At the end of yesterday’s post, I mentioned we were going to go over our plans again. Well, good thing too because we soon realised that two things on our list were going to be shut (because many museums in Canada are closed on a Monday) so we’ve had to have a rethink. Meant we ended up dropping something and just let ourselves have more of a chance to breathe in our itinerary.
Breakfast was at a place down the road called Hinawi Bros. since Montreal is known for having a distinct type of bagel. Compared to New York style bagels these had a bit more sweetness and a crunch to them. I cannot account as to whether these were cooked in a wood-fired oven as tradition dictates, but they were delicious with the lox and cream cheese.
From here it was to the Olympic Park, via a Venezuelan bakery but more on that later. Part of the original plan was to totally relive some time I had here back in 2002 by going up the slanted Montreal Tower – but this is closed for works for another two years… but on the bright side it saved us a bunch of dollars and it’s not like you can’t not see this weird bit of engineering.
There was a lot of other general construction going on in the Olympic Park with didn’t allow us much of a chance to have an explore other than a real cool set of plaques honoring all the attending athletes and listing all the cold medal winners. Insane just how dominant the Soviet team were back then.
So on to the main thing here in the park for us to do: the Biodome. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what you do with sporting areas that have been purpose built for the Olympics. What was once the velodrome, now houses four large themed enclosures. This has had a face-lift in the years since I was last here and it is so great now.
We started with the warmest climate and then circled round to the coolest, which meant we started with the tropical rainforest – now known as the fourth time I nearly cried because of animals in a zoo.
The rainforest section feels like the largest of all the sections, as in the largest single room and others have some discrete areas. There are tropical trees, a waterfall and every now and then misters activate to keep things moist. Tamarins and a sloth have seemingly free rain throughout the entire area – tamarins I have recently come to realize are my favourite of all the primates.
It wasn’t the tamarins that made me almost cry in public, it was the capybara. Now, back in Cologne, I had another bout of losing it over cute animals as the tapirs were being fed. Well, not only were the capybara being fed, but they were eating whilst being their best semi-aquatic selves. I don’t think I have ever seen a capybara swim, but they look so at home in the water – even if they have a piece of wet lettuce stuck to the top of their head.
After I had recovered from joy-induced light-headedness, we went to the Maple Forest enclosure. Lovely big area here, but very much split into separate areas for the otters, beavers, lynx and racoons. The beavers were in their den, sadly, but we did have some good face time with some adolescent lynxes taking some independent steps before going back to mother for reassurance. All right at the top of their area so it was hard to take pictures, but it was cute to see them being 100% cat.
Then there’s the Gulf of St Lawrence area where the big draw is the fish tank with massive sturgeon and other fish inside. Watching these giant ancient looking creatures was hypnotic and forced an earworm in my brain of Bjork singing ‘Nature is Ancient’ from her song ‘My Snare’.
Lastly is the sub-polar room where the walls in the entrance corridor are covered in a thick layer of actual ice. This is where you can find humanity’s favourite birds: the penguin. Some beautiful king penguins were living here and trying to look all magnificent before one of them seemed to take a tumble into the water. There are also gentoo, macaroni and rock-hopper penguins in the enclosure, but the kings really draw the eye.
Next door in a separate enclosure were what my husband referred to as the ‘fake penguins’ – aka the puffins and murres. So cute, so talented and so black and white. We had time to revisit enclosures but I don’t think anything was going to top the swimming capybara having lunch.
Speaking of lunch, we didn’t exactly have lunch today. There aren’t exactly too many options at in this area, so we were glad to have bought some cachitos with us to eat as soon as we found a place to sit down in the Botanical Gardens. The cheese and guava one was especially delicious.
The Montreal Botanical Gardens are very impressive and extensive: second only to Kew Gardens in London in terms of size. The big difference between the two is theming. Where Kew has some themed gardens, they are a bit loose and rely a lot on the use of buildings to create the sense of split. In Montreal, there are a number of different gardens, a number of which are themed amazingly well. Half of the area is a more standard arboretum and with some looser gardens centres around ponds and creeks, but the bulk of our time was spent in the themes areas.
The best of all of them is the Chinese gardens. When I was 16, these were some of the first photographs where I remember not just taking them to document where I was, but also to try and frame some shots to make them more aesthetically pleasing. I had never been anywhere like the Chinese Gardens at Montreal and they hold their impact still now I am approaching 33.
What made these even more interesting to visit this time was that everything was out for a big light display that had separate ticketing once the sun goes down. Big bespoke lanterns depicting a creation myth, fishermen, pandas and birds.
Then there is the Japanese gardens. Not as embellished as the Chinese gardens, but focused far more on the form and principles – to the point of a particular type of nearby quarried rock being used as accent points. Definitely one of those gardens that has a feeling of tranquility even when there are kids screaming blue murder.
The other main themed gardens we delved into were the First Nations and the Alpine Gardens. The Alpines were nicely done as their own little rocky mounds for each of the different displays; like it was nice to see a bit of height being used. The First Nations Garden reminded me of a similar ‘walk’ we did at Toronto Zoo – i.e. the purpose is to have a forest similar to what it would have been back then, but with explanations of how the different plants were used and some surrounding history.
If we had brought a proper picnic, we could have easily spent another hour or so here just touring the arboretum section – other than the beeline I made my husband take towards the gingko section. But we were getting really hungry and it was surprisingly late in the day so – we let loose a bit of a cheat card.
En route to our next location, we made a quick stop off to get ourselves some fast food poutine from McDonald’s. This was what we were originally meant to have done on our very first night, but everything was so delayed that they had closed their doors to everyone but UberEats drivers. This did mean, however, that I could have the Quebec-exclusive buffalo chicken poutine. It was the best thing I have ever gotten from a McDonald’s because all the flavours worked. Damn!
Last major stop of the evening was on St Helen’s Island. In summer months, this is the home of La Ronde – Canada’s own Six Flags theme park. We are not here at the right time of year for that, but we were here to get a bit of a closer look at the rather iconic Biosphere (but not pay the $22 to go in), take a photo or two of the city from the edge of the island and then pop off again.
Now, this is when I would have a dinner picture but there’s a bit of a story there. So, we realized that in Quebec there are no A&Ws anywhere near us. Similarly, the one in Toronto Airport for our connection on the way home is in a different terminal like so many video game princesses. This was, therefore, the perfect chance to get ourselves an A&W meal and maybe have a bit of a chill time using the Chromecast ready television. Nope, we got locked out of our accommodation.
When I say locked out, I mean that the key codes we were given to enter the premises no longer worked. It took over half an hour for the new code to given to us and we were just left waiting outside for most of it. Since we had no idea how long this would be, and because a cold burger is rancid, we ate standing outside the window. Eating what may actually be the best fast food burger I have had outside of Asia.
Not the best end to the evening. At least my burger, the Uncle burger, was delicious enough to not have made it utterly bleak. Tomorrow is our last full day here in Montreal and it’s a semi-early start to make the most of it because it is going to end in an NHL game and hopefully some Montreal smoked meat.