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The Canadian Grand Prix

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The Formula One Canadian Grand Prix has been held in Montreal since 1978, on the artificial island of Île Notre-Dame. Held every year at the beginning of June, the race is eagerly anticipated by the city’s residents, to whom it represents the unofficial start of summer.

It almost seems to perfect to be true, but the champion of Montreal’s first Grand Prix was a French Canadian: Gilles Villeneuve. A hero throughout Quebec, he died tragically a few years later, during a qualifying run for the Belgian Grand Prix, and Montreal’s track was renamed in his honor. Today, the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit is considered one of the most exciting tracks on the F1 calendar, with long straightaways that allow cars to reach 300 kph and a couple hairpin turns.

Jürgen and I aren’t exactly racing fans. In fact, if you’d asked me who I expected to win the 2016 Canadian Grand Prix, I’d probably have said “Michael Schumacher,” because that’s the only racing name that comes to mind. (In my defense, he is the all-time leader at Montreal…) No, the winner of this year’s race was Lewis Hamilton, who I’m pretty sure I’ve also heard of. The Brit edged out Germany’s Sebastian Vettel by five seconds to notch his second-straight victory in Montreal.

Formula 1 Montreal

Sadly, this year’s race was marred by ugly, cold weather. We didn’t get tickets, but went out in the old town to sample some of the atmosphere. And although we found some outdoor terraces decorated with checkered flags, they were all empty. Everyone seemed to be huddled indoors, watching the race at sports bars. Apparently, the real party is at Crescent Street, which claims to be the biggest Grand Prix festival in the world, drawing half a million people over three days.

Montreal has a love/hate relationship with the Formula One. The city estimates that the race brings in up to $90 million, but a lot of people complain bitterly about it. Why should anyone be glamorizing pollution-spitting race cars? And there’s not much to love about racing’s vulgar macho culture, with all the sexy model-type women posing next to luxury cars, and unsavory associations with high-end prostitution. As a general rule, Jürgen and I dislike any event that reeks of elitism, and the Formula One certainly qualifies.

Oh well, we were happy enough for the race to be held, because it meant that summer had officially begun. Congrats to Schumacher, Hamilton, Dick Dastardly, or whoever it was that won this year’s race!

Location of the Track

Formula 1 Gear

Formula 1 Montreal
Formula 1 Montreal
Formula 1 Montreal
Formula 1 Montreal
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June 22, 2016 at 10:22 pm Comments (0)

The Impact at Stade Saputo

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In 2012, Major League Soccer expanded to Montreal, finally giving the city another top-tier team to follow besides the Canadiens. The Montreal Impact play in the Stade Saputo, within the Olympic Park, and we decided to check them out for a Saturday match against the Colorado Rapids.

Montreal Impact

I was able to see Didier Drogba score a goal! Soccer snobs might roll their eyes at me, and they’re not totally wrong. This was an early-season MLS game, Drogba is years past his prime, and it’s not like we were at the Champions League Final. But still: I got to see Didier Drogba score a goal. If you’re a soccer fan, that’s special in any circumstance.

Drogba is by far the Impact’s biggest star. After dominating European soccer and establishing himself as one of his generation’s greatest strikers, the Ivory Coast international came to Montreal in 2015. And although he might be in the twilight of his career, he’s still the team’s most exciting player. Watching him smash home a free kick made me so happy… and since Impact wear blue kits, so it didn’t take much to imagine that he was still with Chelsea.

Montreal Impact

Drogba’s ninth-minute goal was the highlight of our day at the stadium, but the whole experience was a lot of fun. Stade Saputo was built in 1996, when the Impact were still toiling away in the NASL (North American Soccer League; basically the second division). Their stadium seats 22,000 people, and is frequently packed to capacity. Even this relatively unimportant game against the Rapids was sold out, and the supporters are proper soccer fans. The goal-zone was hopping the entire match with chanting, singing, flag-waving and ringing the “North Star”: a five-foot bell which is sounded after each Impact goal.

The fans had reason to celebrate this season. Not only do they get to bask in the smoldering glow of Didier Drogba’s late career, but their team was battling for first in the MLS. And although they haven’t yet won the MLS Cup, the Impact have had some success. In 2015, they played in the final of the CONCACAF’s Champions League, when over 60,000 fans came to the Olympic Stadium to watch them take on Mexico’s Club America.

It warms my heart to see soccer succeeding in North America. Montreal really seems to be behind their team, and we frequently see people wearing Impact gear in the city. If the atmosphere inside the stadium is any indication, the sport should have a bright future in Montreal.

Location of Stade Saputo
Montreal Impact – Website

Montreal Impact Gear

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May 9, 2016 at 10:09 pm Comments (0)

The Montreal Science Centre

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A huge complex located within the Old Port, the Montreal Science Centre introduces children to the worlds of science and technology with hands-on workshops, experiments and games. The focus of this center is almost entirely on kids, but we were drawn by a temporary exhibit called “Animal Inside Out.”

