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The Parc des Rapides

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As the St. Lawrence River winds its way from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean, most of its journey is smooth sailing. However, just before it reaches Montreal, the river hits a rough patch. Jürgen and I hiked to the neighborhood of LaSalle to check out the Lachine Rapids.

Parc de Rapides Montreal

We started our day at the Parc Arthur-Therrien, across from the Île des Souers (or, Nuns’ Island), so-named because of the Sisters of Notre-Dame who owned it for 250 years. From this park, it would be a five-kilometer trek south to the Parc des Rapides. There’s a popular bike path running along the the St. Lawrence, but we stayed on a smaller dirt trail closer to the water, and enjoyed the riverside walk.

The path stretches along the base of a tall embankment, behind which Montreal’s buildings were hidden from view, and we found it hard to believe that we were still in the city. The weather was beautiful, and our only companions during the journey were birds, reeds, trees, and the occasional jogger. The five kilometers went by in a flash, and soon enough we could hear the rumbling of the rapids.

Parc de Rapides Montreal

These white water rapids have long been a source of adventure for Montrealers. As far back as the nineteenth century, thrill-seekers would pack onto steamboats to navigate them. Even the Prince of Wales, Edward VII, wasn’t able to resist a ride during his visit to Canada in 1860. While in the park, we saw a few rafts full of modern-day adrenaline junkies trying their luck. These rapids aren’t the world’s most treacherous, but they look like a lot of fun.

Less adventuresome are the hoards of people who visit the Parc des Rapides for birdwatching. This is a sanctuary for migratory birds, most importantly the great blue heron. There were dozens of birders in the park, equipped with cameras and gigantic zoom lenses. While they were watching and identifying new species, Jürgen was watching them, jealously identifying their expensive photography equipment. If they’re “birders”, I guess that makes Jürgen a birderer (a word which, incidentally, seems to be impossible for Germans to pronounce).

The Parc des Rapides isn’t large; it’s about 800 meters in length, on a narrow strip of land which lays between the rapids and a tranquil inlet. You can walk up and down the entire thing in about twenty minutes, and we recommend you do so. The further south you go, the less crowded the park becomes, since not many of the birders bother to carry their heavy camera bags all the way to the park’s end.

Location on our Map

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May 26, 2016 at 8:46 pm Comments (2)

Under the Dome at SAT – Société des Arts Technologiques

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At first glance, you might mistake the gleaming dome on Boulevard St. Laurent for that of a modern mosque. But in fact, it’s an immersive exhibition space utilized by Montreal’s Society of Technological Arts, or SAT. SAT is a collective of artists and engineers dedicated to a wide array of projects, from mind-bending multimedia shows in the dome, to practical networking and communication applications.

Société des Arts Technologiques

Montreal is equally accomplished in both the worlds of culture and high-tech; not only is this city home to Cirque du Soleil and the world’s largest jazz festival, but it’s also an important hub of the aerospace and video gaming sectors. So a place like SAT, a non-profit organization which blends the arts with technology, feels right at home.

About fifty people work full-time at SAT, but there’s a constant influx of artists from all over the world, who come for temporary projects. The organization hosts courses in multimedia disciplines like “Creation of Online Films” and “Compositing Video with After Effects,” offers residencies and even runs technological summer youth camps.

Société des Arts Technologiques

SAT also opens its doors to the public, welcoming visitors to its third-story terrace restaurant every evening after 5pm. This is a cool spot to hang out and, if the Wednesday night crowd we saw is any indication, it’s not exactly a “hidden secret.” We snatched a table outside on the terrace to enjoy a beer in the sun, and played a SAT-inspired game: is that person an artist or an engineer? It’s surprisingly difficult, both groups seem to have the same fashion sense, and are apparently big beard fans.

We couldn’t linger on the terrace for too long, because a show was starting in the Satosphère. This dome was built in 2011, and is used primarily for immersive artistic endeavors such as “Cauchemar Merveilleux,” the show we’d be seeing. This was a bizarre merging of the poetry of French performer Arthur H and computer-generated visual projections that simulated clouds, stars, tunnels and skyscrapers. It was all in French, so I didn’t understand much (except for the bit about Batman being a homosexual cyborg… which… I guess you couldn’t really say I “understood.”) On weekends, the Satosphère is used for live sets featuring both DJs and VJs, who live-mix video projections against the dome.

Location on our Map
SAT (Société des Arts Technologiques) – Website

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April 29, 2016 at 2:08 pm Comments (0)

La Sucrerie de la Montagne

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You can’t take a trip to Quebec without at least once visiting a Sugar Shack. I’m pretty sure that’s a law. Jürgen and I spent a sunny April afternoon at La Sucrerie de la Montagne, about an hour west of Montreal. We walked around the maple trees, peeked into the buckets, learned how the sap is boiled down, and enjoyed a hearty meal… all of it drenched in maple syrup, of course.

La Sucrerie de la Montagne

When we first met Pierre Faucher, the owner of the Sucrerie de la Montagne, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Hollywood itself couldn’t have cast a more perfect “Quebec Maple Syrup Man.” With his burly build and undisciplined grey beard, he looked like he’d been born in the woods, raised by bears, and weaned on maple syrup.

La Sucrerie de la Montagne

And in fact, Pierre is as Québécois as they come. He’s directly descended from a family who arrived from France in 1659, and were among the first settlers. He told us that almost all of the other families had perished in the early years of New France. “Only the strongest survived,” he boasted, pounding his chest. And when we met Pierre’s son, Stefan, the hearty blood lineage was confirmed — Stefan looks just like his father, but was even a little bigger.

Early April turned out to be prime season for maple syrup production — there’s only a brief, one-month window during which all the syrup for an entire year is produced. We had found Pierre hard at work inside the shack where the sap is boiled down into syrup. It was one of those perfect moments: opening the door to a log cabin in the middle of the Quebec woods, to find this mountain man shoveling logs into an old oven, while plumes of sweet-smelling vapor filled the room.

I get the feeling that, during the short production season, Pierre is inside the shack almost non-stop. The sap which comes from the trees is clear and watery; it needs to be boiled down from 40 parts to one, so it’s a long, painstaking process… and when the syrup is finally ready, there’s cause for celebration. We were lucky enough to be in the room when the “liquid gold” began dripping and then flowing out of the vat. Pierre lit up with joy. “Look at it go! Wonderful!”

La Sucrerie de la Montagne

I had almost the same reaction an hour later, after we had sat down for lunch, and the food began arriving at our table. “Sausages, ham, potatoes, beans and soufflé? All we can eat? Wonderful!” Naturally, there was a big bottle of maple syrup was at our table, which we made liberal use of. We drank maple-flavored beer and had a dessert of pancakes and sugar pie, both of which we drowned in syrup. Because sugar pie definitely needs maple syrup. This meal was nearly enough to induce a coma… a Sugar Shock at the Sugar Shack.

So, during our first couple weeks in Montreal, Jürgen and I had seen the Canadiens play hockey, visited a sugar shack, and learned that (for some reason) uttering the word “tabernacle” in a bar is reason for riotous laughter. We were progressing! By the time we left Montreal, we’d almost be as Québécois as Pierre and Stefan Faucher. Just gotta work on the beards.

Location on our Map
Sucrerie de la Montagne – Website

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April 27, 2016 at 3:00 pm Comments (0)
The Parc des Rapides As the St. Lawrence River winds its way from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean, most of its journey is smooth sailing. However, just before it reaches Montreal, the river hits a rough patch. Jürgen and I hiked to the neighborhood of LaSalle to check out the Lachine Rapids.
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