick of the football; you’d spend most of the afternoon rolling down the hill to retrieve the ball. And it’s not like we aren’t unfit – we’ve each just lugged two heavy backpacks most of the way across North America.

Anyway, when we finally reach the summit, the views are amazing; even if the appreciation is induced largely by a jogger’s adrenalin high.

The following day we catch a train to Montreal’s outskirts to visit a place called ‘The Biodome’. For those of you who aren’t well-versed in the films of Pauly Shore, a Biodome is a large building (dome shaped, obviously) that is designed to house a number of different synthetic ecosystems. For example, one space is of tropical conditions, and another forest-like.

Each area of the biodome has its own ‘created’ environment, with trees, birds and animals typical of that ecosystem. The first area is a tropical space, which has walkway leading through a thick rainforest of trees. There are some very brightly coloured birds; some monkey’s running around in the trees, and some cool plaques describing animals that we can’t actually see because they’re hiding in the undergrowth.

We move through to a rainforest and then a marine climate, where we see a lively pool-full of otters. Personally, I love watching otters; they’re like primary school children all drunk on red cordial, excited and running around with a great nervous energy. Somewhere along the line we saw some crocodiles as well (I can’t remember which ecosystem they were in; I guess I didn’t learn much there, did I?)

We finally end up in an arctic ecosystem, although this is actually just two mini areas with penguins behind glass cages. The penguins are quite impressive, though; docile and yet intriguing in their size and variety. These aren’t the fairy penguins we’re used to seeing; they’re very large, with interesting features and piercing eyes.

So overall the biodome is like nothing I’d seen before. And yet like everything. It was the biodome concept, the swift changes of ecosystems that made it interesting and memorable. Oh, and Leah would probably like me to mention there were some interesting coloured frogs, since she is quite fond of frogs.

After our day at the biodome, we ventured to the Montreal Planetarium, yet another dome-building ‘extravaganza’, where moving images of the night sky are projected onto a domed ceiling. I must say if you ever get the opportunity to visit a real and proper Planetarium; do it! Don’t hesitate and think about it. I admit it doesn’t sound that exciting on paper, looking at a projection of the stars on a ceiling. You might ask: Ben, why wouldn’t I just go outside my own house at night and stare up at the sky, thus avoiding the $12 entry fee? Well, I will ignore the clear contemptuousness in your tone and reply: Because, the Planetarium is like looking at the night sky, but turned up to eleven.

Honestly, if there were a (decent) Planetarium in Adelaide I would visit often. The show we saw took us through the depths of space, showing us a close-up version of our own solar system in bright and sweeping detail. The projection on the domed-room also gave the show a more dimensional quality, such that we didn’t feel like we were looking at a flat projection on a screen. Plus, the lack of light pollution you’d usually experience looking at the night sky, along with the movement of the images and the commentary… well, you wouldn’t get all that from standing in your backyard.

The rest of our time in Montreal was reasonably quiet. The last thing of note that we did was to visit an awesome poutine café near our restaurant. For those who don’t know, poutine is an almost exclusively Canadian dish which involves the pouring of gravy and cheese curd over chips. It doesn’t sound like much - in fact it sounds like something you’d buy from an alley after a solid night’s drinking. But this particular café we visited took the traditional poutine to the next level. There was a lengthy menu which offered poutine in a number of different varieties: Mexian, pizza, bolognaise, chicken, German sausage… to name a few. Let me tell you, if cheap, greasy fast-food is going to ever be in the ballpark of ‘gourmet’, then this is it. We gorged on our poutine meals and left satisfied by the high quality of the low-quality style food.

And hence our Montreal adventure was over. On, then, to Toronto.
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