Science Center voiles en voiles

Adults aren’t going to get much out of the Montreal Science Centre’s permanent exhibits, but kids will have a blast. The museum’s main attraction is called “Human,” and explores the human body with a wide-range of activities that exercise all of the senses. Another permanent exhibit is the “Creative Factory,” which is basically the high-tech playground of every child’s dreams, although it’s questionable whether any scientific knowledge seeps into their brains as they spin themselves around on a disc, play with derby cars, or forge two-meter whirlwinds in a chamber.

Luckily, the Montreal Science Centre also has awesome temporary exhibits, and “Animal Inside Out” is probably one that should carry an NC-17 rating. If I’d seen this as a kid, I’d have nightmares for a week! The title was accurate: it features real animals (including humans) displayed from the inside out. They’ve been peeled back layer-by-layer, revealing the muscles which lay under the flesh, the capillary systems, the internal organs and the bones.

Science Center voiles en voiles

It’s the work of German scientist Gunther von Hagen, who sparked controversy years ago with his famous Body Works exhibit, which used the same embalming technique (called “plastination”) on humans. We never had the chance to see Body Works, but “Animal Inside Out” was fascinating. You don’t realize just how similar humans are to other species until you start stripping back the layers.

Science Center voiles en voiles

The Science Centre also has an excellent IMAX theater, which shows both nature documentaries and mainstream hits like Star Wars. And nearby, there’s another outdoor attraction that kids will love. Voiles en Voiles is a pirate-themed aerial adventure park where children can harness up to climb ropes, crawl across logs and speed down ziplines. It looks like a blast; if I were twelve again, I would try to spend every day here.

Locations on our Map: Montreal Science Centre | Voiles en Voiles
Montreal Science Centre – Website
Voiles en Voiles – Website

Science Center voiles en voiles
Science Center voiles en voiles
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Science Center voiles en voiles
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April 20, 2016 at 7:18 pm Comments (0)

Let’s Go Habs!

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Established in 1909, the Montreal Canadiens are the world’s oldest still-active hockey team, as well as its most successful, having won more Stanley Cups than any other. We arrived in Montreal at the tail end of the 2015-16 campaign, and snatched up tickets for one of the final matches of the year. How could we ever claim to “know” Montreal, if we hadn’t seen the Canadiens take the ice?

Montreal Canadiens

Le Club de Hockey Canadien, as the team is officially known, was one of the “Original Six” of the NHL, but actually predates the league’s formation by eight years. It was originally part of the National Hockey Association, a small league which operated in Quebec and Ontario.

The team was founded to represent Montreal’s French population, perhaps explaining the intensity of their support. The Canadiens are an integral aspect of the city’s identity, and even when they’re playing poorly, they sell out every game. For nearly eleven years, the Centre Bell sold-out 422 consecutive matches; the streak might have continued indefinitely, but the club broke it intentionally in December 2014, to honor the passing of Jean Beliveau, who had been one of their biggest stars.

Montreal Canadiens

Which brings us to the puzzle of their nickname. Throughout the match, the fans around us weren’t screaming for the “Canadiens,” but for the “Habs.” Try as we might, we couldn’t figure out what this meant. Haberdashers, because their threads are so sweet? Habaneros, because the team is so hot? We learned later that it stands for “les Habitants,” a term referring to the original French settlers of Quebec.

The weekday match we saw didn’t go well for the Habs, who went down in a humiliating 4-1 defeat to the first-place Florida Panthers. But despite their poor performance, we had a fun night at the arena, thanks largely to the enthusiasm of the fans. Consider: this was a meaningless Tuesday-night match at the end of another bad season, after the Habs had already been eliminated from playoff contention, and it was still sold out. Win or lose, the people of Montreal will support their club through seemingly anything.

The Centre Bell has been home to the Canadiens since 1996, and many old-school Montrealers blame it for the downturn in the team’s fortunes. We liked the stadium, though; it’s right downtown and has the atmosphere is incredible. Even from our seats in the very back row of the Molson Fan Zone, we were able to see all the action. And we were even able to spot Youppi, the team’s mascot… who looked immediately familiar to me. Turns out, Youppi had been the mascot of the Montreal Expos until they moved to DC. He apparently wanted to stay in Montreal, and so became the first major-league mascot to switch sports.

We had shown up well before game-time to get drinks and dinner at La Cage Aux Sports, a rollicking bar built into the Centre Bell, accessible from both inside and outside the arena. The place was packed to the gills, and we were nearly the only patrons not sporting Canadiens gear. If you want to go to La Cage, plan at least an hour to get in and eat. There’s no better way to warm up for the match than with a plate of poutine and a pitcher of Molson.

Location on our Map
Montreal Canadiens – Official Website

Montreal Canadiens Gear

Montreal Canadiens
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Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens
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April 12, 2016 at 6:09 pm Comments (2)
The Canadian Grand Prix The Formula One Canadian Grand Prix has been held in Montreal since 1978, on the artificial island of Île Notre-Dame. Held every year at the beginning of June, the race is eagerly anticipated by the city's residents, to whom it represents the unofficial start of summer.
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