My husband and I love visiting cities for vacation. In country settings, we feel restless; like we should be doing something (weeding, tending crops, moving animals). In a city, there is not much for us to do, so we can really unwind. Montréal is one of my favorite places. To me, it’s really transporting due to the french spoken and although it’s Canada, I really do feel a strong European influence there. We noticed how many city dwellers were peddling their bicycles with their small bags of groceries in the basket, and the cafe’s were a buzz at night with people of all ages chatting and drinking coffee.
Driving across the Canadian border from Vermont, the first thing we noticed is how flat the landscape becomes, almost immediately. Large farms of corn and soy dominated the landscape.
Most of these farms had big barns housing cattle. With all of the potential pasture used up by the corn and soy fields, the cows didn’t have access to the outdoors. Instead, they were confined. What a tragedy of what farming has become.
As we usually do, we decided to rent an apartment. Even before I had kids, apartments made sense for traveling because of my intollerance to gluten. I can cook my own breakfast and not worry about the pan being coated in pancake batter. It’s also fun to pretend to live in the city. You get a different perspective on a city when you spend a few days in an apartment, visiting the grocery store or farmers market for your food. We go out to eat too, but it’s nice to have a stach of eggs, bacon and general snacks back at home.
The living room of our apartment, located in the Plateau Mont-Royal district featured nice touches such as some 80’s family DVD’s (we watched “Overboard“) and some really nice original oil paintings. It’s so great to have a little more space than a hotel room, especially if you plan to stay more than one night. Our host François, of the Accueil Chez François, gave us some useful tips on the neighborhood and fun things to do with kids.
Having two bedrooms also meant we slept much better than if we were all crammed into onto a single hotel room. The rooms were very clean and comfortable.
Having our own full kitchen is the best part of renting an apartment, especially with kids who wake up early.
After we got settled in the apartment, we went across the street for some much needed physical activity. The trip took us about six hours, so Andrew and the kids played “Don’t Touch the Ground” in the Parc La Fontaine, located directly across the street from our place.
That night, I just cooked some steaks from the local grocery store and some fresh veggies. The next morning, we let Daddy sleep in and the kids and I made breakfast with our own eggs brought from home, sausage from John Crow Farm which we also brought and some of our own farm bacon.
Our day continued with a trip to the impressive Montreal Biodome. I suggest going early to avoid the large tourist crowds, which can be particularly annoying, especially in the warmer climate rooms where it tends to feel claustrophobic. That being said, we did really enjoy our visit and the Biodome does a great job of caring for the animals, which seemed happy and healthy.
The kids seemed to be most excited to see the monkeys, fish and their favorite: the poison frogs!
Kids also seem to notice small things that adults don’t see. Pheobe pointed out this small clutch of eggs, right next to the walkway in the arctic exhibit. The eggs were poetically laid with their smaller ends facing each other. Pretty cool!
After the Biodome, we headed to Old Montréal for an expensive and unimpressive lunch. It reminded me how happy I was to have an apartment with a kitchen. The US Dollar is very weak against the Canadian dollar, so Canada isn’t the value it once was. We found most of the restaurants to be very overpriced and not worth the effort. I’m sure there are some gems, but I didn’t have much time to research where to eat and with kids, sometimes you just have to stop at the most convenient place. We headed back to the apartment for some rest, then the kids, feeling overstimulated by the crowds a the Biodome, wanted some time to just play in the park. We called it a day and decided to head to the Insectarium the following day.
The Insectarium was much smaller than the Biodome, but we found it very interesting. They have a great timeline of bugs, which was our first stop. We then saw this colorful collage of beetles. Did you know that one in four animals on the planet is a beetle?
Though most of the displays were not living, they did have some staff on hand with live bugs for the kids to touch.
We had heard that you could taste crickets at the museum, but when I asked, they said they cancelled that policy. However, I was able to pick up these packages at the Botanical Gardens gift shop. My son and husband tried the cheddar and bacon flavored crickets and bbq flavored worms. Unfortunately, on close inspection I found the flavorings were not gluten free so I had to pass on the insect tasting. I think this could be a potential marketing opportunity for someone – gluten free cricket snacks!
Our visit to the Botanical Gardens was next. We visited the Chinese garden and got a lesson in proper use of chopsticks. The woman showed us how to hold chopsticks and talked about the ecological implications of the use of disposable chopsticks. We learned that in many places, they are encouraging people to bring their own chopsticks to restaurants in an effort to save the wood wasted in the making of disposable chopsticks.
Before heading out of town, we stopped to walk around one of the many farmer’s markets in Montréal. We were told that Marche Jean-Talon was the best and most authentic market. There were lots of farmers, meat vendors, cafes and other small shops here.
I was a little disappointed to see so many vendors selling tropical fruits and other non-native produce. We did find a few local booths though. I thought this display of assorted berries and husk cherries was particularly appealing and reminded me of my favorite market in Barcelona.
On our way out, I stopped to get a small piece of chocolate. The “Palet Or” featured actual gold leaf.
We headed back across the border and spent the night with some friends who are just starting a new farm in Vermont. Both my husband and our friend Nate were interested in heading over to Green Mountain Garlic, a company that grows garlic for “seed” to individuals and larger scale farmers. They had a big beautiful barn overlooking green pastured hillsides.
Inside the barn, Nepal-Bhutan refugees who now live in the Burlington, VT area help sort and pack the thirteen varieties of garlic which sells for nearly $20 per pound. We loaded up on garlic for our new farm; “Music” variety which is a hardneck variety.
On our way out, Andrew noticed this dibbler and asked me to take a picture of it so he can make one similar for our farm. Each crop has specific spacing requirements for optimal growing. The dibbler makes holes in the ground so the farmer knows exactly where to put each transplant or bulb.
Well, it’s back to school soon, for me and the kids. I’ll be taking Microbiology and Human Biochemistry, prerequisites for the RD program I’ll be entering soon, in addition to seeing clients and working on some other posts and projects.